I had come across Ponlanski's work before, when I came across a copy of the film The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) otherwise known as Dance of the Vampires in HMV. I was having a belated Halloween movie night with my family, and the mixture of a comedy, vampires and the fact I had heard of Polanski - though only in the sense that it was the name of some famous director - meant I bought the DVD.
Now, my I know my brother isn't a great fan of vampires, but after five minutes of snow covered mountains and not much happening in the film he'd left. My sister didn't seem that interested either, and even to me it seemed slow. I continued to watch though, and it was worth the wait. The moment they got to the castle everything got better. The set was beautiful, and the sequence in which they skirt over the snow covered rooftops to reach the vampires lair and stake them, which Alfred the vampire hunters assistant (played by Polanski himself) totally fails to do, was great, very memorable.
True the film was not the great British farce I had assumed - shows how naive I was, I thought Roman Polanski might be British! - but there was humour, some lovely scenes, the decaying, faded luxury of the vampires ball and the sense of snowy isolation, are things I now appreciate when remembering the film.
Intrigued by the film descriptions in the book on Polanski I have now watched another film of his - The Tenant (1976). Again, it is a slow film - a trait of Polanski's film perhaps? - then again it is also meant to be a thriller, sort of. It's all rather ambiguous. Again this is possibly another trait of his films, I only saw the end of The Ninth Gate (1999) with Johnny Depp, but I doubt seeing beginning would have helped me make much sense of the ending - ambiguity, ambiguity, ambiguity.
[Above, the trailer for The Tenant - the actual film is in English, but this trailer is better than the American one - and below, The Ninth Gate trailer.]
Of course, much like in his own films, we cannot ignore the darker sides of humanity. Though the book I read is positive in its handling of Polanski, it does mention the infamous 1977 case of the director's rape of a 13 year old model.
I have mentioned this not because I intend to make a personal judgement about it on this blog, but because in my mind it does raise a few questions about the artist, the art and the viewer.
I like to believe you can appreciate the art or works of a person without having to actually like the person themselves behind it - for example, I have enjoyed the music of many musicians and the poems of Byron, but I would not follow the lifestyles of some musicians and I certainly don't think I'd have liked to have met Byron in the flesh.
On the other hand, as I have shown by feeling the need to write this into my blog - as a sort of warning, as it came as a shock to me, based on the earlier descriptions of him - it suggests that we, or at least I, have trouble separating art from artist. After all, don't we all like to think that great people, are nice people too?
However, rather than start going into a one woman debate on human nature, I leave it up to you to decide. Nonetheless, his films are worth a watch.