Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown
. . . is the final line from Roman Polanski’s brilliant 1974 mystery thriller Chinatown.
Polanski is obviously a polarising film-maker given that in 1977 he was arrested and charged with raping and drugging a 13-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty to a lesser offence of unlawful sex with a minor (after a plea bargain); but in 1978 he fled to Paris when he was advised that a judge was planning to reject the plea deal and impose a custodial term instead of probation.
This then leads to the discussion about separating the art from the artist . . . I’d be interested to hear comments/opinions from other Cats in regards to this.
Born Raymond Thierry Liebling on August 18th, 1933 in Paris. His parents then moved the family back to Krakow in 1937 and following the invasion and occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany the family found themselves encased in the Krakow Ghetto where both his parents were taken by the Germans and his mother was murdered at Auschwitz whilst his father managed to survive the war.
Polanski himself escaped from the Krakow Ghetto and managed to roam the country witnessing many horrors of the brutal Nazi occupation and as the war ended he attended the National Film School in Lodz where, initially he took up acting. His first notable role was in Andrzej Wajda’s A Generation (1954) but it was to be directing that he finally graduated from film school with a number of notable shorts.
His first feature film was Knife In The Water a skilfully made drama/thriller about an unhappily married wealthy couple, who take on a mysterious hitchhiker with them on a weekend boating trip.
Leaving Poland he couldn’t find any worthwhile work in France and settled in England where the most successful film of his was Repulsion, which I’ve always found to be over-rated although it does feature my favourite French actress in Catherine Deneuve.
His first film in Hollywood was the hugely successful supernatural horror thriller Rosemary’s Baby which established his reputation as a commercial film-maker, but following that his only real notable work was Macbeth released in 1971.
In between he suffered more tragedy with the brutal murder of his wife Sharon Tate, along with four others, by followers of Charles Manson.
And then in 1974 he directed what would be his final film in America with Chinatown, one of the greatest mystery crime films ever made starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in signature roles for both of them.
Polanski himself had a memorable minor role.
He followed it up in 1976 with one of his darkest and most puzzling films – The Tenant. Filmed in France, Polanski himself starred as a timid Polish immigrant living in Paris who becomes increasingly paranoid about his apartment and the previous occupant who had committed suicide.
It’s a particular favourite of mine as I vividly recall seeing it on first release and I was mesmerised by it’s impenetrable plot (how much of it is just in the main character’s head) and the way it doesn’t play safe by providing all the answers or even making much sense.
Of course, following The Tenant, Polanski had his troubles in America and has subsequently made all his films in Europe.
I found 1979’s Tess to be overlong, despite its’ critical acclaim, as I’ve never been a fan of the novels by Thomas Hardy, while most of his output in the 1980s and 1990s seemed to be quite below his best works from the 60s and 70s, although I did enjoy The Ninth Gate released in 1999.
Then in 2002 came The Pianist, Polanski’s searing take on the Holocaust in which he documents how Polish-Jewish pianist composer Wladyslaw Szpilman survived the brutalities of Nazi occupation in Warsaw culminating with the protection and help he received from German officer Wilm Hosenfeld.
IMO, along with Schindler’s List, it ranks as one of the finest films dealing with the Holocaust.
Rounding up the last 20 years, as Polanski is now close to 90, he still manages to direct high class films like The Ghost Writer, Carnage and the recent An Officer And A Spy.
Like Clint Eastwood, it seems he will continue to be making films into his 90s.