Roman Ruminations

It having been a while since I pitched anything to Moving Image Source, I jumped at the prospect of writing a piece on Roman Polanski, everybody’s favourite “evil, profligate dwarf,” who has a new film, CARNAGE, coming soon and a retrospective coming at MOMA in New York.

The piece is now done and up and can be accessed by a click on this word: RONDO.

20 Responses to “Roman Ruminations”

  1. Well what a coinkydink! I’m right in the midst of writing an entire book on Polanski for Phaidon’s “Masters of Cinema” series. Your piece is quite good.

    At the moment my fave is The Ghost Writer. Not only is it the best fim ever edited in a prison cell, IT’S ALL TRUE!!!!!!! Cherrie Blair IS Tony’s CIA handler — though at the time the book and subsequent film were conceived Polanski and Harris were making an “educated guess.”

    What I love most about the film is the seeming placcid modern surfaces of the setting. They seem perfectly functional and “user-friendly” at first, but they’re traps.The opening shot of the ferry arriving at Martha’s Vineyard (equivalent) is pure Murnau, and the fact that the car that won’t move has no driver is right out of Lang’s The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse. And the house is hauned. Kim Cattrell makes a marvelous postmodern Mrs. Danvers, and Olivia Williams is a better Lady Macbeth than Francesca Annis.

    The other thing about the film is its metaphorical power has metastsized. it’s not just about Blair but Bush and Dick Ceheny — neotehr of whom can travel to any number of countries for fear of being arrested and tried before the world court (which as the film notes the U.S. does not recognize) for Crimes Against Humanity. Blair, Bush and Cheny make Macbeth a mere amateur and Manson a one-off hothead.

    Polanski’s arrest was the centerpeice of L.A. D.A. Steve Cooley’s plan to get himself elected Attoney General. But the voters weren’t buying, and neither were the Swiss. They demanded ALL the court records. The DA declined and so Roman was released. Meanwhile the voters kicked Cooley scuzzy little ass out of office.

    Fast curtain. The end.

  2. That is a great piece. What is amazing in Polanski is his great mise-en-scene. Nothing quite like it. On one hand its classical but on the other it has its own particular rhythm that owes little to anything else in movie history.

    That scene you described in MacBeth is terrific. But then when Polanski restrains himself, as in TESS, he achieves something really transcendent. That’s also one of his most interesting films as far as his viewpoint goes. Hardy maintained that Tess was innocent even when she killed at the end of the book and Polanski brings that point home through his unsentimental identification with her.

  3. Tess is dedicated to Sharon Tate — who having read the book suggested to Polanski that he could make a great movie out of it. Alas she didn’t live to star in it.

  4. The one film they made together THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS is among Polanski’s best. Polanski always described it as his happiest production and that optimism is visible despite its typically dark ending. The optimism is in the form and the freedom in film-making.

  5. One question I’d love to ask Polanski: he’s described how he chooses where to put the camera by watching the actors and noticing what he notices, then filming that. “It’s childish!” he declares. But I really wonder how he does this, short of provoking an out-of-body experience, when he himself is acting in the scene.

    I should have re-watched The Ghost Writer, but I look forward to doing so soon, maybe as prep for seeing Carnage when that comes out.

  6. I think what he means is choosing the simplest possible position from where to view the action. In Chinatown for example we’re always quite close to Jack Nicholson and see what he sees. Mia Farrow likewise in Rosemary’s Baby. This doesn’t ean ABSOLUTE subjectivity however. We’re non “in their shoes,” but close to it. After all he never asks us to “identify’ with his leading characters – merely find them interesting and worthy of attention.
    Each is different. Rosemary is sympathetic, but naive. Nicholsons J.J. Gittes is REALLY smart — and foten as not way ahead of the audience in figuring out what’s going on. Ewan McGregor’s nameless Ghost gets wind of the truth bu at the last isn’t awar of excatly how much danger he’s in from knowing it.

  7. Quick observation about the GHOST WRITER: the beginning and ending imperfectly (and fascinatingly) mirror each other, with the unmoving, unattended car, a passive representation of death, while the fast-moving, driven car that takes care of our hero, is an active representation of death. Nothing has changed, it’s just that, in dying, this writer has struck a (futile, but nonetheless redemptive) blow at the vicious world.

