Cast & Crew
After accusing him of lacking interest in family life, artist Ferdinand Prothero's wife deserts him. He then leaves the city and takes his daughter Leira to live for the summer in a rural New England farmhouse. Unable to control the direction of his life, Prothero escapes into his painting, over which he does have control, and spends hours alone in his studio painting nude studies of his wife, in order to better understand his life. Because he must also do the cooking and cleaning, he spends less time with Leira, who masks her loneliness by creating an imaginary friend and having fantasies about her mother. Then Prothero meets Miranda, an English woman visiting the country, and commences an affair with her. Although Leira at first feels neglected by her father's interest in Miranda, she gradually comes to accept her, and the woman soon fills a void in both father's and daughter's lives. However, Prothero continues to paint his wife. At the end of the summer, Prothero is unable to commit to Miranda, who comes to suspect that his self-absorption is what helped drive his wife away. Uncertain whether she will return, Miranda goes to England and Prothero and Leira go back to the city.
Rough Magic opened the third season of New York's Whitney Museum of American Art's New American Filmmakers series and was the first film to be shown there for a run of two and a half weeks. The film also was shown for one day at Los Angeles art museum and restaurant, The Egg and the Eye, on January 24, 1973. According to the New York Times review, Timothy Knox was a New Englander in his early thirties and, while making the film, was an English teacher at the Dalton School in New York City. According to After Dark, Knox planned to quit teaching to devote himself to writing and directing. In his publicity notes for the film, Knox claimed that Rough Magic was made because he felt films did not portray life as he had experienced it and did not include his vision of life. The LAHExam review described the film as exploring the pull between parenting and wanting freedom and artistic growth. In that review, Knox, who had been separated from his wife for two years, was quoted as saying that the film was necessarily autobiographical in that it presented "human questions that I have confronted."
According to Knox's publicity notes on the film, Rough Magic was shot in sequence with improvised dialogue but without a final script. The character Leira was played by Knox's daughter, who was six years old at the time. The Hollywood Reporter review reported that the character of the mother was never seen in the flesh, but only in art work at various stages of completion. The Hollywood Reporter review stated that the film was shot in New England and an October 1972 After Dark magazine article specified that it was shot in New Hampshire. Although, according to After Dark, Knox was working on a second script that was set in eighteenth-or nineteenth-century New England, Rough Magic is his only film that is known to have been completed.