Seen a quarter of a century on, 'Bad Timing' stands out as one of Nicolas Roeg's most satisfying and complex films and yet it can be one of his hardest to discuss. It's a film I feel a little guilty about writing so little about, but even on a second viewing it's still rather overwhelming. It's interesting how it manages to be so genuinely multi-layered, more like a novel than a film - the way it mixes voyeurism, spying and emotional, psychological and legal investigation (with Keitel's investigation of the suicide scene placing him firmly in scenes as an unseen voyeur through Terry Rawlings typically brilliant editing) is remarkable enough, but the film manages to do so much more besides. And the performances are incredibly brave - how many leading men can you think of who would effectively (and quite deliberately effeminately) play the woman's role during the lovers' initial meeting? Russell in particular shows an astonishing range in what should be an impossible part, making her inability to find decent roles these days even more disappointing.
True it falls apart in the last couple of reels when the performances don't quite ring true, but it's still the last great film Nic Roeg made before settling into prolific mediocrity. It's as a brilliantly edited post-mortem into a mutually destructive relationship rather than a police mystery that it really enthralls, even when it doesn't entirely work. Much more impressive than I remembered, it's not a feelgood movie - if anything it's the date movie from hell - but it is a remarkably ambitious and accomplished one.
So why is the film so little-known and perhaps even less-seen? Well, that seems to be down to some bad luck and bad timing of its own.
In the US it hit censorship problems and in Europe it had major problems with its distribution. It was one of Rank's last full slate of British productions, so should have been guaranteed a circuit release on the Odeon chain in the UK. Unfortunately, the head of Rank Theatres was so disgusted by the film (the Rank Organisation was originally started to make religious films and many of the old guard were still in place in 1980) that he refused to book it into a single one of their theatres - the only Rank film to be so 'honored' (although he wasn't much enamoured of Eagle's Wing either). The second biggest circuit was owned by Rank's biggest rival, EMI, who weren't interested in helping out their balance sheet, so it ended up on Lew Grade's very small Classic chain. Rank's distribution in Europe was no more enthusiastic.
(Of course, Roeg's next and most expensive film, Eureka, had even bigger problems, being pulled a couple of weeks after opening due to a libel lawsuit that kept it on the shelf for years. Since then, despite the not really successful brave try with Cold Heaven, he seems to be little more than a director for hire on a slew of disappointing pictures and cable movies.) As a result, it's been very hard to track down since its original release, but it's well worth the effort if you're looking for challenging fare.
Criterion's DVD boasts a much better transfer than the UK DVD (which only features a trailer) and a more comprehensive extras package - interviews with Russell, Roeg and producer Jeremy Thomas, stills gallery and 16 deleted scenes. However, the laziness that has crept into some recent Criterion discs is evident in the latter: while 8 of those deleted scenes have no soundtrack, surely it wouldn't have been asking too much of Criterion to have included subtitles for the missing dialogue or at least to have included an introductory caption explaining the scenes? It's an irritating blemish on an otherwise excellent disc.