Polanski. I’m higher than some on Polanski because of my esteem for both of his occult films: Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion. I think both are masterpieces, which, when paired with Chinatown, made Polanski one of the world’s best filmmakers at only age 41. However, he has not really capitalized on that amazing start to his career (4 of his best 5 films are before 1975). I read somewhere (forget now) that people had thought he would be David Cronenberg from 1977-onward and I can totally see that; making eerie, masterful films. If you combine his early work with Cronenberg’s career you have a legit rival for Scorsese as best living filmmaker.
Best film: Chinatown Chinatown. I’m tempted to say Rosemary’s Baby because I think that might be polanski’s greatest achievement as a director. Chinatown is one of the best 5 screenplays of all-time and it IS superbly directed by Polanski so I’ll keep it here. One of the greatest pure narrative films in the art-form’s history. A meditation on power, corruption—an intelligent labyrinth that updates (and improves upon) the best detective films of the studio system Hollywood era (superior to the detective films– Maltese Falcon)- it subverts and examines and redefines the genre though not on the level of Altman’s Long Goodbye from the previous year. The opening titles are gorgeous but feel a bit pastiche—but then you go right into the semi-graphic (clearly not 1930’s/40’s) still frame photos of the cheating wife with Burt Young. John Huston is not only perfect as Noah Cross- but a clear nod to Chandler, Hammett– as he’s the director of the Maltese Falcon of course. Strong retro-luminous Jerry Goldsmith score. The smirk from Jack is so good- overall he underplays the role- mostly, like F. Scott Fitzgerald says he’s a man defined by his actions, but there are moments for Jack that are undeniably Jack—we have him calling the hall of records kid a “weasel” under his breathe. Polanski and Towne (screenplay) so are patient—when looking through a desk Jack checks (and they shot) every drawer and what’s inside. It leads to nothing. Towne and Polanski are building a house here. The water- brilliant- so important for LA- mythic—a great “LA is a small town” line—perfect as maybe no actor more associated with LA either at this point than Jack- Mr. Laker court-side. The character is impeccably built from a formal standpoint—he never listens—someone tells him to wait and he goes ahead- again and again—. “Chinatown” is not only the perfect title- but a key character in the film- a largely unspoken fabled past, theme and undercurrent. The period detail and craft involved- such a high level- it’s all Polanski—he largely defers his stamp here to the screenplay and Jack and what they’re doing with the genre- but the paranoid is all him. There’s an unnatural panic and anxiety in the air that’s in Rosemary’s Baby, The Ghost Writer and all his best work—it’s a rigged game. The nose- it not only creates a memorable hallmark— but it works for the narrative- a reminder of the seriousness as we’re chasing abstracts. The scene where Nicholson and Dunaway make love is superb—we have the Goldsmith horns form the score and then, another throwback, they cut to his cigarette after—then the overhead shot of them in bed together is spectacular. Freud and narrative strength here- Dunaway is naked and then when Jack mentions he met her father she immediately covers up. The narrative- which is perfect- comes back to Burt Young at the end with bookends—similar to the funeral owner in The Godfather– favor is returned. Jack’s “your wife crossed her legs a little too quick” line. Narrative economy- the butler “bad for glass”- line would come back as well with the tide-pool. The daughter/sister scene with Dunaway is absolutely awe-inspiring. Polanski is clearly in love with the period and architecture- it shows. Love Noah Cross’ (Huston)’s line about how he wants to own the future. The epic finale is justifiably iconic as well… it’s not only the “forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown” line but the JFK-like head-wound in Dunaway with the haunting horn from the score and then we drift into the sky above Chinatown almost like we’re Dunaway watching. A masterpiece.
total archiveable films: 12
top 100 films: 1
top 500 films: 3 (Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion)
top 100 films of the decade: 4 (Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion, The Ghost Writer)
most overrated: Cul-de-Sac. TSPDT has it all-time and as Polanski’s 6th. I have it as his 9th.
