POLANSKI: A Biography by Barbara Learning

POLANSKI: A Biography

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Mixing workmanlike discussions of Polanski films with un-sensationalized but minute biographical details (the Manson murders, the rape case), Learning has assembled a well-researched, readable, if uninspired, portrait of this ""curiously amoral,"" self-dramatizing director--part victim, mostly victimizer. Left motherless by the Holocaust and virtually abandoned by his father, ""Romek"" grew up a loner in Cracow: undersized, narcissistic, a would-be actor, then an aggressive self-promoter at the film institute in Lodz. And from the beginning his films were preoccupied with violence and voyeurism, with power-plays, with hollow cruelties. Learning traces these themes through the Polish films (Knife in the Water above all) and the Paris work (Repulsion), also recounting anecdotes of filming--which often show Polanski eliciting performances via psychological and physical abuse. Then comes Hollywood: ""Polanski was a natural. . . . His interests were right--perverse sex, violence, madness, the bizarre--and he was a skilled technician. . . ."" But the success of Rosemary's Baby was soon followed by the murder of wife Sharon Tate (whom Polanski had photographed for Playboy--""surely an ultimate violation"") and others by the Manson clan. So, thereafter, ""his films would respond to an image he no longer fully controlled"": the image of someone associated with real violence. Likewise, his personal life seemed to become even less controlled--with foul, foolish behavior and then the sexual involvement with a 13-year-old: Leaming follows the legal inconsistencies of the case (which ended with Polanski fleeing the US) but also sees Polanski as having successfully manipulated some of the officials involved. (""A groggy thirteen-year-old. . . was no match for this brilliant actor, director and screenwriter."") Likewise, in an implicitly feminist vein, Leaming eyes the acclaimed Tess suspiciously: it ""offers the rapist's view of rape."" And, throughout, there's a healthy distaste--sometimes verging on preachiness--regarding Polanski's ""singular but undisputable place in film history."" Neither fresh film criticism, then, nor engrossing biography--but a conscientious enough composite, with a bit of undeniable gossip-appeal in the graphic documentations of sex, violence, and filmmaking.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster