Polanski week has seen me write at length about the cinematic technique, intellectual pedigree and philosophical themes of Roman Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy but for Rosemary’s Baby (1968) I would like to take a different approach. Arguably one of Polanski’s best known films, Rosemary’s Baby is wonderfully acted, perfectly paced and so tightly written and shot that not a single frame feels out of place or fails to pull its weight. From the famously ‘Doris Day’ soap operatic opening scenes to the macabre ending, it is close to being a flawless work of cinematic genius. However, where The Tenant (1976) and Repulsion (1965) are quite clearly about the descent into madness via sexual repression, Rosemary’s Baby deals in the more fantastical currency of witches, Satanism and the birth of the anti-Christ. The use of such fantastical imagery invites us to wonder what the film is really about. Rosemary is clearly not mad, nor is she sexually frustrated.
Rosemary’s Baby is a snapshot of social power dynamics in 1970s New York. It is a film not only about the treatment of women at the hands of a powerful Patriarchy, it is also an account of price exacted from the young by the elderly in return for the transferal of power to members of a new generation. Despite being a film about unearthly creatures, Rosemary’s Baby is ultimately a profoundly temporal film about man’s inhumanity to man (and especially woman).
Seeing as it is Polanski Week, I thought I would also link to an amusing little film that attempts to suggest that Roman Polanski might have some kind of foot fetish thing going on…
The film is called “Un Piede di Roman Polanski” and it was joint winner of the CineKink 2009 award for Best Experimental Short. Hat-tip to Lauren Wissot who, along with Rosanne Kapitoa, is responsible for putting together this little gem.
In my piece on Polanski’s Repulsion (1968), I highlighted the homage paid by Polanski to the generation of Surrealist filmmakers who came before him. In this piece, I want to examine the similarities in tone between another of Polanski’s films and the branch of French Surrealism that provided the source material for one of Polanski’s best known films, The Tenant (1976).
By 1960, the vultures had started to circle the Surrealist movement. What had started out as a desire to destroy and rebuild the iconography of Western Art in the aftermath of the First World War now seemed like a circular and pointless endeavour through which one section of the bourgeoisie tried to shock and outrage another section of the same narrow social institution. While members of the Generation of ‘27 burned with anger at the Franquist government which had exiled and jailed them, the alliances with Marxism that would impact film-makers such as Bunuel were still a way off. Facing such creative stagnation, Fernando Arrabal, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor came together to form Burlesque, a creative clique which would later inspire itself from the god Pan and name themselves the Panic Movement.
It is a pleasure to return to Cinematic Vocabulary and kick off Polanski Week by looking at what I consider to be one of Polanski’s less appreciated films. While The Tenant (1976) is the darling of cinephiles and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is second only to Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) in terms of mainstream appeal, Repulsion is sometimes overlooked as an early work, sandwiched as it is between Polanski’s break through film Knife in the Water (1962) and his more famous Hollywood projects.
However, it is my contention that Repulsion is a substantial landmark on the the road of Polanski’s artistic development. The low-budget British Horror film allowed him not only to perfect some of the cinematic techniques that would feature prominently in his later works but also to tackle some of the themes dear to the generation of 1930s surrealist film-makers who clearly had quite an influence on Polanski’s thinking.
While I try to move outside of my comfort zone in the films I choose to watch, sometimes I find myself in a place where only a certain kind of film will satisfy me. At the moment, that type of film is the psychological thriller. One of the masters of this particular genre is the Polish-French director Roman Polanski. Holocaust survivor, husband to Sharon Tate (who was murdered by Charles Manson and his ‘Family’) and fugitive from justice, Polanski has made many powerful and disturbing films though perhaps none as disturbing as his Apartment Trilogy.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
The Tenant (1976)
In order to pay appropriate hommage to my current obsession, I have decided to turn Ruthless Culture over to the study of Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy for a period not exceeding one week.