most underrated: Repulsion at #455 all-time on TSPDT is just flat wrong. This film is a masterpiece of horror/thriller. It’s Freudian and filled with paranoia and a wonderful performance by Deneuve. A fantastic #3 film that sets him apart from a few others on this list. I have the film at the #169 of all-time. If you need another that’s underrated it’s The Ghost Writer. The film is so much better, and closer to Chinatown than critics gave it credit for in 2010. Including the Chinatown comparisons are little things like the hired help at the house on the ocean sweeping the never-ending grass off the deck (being blown on by wind) just like the saltwater pool in the backyard of Dunaway’s house in Chinatown. There are also comparisons to both Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby (and other Polanski’s films but those two are the pillars) with the sheer paranoia and anxiety he’s able to create. Powerful stuff. McGregor googling CIA contacts scene reminds me of Mia Farrow reading the book on witchcraft. I’ve seen the film 3 times and every time I feel like it’s a HR- Highly Recommend or essentially a top 10 film of 2010, and then they film ends with two of the better scenes in the last decade including the shot of the note being handed from McGregor to Olivia Williams. The second shot is of course that final shot- the equivalent of the “forget it, Jake, It’s Chinatown” shot of the hit and run and pages of the unpublished book sweeping away. Fantastic finish.
gem I want to spotlight: Knife in the Water. He’s done a number of films that feel small and stagy with a background in theatre (enclosed/limited sets, small ensemble). Cul-de-sac is like this– as is Death and the Maiden, Repulsion, Carnage and others. Knife in the Water is along these lines but manages to separate itself with some of the framing and uncanny sense of paranoia Polanski is able to achieve. It’s a brilliant debut, and necessary starting point for a Polanski study.
stylistic innovations/traits: Unnerving cinema. Polanski’s films have a feeling of claustrophobia, paranoia and psychology that makes him a welcomed predecessor of Hitchcock and precursor to Cronenberg in many ways. His shot choices dictate this- the angles used in the phone booth in Rosemary’s Baby- I mean this is just a woman in a phone booth and Polanski makes it art. The angles in Repulsion (again a pretty girl in a room for 90 minutes). The choices to elevate the camera at the ends of Chinatown and The Ghost Writer—dread—systematic horror.
- Rosemary’s Baby
- The Ghost Writer
- Knife in the Water
- The Tenant
- The Pianist
By year and grades
|1962- Knife in the Water||HR/MS|
|1976- The Tenant|
|1994- Death and the Maiden||R|
|2002- The Pianist||R|
|2010- The Ghost Writer||MS|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
Hi, I’m a very big fan of Polanski as a filmmaker as well. I think he makes excellent, dread-induced films while also being able to make more stripped down films such as The Pianist or Tess. My question though is what are your thoughts when some people say that nobody should watch or support his films due to his personal actions? Polanski’s filmmaking style has always captivated me but I often feel ashamed to bring him up in conversation due to a fear of what people might think of me praising his films. I don’t like getting too into celebrities’ personal lives, but I’m just curious about your opinion on this subject matter since it seems as though whenever anybody even mentions Polanski that’s where the conversation goes, rather than his actual films.
By the way, you’ve introduced me to several great filmmakers through your ongoing list so just wanted say thanks! Keep up the great work.
@Sean Locke — Thanks for the comment here– appreciate you visiting the site and I’m thrilled to hear you been introduced to some filmmakers. You’re very welcome.
Good question on Polanski. I think it’s a different for everyone and if someone doesn’t want to watch Polanski films that’s their choice. I decided a long time ago it was always going to be about the art. So I have no problem watching, enjoying, studying and writing about Polanski. It’s a simple as that. DW Griffith, Woody Allen, Emil Jannings, how about everything that Miramax has produced under the command of Harvey Weinstein? I mean the list of actors and directors you’d have to start crossing off your list… I want no part of that. I just don’t get into it.
why is the pianist not getting any mention.Do you think the oscar should have gone to nicholson,day lewis or even sandler?
What about An officer and a spy(2019)?
@Janith– Haven’t seen it yet- look forward to it. Have you been able to catch it? Is it good?
