Thursday, July 10, 2008

Olde Review: Rosemary's Baby

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the kid I was back in the '70's a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

This Saturday's ASUW films in 130 Kane are Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby," and Robert Wise's "The Haunting."

"Rosemary's Baby" (Roman Polanski, 1968) "Rosemary's Baby" opens with this theme:* it's a lullaby, sung charmingly off-key by Mia Farrow, its star, but underscored with even more off-key, sometimes baleful accompaniment. And as this lullaby oozes out on the soundtrack, the image we see is of a line of New York apartments--not an unusual opening shot for the beginning of a movie, in fact, it's pretty much of a cliche. And so is the opening situation--two young newly-weds-in-love house-shopping. We've seen it hundreds of times. It's an everyday occurrence. The apartment is lovely, the couple buys it, and everything is quite normal. Until a new-found friend of Rosemary's commits suicide, and Rosemary's relationship with her eccentric neighbors turns rather familial, and a bizarre fate befalls the fellow who got her husband's job. Now, that it looks like success for them, they decide it's time to have a kid...and see, there's this chocolate mousse...

Well, I don't have to go any further for I'm sure the legend of "Rosemary's Baby" has preceded it. But what separates "Rosemary" from other gothics is the perverse outlook of its director, Roman Polanski. Yes, everything's normal, and it is that very normalcy that makes the intrusion of Demonic Forces so doubly terrifying. One can accept odd happenings on a dark and stormy night on a cliff-top castle, but on a sunny day in a New York apartment complex?** It makes the horror so much more palpable to be surrounded by normalcy for it increases the possibility of something happening to you. And thus, Polanski places threats in such "normally" innocent and reassuring things as a chocolate mousse, or Ralph Bellamy (who had hawked aspirins for years on the tube) playing a "witch" doctor, if you'll excuse the pun. It's an unorthodox approach to the Gothic Horror least it was in 1968, when it was released, and to paraphrase an ad for Polanski's latest film, "The Tenant," "No one does it to you like Roman Polanski."***--not William Friedkin in "The Exorcist," or Richard Donner in "The Omen." Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby" is head and shoulders...and horns, above them.

Still true, but, my God, after Polanski's conviction of child-rape, that's one hell of a movie tag-line on "The Tenant!" Polanski's arrest, trial and conviction would come later two years after that film was released, but it sure is the ultimate sick joke.
As for "Rosemary's Baby," it still takes the prize as the best "Devil Walks Amongst Us" movie, and it's no small part due to Polanski's sick sense of humor--Orson Welles referred to him as "one of those morbid boys"--and his way of mixing the mundane and the sacrilegious. The most entertaining part of "Rosemary" are the elderly and uncomfortable neighbors--the legacies of the Bramford Hotel, and the best of them is sprightly Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for her role. It resurrected Gordon's career, and she went on to star in a long list of films in her twilight years.

Broadcast on KCMU-FM on October 22 and 23, 1976

* Yeah, there's nothing wrong with your computer--there is no song. I usually backed my radio-reviews with an appropriate piece of music, and for this one, I used the actual theme on the soundtrack.

** Ironically enough it's the high-end and rather exclusive Dakota building, standing in for the "Bramford." John Lennon would be shot in front of the Dakota a decade later.

*** EEE-Yikes!

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