Archive for September, 2013

Six Degrees of Separation: from Will Smith to…

Smith 6°

… Bette Davis
Smith co- starred opposite Thandie Newton (1) in The Pursuit of Happyness (2006); a movie based on a real life account, with ‘Happiness’ purposely misspelled on the title; and Newton earlier appeared in Besieged (1998), a film directed by the famed, controversial auteur, Bernardo Bertolucci (2), who made the great bio-pic, The Last Emperor (1987), which starred Peter O’Toole (3), whose most acclaimed performance is his portrayal of T.E. Lawrence (4) in the bio-pic, Lawrence of Arabia (1962), which co-starred Claude Rains (5), who appeared in Now, Voyager (1942), along side Bette Davis (6).

… Giulietta Masina
Smith played a very good hearted, yet suicidal and depressive, character, in the movie, Seven Pounds (2008), which was directed by Gabriele Muccino (1), who also directed the Italian movie Ricordati Di Me (2003), which starred Monica Bellucci (2), who starred in the Oscar nominated, Malèna (2000), a film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (3), who also made Stanno Tutti Bene (1990), which starred Marcello Mastroianni (4), who earlier worked with the maestro of surrealistic Italian cinema, Federico Fellini (5), in La Dolce Vita (1960), and Fellini directed Giulietta Degli Spiriti (1965), in which the lead role was played by Giulietta Masina (6).

… Suchitra Krishnamurthy
Smith played a gay con man in Six Degrees of Separation (1993), which co-starred Stockard Channing (1), who appeared in The Venice Project (1999), which also starred Linus Roache (2), who played an Englishman living in South India towards the end of the British Raj; where he lets a local man take the blame for a crime he committed; in Before The Rains (2007), and the local man was played by actor Rahul Bose (3), who starred in English, August (1994), along with Tanvi Azmi (4), who played sister-in-law to actress Juhi Chawla (5) in Darr (1993), and Chawla did a special appearance in Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994), in which the female lead was played by singer Suchitra Krishnamurthy (6).

Smith 6° (Pics)
… Jean Simmons
Smith played a con man who pretends to be Sidney Poitier’s (1) son in Six Degrees of Separation (1993), and Sidney Poitier starred in To Sir, with Love (1967); a movie about a black teacher who ends up teaching a group of unruly white kids in a school situated in the slums of London’s East End; which also starred singer Lulu (2); who also performed the title song in the film; and she performed the song ‘This Time’ for the movie Hot Millions (1968), which starred Peter Ustinov (3) who played the Roman General, Nero (4) in Quo Vadis (1951), which co-starred actress Deborah Kerr (5), who starred in Black Narcissus (1947), in which Jean Simmons (6) played an Indian girl.

… Ali MacGraw
Smith’s son Jaden Smith (1) appeared in The Karate Kid (2010), which was a remake of The Karate Kid (1984), where Ralph Macchio (2) played the original ‘Karate Kid’, and Macchio guest starred as himself in an episode of the television sit-com, How I Met Your Mother (2005- till date); in which the character played by Neil Patrick Harris (3), has his own opinion of who the real ‘Karate Kid’ of the original movie was; and Harris appeared in the television movie, The Man in the Attic (1995), which was based on a true story, opposite Anne Archer (4), who starred in Green Ice (1981) with Ryan O’Neal (5), who starred in heart breaking, tragic, Love Story (1970), along with Ali MacGraw (6).

… Desiree Matthews
Smith played boxer Muhammad Ali (1), in the bio-pic, Ali (2001), previously David Ramsey (2) played the famed boxer in a television bio-pic, Ali: An All American Hero (2000), and Ramsey guest starred in the television crime series, Dexter (2006 – till date), where the lead, titular, character is played by Michael C. Hall (3), who stars in the new biographical film, Kill your Darlings (2013) where Daniel Radcliffe (4) plays the famed poet Allen Ginsberg (5) of the Beat Generation, and in Howl (2010); a movie based on Ginsberg obscenity trial, Desiree Matthews (6) has a guest role.

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense ()


Since the invention of Cinema, there have been over a hundred actresses who’ve portrayed the Queen of the Nile. But there have been very few on screen Cleopatra’s, that have blown us away with their powerful performances.   