@Drake- Just curious, how many times have you watched his Macbeth? Personally I think it’s one of his best films (I’d put it at #4 after Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, and Repulsion). I think more than any director (including Kurosawa) he best captured the essence of the story with the extremely eerie and horror-like quality he brings to it. The production design is great (very dirty and grimy) and the cinematography is beautiful. The scene toward the end when Macbeth goes back to the witches and he sees a vision with all the future kings with the camera going into all of the various mirrors is for me one of the most memorable scenes in Polanski’s filmography. I don’t like to be one of those people who shoves my opinion down peoples’ throats, but if you’ve only seen it once I’d highly recommend a rewatch.
I agree. Macbeth is one of Polanskis best. Top 5.
@Thomas Locke- thanks- yep- only seen it once so far. Thanks for sharing the specifics here. That’s helpful. I look forward to a rewatch at some point. If it’s in the class of the top 3 here for Polanski — it is certainly underrated. TSPDT doesn’t have it on the top 2000.
38 seems low for Polanski. It’s probably because I rate The Tenant more and I have it as his 3rd best. To me It’s even more haunting and filled with paranoia than Repulsion and it’s little deeper and more layered. I agree that it is very close between Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby. I change my mind all the time between those two but have them both in top 50 of all time. His filmography is not that deep but in my opinion he still should be higher just off the strength of those 4.
What about Bitter Moon?
@Harry- I actually haven’t had a chance to catch Bitter Moon yet
I hope you get round to it sometime, it’s a great narrative and has Polanski’s usual eerieness behind the camera. Great film for me
@Harry- thank you- when I take a deeper dive on Polanski I’ll do everything I can to get to it
I’m also curious about The Ninth Gate, I think it works better as entertainment than art but I still think it’s a quality film that makes a nice lesser comparison to Eyes Wide Shut – not archivable or haven’t gotten to it?
@Harry- I did get around to it again in 2020 http://thecinemaarchives.com/2020/05/25/the-ninth-gate-1999-polanski/
@Drake Have you had the chance to catch Roman Polanski’s Venus in Fur(2013)?
@Anderson- I have, yes, when it first came out
The announcement of Polanski’s new film.
Super excited for this one. I thought both An Officer and a Spy(2019) and The Ghost Writer(2010) were exceptionally made driven by very good lead performances.
Coincidentally David Cronenberg’s new film were also announced a few days ago.
@Malith- Certainly two of the best living directors. I’m excited to see both. I assume both will come out in 2022 which will be exactly 60 years since Polanski’s jaw-dropper of a debut– incredible.
I hope both are brilliant, I can’t wait.
There must have been 50-100 shots like those above in Knife in the Water at the very least. Easily one of the most beautifully shot films in history. I think, combining the incredible images with the Bernard Herrmann, Taxi Driver-esque score (predating Taxi Driver of course), some of the character interactions, and not to mention an as-expected excellent Polanski ending, you get a fairly big masterpiece that currently stands, after having seen Chinatown, The Tenant, Repulsion, and this, as my #2 for Polanski and it could easily raise to my #1 in the future. A bit surprising that it’s his only Polish film as well.
@Zane- thanks for sharing this here. It is one I’ve been itching to get back to.
@Drake-Have you still not seen Polanski’s An Officer and a Spy(2019)? It’s been 2 years since it got released. The film is brilliantly directed. The opening take is a stunner. Polanski even won Cesar award for best director beating Celine Sciamma for Portrait of a Lady on fire. And this has to be one of the most beautiful films Polanski has ever made.
@Malith- yeah, I am not avoiding this film- take a peek at google, metacritic (9 total reviews) rotten tomatoes (33 total reviews)- it is just not available in many regions. If you like in an area where it is available consider yourself lucky I guess.
@Drake-Yeah I can give you a link to download and watch the film on 1080p BluRay Quality if you want.
@Malith- I will pass for now, but that is very nice of you to offer- thank you.
@Malith – I watched on a free site, quality was not great but I found the film to be tremendous.
@Drake – yeah, I just ordered a Blue Ray today, the estimated time of arrival is October 1 – October 25. So yeah haha. I think I am starting a Polanski study soon so it should actually work out okay
Starting a Polanski study
Knife in the Water (1962) – What a fascinating start, his first and only Polish film I believe. This really has many of the Polanski traits that would be seen throughout his filmography, very atmospheric, brimming with tension. I cannot think of many directors who are so effective at working in tight, confined spaces; really it’s no wonder that he would make the unofficial “apartment trilogy” after watching his masterful ability to manipulate spaces and use inventive camera angles.
