Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 2. 1969.
Films — Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Dogma
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Dogma
With Rosemary's Baby (Paramount) director Roman Polanski has made one of the most beautifully thrilling and substantially revolting films I have yet seen. It is a film, in a classical style, built on the aftermath of tasteful innocence, all the more frightening after one has left the theatre—and a depressant to the spirit and soul (if one was acclimatised to its anti-Christ possibilities) on which it uncannily tampered with over its two hours plus, of existence.
Because of the strength and, until now, unique subject matter, the film (as is the superb novel of Ira Levin) has to well over half way through an uncomplicated plot line, direct natural acting and an almost throw-away attitude to its subject. The audience respond to every open suggestion by embarrassed laughter, and corny guffaws, wondering how on earth a film as "girlish" and pretty as this could be the diabollically brilliant film thousands say it is.
The opening scenes are incredible. They have an inconsequential air. as if waiting to shock us with something eerie (the shifting of a cabinet, very low floor shots, lots of shadows, the landlord) and playing on our susceptibility to comprehend the evil and grotesque.
Nothing of the sort, though there are many miniscule side tracks—and Polanski's dialogue seems to be spoken by Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes) with an unnatural almost hypnotic vehemence. Each tiny scene is a petty point of increasing nothingness.
It is probably well known by now what the film is about, though I have my doubts if 50 per cent even now know! A young actor consents with a coven of Dakota, New York, witches to let the devil conceive a child with his wife, in return for which they will help his career in films, and so the "Year is One!"
Rosemary and Guy befriend neighbours, garishly weird and wonderfully close to them. Ruth Gordon (last seen in Lord Love a Duck) has been nominated for best supporting actress in the April awards. She plays Minnie Castavet, overacting enormously to pant and pout, snarl and sneer, fork cake sideways into her mouth, rouged and dolled to the skin grafts. She is the loudest thing in the movie. Sidney Blackmer is the doting hubby, concerned and wonderfully evocative about Rosemary's condition.
It is perhaps unfortunate that the audience is gradually one step ahead of Rosemary as she begins her long pregnancy, and gradually realise what is happening to her. Mia Farrow has the beauty of a china doll, and the ability to convey some of the most frightening and terrifying faces I have ever seen. In fact she conveys terror so convincingly at one moment (in a long sequence in a phone booth telling her former doctor that she has been used) that she can afford to make even a little joke, and quietly laughs away to herself. Not since Geraldine Page's conversation to Walter Winchell in Sweet Bird Of Youth has an actress broken the bonds of being merely a fine actress, and has become something else undefinably out of reach that touches one so close.
There is Rosemary's elderly friend Hutch (Maurice Evans) who mysteriously falls ill and dies. He leaves Roseman' a book on witchcraft, the title of which is an anagram. The solving of this puzzle, in silence with scrabble blocks alone on the floor, has a chilling climax punctuated by a scream from Krysztof Komeda's score.
When Rosemary is in Satanic pain, outside the Time & Life building, everything is terribly pretty in reds and blues, and she says nearly to the camera with great puffy eyes, "Pain begone! I will have no more of thee." It is already an affirmation of acceptance. If her child is Satan, and it lives, she must care for it. It is her child.
I can't disclose the outcomings of this film. It's not right. The whole terrifying thing about it is as Kenneth Tynan says, "for many days after seeing it, one entertains the possibility of being infected by infernal powers. It is moral to almost a painful degree. No matter how gravely one's atheism would be compromised one is perfectly ready to pray for Rosemary's well being."
I would rather say things about the film then that give it its unique, auiet timbre, Sometimes scenes turn into ugly inside out things like oils on water, almost into ghostly blackness, inexorable terror in the final scenes and an epilogue I still find incredibly moving. No one else could have made this film in Hollywood: yet it was Polanski of all people who indulged even further with the psychotic-schizo Repulsion, with a direct clinical study in paranoia, which had people screaming, sometimes with laughter. No one screams in Rosemary's Baby, not even during the moments of terror.
Cul de Sac was an overladen neurotic comedy which was hilariously funny, and to a lesser degree The Fearless Vampire Killers. I almost forgot, his first major film was Knife In The Water, still a sharp beautifully made thriller, and of course now his next best film alongside the baby.
Polanski received letters (which he says he loves) accusing him of communism, swearing, nudism, filth and blasphemy.
They're all there of course but hardly recognisable as such. When Guy is watching the Pope on television he says, "Christ, what a crowd!" But then all the other words were in Cul de Sac, and it certainly wasn't a meek lamb either. I don't see how anyone can be offended by anything in it, as Polanski himself said, "I agree it is an upsetting film. But because I am atheistic, I had to make a film which is not atheistic. I don't use the word religious because its too specific, but both protagonist and the antagonist believe in something. I don't believe in the blasphemy criticisms. The ones who do the blasphemy are the heavies of the film. In a passion play you don't accuse the people who whip Jesus, of blasphemy."
You will probably be disappointed with the film, and find it too long. Most of the females who have seen it have been genuinely moved in one way or the other. I have seen it four times now. It is an incredible feeling to find yourself loving it more each time for different reasons, listening to Komeda's luxuriously weird score (he does nearly what Riddle does to Lolita) and watching the colours and movements of a controlled cameraman, William Fraker (who did The Fox too if you're interested) but above all thinking about a 36-year-old guy, with the Legion of Decency ready to hand out a C rating, filming Rosemary's Baby next to a Bonanza set, practising draws with a holster and directing a love scene by first climbing in with Farrow and shows Cassavetes what to do, then climbs in with Cassavettes and shows Farrow what to do.
Polanski like Rosemary cannot kill the baby, the instincts of motherhood and love of making films are too great.