Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Another Polanski Documentary?

Polanski in his director's chair.
No one loves Polanski more than me...ok, a lot of people love Polanski more than I do, but it's time to cut it out with the 'retrospectives' mmmkay? Certainly he's had a life that few of us could even envision living from being a Holocaust refugee to the gruesome and infamous murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate by the Manson family, to his trial and subsequent fleeing to France on statutory rape charges. Most recently, there was the drama when he was arrested in Switzerland for the same charges while crossing borders to accept a Lifetime Achievement award in 2008. All of us film buffs a.k.a former film students had something to say when that happened, and it was usually 'moral dilemma' which is basically how we've always dealt with Polanksi considering anything that would come up as a moral issue vs. the talent of a filmmaker happened before we were born.

Polanski's wife Sharon Tate was 9 months pregnant with his child at the time of her murder in 1969. She was 26.
Everyone all of a sudden wants to tell the Polanski story, like it's nothing our parents weren't telling us about, recounting reading about it in the papers. It's basically part of our history now. For some reason Hollywood is refusing to go there because it's still a touchy subject because Polanski has not yet been reprimanded for what he did, nor have the Manson murders on Cielo Dr. ever seemed so far away that people who live and work in LA can forget about them.
Everything sensational in Polanski's life, save his life as a child runaway from the Nazi's seemed to have occurred under Hollywood's influence and because of a seeming 'decadent culture running wild'. I can see why Hollywood storytellers would be putting a lot on the line including their ability to work in this town again if they dared adapting it for the screen. And like casting wouldn't be a dang nightmare and a half. 
Also, Polanski was one of those ironic Hollywood enigmas, I use the word ironic considering how crazy infamous his life was and yet how he always managed to remain somewhat of a mystery personally. He was a film prodigy of sorts immigrating from Poland with a string of extremely well-received 'artsy foreign' films under his belt which was all the rage at the time (the mid to late 60's). He came to Hollywood as a foreigner but soon found out that he was just what the machine was looking for at the time; someone with a unique voice and sensibility, and one hell of a dark side that could take ordinary stories about ordinary people and make them terrifyingly surreal, and viscerally psychological.
Polanski directing arguably his most famous film Rosemary's Baby (1969)
My personal favorite of his films is one of his so-called 'Apartment trilogy' series called The Tenant (1976) starring himself, Shelley Winters, Melvyn Douglas, and Isabelle Agjani. It concerns a soft-spoken, shy Polish immigrant to Paris who takes up residence in a strange apartment with disconcerting neighbors who inform him that the apartment he now occupies used to belong to a girl who threw herself out of one of the windows. Slowly he begins to transform into this mysterious and enigmatic girl and hallucinates that his irritable neighbors are trying to lead him to suicide much like they did with that girl.
Polanski in The Tenant (1976)
Anyway, I've gotten off-kilter. I guess I'll use any opportunity to sell The Tenant to people, because apparently not many have seen it. Anyway, Toronto recently announced that part of their documentary roster will include a new documentary called Polanski: Odd Man Out (2012), which is kinda sorta a follow up to Polanski: Wanted and Desired (2012). And I'm not sure exactly what a follow up is. Is that how you say 'sequel' in the documentary medium? And do we actually need a follow up? Is there anything about Polanski we don't already know, that the New York Times, every tabloid imaginable, and a string of documentaries and TV specials haven't already told us? I suppose it will have something to do with the debacle in Switzerland and his subsequent house-arrest, though I'm not dying to see how they make a long stint under house arrest into a 2-hour documentary. Wanted and Desired was a no-holds barred look at Polanski's life, specifically his statutory rape charge and what followed. No film student would ever be the same after that. Because when asked our thoughts on Polanski we would always have this hesitant nervousness look on our face and take a few seconds to think before answering 'I'm a big fan of his films, BUT...' and then throw in our personal outlook on the moral questions presented by personal exploits.
13-year-old Samantha Greimer, Polanski's victim to whom he gave quaaludes and champagne and proceeded to have sex with leading to incendiary charges of statutory rape and his eventual fleeing to France to avoid conviction.

There was yet another documentary called Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir (2011) released just last year, about yes, all the same stuff again with more interviews with Polanski and less archive footage. Might we be in Polanski-documentary overkill mode?
I suppose it helps when your professional career starts to falter and you go from something unique like The Ghost Writer (2010) to garbage like Carnage (2011), that you still have a documentary that comes out about you every 3 or so years saying basically the same thing over and over again. It might lead up to good press for your films even if they're awful. Polanski is currently in pre-production for his upcoming period thriller D (2014), and has never stopped pushing cinematic boundaries hoping that one day the world and particularly the states will forget what he did that fateful night in Jack Nicholson's home on Mulholland Dr. He also has strived to become a director who's work has to be dissociated from his private life. But I don't know if that's ever really going to happen. If Wanted and Desired was a perfect description of his life in 2008, where in America he's wanted, but in France, he's desired, then Odd Man Out stands as a spot on description of his life on the whole.

Below, the trailer for Polanski: Wanted and Desired (2008) and Polanski: A Film Memoir (2011). I can't seem to find the Polanski: Odd Man Out (2012) trailer but I assume it's very similar to the formerly mentioned films.

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