– Jazz music to start as 2 main characters, husband and wife drive along empty road
– 9:05 low angle shot as the hiker walks onto the pier, another low angle shot when hiker
steps on the boat which gives uneasy and distorted feeling
– 15:50 excellent side close up of wife lying with boating going up and down slowly
– 27:00 to 28:00 includes hiker climbs boat, showing off for the wife great shots of hiker
from multiple angles distorting the height of the boat
– hiker and husband engaging in increasingly ridiculous contests to impress the wife
– Complete seclusion as they are isolated with no other characters aside from the 3 main
characters, not even extras
– 55:00 wife in the middle, several compositions place the 3 forming a triangle
– 1:09:00 tension rising as husband smugly tells hiker that his trip has been “instructive”
while showing hiker how to do something on boat, great use of close ups
– 1:11:36 husband throws knife in water, great close up shot
– 1:20:40 wife and hiker discover common ground, first time we learn any backstory
– 1:24:30 cutaway shot to the calm water as they have sex, the sex is implied but not
shown, jazz music returns
Really impressive start for Polanski, not quite a Masterpiece but I do not think it’s that far off
Tried to post on the Roman Polanski page but was not able to
Is there a word limit, I tried a couple times to post my review of Repulsion (1965) but each time it returned a 404 Error, the “Oops, This Page Could Not Be Found!”
But I can post this
@James Trapp- Hmm- sorry about that, I just tested it and it seemed to work.
Two attractive Belgian sisters in their 20s/30s live together in an apartment in London; the main character here is Catherine Deneuve’s Carol
The presence of sexually aggressive men in their lives is evident throughout the early parts of the film and while Carol’s sister seems to enjoy it, Carol is clearly uncomfortable
Patient opening with very eerie music playing with focus on the eye
Starting around 16:15 camera slowly moves in on Carol against the wall which gives apartment claustrophobic feeling
16:48 camera moves in on family photo
close up on Carol’s face at 18:00 as she can hear her sister having sex, close ups will be frequent choice throughout film
20:20, carol walks in on sisters boyfriend shaving, Carol’s life and personal space is being invaded by men
44:34 after shot of Carol staring outside into open space next shot is close up of sink, again claustrophobic feeling
shot of eyes repeated throughout film
very effective minimal performance from Deneuve
ticking at 52:52 effective substitute for Carol’s heart rate
one of the standout scenes at 53:50 when a man pins Carol to bed and assaults her, this is done with no dialogue or sound even though Carol is clearly screaming
phenomenal editing at the 57:00 when Carol accidently injures a client at work
two deaths where Carol is both victim and victimizer, Carol is horrified in aftermath
The film is truly fascinating slow burn of a woman’s descent into madness, the pacing is essential here as a hurried story would not have worked the same, the film takes its time showing us Carol’s daily life setting up the extended stay in her apartment while sister is gone with her lover for the weekend
The camera work is key here as Polanski shoots claustrophobic better than almost any other director, the apartment becomes smaller and smaller
The ending shot has been compared to The Shining (this came out first), the photo is seen throughout the film
I think this is close to Rosemary’s Baby in quality and I don’t say that lightly as Rosemary’s Baby is in my opinion the 2nd greatest horror film of all time (to The Shining). Both films are part of Polanski’s apartment trilogy and both feature women struggling her extreme paranoia although the psyche of Carol is far more disturbed and mysterious as Carol is truly an enigma
A true Masterpiece.
