Bad Timing

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Bad Timing
British quad poster
Directed byNicolas Roeg
Produced byJeremy Thomas
Written byYale Udoff
StarringArt Garfunkel
Theresa Russell
Harvey Keitel
Denholm Elliott
Daniel Massey
Music byRichard Hartley
CinematographyAnthony B. Richmond
Edited byTony Lawson
Distributed byRank Film Distributors (UK)
Release date
  • 10 April 1980 (1980-04-10) (UK)
Running time
122 minutes (uncut restored version)
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$5 million[2]

Bad Timing is a 1980 British psychological drama film directed by Nicolas Roeg and starring Art Garfunkel, Theresa Russell, Harvey Keitel and Denholm Elliott. The plot focuses on an American woman and a psychology professor living in Vienna, and, largely told through nonlinear flashbacks, examines the details of their turbulent relationship as uncovered by a detective investigating her apparent suicide attempt.

The film was controversial upon its release, being branded "a sick film made by sick people for sick people" by its own distributor, the Rank Organisation, and was given an X rating in the United States.[3][4] The film was also shown under the title Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession before being shelved by the distributor. It went unreleased on home video in the United States until 2005 when The Criterion Collection released their DVD edition.


In Cold War Vienna, Milena (Russell), a young American woman in her twenties, is rushed to the emergency room after apparently overdosing. With her is Alex Linden (Garfunkel), an American psychiatrist who lives in the city as a teacher. Through fragmented flashbacks, the narrative depicts the story of their romance, which ultimately amounts to an unhealthy obsession on the part of Alex.

Through these developments, Milena is revealed to suffer from depression and is married to a much older man, Stefan (Elliott), whom she occasionally crosses the border to see during the course of her affair with Alex. Though Alex initially enjoys her free-spirited ways, he becomes embittered by her lifestyle, which includes impulsive promiscuity and heavy drinking. Through spying on Milena, Alex becomes emotionally strained, and eventually tries to control her – leading to horrifying results, due in large part to very bad timing.

Throughout, at the hospital where doctors and nurses fight to save Milena's life, an investigator, Netusil (Keitel), comes to realise that there may be more to her case than a simple suicide attempt. When he discovers the truth, he tries to corner Alex into a confession.

Finally the film reveals that Alex raped her when she was unconscious. Later, just before Alex can confess, Stefan arrives and reveals that Milena has survived and is out of danger. Alex returns to America where, some time later, he sees Milena getting out of a taxi. He shouts to her but she ignores him.



The film was one of the series of movies greenlit by Tony Williams at the Rank Organisation, who were increasing their production output. Rank made eight films over two years, being mostly conservative choices such as the 1978 film The Thirty-Nine Steps, the third adaptation of the 1915 novel. Bad Timing was the most unusual of the slate of films. While Art Garfunkel was making the film, his girlfriend, Laurie Bird, committed suicide in New York.


Bad Timing was first shown at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 1980,[5] and premiered in London on 10 April 1980.[1]

The film was later shown at the Toronto International Film Festival on 12 September 1980, and was screened in New York City on 22 September, with a theatrical release in the United States on 25 October 1980.[6]

Critical reaction[edit]

The film received mixed reviews. Some found it brilliant; others, tasteless. At the UK premiere, film critic David Robinson in The Times praised Nicolas Roeg as "a director of panache and individuality, and with an ability to fascinate and compel the attention", and wrote about the unusual editing and the carefully staged scenes: "In other hands all this might only be deception and distraction, but through these fragmented elements Roeg and his ingenious writer Yale Udoff creates a perfectly coherent and intriguing central narrative and relationship."[7] Its UK distributor, Rank, were appalled by what they saw; one executive called it "a sick film made by sick people for sick people".[8] In response, they removed the Rank logo from all UK prints of the film. John Coleman in the New Statesman gave it a very bad review: "[it has] an overall style which plays merry hell with chronology".[9]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes the film has a score of 50% based on reviews from 8 critics, with an average rating of 6.4 out of 10.[10]

The film received the Toronto Festival of Festivals's highest honour, the People's Choice Award, in 1980, as well as the London Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director.[11]


The film's title was used by musician Jim O'Rourke for his album Bad Timing, the first in a trilogy of albums which O'Rourke named after films Nicolas Roeg had made during the nineteen-eighties – the other two being Eureka (taken from Eureka) and Insignificance (taken from Insignificance).[12] The film was also a partial inspiration for The Glove's 1983 album Blue Sunshine, a side project of The Cure's Robert Smith and Siouxsie and the Banshees' Steven Severin. According to Smith, the song "Piggy in the Mirror" from The Cure's 1984 album The Top was also inspired by the film.

The film received only a limited release in the US, showing for a brief period in theaters. Due to the notoriety and poor box office results, the film was not initially released on home video in the United States. However, the television rights were acquired by the Los Angeles-based pay cable network "Z Channel" and aired in heavy rotation, allowing the film to obtain cult status in the 1980s. Fragments of the film were featured on "Z Channel: Magnificent Obsession" documentary, which for years was the only way for Americans to see the film.

On 20 September 2005 the film was released on DVD by the Criterion Collection.[13][14] This was the first time that the film received official home video release in the United States.


  1. ^ a b The Times, 10 April 1980; pg. 9: The disturbing imagination of Nicolas Roeg Linked 2016-08-24
  2. ^ FINANCE FOR LOCAL TALENT Perry, Simon. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 49, Iss. 3, (Summer 1980): 144.
  3. ^ Hasted, Nick (15 August 2000). "Sick, sick, sick, said Rank". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  4. ^ Miller, Toby (11 December 2003). Spyscreen: Espionage on Film and TV from the 1930s to the 1960s. Oxford University Press. pp. 6–16. ISBN 978-0198159520.
  5. ^ The Times, 6 March 1980; pg. 13: Berlin's good British films Linked 2016-08-24
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (25 October 1980). "Bad Timing". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 9 November 2013.
  7. ^ The Times, 11 April 1980; pg. 10: Roeg's new Curiosity Shop Linked 2016-08-24
  8. ^ Kendrick, James. "Qnetwork". Archived from the original on 21 November 2006..
  9. ^ Sinyard (1991); p. 69
  10. ^ "Bad Timing". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  11. ^ IMDb
  12. ^ Ratliff, Ben (2 September 2009). "Once Insider, Now Outsider, and Liking It". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 3 April 2015.
  13. ^ "Films – The Criterion Collection". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  14. ^ "Bad Timing (1980)". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 10 December 2012.


  • Sinyard, Neil (1991) The Films of Nicolas Roeg. London: Charles Letts; pp. 68–79

External links[edit]