Roman Polanski: The Impact of Life on Art

The name Roman Polanski is a head turner for various reasons. It is either the story of his dark childhood days in Poland trying to survive or it is his films and his artistic donation to the cinema or it is his trouble with the law. I am not going to cover his problems with the law here; I believe it is more important to know the man and his work than focusing on his personal troubles. There are several books, essays, and articles that are written regarding his masterful work as a film-maker for the aficionado of films, cinema, writing, art and may be for those who don’t appreciate or pay attention to films as well.

It is a unique journey. I have been meaning to write about Mr. Polanski for many years, yet I never got the opportunity to pen down and express my opinion on his life, work, and passion as a true auteur that he is. I was introduced to the work of Mr. Polanski unexpectedly; I saw a film few years ago that goes by the title, Rosemary’s baby (1968), which tells the story of a young couple surrounded by peculiar neighbors and occurrences in a new apartment. When the wife mysteriously becomes pregnant, paranoia over the safety of her child begins controlling her life. I was truly fascinated with the idea of the film and with Mr. Polanski’s style and taste. I instantly became a fan of his work, perhaps it is because of Polanski’s life, if you think about it is far more fascinating. His life, if one closely pays attention to is also relevant to the style of his films. Whether you are rich or poor, there is a gift in all of us. One can be a writer, director, musician, poet or an actor, you learn from the past is something that I believe in. It is the footsteps of our childhood that reverberates. The ups and downs of life remains and throughout the life it personally motivates us emotionally. So, therefore, Mr. Polanski remembers the alleys that his childhood spent the era of innocence, living under the harsh pressure of German invasion in his homeland. As a film lover and scriptwriter and the appreciation that I have for cinema it is Mr. Polanski who motivates me to proceed. The young Polanski occasionally watched films at school and cinema houses. Films became more than an escape into entertainment for him.

Movies were becoming an absolute obsession with me. I was enthralled by everything connected with the cinema not just the movies themselves but the aura that surrounded them. I loved the luminous rectangle of the screen, the sight of the beam slicing through the darkness from the projection booth, the miraculous synchronization of sound and vision, even the dusty smell of the tip-up seats. More than anything else, though I was fascinated by the actual mechanics of the process. – Roman Polanski

What intrigues me is that Polanski in his own films portrays the reality of life. The dark side of the world. He has had a rough life if one decides to study it. That’s why I mentioned that most of the writers, directors, actors and poets actually learn from life itself. As a writer and a film-maker, Polanski comprehends the reality that today’s world is going through. We have always been part of this world; we go through the happiness and sadness both. Heartache is part of life and we have to deal with it. Polanski fell in love with films when he was young, yet he was not that fortunate kid who spent time in the comfort of his room watching films. He inaugurates paranoia, tension, and violence in most of his films. Any good film, in my opinion, must be watched with serious consecration if films are what interest you, yet every film is not a Polanski style film. Polanski’s films must be watched with serious consecration, for his films are the presentment of art. It is unfortunate, for I haven’t got the opportunity yet to watch all of his work in chronological order, but it is definitely in my to-do list, and I will go in detail a bit on why his work must be viewed. I have seen few of his films, which starts with Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Cul-De-Sac (1966), The Ninth Gate (1999), The Pianist (2002), and The Ghost Writer (2010). Cul-De-Sac is a film that I saw in a film class that I used to attend to understand films, theater, and characters. I was truly blown away by the film, and after the film in the classroom, as a group along with the instructor we sat around a roundtable, and discussed the film. Mr. Polanski as a true artist provides the audience some clues, metaphors, signs, and emblems. If one pays close attention, there is an emblem in the film, which is the isolated castle itself. The two gangsters on the run decide to take refuge in the castle and they find out that the castle is owned by an odd couple. Now what we must look at closely is that Mr. Polanski’s camera is in full use in the castle, which is dark like his characters and the story of the film itself. The castle is a representation or I should say it is the definition of the dark spheres of human mind. Cul-De-Sac is a masterpiece in its own right, which is visually riveting, passionately performed, and directed.

There is this particular eerie feeling when it comes to Roman Polanski films, frightening and peculiar. I personally get that feeling if I walk in a room where a movie is playing and if it’s a Polanski film, I comprehend and observe the impact of that particular scene. Mr. Polanski in his films always, if you haven’t noticed yet, sets his camera in a narrow alley when there is absence of sunlight or any light. And at times the street are either covered with white sheets of snow or just wet after the rain that has just ceased falling. We see bystanders and his central characters mostly wearing hats and if not hats, they are always wearing dark and gray. One of the reasons I believe his work must be cherished and admired, for he is that one film-maker who still contributes to the style, mood, tone, and point-of-view of the films known as film noir.

Then there is violence, which is also an essential part of Polanski’s films. Every film-maker, I believe is different just as every poet and a painter is. Everyone has their own point-of-view respectively. So, violence as we see in films is portrayed in different takes and styles. From Alfred Hitchcock to Stanley Kubrick and Brian De Palma, and from Clint Eastwood to Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan, we can visualize their representation of the violence on the screen. Done all perfectly and we as the aficionado of films and the works of these great artists without any hesitation or apprehension venerate these artists and their works. Everyone has a taste, so we comprehend that, for we can perceive the personage of these great artists. Many believe that the violence in Polanski’s film is a course to exercise his own demons due to the violence he had clashed with in his private life.