Sorry about the multiple posts but for some reason every time I tried a long post it said there was an error and did not let me post
Cul De Sac (1966)
– I am not sure any director can create a compelling film with so little in terms of actors/actresses and limited settings, Polanski demonstrated this right out of the gate with his excellent debut film Knife in the Water
– Unfortunately, this is not Knife in the Water, while that film kept me engaged from start to
– finish, this one is a little uneven. Still there is enough to recommend a viewing
– the film uses a slow burn pace but is ultimately more about the relationship between the film’s strange characters and bizarre circumstances than it is the plot. Ultimately I think it would have benefitted from a little more structure even if I found some of the sexual psychology between the husband, wife, and home invader/tormentor quite interesting
– Visually impressive with crisp black and white cinematography
The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)
– An oddball horror comedy that parody’s Hammer Horror Films
– The humor is not exactly laugh out loud but more just admiring the strange atmosphere
– Some strong visuals, gorgeous shots of the winter environment and frozen landscape that surrounds the castle including some skiing scenes
– Some impressive costume design and set pieces with the Castle
– Polanski also plays a role here as the dim-witted assistant to the vampire hunter
– This is definitely a lesser Polanski effort, but I still think there’s enough to recommend a viewing plus it is one of the few films of Sharon Tate has a substantial role in
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
– Very strong opening with the pink lettering, haunting music, and 360 shot of NYC; “Rosemary’s Lullaby”, also called “Sleep Safe and Warm”, is a musical composition with music by Krzysztof Komeda and lyrics by Larry Kusik and Eddie Snyder
– The apartment is a character in itself
– This film defines “slow burn” as it isn’t until the 1:36:20 mark that the paranoia goes into hyperdrive with intense music, the pacing is very effective
– No one is better than Polanski at working within confined spaces (there’s a reason he is known for the “apartment trilogy”) as he expertly manipulates space to create a claustrophobic environment
– The camera is quite active
– At the 20:06 mark we get a great shot through the peephole (depth of field)
– Polanski’s direction is flawless; the pacing, camera movements and angles, and restraint in not hurrying the plot along are all key to its effectiveness as a thriller
– 1:58:25 great low angle shot when Rosemary wakes up and see’s Guy’s face after she’s knocked out by the sedative
– Not showing the supernatural elements until the very end is brilliant, especially when combined with the fact that everything we see leading up to the end is from Rosemary’s point of view, so we (the audience) experience the paranoia along with Rosemary
– 2:06:40 great shot through the keyhole
– The final set piece with the coven is so eerie and effective since the entire prior 2 hours is leading up to it (patience really is a virtue with this film)
With Polanski the term “atmospheric” always gets thrown around and properly so. I am not sure there is any film I can think of where the term is more appropriate. It is a slow burn for sure but there is something unsettling right from that brilliant opening scene. Rosemary’s paranoia is based almost solely on the atmosphere and not at all on “jump scares” and unearned plot shifts.
I cannot praise this utter master work enough; it is an enormous Masterpiece and had it not been for the existence of Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) I would call this the single greatest horror film ever made. I can’t imagine I would every pick any film other than Chinatown (1974) as my favorite from Polanski but this and Repulsion (1965) are basically perfect masterpieces with this one coming a little ahead.
Doing director studies I am always looking for hidden gems amongst other things. So far this seems like a solid contender and I am not even a huge Shakespeare guy (I think his stories are brilliant I just have a hard time with the way they talk). None the less this is my favorite Shakespeare adaptation along with Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.
Spectacular opening that looks like it could have been a scene from Barry Lyndon.
Throughout the film repeated shots of the Castle on a Hill, stunning.
Great use of internal dialogue
Graphic violence is much more intense than the Orson Welles version and speaking of which I strongly prefer Polanski’s version over Welles
Using this sites grading system I would probably call this a MS
Have you seen Polanski’s Macbeth? It’s quite impressive visually, so far the best Macbeth I’ve seen along with Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.
@James Trapp- I have, but it has been far too long
– First viewing in 4K Ultra High Def
– Jerry Goldsmith’s score at the introduction evokes an intense feeling of sorrow and regret with his score with heavy use of trumpet sounds.
– Nicholson’s JJ Gittes is one of the great noir performances of all time
– Great split diopter shot at 5:45 when Gittes goes to the Department of Water and Power meeting to start following Hollis Mulwray
– So much has been written about the screen play over the years that it is taught in film courses and held up as the golden standard for screenplays, even the most minor characters introduced early like Burt Young’s curly or the young kid riding the horse come back later in the movie
– The shot at the 11:15 mark there is a Cinematic Painting, gorgeous shot of JJ Gittes watching Mulwray at sunrise while smoking a cigarette just before he is soaking wet from the water runoff.