Q° 1. Which of these stars did you feel was Cleopatra incarnate? Who was the most beautiful Cleopatra of the silver screen?

a) Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra in Caesar and Cleopatra (1945)

Cleopatra (VL)

b) Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in Cleopatra (1963)

Cleopatra (ET)


c) Another actress completely (Please Specify; e.g. Helen Gardner (1912), Theda Bara (1917), Claudette Colbert (1934), Sophia Loren (1954), etc etc …)

Q° 2. If there were a newer bio-pic on the life of this, pre-feminist era, bold feminist, Pharaoh, which one of these actresses should play the role of Cleopatra?

a) Angelina Jolie

Cleopatra (AG)

b) Kate Winslet

Cleopatra (KW)

c) Marion Cotillard

Cleopatra (MC)

d) Sridevi

Cleopatra (SKk)


e) Kerry Washington

Cleopatra (KZ)

Q° 3. If there were to be a new movie on the life of Cleopatra, which of these would you prefer to see?

a) a bio-pic on her life based on an original new screenplay.

b) another movie based on William Shakespeare’s 1623 play Antony and Cleopatra.

c) another movie based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1898 play Caesar and Cleopatra.

d) a mystical, fantasy, surreal piece of artistically and visually spectacular, intellectual piece of cinema.

e) a blockbuster, with a weak script, meaningless violence (an action flick), good looking bodies (sexualising the film’s characters with necessity for very limited acting skills), where the computer graphics dominate the entire premise of the movie; meant for the masses, just to make a load of cash; which would be here today and gone tomorrow.

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense

Cleopatra (NS)

A Clockwork Orange (1971) *
Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novella, A Clockwork Orange, from the 60’s, and it’s subsequent cinematic adaptation, A Clockwork Orange (1971), by director Stanley Kubrick, in the 70’s, were both very controversial works.
Malcolm McDowell played the lead role of the eccentric, ultra-violent and artistic Alex DeLarge.

Kubrick's 'A Clockwork Orange' (1971)
Q° 1. If the film were to be re-made today :-

(i) with an adult Alex DeLarge character, based on the original 71’ movie, which of these British actors should reprise McDowell’s superb act?

a) Ewan McGregor

Ewan Mcgregor (Clockwork)

b) Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Clockwork)


c) Daniel Radcliffe

Daniel Radcliffe (Clockwork)

(ii) with a 15 year old Alex – the Large character (in the novella the lead doesn’t have a last name, but once refers to himself as ‘Alexander The Large’, in an obvious reference to his phallic-centric ego), based on the 60’s novella, which of these 21 year old actors (as taking an actual teenager to play such a violent character might not be acceptable, unless the said teen is mature enough to play the role with the necessary detachment, so as not to affect his own psychological state) would be convincing enough as this underaged delinquent?

a) 21year old Brit, Freddie Highmore

Freddie Highmore (Clockwork)

b) 21 year old Brit, Eugene Simon

Eugene Simon (Clockwork)


c) 21 year old all-American, Logan Lerman

Logan Lerman (Clockwork)

Q° 2. In Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation, the last chapter of the novella is missing. It is said, that he most probably read the American publication of the book, instead of the original British one, as in the United States the book was published minus the last chapter back then. Would you have preferred if he had included Burgess’ ending, or do you like the movie the way it is, with it’s creepy, twist in the tale, ending?

Q° 3. When Anthony Burgess wrote the book, he set it in the near future, i.e. roughly the 70’s. Now that we’ve come four more decades into the future, would you like to see a re-make set in the actual 70’s decade; with actual styles of the 70’s, of floppy hair, side-burns, bell bottoms, wide ties, the mustards, the greens, the browns, the geometric designs et al. And would you like to see the characters speaking in colloquial English instead of Burgess’ inventive Nadsat language?

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense

Q & A (Clockwork)

I’m starting this new segment today, called Question Time. This is not a quiz, for that would require a general knowledge of the particular subject. No, this is more to do with a matter of opinion. More specifically, your opinion, for anyone that’s interested. So play along and enjoy.