  8. The Death Car turns up in Chinatown too.

    Polanski did say that Chinatown’s tragic ending would encourage the audience to demand political change, although his work doesn’t usually offer much hope of that. Gittes is like a Bogart detective, present in every scene, equipped with the same knowledge as the audience, but outthinking them — and he still loses.

    Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to your book, David.

  9. Not sure about that. Who will know of him and what his death means?

    Cars are always waiting just behind him throughout the movie. Usually they’re follwoing him. So it’s only logical that one would finally kill him.

    Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton intersects with The Ghost Writer in many ways. It also features the great Tom Wilkinson. But Gilroy offers a superb happy ending with Clooney crowing in triumph “I am Shiva The God of Death!” as Tilda crumbles to the floor.

    But as we all know Roman doesn’t believe in Happy Endings. His life has been fraught with more tragedy than any of us can imagine. Even now with Emmanuelle and the kids (Morganne makes a very amusing appearance in The Ghost Writer) I know he thinks he can lose it all in the blink of an eye.

  10. And of course he nearly did, just last year. When he calls himself a realist, he’s the kind of realist who expects the worst — and is frequently right.

    Ghost Writer’s ending is weak logically (why does McGregor give away his hand like that; how can the Death Car be summoned inside of 30 seconds?) but so strong dramatically as to overturn all plausiblist objections.

    Michael Clayton’s on TV this week, may finally see it.

  11. I think part of Polanski’s realism is his regard for objects. In the Ghostwriter, the furniture,etc. in Tom Wilkinson’s office sort of have a taxidermy like presence; the leather of the couch, the polished wood of the walls, even the whiskey, resonate their beginnings as natural materials that human kind has intervened upon. And it conveys Wikinson’s character and something of the situation that McGregor has entered into. In a way, this scene could have been titled Carnage.

    …. not autobiographic, not a fatalist, but also not a moralist… or amoralist.

  12. On the set of Macbeth, he apparently spat a mouthful of breadcrumbs over a table to demonstrate the level of reality he wanted. And paced endlessly because some undefined thing wasn’t right, before realizing it was the fireplace: the fire would have been going all night, so where are the damned ashes?

  13. McGregor “gives away his hand” to smack Williams for fucking him then dumping him (Hell hath no fury like a boytoy scorned) As for the cars, they’re ALWAYS there — like the hordes of vampires in that other Polanski movie.

  14. Wonder who sent the autos that smack into Roman in The Tenant and Peter Coyote in Bitter Moon?

  15. You haven’t seen Michael Clayton ?

    Well here’s a sneak preview featuring two people I’m madly in love with.

  16. david wingrove Says:

    Can´t say I´m wildly excited at the thought of Polanski adapting a play. That´s what he did on DEATH AND THE MAIDEN, which is possibly the dullest film he ever made.

    Still, I´ve seen a few clips from the new one on TV. Kate Winslet looks so glammed up that for a second I thought she was Sharon Stone…not something I ever expected to see!

    David E – I share your enthusiasm for THE GHOST WRITER, not least for its terrifying portrayal of Cherie Blair. On the eve of the Iraq War, when Cherie was allegedly ringing up left-wing Labour MPs and badgering them to vote with the government, my Romanian partner turned to me in horror and said: “That woman´s the new Elena Ceausescu!”

  17. Polanski’s particular skillset seems to favour claustrophobic stories with small casts, so it’s surprising that Death and the Maiden felt so disengaged. The atrocious matte shots at the end were the final symptom of the way nothing seemed to connect. Although I’ve wondered if it’d reveal more qualities on a re-watch. It might be more interesting than Frantic…

  18. david wingrove Says:

    FRANTIC is the Polanski film I always forget.

    Perhaps it´s better that way?

  19. I might give it a look, if only to try and figure out what he was thinking of. I mean, I liked his explanation of the idea, but it doesn’t really come off. He was waiting for a friend who didn’t show, “And I realized there is no upper limit to anxiety.” After an hour, it’s worse, and another hour, worse, and it just keeps going… But the film doesn’t satisfactorily evoke that, maybe because Ford’s too stolid.

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