– Love the barbershop scene and the transition with JJ telling the inappropriate joke in front of the real Mrs. Mulwray, shows he can be crass.
– Great blocking at 34:33 with Dunaway speaking to Escobar after Mulwray’s body is discovered
– Faye Dunaway is terrific although I would put Bonnie and Clyde as her greatest performance, still this is an absolutely fabulous performance particularly the way she reacts to mentions of her father (lighting up multiple cigarettes, stuttering, covering up her body, etc.)
– John A. Alonzo served as the ASC and what a great job he does, I think there are more beautiful shot than people realize especially the skyline shots. There are so many things to praise from the acting, to screenplay, to quotable lines, to the directing, and pacing that the cinematography gets overlooked in my opinion
– 38:30 another museum art quality shot of Jake investigating the area where he followed Mulwray
– The use of color was something that I noticed more this time than prior viewings, a lot of yellow, yellow, cream, brown, and gray colors and this is matched in the film’s mise-en-scene particularly the clothing and suites. Apparently, this was intended to create a “dried out” look for LA given the water droughts central to the main plot.
– 1:09:00 painterly shot of Gittes looking out toward the direction of the orange groves
– John Huston gives the films 3rd best performance after Nicholson and Dunaway, I chimed in on a discussion on the 1974 page recently related to this subject
– “Course I’m respectable. I’m old. Politicians, public buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough” John Huston as Noah Cross, this movie is filled with quotable lines.
– The recreation of the 1930s LA with the vehicles, clothing, etc. is amazing
– Final Verdict: A Colossal Masterpiece (my # 9 all-time film)
– Right away quite different than other Polanski films which often take place in confined spaces, this is set-in wide-open landscapes
– 11:16 gorgeous magic hour shot, painterly quality
– Tess is presented as naïve and innocent with her all-white dress and flower on her head
– 16:20 beautiful shot long shot of Tess walking through the woods
– Nastassja Kinski under acts in an effective way, it effectively portrays the innocence and confusion that Tess often feels
– 25:30 Tess is betrayed by a man for the 1st of many times
– 37:24 immaculate image and use of lighting with shot of Tess and Alec on a horse in the woods with the lighting peaking though; there are numerous images in this film that are Barry Lyndon-esque
– Haunting shots 52-53 min with Tess forced to bury her child without the help of the Church as the child was born out of wedlock
– 1:03:12 one of the strongest compositions with Tess approaching Angel who is playing the flute
– Beautiful frame within frame window shot
– 1:07:00 maybe best shot so far with Tess and 2 other girls reflection in the pond
– 1:41:46 great composition with Tess and Angel sitting at opposite ends of table, distant from each other
– 1:39:23 painterly shot
– 1:47:40 amazing shot in the woods
– Great wide angle shot of Tess at 2:01:00, shows isolation she is feeling
– 2:08:00 sequence of Tess working in wheat field with Alec watching by and proposing to help take care of her, Tess looks completely broken by this point
– 2:11:40 Tess states “once a victim always a victim” emotionally shattering
– 2:27:35 Tess has a completely different look, well dressed up and now official part of aristocracy as she is with Alec
The pacing is certainly slow, but I found it engaging throughout. Tess is a tragic character limited by the conventions of the time and place, England in the late 19th century. The imagery is spectacular and quite different from any other Polanski films I have seen so far, definitely stands out in this filmography.
Carnage is a fun film although it is more of a play as film which makes sense since it’s an adaptation from a Tony Award winning play. It is in some ways quite different from any other Polanski film aside from the fact that it’s a 4 person film all set in essentially one location, an apartment. Polanski has other films with these set ups in fact he is the master of single location films involving only a few characters; Knife in the Water, Death and the Maiden, the Apartment trilogy of course. But unlike all the films just mentioned this is not a suspense/thriller. In fact it’s largely a comedy with the premise being two sets of parents with different backgrounds/classes meet after their young kids (11 or 12 years old I believe) get in a fight at school. This film is not very cinematic but I would still recommend a viewing to Polanski fans just based on the performances, I mean the acting talent is amazing. You have Jodie Foster and John C Reilly as the more blue collar family and Kate Winslet and Christopher Waltz as the more white collar family. It is a lot of fun and always interesting to see great auteurs try something new even in situations where not everything works.
