“Eschewing the normal rules of commercial entertainment, Roeg’s films deal in raw emotion, shaking our preconceptions about civilisation and cinema. His aesthetic is founded on a masterly montage of time and space and elliptical narratives through which his character’s are cut adrift from their usual moral and physical surroundings,” writes Jason Wood in the introduction to his interview with director Nicolas Roeg, included in the book Talking Movies: Contemporary World Filmmakers in Interview. Here is a director who has never story-boarded anything, who likes the idea of chance, who likes to do things differently, and who believes in the audience, in their coming to the movies with an open mind.
Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973) remains the template for using decaying Venice as metaphor for the psychological disintegration of its characters. Venice has never looked more melancholic and alienating. Often regarded as one of the best British films of all time, Nicolas Roeg’s tragedy, set in off-season Venice, works with grief just as acutely as it works with supernaturally charged thriller elements, to excruciating effect.
In 1967, Time Magazine observed, “what Julie Christie wears has more real impact on fashion than all the clothes of the ten best-dressed women combined.” I like to say the same thing about films: you can find more inspiration in movies than in what the best dressed women of the moment wear. Julie Christie’s style, on and off screen, has remained ingrained in the collective imagination just as much as her memorable roles (“the most poetic of actresses,” is what Al Pacino called her). She made a first huge impact with a passing appearance in Billy Liar (1963) and was immediately catapulted to Vogue style status. She soon found stardom with her roles in Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Far from the Madding Crowd (1967). Few films have had a comparable influence on fashion as David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago. It was the 1960s, the heyday of the mini skirt and frilly, feminine shapes, and yet maxi coats, longer hemlines, and sober, military tailoring were rushed into fashion as a result of Lara’s wardrobe in the film.
In Don’t Look Now, Julie Christie’s Laura Baxter wears so many timeless pieces, and the film marks one of those rare moments when the female character’s clothes have dated so much better than her male counterpart’s (played by Donald Sutherland): an accomplishment in itself. Naturally, Christie’s clothes, in dark tones and heavy fabrics worn one on top of another, are a reflection of her character, the surroundings, and of what she is going through. It’s late autumn and everything is grey and misty and on the edge of frost, and Laura has suffered an unimaginable loss. Roeg uses dark earth tones entirely, but precisely introduces bright red splashes now and then throughout the plot, from a glass of red wine spilled on the table, to a shawl, a scarf, a poster on the wall, or Julie’s red boots – colour becomes a link between past and future. It’s a startling visual effect accomplished entirely through a skillful use of colour. “I can’t think how anyone can become a director without learning the craft of cinematography,” the director said in the conversation with Jason Wood.
The appeal of Julie Christie’s dress code, however, surpasses the film: the timeless A-line skirts, knitted sweaters, cardigans, and especially the coats, from the trench to classic tweed blazers and outerwear pieces, whether in earthy plaid, black and white checks, or herringbone, that she wears. But it is tweed that has never looked better in these cold days. Tweed coats have, in fact, never gone away. They’re elegant, but versatile and practical, too. They can be Ivy League-inspired, but I favour the British countryside-look. There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing, the saying goes. I agree. It’s time to embrace the cold season and layer upon layer of tweed. Do up all the buttons, flip up the collar, and brave the worst weather that nature can throw at you.
Photo credit: Casey Productions, Eldorado Films