Going Roeg for the Gold
Nicolas Roeg’s first directorial credit – the influential, shape-shifting Performance, written by his co-director Donald Cammell – was originated for the screen but most of his highly regarded films that followed were based on novels (Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Witches) or plays (Insignificance). Eureka (1983) was inspired by an incredible yet true 1972 biography – Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes? by attorney and FBI agent Marshall Houts – about a British Canadian entrepreneur whose incredible wealth from a phenomenal 1912 Lake Ontario gold strike spawned a life of unimaginable luxury that ended in still unexplained tragedy. Inspired is the keyword here since, as the cinematographer-turned-director’s filmography demonstrates, Roeg’s works are visual springboards for meditations on the human condition and what drives our interactions and relationships. Nothing is straightforward for Roeg and screenwriter Paul Mayersberg in their adaptation, which stars Gene Hackman (in one of this versatile actor’s most unheralded yet crazily powerful performances) as Jack McCann, the world’s richest man who, having experienced the electrifying high of discovering the richest deposit of gold in history and the immense wealth and influence that comes with that, devolves over the years into a still-raging, ever-defiant shell of a man being encircled by duplicitous relatives (played by Theresa Russell, Rutger Hauer and Jane Lapotaire) and strong-arming gangsters (incarnated by Joe Pesci, Mickey Rourke and Ed Lauter) covetous of his holdings. While incorporating strands of murder mystery, courtroom theatrics and romantic passion into a great-man-of-mystery framework evocative of Citizen Kane, Roeg and acclaimed cinematographer Alex Thomson (Excalibur, Legend, Labyrinth) provide astonishing visuals of sparkling, flowing gold, voodoo rites, lavish interiors and gorgeous landscapes that enhance the film’s scale and scope. Roeg told interviewer Harlan Kennedy at the time of the film’s premiere, “I wanted to make a film about ecstasy, the many forms of ecstacy. Ecstacy in individual people, and ecstacy as the mystic sense of life. How our actions are connected to everything and everyone around us. It’s not a mystery film, it’s not a thriller. And I hope you can’t put in into a slot. There isn’t a slot to put it in. To do so would make it a thing it isn’t.” Indeed, neither its releasing studio nor many critics of the time could slot it and the film’s release was delayed and ultimately abbreviated. One definition for the word eureka, derived from the Greek, is “I have found it!” Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray of Eureka, featuring a Q&A audio interview with Roeg from the film’s premiere, plus on-camera interviews with Mayersberg, producer Jeremy Thomas and editor Tony Lawson, plus the score by the great Stanley Myers on an Isolated Track, just may offer that vein of cinematic gold you’ve long been prospecting for. Add it to your vault May 10. Preorders open this Wednesday, April 27.