Artist Spotlight–Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski is a fascinating man. He is a Holocaust survivor, his pregnant wife Sharon Tate was murdered by order of Charles Manson, and he has been exiled from the United States for 35 years. That’s the kind of life that would make for a gripping Hollywood movie. Oh wait, it did. But more on that later. Polanski has been making movies since the late 50’s and they are filled with as much drama, heartbreak, and suspense as his own unbelievable story. His stories hold some of the strongest emotions in the world of cinema. His skills as a storyteller are matched only by his vision for capturing beautiful images. He is undoubtedly one of the masters of cinema, no matter what you think about his personal life. And luckily for us, some of his greatest works are available to stream instantly.

Knife in the Water (1962)
Available on HuluPlus

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In 1962 Polanski made a major splash with his feature debut Knife in the Water. A young hitchhiker is dragged along on a sailing trip with a middle aged man and his trophy wife. What starts as a calm day in the water slowly evolves into a battle of brain vs. braun. Everything that happens in this movie is at a psychological level, as each man tries to prove his virility, but not necessarily to the young wife. There is a sense of homoeroticism in their actions and their words that’s buried somewhere in the subconscious. Knife in the Water isn’t a perfect movie, but it comes about as close as any directorial debut I’ve seen.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Available on Netflix

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Bad horror movies make you cringe and avert your gaze from the excessive blood and gore. Mediocre horror movies make you jump in your seat and close your eyes. Great horror movies make you stare at the screen, even though your skin is crawling in terror. Rosemary’s Baby falls into the final group. It is a giant in the horror genre–a story of paranoia and profound fear. It’s the kind of story that is as much about our inner demons, as the ones that inhabit a supernatural realm.

Chinatown (1974)
Available on Amazon Prime Instant Video

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Like any great film noir, Chinatown mesmerizes us with the strength of its characters. The plot is incredibly interesting, twisted and jumbled as it may be, but the strength lies in private investigator J.J. Gittes, played by screen legend Jack Nicholson. Gittes is slick, savvy, and cynical but his persona is unforgettable, and even likeable at times. The story follows him as he looks into an adultery case for an attractive client, and is subsequently sucked into a world of crime, deceit, and deeper evils. It’s a Neo noir that is as intense as they come.

The Pianist (2002)
Available on Netflix

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In 2003 Polanski won the Best Director Oscar for this incredible film. He was unable to accept due to his standing with the U.S. government, so Harrison Ford flew to Europe to deliver it to him. All that trouble for a golden statuette was worth it, because this movie is a phenomenon. It is a gritty yet beautiful look at one man’s struggles to survive the horrors of the Holocaust using the transformative power of music. The Pianist is horrifying, touching, and powerful.

Wanted and Desired (2008)
Available on Netflix

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Everybody that knows his story (or just the fragments of it) has some opinion about Polanski, whether they be sympathetic or condemning. Wanted and Desired manages to present the story objectively, with a level head fair treatment. Yet somehow it still feels very emotionally charged. I guess that’s the only way a life like his can be accurately depicted.  

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One thought on “Artist Spotlight–Roman Polanski

  1. Pingback: Artist Spotlight–Roman Polanski | mackleonardfilms

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