My Fair Lady (1964) * &

Eliza Doolittle (AH)
Q° 1. Julie Andrews played the role of Eliza Doolittle, on Broadway (USA) and West End (UK) in the late 50’s, in My Fair Lady, a stage musical adaptation of the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. In Hollywood’s grand cinematic musical adaptation of My Fair Lady (1964), the role of Miss. Doolittle went to Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn gave a brilliant performance, but, for the songs, her voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon.
Would you have preferred :-
a) to hear what Audrey Hepburn’s vocals actually sounded like in lieu of Nixon’s?
b) to see Julie Andrews play the role in the movie version as well, instead of Hepburn?
c) not change anything about the movie?

Q° 2. In the end of My Fair Lady (1964), Eliza goes back to Professor Higgins. If it were set in the 60’s itself, instead of the Edwardian period, should she :-
a) have gone back to him?
b) hooked up with young Freddie, who was infatuated with her?
c) lead an independent life altogether without either of them?

Q° 3. In 1965, at the 37th Academy Awards, Rex Harrison took home the Best Actor trophy for My Fair Lady (1964), while Julie Andrews bagged the Best Actress Oscar for Mary Poppins (1964). Audrey Hepburn was not even nominated. Do you feel Audrey Hepburn should have won the Oscar that year? Or at least been nominated for My Fair Lady (1964)?

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense


Beatle News  # 20: India, Cinema & September Births


  • 1963 – The Beatles perform at the Great Pop Prom show at the Royal Albert Hall, London, UK. Also making an appearance are the ‘Rolling Stones’.

How I Won The War (1967) NSFS

  • 1966 – George Harrison, with his wife Pattie Boyd, fly to India where George is to take sitar lessons from the renowned sitar maestro, Ravi Shankar. The couple stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel. Meanwhile John Lennon is busy with the filming of Richard Lester’s How I Won The War (1967) in Germany and Spain, where Lennon plays the lead alongside Michael Crawford.
  •  1968 – Hey Jude (which was released in USA on August 26th, and in UK on August 30th), tops the UK singles chart for the first of it’s two weeks.

September Births affiliated to The Beatles

The McCartney Household: Paul McCartney’s first wife, and their last two children together, were all born in the month of September.

  • Wife – Photographer Linda McCartney (née Linda Eastman) : 24th September 1941
  • Daughter – Fashion designer Stella McCartney : 13th September 1971
  • Son – Songwriter James McCartney : 12th September 1977

The Starr/Starkey Household: Ringo Starr’s eldest son and grandchild were born in the month of September.

  •  Son – Latter years drummer, for the 60’s & 70’s band, ‘The Who’ (from 1996 onwards), Zak Starkey : 13th September 1965
  • Granddaughter (Daughter of Zak Starkey) – Tatia Jayne Starkey : 6th September 1985 (Ringo Starr was the first Beatle to become a grandfather)

The Epstein Household: The Beatles manager, Brian Samuel Epstein, was born in Liverpool, on the 19th of September, 1934.

This Day,

Nuwan Sen’s Music Sense.

Nuwan Sen & The Beatles ().


Elisabeth, the Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary, was known for her beauty, free spirited attitude, modernity, intellect, taste in fashion, diet, exercise, horse riding and her long dark tresses.

Empress Elisabeth

The elegant nature loving beauty, daughter of Duke Maximilian Joseph and Princess Ludovika, of Bavaria, became Empress of Austria when she married her maternal first cousin, Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria, and later was crowned the Queen of Hungary (She subsequently held the titles of Queen of Bohemia and Croatia as well). Empress Elisabeth was assassinated, 115 years ago today, on 10th September 1898, by an anarchist named Luigi Lucheni, who had just wanted to kill somebody of royal blood, didn’t matter who.
Elisabeth, was affectionately called “Sissi”, by her loved ones and close friends, since she was a child. She was an Austrian icon during the Victorian era, and had a great role influencing Austro-Hungarian politics.

