Pardon Me But your Heels Are In My Back

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“Eroticism is when you use a feather; perversion is when you use the whole chicken.” Joke told by Roman Polanski to Peter Coyote when offering him BITTER MOON.

I think everyone kind of groans a bit whenever Polanski makes something “sexy.” I was kind of glad to more was heard of his plan to make an animated movie of Milo Manara’s porno comics. Is a sexy film from a convicted sex felon (whatever his level of actual guilt) really an attractive proposition? But I can’t deny the prurient interest, at the same time.

There was an interesting BBC documentary about Polish author Jerzy Kosinski. The author’s sadomasochistic lifestyle was mentioned, and one of the interviewees was Kosinksi’s friend, fellow jetsetting Holocaust survivor Roman Polanski, who casually remarked to his (female) interviewer, “That’s not what I’m into, so I can’t really comment on that. I can very easily tell you what I *am* into, if you like!” There was one of those pauses where time seems to  grind its brakes, and then she quickly moved on to another question. Can’t blame her — Polanski’s kinks would be too off-topic, and besides, he was obviously toying with her, as my cat toys with my hand before killing it. But one couldn’t help but swear a little, because it would be quite interesting to know what RP is into. You can’t take the legal evidence as any guide, other than that he likes ‘em rather too young, because the testimony on that matter is fraught with implausibilities.

Polanski affects to dislike comparisons of his films to his private life, which I can understand (Mark Cousins had quite an argumentative interview with the Great Man where he kept harping on this troublesome point, with Polanski at one point resorting to a loud snoring noise as rebuttal), yet his films seem to tease us with deliberate self-portraits. The new one, LE VENUS A LA FOURRURE, has as hero a French theatre director with an Eastern European name, playing opposite Polanski’s own wife, Emmanuelle Seigneur, and it’s a disquisition on themes of sexual dominance.

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Firstly: it’s beautifully shot (by Pawel Edelman, RP’s DoP since THE PIANIST), with the theatre setting affording a more free and spacious feeling than previous chamber piece CARNAGE — it never feels remotely stifling. The dance of camera and actors is unobtrusively elegant. Nice bit where the actors mime the serving of coffee and the soundtrack obliges with faint clinks of spoon on cup, which put me in mind of Adrian Brody’s phantom piano, but also of Polanski’s previous mime experience, playing in Steven Berkoff’s play of Metamorphosis, which requires the star to impersonate a cockroach without the aid of makeup (no great stretch, RP’s haters would argue). And I really liked Alexandre Desplat’s score — filmed plays, like regular plays, seem to require special care in the use of music (I don’t think any of Altman’s theatrical adaptations got this right, though I love some of them).

The piece opens with a glide down a Parisian avenue, veering off to enter a theatre — all those CGI-assisted doors creaking open for our invisible presence recall THE NINTH GATE, Mr & Mrs Polanski’s last collaboration, but this may also be the POV of a goddess coming down to earth like Ava Gardner.

Mathieu Amalric and ES are great together, giving their dialogue a screwball ratatatat — the plot even borrows a popular comedy trope, providing Amalric with an offscreen fiancée who may be usurped by this mysterious newcomer. Seigneur as a fetish-friendly version of Hepburn in BRINGING UP BABY, here to shake things up? Polanski has, it may be admitted, allowed himself theatrical license in his casting: plays often cast actors obviously too old (or too fat, if it’s opera) for their roles, but movies are supposed to be “realistic.” Various lines make it clear that Amalric’s character is meant to be older than Seigneur’s, but the actors are close contemporaries. Ideal casting might have been the Polanskis as a couple twenty years ago, but I don’t see why it should matter too much. Hoist that disbelief on your shoulders and trudge on: Seigneur is certainly quite capable of embodying the icy bitch-goddess of legend, and if the bratty actress aspect of the role stretches plausibility, she’s still fun to watch.

