Maybe he’s just trying to flog his new book with some saucy exaggeration. Either way, one story from former Variety editor Peter Bart’s new tome “Infamous Players” has made headlines this week and all to do with a film almost forty years old now.
Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now”, a 1973 film adaptation of the short story by Daphne du Maurier (“Rebecca,” “The Birds”), was a cult hit in its time that has since grown in esteem to be considered something of a modern classic acclaimed for its depiction of grief and its use of fragmented editing and symbolism throughout.
The story follows a married English couple (Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland) whose young daughter tragically drowns in an accident. Now staying in Venice for work, their lives become complicated upon meeting an elderly clairvoyant and her sister who informs them that their deceased daughter is trying to warn them of danger.
Adding to the complications are a serial killer dumping bodies in the canal, and the husband’s glimpses of a child-like figure dressed in the same outfit his daughter was wearing when she died – a red raincoat.
Cutting to the chase, the film is now remembered primarily for two things – the ending and the sex scene. The infamous ending has become something of a punchline, but the sex scene remains one of the most famous of cinema – noted for its graphic frankness, its rare portrayal of cunnilingus in a mainstream film, and its believable and realistic intimacy.
At the time it caused considerable controversy but, thanks to a fragmented style of shooting which intercut it with post-coital dressing for dinner, the censors couldn’t find anything to object to as there are no direct shots of ‘humping’ as it were. Yet while the film scored an ‘R’ rating in the US, it got an ‘X’ in the UK.
Since its release, stories have flown about that Christie and Sutherland had unsimulated sex and outtakes from the scene had popped up in private screening rooms. Other stories say that Christie’s boyfriend at the time – Warren Beatty – had flown to London and demanded that the sex scene be cut or re-edited.
Now, Bart’s book recounts his time as a young Paramount Pictures executive who visited the Venice set on the day said scene was being filmed. According to The Daily Mail, Bart says “It was clear to me they were no longer simply acting: they were f**king on camera” and goes on to recall a whispered exchange – “Roeg: I just want to be sure I have the coverage. Bart: His dick is moving in and out of her. That’s beyond coverage.”
Bart also confirms the Warren Beatty story and adds the rather amusing demand that apparently came from Beatty himself and was said to Roeg – “I want to cut the movie with you, pussy hair by pussy hair.”
Despite the amusements, one must not forget the influence of the film which was a big inspiration to the likes of Danny Boyle and Alfonso Cuaron. Its filming techniques and story have had influences on classics like “Memento,” “In Bruges,” “Out of Sight” and “The Brood”. A Time Out London poll conducted this year of Best British Films had 150 film industry professionals ranking “Don’t Look Now” in first place.