Romy Schneider as Sissi

Sissi et moi
Back in the 80’s & 90’s, our mother, who loved telling us intriguing stories of books and movies she had read and watched when she was younger, had mentioned many a times about this beautiful love story she had watched, back in the late 60’s, called Forever My Love (1962), when it was shown on the big screen in Colombo, which she had never managed to locate afterwards.
Thanks to the invent of the internet, and more specifically the Internet Movie Data Base site (IMDB), I realised Forever My Love was actually an edited condensation of the Austrian Sissi trilogy (dubbed into English); Sissi (1955), Sissi – Die Junge Kaiserin (1956) and Sissi – Schickalsjahre einer Kaiserin (1957); a trio of films based on the early life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria.
But it wasn’t until 2009, that I located the three films. Not that I actually went hunting for them, but I never accidentally came across them either.
It was by fluke, in late August 2009, whilst residing in Paris, I just happen to walk into the ‘Virgin Stores’, in the Champs Élysées (a favourite haunt of mine), to see what newer books and films they had in store. To my surprise, I came across the trio of Sissi DVD’s, dubbed into French, but alas there were no subtitles included. I mentioned this to my mum, when I called her up. She was delighted, and told me to buy them, it didn’t matter that it didn’t contain English subtitles, she knew the movie by heart. After all, she had waited four decades to re-watch it. The Sissi movies to my mum, were like what Woodstock was to the people who had witnessed it. In fact in 2009, Paris shops were celebrating 40 years of Woodstock and Summer of 69’.

Romy Schneider as Sissi

Romy Schneider as Sissi

Sissi Films
Before I bought these films, I had already watched Luchino Visconti’s Ludwig (1972), in Paris itself, a bio-pic on Ludwig-II of Bavaria, cousin of Empress Elisabeth. For Ludwig, Romy Schneider (who had previously played the role of Sissi, in 50’s Sissi trilogy) reprised her role of, a more mature, Empress Elisabeth. Schneider being more mature in age by then, she was perfect for role.
Unexpectedly, I really enjoyed the Sissi DVD’s, when we watched the films four years ago, sans subtitles.

The Real-life Sissi: From Duchess of Bavaria to Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary
On Christmas eve, the 24th of December, in 1837, Duke Maximilian Joseph and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria, gave birth to their fourth child, Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie (a.k.a. Sissi). Little did they know that someday she’d be amongst the most famous, pre-feminist era, feminist, a sovereign, a political mediator and a fashion icon. Maximilian was known for his love for circuses, and often travelled in the Bavarian countryside to escape his duties. The family lived in Possenhofen Castle, thus Sissi and her siblings grew up in a very unrestrained and unstructured environment, far from court protocols.
In 1853, Princess Sophie of Bavaria, the domineering mother of 23-year-old Emperor Franz (Francis) Joseph of Austria, wanted her son to marry her sister, Ludovika’s, eldest daughter, Helen. The fun loving 15 year old Sissi, who had no desire what so ever to be a queen, accompanied her mother and elder, 18 year old, sister Helen, on a trip to the resort of Bad Ischl, Upper Austria.
Helene was a pious, very quiet, young woman, and when she met the Emperor, the two had a tensed unease creep between them. Meanwhile the Emperor was infatuated with the innocent bewitching beauty, Sissi, and her perky carefree attitude. For once the Emperor defied his mother saying if he could not have Elisabeth, he would never marry, period. Five days later they were engaged and it was officially announced that Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria was to marry Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria. The couple were married eight months later in Vienna at the Augustinerkirche on 24 April 1854, changing Sissi’s title from Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria to Empress Elisabeth of Austria.
Post marriage, though happy with her husband, her life was made miserable by her mother-in-law, Princess Sophie. On 5th March, 1855, almost eleven months after her marriage, Elisabeth gave birth to her first child, a daughter. Sophie at once took away the new born baby from the mother, and named the child after herself, (Archduchess Sophie of Austria), without the mother’s (Sissi’s) knowledge. Not only did Sophie take charge of the new born, she didn’t let Elisabeth even breast feed the baby, nor allow her to see her own child. On 12th July 1856, when she gave birth to a second daughter (Archduchess Gisela of Austria), the same fate arose for the second child.
The fact that Sissi hadn’t given birth to a male heir made her more of an outcast in the royal palace. One day Sissi found a pamphlet on her desk, stating that,‘‘…The natural destiny of a Queen is to give an heir to the throne….she should by no means meddle with the government of an Empire, the care of which is not a task for women ….. If the Queen bears no sons, she is merely a foreigner in the State, and a very dangerous foreigner,….she can never hope to be looked on kindly here…..’’. The jealous mother-in-law, Sophie, is generally considered to be the schemer behind this malicious pamphlet to Sissi. When Sissi travelled to Italy with her husband, her influence on her husband, regarding his Italian and Hungarian subjects; where she persuaded him to show mercy toward political prisoners; was the accusation of ‘political meddling’ referred to in the pamphlet.