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The most intriguing echo of Polanski’s past work comes when the character trade roles, with Seigneur applying lipstick to Amalric just as Francoise Dorleac does to Donald Pleasence in CUL-DE-SAC, echoing also Polanski’s distressing cross-dressing in THE TENANT. This recurring image could suggest new avenues of intrusive film criticism, which would at least make a change from interpreting each Polanski film as a response to his second wife’s death or as evidence for his interest in little girls. Polanski tends to hide behind his source material, claiming for instance that he chose MACBETH because he thought the violence would be attributed to the famously bloody play, not to him (he couldn’t have anticipated the crazy, awful review that compared him to Charles Manson for having made a movie). The battle of the sexes informs a lot of Polanski movies, notably BITTER MOON, and abused and often raped underdog women have featured a lot (REPULSION, ROSEMARY’S BABY, CHINATOWN, TESS), nearly always as sympathetic characters whose POV the director takes. If one knew nothing of Polanski himself one might easily take these as feminist texts, yet he seems to be an unreconstructed male supremacist.

Mr. Polanski, what  are you into?

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16 Responses to “Pardon Me But your Heels Are In My Back”

  1. As I point out HERE Roman Polanski’s “private life” includes his youth in the Kracow ghetto — evoked in the Warsaw ghetto of The Pianist. It was there one fine day that the Nazis made a sweep picking up his mother and shipping her off to the extermination camp where she was killed on arrival. Faye Dunaway in Chinatown is made up in the style of Polanski’s mother — a great and fashionable beauty.

  2. As for “kink,” Mrs. Polanski in Venus in Fur is quite restrained compared to —

  3. As for Polanski’s present guilt: legally, he’s convicted. In actuality, he confessed to sex with an underage girl. The whole case was crooked and probably should be dropped, but it’s still hanging there and makes his fascination with the erotic seem even creepier than it already did. But that’s part of his appeal, too.

  4. He made the fatal mistake of having sex with a girl pimped out by her parents. This is a very old story in Hollywood, and it’s why Gore Vidal on the occasion of Polanski’s arrest spoke of “There was a totally different story at the time that doesn’t resemble what we’re now being told. The media can’t get anything straight.”

    IOW he was guilty of “statutory rape.”

  5. I was kind of shocked when I read the girl’s testimony and it made so little sense. “Maybe” Polanski had anal sex with her, she says, with no lube. Not according to the doctor who examined her, and not according to common sense.

    But yes, he admitted to statch rape.

  6. And stach rape means there was consent on the part of the “victim”

  7. Yes. The victim never claimed he used force.

  8. It was entirely consensual. The “victim” in stach rape is actually The State whose notions of propriety have been offended.

  9. La Faustin Says:

    Statutory rape means the victim is legally considered too young or too easily influenced to give fully informed consent. (Every time I read something about Polanski, pro or con, I feel like standing up for the opposing side.) He certainly got it in the neck for reprehensible behavior indulged in unpunished by Hollywood powers, known and unknown (forget Hughes — I don’t want to consider my beloved Wellman, Walsh, et al.).

  10. And reading the victim’s statement, it does support the idea that she wanted to say no but did not feel confident to refuse an adult. But the statement is so doubtful and the whole set-up so questionable that it’s very hard to be sure of anything she says.

    Polanski’s admission would be enough to convict him, but I think the judge’s behaviour justifies throwing the whole case out.

    Did Wellman and Walsh shag pre-teens? I’m sure Raoul cut a swathe through the starlets’ ranks, but I never heard about jail bait. I’ve heard stories about a major director associated with 70s disaster films, but he’s still alive so I’m not going there.

  11. La Faustin Says:

    How many freewheeling Hollywood shaggers, with a lissome young thing on offer, would stop to request ID? Ida Lupino was “the English Harlow” at 14. Ann Miller was 14 in STAGE DOOR. Do you think — especially in desperate Depression days — every aspiring Busby Berkeley chorine got carded? In the 1970s, when the feminine ideal WAS a coltish prepubescent, it was probably extra hard to figure out exactly where on the timeline an auditioning actress (or “auditioning” “actress”) fell.

  12. Wasn’t it Allan Dwan, who first cast Lupino, who talked about his casting couch antics with Flynn, spotting pretty girls and saying “Wouldn’t she be perfect for the role of the sister?” If a sister didn’t exist, one could be invented. Since then I’ve been very alert to pointless sister roles in Hollywood movies of the period. There are plenty.

  13. That trailer barely gives you a taste of the remarkable documentary it’s promoting — about the genuine rape of a young girl (not an actress) at a convention of movie theater managers held by MGM.

  14. Yes, I finally saw it. Incredible. Hard to square Mayer’s supposed puritanism with him throwing such a ball, and then trying to destroy the victim when she complained.

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