Archive for Roman Polanski

The Sleeping Images of Things

Posted in FILM, literature, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2015 by dcairns

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In a charity shop I picked up, slightly randomly, The Poetic Image by Cecil Day-Lewis (Daniel’s dad; also a crime writer whose book The Beast Must Die was adapted by Chabrol). It’s a very interesting treatise on the forms and uses of imagery in poetry ancient and modern (or modern-ish — the book dates from 1947. A stamp on the inside front cover says it was presented to Lynn Watson os Shrewsbury High School as Modern Languages Prize in 1970.)

Among the food for thought is a very fine description of the creative process, which applies whatever kind of writing one is involved in, I should say. Perhaps a work of fiction may be more likely to be sparked not by a poetic image (a kind of engram, compressing together object, idea or emotion) but by some more abstract narrative notion. Rarely does it begin with a theme, I think. Here’s what Cec says ~

The poet, then, starts with an impression, a drop in the river of experience, crystallized perhaps into an image. Or, let us rather say, that is how the poet is apt to start nowadays; for there have been times, as we have noticed, when he at any rate seems to have begun with an abstract idea and set out to put it into verse. The modern method, insofar as it differs from the classical, is indicated in Goethe’s words,

It wasn’t on the whole my way, as a poet, to stride after the embodiment of something abstract. I received within myself impressions — impressions of a hundred sorts, sensuous, lively, lovely, many-hued — as an alert imaginative energy presented them.

This is the first stage. W.B. Yeats witnessed the second when, quoting Goethe’s ‘One must allow the images to form with all their associations before one criticizes,’ he went on to speak of the trance-like state in which ‘images pass rapidly before you,’ and said that it is necessary to ‘suspend will and intellect, to bring up from the subconscious anything you already possess a fragment of.’ That concentrated attention which watches over the birth of a poem from the moment when the first birth-pang is felt — a concentration will-less indeed, yet intense, and by its very passivity aiding the process which brings the whole poem out into the light — may fairly be called a suspension of the intellect. But it overlaps with the third stage, then the poet’s attention becomes more active (Malebranche called this attention ‘the prayer of the intellect’), and the work of criticism begins, the selection or rejection of associated images in conformity with the now emerging pattern of the poem. The creative process up to the emergence of formed images from the unconscious, is described by Dryden in his introduction to The Rival Ladies, where he speaks of the time when the play was only ‘a confused mass of thoughts, tumbling over one another in the dark: when the Fancy was yet in its first work, moving the sleeping images of things towards the light, there to be distinguished, and then either chosen or rejected by the Judgement.’

That Lucretian phrase, ‘moving the sleeping images of things towards the light,’ may be set beside this passage from E.S. Dallas –

Trains of thought are continually passing to and fro from the light into the dark, and back from the dark into the light. When the current of thought flows from within our ken to beyond our ken, it is gone, we forget it … After a time it comes back to us changed and grown, as if it were a new thought.

I do not know that out modern psychology, which he and Dryden so far anticipated, could have put the whole thing any better.

***

The best account of creativity I’ve ever read. Polanski has said that he mainly works on instinct, but applies his critical faculties to what his instincts suggest. Dali spoke of his paranoiac-critical method. It’s all about catching images thrown up more or less irrationally from parts of our brains we don’t control. and then attempting to fit them into a pattern which makes its own kind of sense.

Picture is by William Blake. Chosen for irrational reasons.

Pardon Me But your Heels Are In My Back

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Television, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 20, 2014 by dcairns

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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?

Gang Aft Aglae

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2014 by dcairns

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Polanski saw Milestone’s OF MICE AND MEN as a kid and was impressed by it — he hated that it ended so tragically, but as he thought about it, he realized it couldn’t end any other way — and so we have the ending of virtually every film Polanski’s made since.

Confession: I haven’t read the book. I was expecting to be moved though — I knew I was going to be a wreck by the end as soon as it started. Fiona thought she had seen it and wasn’t expecting such a powerful effect. Halfway through she realized she’d only seen bits and didn’t know where it was headed. The ending just wrecked her. I’ll shed a manly tear myself, but she was virtually incoherent for ten minutes after it was over. I had a lump in my throat the size and texture of Akim Tamiroff. This film needs a health warning.

On a related note, Steinbeck and Milestone joined forces again for THE RED PONY, which I consider over at The Notebook in this fortnight’s edition of The Forgotten. Which means that it’s also time for The ’68 Comeback Special over at Apocalypse Now, where Scout Tafoya considers BLACK JESUS, previously explored in The Forgotten, which is kind of neat to think about as we near the end of our odyssey through Cannes ’68.

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