From his bleak childhood days surviving the Krakow Ghetto during World War II to his murdered wife, Sharon Tate on August 8th, 1969 by four members of the Manson ‘Family.’ On the sets of his film, Macbeth (1971), screenwriter Kenneth Tynan who co-wrote with Roman Polanski the script for the film asked Polanski regarding the amount of blood Polanski considered requisite for the dying bodies in the film; Mr. Polanski responded to Tynan, “You didn’t see my house last summer.’ I know about bleeding.”

You have to show violence the way it is. If you don’t show it realistically, then that’s immoral and harmful. If you don’t upset people, then that’s obscenity. – Roman Polanski.

Speaking of violence, art and the work of a true film-maker, one film that I thought I should take on is Mr. Polanski’s, The Pianist, which is based on a Polish Jewish musician, Wladyslaw Szpilman who struggles to survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto of World War II. Adrian Brody, who ardently limns his character as Szpilman received his first Academy Award as best actor. Mr. Brody, in order to connect with the feeling of loss got rid of his apartment, didn’t watch television, and even sold his car. The violence, chaos, poverty and the impact of incursion and war in the film is the presentment of true events that Mr. Polanski as a young kid had to go through. What makes this film so important is not only the artistic vision of the film-maker or the performance of the actors, what makes the film so essential is the story that it carries with itself for today’s generation. No one deserves an encounter with hunger, poverty, chaos, burning houses, and invasions, yet it happens. When it happens it becomes part of history and when it becomes part of history it becomes part of all of us. It doesn’t matter where we from. If it would not matter to us, what happened in the past and what’s going on now around the world then we would all born differently and appear differently to each other. The point I am attempting to make is that we are all connected.

And now I was lonelier, I supposed, than anyone else in the world. Even Defoe’s creation, Robinson Crusoe, the prototype of the ideal solitary, could hope to meet another human being. Crusoe cheered himself by thinking that such a thing could happen any day, and it kept him going. But if any of the people now around me came near I would need to run for it and hide in mortal terror. I had to be alone, entirely alone, if I wanted to live. – Wladyslaw Szpilman.

When I see Polanski’s films, I believe he is trying to communicate with the world. The Pianist, in particular is a film that he is in constant attempt to convey the message of his childhood. Of course, as an artist, he depicts the events in an artistic manner. If he would be a painter, we would be in museums, if he would be a poet, we would be holding the books of his poetry. There are three main scenes that have a great emotional effect on me and I believe that Mr. Polanski has captured it poetically. It literally brought tears to my eyes. In this scene we see the crowd of people, hundreds of men, women, and children, many of them holding suitcases moving towards a train. Among them are Szpilman and his family. Szpilman is walking besides his sister, Halina played by Jessica Kate Meyer. He tells his sister the last words, “It’s a funny time to say this, but… “ Halina says, “What?” Szpilman emotionally tells her, “I wish I knew you better.”

Right after this scene, Mr. Polanski shows the value of the people around us. It is a way to educate us that we must respect, love, and be there for each other. There are too many negativity is going on in the world, but what’s missing and is about to fade away is the value of our existence. Mr. Polanski returned to Poland, his native country to make this film, which is the most important and intensely personal film of his career. In this scene, right after the train incident, we see Szpilman (Adrain Brody) weeping loud and painfully while walking in a street where there is nothing left, but total chaos. Dead bodies are on the ground in different attitudes, houses are empty, belongings are left behind and their owners are long gone. No one, but it is Szpilman who is walking without hope in tears. In the character’s mind, he is may be asking himself, am I the only one who is left on earth?

And, in my third favorite scene, we see Szpilman is escaping the hospital where he was hiding the night before. It is morning and Germans are setting the buildings and dead bodies on the streets on fire. Szpilman escapes the hospital by climbing a wall; he jumps down on a street and hurts his ankle. As camera moves back, and Szpilman moving forward in this street, we see the impact of war, the burning building, and smoke rising. It is Szpilman who is walking in the middle of the street alone passing the ruins. The ruins of buildings where people used to spend their days and nights together around a dining table. Mr. Polanski has shot this scene in an artistic, yet emotional manner. What we must take from this is that we should never lose hope. The message of “The Pianist” is one of forgiveness and hope. It is about the power and strength of one individual to survive. It is also about music and how it kept Szpilman alive during the war. It is a fascinating story and I thank Mr. Polanski for directing this film from heart. It is personal to him, for he escaped the holocaust himself. Mr. Polanski is a unique individual. He’s been a fugitive since childhood, but a great artist as well. Let’s not forget that. I look forward to that day, when we see a film based on the life of director Roman Polanski.

“Only now that I am a father, that I have my own children, I realize fully what went on, the terrible horror of it all.” – Roman Polanski