Saturday, February 04, 2006

"It Can't BE!" on a double feature of The Tenant and Rosemary's Baby

Ah, the New Beverly! In Los Angeles there is a wonderful revival theater that screens both forgotten gems and cult classics with the same regularity. For instance, two weeks ago, I saw Giant, next week I'll see The Misfits and Red River. It's a really grimy place, which is putting it quite lightly. As you sit in the dilapidated seats, you wonder if chips of the ceiling are going to fall on you as you watch the film. In other words, it is the PERFECT venue for early Polanski. Having already attended a double bill of Cul-De-Sac and Repulsion(the other great thing about the New Bev, as I like to call it, is that $6 gets you into both features) in what seems to be the theater's perpetual every-other-month Polanski fest, last night I was in attendance for the double bill of The Tenant and Rosemary's Baby, in that order.

Starting with The Tenant sounded like a bad idea when I read it. The Tenant was, afterall, released after Ro. The film was, therefore, a bookend for his "apartment dwelling trilogy." And what a perfect bookend it is. Though not really that great of a film, The Tenant is Polanski at his most odd. He presents the viewer with a similar set of situations as previously visited in both Repulsion and Rosemary, but finally affirms the suspicion that Roman Polanski is always the protagonist of the early cinema of Roman Polanski - whether portrayed by Roman Polanski, Donald Pleasance or Catherine Deneuve. For at the end of The Tenant, Polanski dons a woman's garb and reminds us all too well of a young and frightened Deneuve being grabbed by the walls of her apartment, and (frighteningly) of Ruth Gordon's evil persona in Rosemary. In fact, seeing a larger than life Gordon on the big screen after seeing Polanski personify her only an hour prior is quite an experience! For Polanski never, when taking not only the director's seat, but that of the actor, gives himself screen credit for his thespian ventures, merely his directorial ones. In a way, this could be perceived as modesty, but I think an auteur implicitness is more at work here. It (meaning everything) is always Polanski. You are not in a world of the "real" but of Polanski's neurotic subconscious realm. Nothing should be taken for granted, for everything, from the face on that man to the dog on the curb could either exist in this fictitious world or be seen as the delusion of our protagonist (auteur). And this is the supposition that The Tenant rides on. You assume that our protagonist is insane and this is questioning that provides the greatest dramatic tension for the film. We are, of course, implicit, like Gogol's famous unreliable narrator, and similarly, Polanski draws glee from the viewer in these aberrations. In one sequence, a fellow occupant flicks her forked tongue like a snake, in another, the collar of a coat becomes bat wings. These are minor flourishes that are lost on small screen viewing, or at least greatly diminished.

The Tenant is an irredeemably clunky film, but really, Roman on a bad day is still so full of sumptuous detail, emotional complexity, and let's not forget perversity. His command over actors is spellbinding. The film costars Isabelle Adjani, who is so terrible, but the way Polanski uses her is priceless. One scene, in particular, caught me as a moment of absolute brilliance. At one point, Polanski joins Adjani and her friends for a night of drinking and a drunk Adjani invites an even drunker Polanski back to her apartment. Dancing in a homosexual's(?) brother's apartment, Adjani flails about flamboyantly - in the way only a seventies actress could, perfectly. She is a fool, but in Polanski's world of The Tenant, only Polanski (playing Trelkovsky) is not. The film also stars the fabulous Melvyn Douglas (who I love from The Changeling) and the recently deceased Shelly Winters. It is not a fantastic film, but it still contains such a greater amount of brilliance than most director's "masterpieces," that The Tenant certainly deserves its place in the annals of film history. Like Russell's LisztOmania, it is one of those big budget studio films that makes you scratch your head and wonder, "did they ever look at the script?" or "who in the world thought this was a good idea?" but, unlike LisztOmania it is the better for it.

Rosemary's Baby is a masterpiece. Every time I see it(and believe me, I ain't no spring chicken in that department), there is something new, a wild new twist, or a reaction that strikes me as a wonderful work of directorial genius. Having studied the script in a screenplay class, I can say that Rosemary is almost on-par with Polanski's touted masterpiece, Chinatown. It works in such subtle ways: you uncover so much in the film by slight glances and tiny details. Watch the first ten minutes. You will be alarmed how much you discover about: Rosemary and Guy, the Branford, Hutch, Witchcraft. In the slightest moments, the greatest amount of information is gleaned. There is scene where Laura-Louise and Minnie (Ruth Gordon) burst into the apartment as Rosemary tries at a quiet night of reading, when she seats herself, Laura-Louise sits on Ro's book. When Roman and Guy conspire at an early point in the film, there is a shot of the empty room with plumes of smoke drifting through the door. These are the scenes that make the film so terrifying. Polanski turns the fact that you never see the baby into his approach for the entire film. Because, really, it is what we do not see that is always the most terrifying.


Blogger Tanner M. said...

I just watched the Tenant last night w/ my gf and best friend and we all found it to be an excellent film - albeit, a bit clunky in places like you said. I for one, loved it - but i'm a huge fan of the weird and offputting, and the Tenant was definitely that. But those flourishes, the snake tongue, the little boy with weird teeth, the strange ghosts, all of the stuff that makes you scratch your head and shiver a little... what fun!

10:31 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home