This month's Glasgow GFT seesthe start ofa specialseason offilms by Roman Polanski. Atthe sametime one ofthecinema's mostperverse sons. and one ofits mostsuccessful figures. his strange and uncomfortablefilms are eulogisedwhilehis personal indiscretions are reviled. With his long-awaited big-budget production of Pirates. starring Walter Matthau. due for release at some time this year. now is asgoodatime as anyto casta reflective eye overhis pastwork.
Born in 1933 ofPolish—Jewish parents Polanskigrew up in Cracow. and during the Nazi occupation. having losthis motherandfathertoa concentration camp. wasforcedtofend forhimself. Theseterrible experiences. and the atrocities he witnessed. have undoubtedly contributedto his preoccupation with fear and evil. 1954 to 1959 was spent at the Polish Film School at Lodz. where he made several acclaimed shorts. then after a brief period in Paris he returned to Poland to make his first feature. Knife inthe Waterin1962. A psychological. triangular love story. probably his subtlestfilm. itwonthe critics' prize at the Venice Film Festival and brought its directorto international prominence.
Three years later, and Polanski was in London working on hisfirstEnglish language production Repulsion (1 Mar). with Catherine Deneuve. a claustrophobic study ofayoung woman's escalating paranoia as she incarcerates herselfinasmallflat. A brutallyphysicalmurderandthe image otgrasping hands coming outofthe walls are two ofthe mostmemorable ingredients ofthisgenuinelyunnerving experience. a sort of imploded Kafka. 1966broughtanextremelybizarre tale of weird characters. Donald Pleasence and Lionel Standeramongthem. flung togetherin an island mansion in Cul—de-Sac (1 Mar). which. like the film before it. works as a sort of metaphor forthe absurdity oflife in animbecile universe and displaystheinfluence of Beckett. Pinterand Bunuel. Unlike Dance oftheVampiresi1967). an attemptata parody vampire movie which oftenseemstoo straightto be funnyandwascutbya puzzled MGM.
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But bythistime Polanski‘sreputation tookhimto Hollywood asthe well-chosen directorof Rosemary‘s Baby in 1958. and he brought his dark imaginationto bearon Ira Levin‘s novel ofcontemporarydiabolism. scoring his biggestcritical and commercial hitthusfarand opening the doorto considerable artistic freedom. While he was considering future offers however. his pregnant young wife. actress Sharon Tate. and several close friends were brutally slain at the couple‘s home by crazed followers ofCharles Manson. An understandable period ofinactivity followed this terrible blow, broken in 1971 by a bloody Macbeth. a cathartically violent meditation on fate. seemingly an exorcism ofthe demons ofevents passed.
To his great credit. Polanski continuedto work and in 1974 produced Chinatown (1 Mar). regarded by many as his best film. with Jack Nicholson as a private eye wading into political corruption in the LA of the 403. which continued his fascination with the nature of evil and featured him in a ghoulish cameo as an assassin.
Forhis nextproject Polanski cast himself in the lead. but 1976’s The Tenant (like Repulsion an exploration of identity in a domestic setting, was a disappointment). Ayearlaterandthe
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POLANSKI: DELIVERING US UNTO EVIL
unexpectedturn. when hefled America on bail afteradmit‘ting partial guiltin the rape ofa 13year-old model at Nicholson‘s house. Thus. exiled in Europe. he could not come to Britain to shoot Tess in 1980. and was forced to make do withthe French countryside instead. Dedicating the film to Sharon. he saw Hardy's heroine as an innocent suffering the injustices of a cruel fate. andthis personal slanton classic material linkedthefilmwiththe earlier Macbeth.
Polanski‘s cinema is indeeda bizarre landscape, weathered into its curious forms bytheturbulentwindsofhis experience. and one which remains uniquelyforeboding when comparedto the picture—postcard familiarity of much ofHollywood'scurrentoutput. Suchisthe unpredictable nature ofthe man and his warkthatPirates might seeawhole new aspectofhis artistic expressionto addtothe strange and violent body of his work to date. Ont MarchatlDBDam GFT'sKenlngles willgivea lecture onthe Polanski oeuvre. whichwill befollowed bya showing of Chinatown. Laterthat afternoon seesarare double—bill of Hepulsion and Cul de Sac at 2pm. A fine programme ofdelightsforthose withmorethanapassing interestin Polanski's cinema. Do go. (Trevor Johnston)
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