WolfmanOz at the Movies #11

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.

Enjoy

23 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #11”

  1. I watch Chinatown every year, followed by the sequel, The Two Jakes. Nicholson’s best performance. Never was a fan of Dunaway till this movie and John Huston brilliant. The Two Jakes we have Harvey Keitel and the gorgeous Madeline Stowe adding to it. The two movies really need to be seen together for the full effect. Ghost writer and An Officer and a Spy are right up there too. I read each one regularly as well.


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  2. Thank you WolfmanOz, loving your contributions. I’ve long been a fan of Polanski’s work…he’s an interesting character…a very disturbed character. I actually do believe he’s a sexual predator. Even his own autobiography inferred that and he likes young girls.

    In terms of film direction, he’s a genius. I agree that The Pianist is probably the finest film of the Holocaust….I think it’s even better than Schindler’s List.

    I’ve read that his best film to date is his last one, An Officer and a Spy (in French…J’Accuse). It hasn’t been released in the west, because of the whole #Metoo movement so it can’t find a distributor. I’d like to watch it.


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  3. Of course, Whoopi Goldberg is famous for defending him by asking whether it was just rape or rape rape. Apparently, if you are a leftie hero, just rape (whatever that is but is apparently more than rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor.) is just fine and dandy.
    Also recently in (brief) trouble for claiming the Holocaust was not about race and Jews were all white and so part of the problem. Guess she never heard of Sammy Davis jnr. for a start.
    A loathsome woman but typical of Polanski’s supporters.


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  4. MacBeth was part of the fourth form English curriculum, back when I were young.
    The stunned silence in the school hall when his film was shown
    remains an enduring memory.


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  5. Cassie of Sydney says:
    March 3, 2022 at 10:15 am
    Thank you WolfmanOz, loving your contributions. I’ve long been a fan of Polanski’s work…he’s an interesting character…a very disturbed character. I actually do believe he’s a sexual predator. Even his own autobiography inferred that and he likes young girls.

    In terms of film direction, he’s a genius. I agree that The Pianist is probably the finest film of the Holocaust….I think it’s even better than Schindler’s List.

    I’ve read that his best film to date is his last one, An Officer and a Spy (in French…J’Accuse). It hasn’t been released in the west, because of the whole #Metoo movement so it can’t find a distributor. I’d like to watch it.

    The benefits of a . . . cough . . . cough . . . VPN.

    An Office And A Spy is the best film version of the Dreyfuss affair. It focuses primarily
    on the investigation of Colonel Georges Picquart whose doggedness eventually has Dreyfuss cleared.

    I prefer Schindler’s List . . . in fact, for me it’s one of the best, and most important films ever made. A future weekly topic will be films dealing with the Holocaust.

    lotocoti says:
    March 3, 2022 at 10:33 am
    MacBeth was part of the fourth form English curriculum, back when I were young.
    The stunned silence in the school hall when his film was shown
    remains an enduring memory.

    Likewise for me when I studied it at high school in Auckland many years ago . . . Lady Macbeth caused quite a stir at the time !

    It’s arguably the best version of Shakespeare’s play.


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  6. This then leads to the discussion about separating the art from the artist . . .

    As far as polite society goes, depends on the (known or perceived) degree of depravity verses the quality of the art. Hence Polanski and Michael Jackson still get screen and air time while Gary Glitter and Rolf Harris are banned. # Metoo is largely just virtue signaling to make victims out of Hollywood actresses. None of them refused to work in a Harvey Weinstein movie at the time of the alleged abuse, so I don’t know why anyone else would boycott his work.


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  7. ‘Three Days of the Condor’ was another good film of that era. A few years ago Quadrant had an article about it. Only from reading that did I fully understand what the film was about.


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  8. “As far as polite society goes, depends on the (known or perceived) degree of depravity verses the quality of the art. Hence Polanski and Michael Jackson still get screen and air time while Gary Glitter and Rolf Harris are banned. # Metoo is largely just virtue signaling to make victims out of Hollywood actresses. None of them refused to work in a Harvey Weinstein movie at the time of the alleged abuse, so I don’t know why anyone else would boycott his work.”

    Correct…or those Hollywood actresses have claimed that, when it comes to Weinstein, they didn’t know. Yeah sure, and pigs might fly.


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  9. Chinatown is undoubtedly one of the very best films ever made in Hollywood, and the writers and actors deserve a big chunk of the credit. It must be said that Polanski was able to draw out and mesh together those elements, though.

    What it has, and what contemporary ‘woke’ films conspicuously lack, is ambiguity and shades of grey. In other words, it resembles real life, which is not a cartoon with goodies and baddies and nothing in between.

    That, combined with magnificent acting and cinematography, made it a classic.

    As for his private life, it was deplorable, but nothing unusual in Hollywood at the time. Plenty of other perps must have breathed sighs of relief when all the attention was focused on him. It is not unusual for artists generally to regard the rules of conventional society as mere strictures on their creativity, going back a long time in history. Sort of goes with the territory.

    Regarding artists (or sportspeople, for example) as role models is ludicrous, on its face. The fact that someone can run 100m faster than other people has nothing whatever to do with their moral values. Same goes for artists.

    I don’t agree with obliterating history for any reason.


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  10. It is not unusual for artists generally to regard the rules of conventional society as mere strictures on their creativity, going back a long time in history.

    Agree Johanna. Alleged poet Dorothy Hewett springs to mind. Her pimping of her daughters was, I guess, just “pimping”, not “pimping, pimping”.

    As for Chinatown, that scene (above) where Jake gets his left nostril sliced still unsettles me after all these years.


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  11. 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

    You’ve got it backwards.
    He drugged her first, then he anally raped her.


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  12. Of course, Whoopi Goldberg is famous for defending him by asking whether it was just rape or rape rape. Apparently, if you are a leftie hero, just rape (whatever that is but is apparently more than rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14,
    etc., etc. …

    Dunno about famous, but the point she was making was that there was consent.
    Yeah, I know, a 13 year old can’t consent to anything in WowserWorld, but there you go.


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  13. Chinatown is undoubtedly one of the very best films ever made in Hollywood, and the writers and actors deserve a big chunk of the credit.

    It’s sleaze.
    The writer declined the opportunity to reprise it, so it’s a fair bet he wasn’t happy.


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  14. Polanski has made some impressive stuff. Macbeth is the best Shakespeare play ever made as a movie, imho. The Pianist one of the best holocaust movies. There is a deep darkness in The Tenant that freaked me out as a cynical 21 yo. He sure has some demons haunting him.


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  15. “the point she was making was that there was consent.
    Yeah, I know, a 13 year old can’t consent to anything in WowserWorld, but there you go.”

    First, a 13 year old can’t consent to illegal sex in any sane world – a truly sick comment.
    Secondly, of course, he drugged her first so not sure how she consented when unconscious in any case.


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  16. She’s now 58.
    Interviewed a few years ago, now a Realtor in Hawaii, she blamed her sister for calling the cops, there’s more to the story, stage mother wise.


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  17. Macbeth is my favourite version of any Shakespearean play.
    Knife on the Water I haven’t seen for decades but still sticks in my mind.
    I see Chinatown from time to time and it is an outstanding movie.
    As a person Polanski is well beyond the pale.


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