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Friday, August 10, 2012

ROMAN POLANSKI AND THE GHOST WRITER

     roman polanski, 2010



Three days of visiting with friends in the evenings, town trips during the day, not a great deal of sleep, created a need for a day off, a day to sleep late, take a nap, watch two movies. First movie was a kind of documentary about Roman Polanski. I was thinking it was biographical. It turned out to be about his two big horrors in life, the Manson murders of his wife and child, and the experience with American press in the time of being charged with sex with an underage girl. He learned all he needed to know about living in the USA and went to Paris to stay out of prison, where he continues to make films. It turned out to be fairly interesting as I knew nothing of his take on these two brushes with horror in Los Angeles. Perhaps what struck me most was how young he was in his early years of film making. In his years with gray hair, the strain of those times shows in his face. Both experiences left him face down in the dirt. He'll be arrested if he comes back to USA.


The documentary was called, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. It refers to being wanted in USA and desired in France. Paris is where he belongs, not LA. He's appreciated in Paris. His film The Pianist gives a peep-hole look into the place and time of his childhood in Krakow, Poland, during the German occupation. His mother died in a concentration camp. His father survived the concentration camp. His wife and baby were killed by Charles Manson and "family." This is why Manson is in prison for life and will never be let out. He is our LSD Hannibal Lechter in everyday life. Then he got with a 13 yr old girl and her mother started a big legal issue from it, against the girl's will. Polanski went through the humiliation of the trial, the threat of years behind bars, until the judge in sentencing wanted to nail Polanski to the wall to make himself look good. Both defense and prosecution lawyers agreed the best thing for Polanski to do was leave the country while he was able. It's been since that time he's made what are to my mind his best films.


In the mail came Polanski's 2011 film The Ghost Writer. I took a nap and stayed in bed several hours, 3 or 4, until I was just staying in bed because I didn't want to get up. Couldn't sleep any more. Time to watch The Ghost Writer. First thing, I noticed Ewan McGregor was the actor Woody Allen used in Match Point, his rewrite of Crimes and Misdemeanors. It was not necessarily a happy association for me, because I didn't like Match Point very much. I first saw McGregor in Trainspotting, a creepy movie. I've seen it twice and that's enough. My associations with him were not particularly favorable going into the movie. It wasn't but a few minutes before all that fell away. We were in a new world. Polanski world is leaps and bounds beyond Woody Allen world post Mia Farrow. I was looking at Ewan McGregor as an adult actor and he was up to it. Like Leonardo DiCaprio, McGregor grew up into a mature actor. Through about the first third of the film I'd lost the sense that I was watching a Polanski film. It seemed like a very nicely made film, visually something like a Kieslowski film, then it took a turn, and there was Polanski; our man realizing he was in over his head with no way out.


McGregor's character was hired to be the ghost writer for a recent Brit Prime Minister's memoir, Adam Lang, portrayed by Pierce Brosnan. He was a fictional character for Tony Blair, who played whore of Babylon to Bush's Red dragon, the sequel to Reagan and Thatcher playing the same roles. Brosnan played the role well of a big man living beyond his time of power as an isolated celebrity. The art on the walls in the minimalist house of spare architecture was contemporary, Cy Twombly the only artist I recognized. They were European artists. Twombly lived in Italy. Large abstract canvases of extraordinary colors and textures. Possibly the paintings and sculptures were loaned by a gallery in Paris. That's what it looked like. The house was a museum. At least one painting was in every scene. I spent the entire film in awe of the paintings on the walls and the architecture in the house. It's hard to believe Tony Blair lives with art like was in the film. Blair is too dull for somebody with that kind of art collection. Maybe, if his wife were an independently wealthy art dealer. Didn't matter. I loved seeing the paintings as context for the drama. One of the best was a floor to ceiling window as wide as it was tall that looked onto the landscape outside, photographic realism.


When the plot began to thicken, people and situations became more and more uncomfortable. Intuitively, we know from early on that our man isn't going to make it out of the movie alive. It was something like watching somebody taken down gradually by quicksand. He is isolated on what appears to be an island in the Cape off Massachusetts coast. A ferry runs to and from there, indicating a population that is primarily summer residences. Our friend the ghost writer, whose role is to rewrite the retired Prime Minister's memoirs. From the beginning I felt a sense that he was outside his world altogether, and completely inside their world without recourse. They were the big league of players that used guns and offed inconvenient people. He was a young guy taking a writing job, clueless. When assassins are following him and he's losing them, we get the picture he won't make it much longer. The film is labelled a thriller, and it is. We know something is lurking in the background about to catch up with our friend. He knows it is there too, but doesn't know in what form or when. When it was over, all I could say was, another great Polanski film.   


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