– Harrison Ford as Doctor Richard Walker and Betty Buckley as his wife Sondra
– 2:06 the cab they are riding gets flat on way to their Paris hotel, foreshadowing
– 13:37 great framing through the open bathroom doorway and shower, essentially splitting the screen as
Sondra walks out of frame while Richard showers setting disappearance plot in motion
– 20:00 starting to see Harrison’s character become a “fish out of water” walking around Paris with little to
no ability to speak French and as he tries to summon help with little luck as he runs into issues with
bureaucracy (paperwork, uncaring officials, etc.) and mainly uncaring unhelpful people
– 41:11 heavy use of shadows in hotel room a la film noir
– 47:40 elegant shot of Walker at night looking for wife, walking into neon blue streetlight, isolation
– 1:23:18 excellent framing through doorway
– Paranoia builds throughout, Walker does not know who can be trusted
– Close up shots used for as movie progresses giving us Polanski’s specialty, the claustrophobic camera
work, shots of tight enclosed spaces
– 1:13:34 strong composition with investigators on right side of frame waiting to question Walker
– In many ways this is Hitchcock
– Not one of his best but still a film I would recommend
Finished up my Polanski Study, watched 16 of his 20 feature films. I did not get to Pirates, The Ninth Gate, Oliver Twist, and Venus in Fur. I may return to these at some point other than Pirates which has terrible reviews.
I would rank in the following order:
Rosemary’s Baby MP
The Tenant MP
The Ghost Writer MS
Knife in the Water MS
An Officer and Spy MS
The Pianist HR
Death and Maiden R
Fearless Vampire R
Cul de Sac R
Bitter Moon Not Recommend
@James Trapp- Very impressive work James! Thank you for sharing this.
What really impressed me was that 2nd tier of films I listed under MS. Especially the following three; Tess, An Officer and a Spy, and Macbeth. I would not rule out they could go even higher with additional views. I am just starting on my own rankings of directors so I am not sure exactly where Polanski would go but I would have to imagine quite high up. I have Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby as huge MPs ranked respectively # 9 and # 48 although I admittingly have many many more movies to watch. Still between those huge MPs, the depth of the 2nd Tier, and the consistent style I imagine he would have to rank quite high.
I am not sure any other director is better at using paranoia to create suspense aside from Hitchcock. Polanski also seems to be the master of single location films with minimal characters. I mean you have the entire apartment trilogy plus films like Knife in the Water, Death and Maiden, and Cul de Sac.
Tess and to a lesser degree An Officer and a Spy demonstrate Polanski’s ability to create beautiful and/or visually stunning films.
The final point I would bring up is the multiple language/cultures made this study quite interesting. I mean he has films in French, Polish, and English and films set in the US, Poland, France, Great Britain, and Scotland.
@James Trapp-The Ninth Gate is actually in the archives. So I don’t know why you are skipping it and watched the others.
@Malith – yeah, I saw that, someone else mentioned this film, I think it was @Harry. I will check it out given the multiple recommendations. Oliver Twist I wanted to watch but could not find it anywhere for a reasonable price and as I said I skipped Pirates due to awful reviews (it sounds like Polanski was out of his element there). Venus in Fur I watched a couple years ago, it was okay but did not think a rewatch was necessary.
@James Trapp Really nice work, I’m gonna try and get to Tess, An Officer and a Spy and Macbeth soon, if I can find 3 more MS’s from Polanski he’d probably jump to my #1 oat.
I disagree of course with Bitter Moon (though I could be overrating it) but otherwise a fine study and ranking
@Harry – thank you, I appreciate it. I enjoyed this study immensely. This was my 6th, I have previously done: Welles, WKW, Vittorio De Sica, Francis Ford Coppola, Terence Malick.
You can argue the best 3-4 films from Welles, Coppola, and Malick are superior to Polanski’s best 3-4 films but as I said it’s that 2nd Tier that really stands out with Polanski I think they are superior to the 2nd tier from the other directors listed
yeah Bitter Moon was strange it did have its moments but the narrative felt like a jumbled mess at times and seemed to drag on. The ending scene with Kristin Scott Thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner seemed to come out of nowhere. Still it was not boring.
