ROMAN by Roman Polanski
Kirkus Star


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Apparently assembled from Polanski tapes by ghostwriters (all gratefully acknowledged), this long memoir is short on style, personal presence, and close-up emotional involvement. Still, there's enough semi-confidential detail here to engage film buffs (throughout) and gossip-mavens (in the last third). In a detached manner, Polanski recalls his half-grim/half-liberating childhood as a non-religious Jew in WW II Cracow: his mother killed in a death-camp; his enigmatic father taken away too; a series of prepaid hideouts in non-Jewish, non-loving foster homes. Even after the war, with father returned, ""Romek"" remained a loner--catching up on his missed education, becoming stagestruck (in a Boy Scout show) and grabbing child-actor work in a ""Communist-flavored"" children's radio show. He fell in with West-obsessed cultural rebels, had first sex at 16 with an experienced 14-year-old, finally--despite a ""checkered school career""--finding his niche: the fabled Lodz Film School. And, after making shorts, acting, and spending time following his first wife (starlet Barbara Lass) around Europe, he made Knife in the Water--an initial failure (for political reasons) at home. So, when Roman left Poland for Paris, ""I was leaving one limbo for another. . . . My film had flopped and my wife had left me."" But Knife was soon an international critical hit: Repulsion followed, its ""unmistakably horrific"" screenplay designed to satisfy crass British backers; his first US film-deal, The Vampire Killers, was ""an unmitigated disappointment,"" the movie ""completely butchered"" by Marty Ransohoff. Still, by 1969, with Rosemary's Baby and happy, pregnant wife #2 Sharon Tate, life was ""radiant with promise""--until the Manson murders: Polanski (who had a ""premonition"" before the killings) condemns journalistic distortion and exploitation; he reveals his own sleuthing, with John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas as top suspect (Roman had slept with John's wife Michelle); he speculates on the Manson motives, declares his fidelity (of a sort) to Sharon's memory. And the last 100 pages cover his Chinatown comeback and his casual affairs with teenage girls--one of which (""a moment's unthinking lust"") led to trial, imprisonment, and flight from the US: ""Since the judge seemed determined to prevent me from ever again living and working"" in the US. . . ""What had 1 to gain by staying?"" True, nothing in this fiat, shallow narrative really clears the air or disproves the ugly portrait in Barbara Leaming's 1982 bio. (""1 am widely regarded, I know, as an evil, profligate dwarf. My friends--and the women in my life--know better."") But the off-screen filmmaking tidbits are diverting: nasty comments on Faye Dunaway, John Cassavetes, Donald Pleasence; defense of ""my so-called extravagances."" And some readers will just want to skim--for the matter-of-fact references to promiscuity and drugs, for glimpses of crazy Peter Sellers or foul Frank Sinatra, for yet another ghoulish re-run of the Manson case.

Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 1983
Publisher: Morrow