@James There are also two feature films you missed in your count; Based on a True Story, What?. I’ve heard What? is terrible (though it does have Marcello Mastroianni as the lead) and I haven’t heard much on the other. Either way you’ve probably seen enough for now. 4 MPs and 5 MSs must give him one of the best filmographies you’ve looked into so far.
@Harry – good catch yeah don’t know much about either of those.
yep very very strong filmography, amazing top 10
I did not think that much about it until now but the fact that he made a film the quality of An Officer and a Spy (2019) at 88, well I guess he was 86 when it was released. None the less to make a film of that quality at near 90 years old is insane.
@James overall how do you feel about Emmanuelle Seigner’s acting ability?
@James Trapp-Polanski certainly looks very healthy and fit for a 88 year old.
Are there any other directors who have released great films in their late eighties? Other directors that have been discussed who made movies at old ages seem to be in their seventies (Miller with Fury Road, Kurosawa with Ran, Dreyer with Gertrud, Scorsese with The Irishman).
@Graham I think it’s pretty unprecedented. Eastwood made Richard Jewell at 88/89 which is an incredibly solid film, but not top 10 of the year worthy and I can’t think of others.
@Harry – regarding Emmanuelle Seigner’s acting ability I think she was solid in Frantic (1988), not amazing but okay. But I think she gets much better over time, I actually enjoyed the performances of her and Peter Coyote in Bitter Moon it was just the structure and much of the Hugh Grant parts that turned me off there. Venus in Fur I saw when it first came out and did not love it but thought she was great. I enjoyed her performance in An Officer and a Spy as well. I do not think she has a ton of range but she is very good at playing a mysterious/captivating woman.
I got the chance to check out The Ninth Gate and would add it to the Recommended, I enjoyed her performance there. Perfect role for her.
Drake I think Tess needs further study on this page as I cannot agree with the R grade. I’ve collected a bunch of screenshots here as my case.
There are just countless shots like these, I was amazed at the beauty here. It’s not just the cinematographer here, the film has a powerful lead role for Kinski and it is one of those well-adapted rich period pieces that just washes over you. James has it as a MS which I am much closer to right now after my first viewing.
@Harry- This is really well done- very convincing. I am going to try to move Tess up on my queue, revisit, and potentially remedy this error on my end here. Thank you.
1. Chinatown – MP
2. Knife in the Water – MP
3. Rosemary’s Baby – MP
4. The Tenant – MP
5. Repulsion – MS
1. Chinatown – MP
2. Repulsion – MP
3. Rosemary’s Baby – MP
4. Tess – MP
5. The Tenant – MP
6. Knife in the Water – MS/MP
7. The Ghost Writer – MS
8. Cul-de-sac – HR/MS to MS
9. Macbeth – R
@Zane – quite similar to mine
1. Chinatown MP
2. Rosemary’s Baby MP
3. Repulsion MP
4. The Tenant MP
5. The Ghost Writer MS
6. Knife in the Water MS
7. An Officer and Spy MS
8. Tess MS
9. Macbeth HR/MS
10. The Pianist HR
@Zane – Have you had the chance to see An Officer and a Spy? I was really impressed by it.
I have seen Tess twice now and wouldn’t be suprised if another viewing moved it up into MP territory, it is easily Polanski’s most beautiful film with shots that rival some of the best from Barry Lyndon.
The only one I disagree with is Cul-de-Sac which I had trouble getting into but will give it another viewing at some point in the future. Polanski is great at single location films with small casts of course.
Knife in the Water HR
Rosemary’s Baby MP
The Tenant MS
Death and the Maiden —
The Pianist R
The Ghost Writer R
@Drake-Have you seen his 2019 effort An Officer and a Spy? It seemed to me like every frame had to be a painting in that movie. Here’s a review of it.
It was quite well apperciated especially in France. With Polanski winning best director at the César Awards and the film garnered 12 Nominations. Most by any French film that year
@Anderson- I would love to get my hands on it- it is famously/infamously not available in the US (because it is Polanski- no doubt)- which is really unfortunate. I am hopeful this is remedied soon