Empress Elisabeth of Austria
In 1857, when Elisabeth visited Hungary for the first time, with her husband and two daughters, she fell madly in love with the place. So much so, that she began to learn Hungarian. The Hungarian people reciprocated with their adoration of her. But this same trip proved fatal for her children. The two little girls became ill with diarrhoea; while the younger, Gisela, quickly recovered, two-year-old Sophie, died (today assumed that she might have died of typhoid fever). The death of her eldest child threw Sissi over the edge of melancholy and onto the brink of a deep depression, and became bulimic, which would affect her the rest of her life. By December 1857, Sissi was pregnant with her third child. Sissi, who was very close to her parents, was nursed back to health by her mother. On 21 August 1858, Elisabeth finally gave birth to a male heir, Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria. Once again Sissi was blocked from the upbringing of her new son. By now, more mature (aged 20), she openly rebelled, but to no avail.
Having no say in the upbringing of her children, Sissi decided that she would not have any more children and withdrew from her husband sexually, saying what’s the use of having children only to be taken away from her. Which upset Princess Sophie, as she had expected to have a new grandchild on a regular basis. Sissi took an interest in politics, helping paving the way for a peace negotiations between Austria and Hungary. And she started a beauty and exercise regime. She daily took care of her long dark blonde to chestnut hair, which took almost two hours, though she used very little cosmetics and she believed in her natural beauty; instead relying on natural products like sweet almond oil and rosewater.
Throughout the 1860’s Sissi was ill, with coughing fits, violent migraines, fever, anaemia, and had contracted a lung disease. Around this time there were rumours that Franz Joseph was having a liaison with an actress named Frau Rollthe. At this time Sissi left her husband for short period, as a fresh rest cure was advised, and she went off to Corfu Island. After a two year long recovery she came back just before her husbands birthday. But soon she was ill again. But now Sissi became more assertive than ever before in her defiance against her mother-in-law, and openly opposed her and the Emperor, on the subject of military education of Rudolf.
Meanwhile she warmed back to the Emperor, and she would soon be pregnant for the fourth time. She was in the frontline to political negotiations which ensured Hungary to gain an equal footing with Austria. The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 created the double monarchy of Austria and Hungary, and Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth were officially crowned King and Queen of Hungary with the coronation held on the 8th June 1867.

Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary
Sissi gave birth to her youngest child, a daughter, Marie Valerie, on 22nd April 1868 in Budapest, ten months after their coronation. Sissi finally had her way as Sophie’s influence over her grandchildren and the court faded, and she died in 1872. Sissi poured her repressed maternal feelings, love and affection; which she wasn’t allowed to give her earlier children; to her youngest child to the point of suffocation, that Marie Valerie grew to resent her mother.
Meanwhile, Austrian subjects were resentful of their royals having two titles, and rumours of Sissi having many a lovers spread, including that of an affair with George Middleton, an Anglo-Scot, although there is no verifiable evidence of her having an affair with him or any one else for that matter. Meanwhile, to a certain degree, Sissi tolerated her husband Franz Joseph’s affair with yet another actress, Katharina Schratt.
On 30th January, 1889, thirty-year-old Crown Prince Rudolf (Sissi’s son), along with his young lover, Baroness Mary Vetsera, were found dead together at the Mayerling, Rudolf’s hunting lodge in Lower Austria. An investigation suggested it seemed like an apparent murder-suicide by Rudolf. This incident came to be known as The Mayerling Incident. Elisabeth’s life was shattered by the death of her only son.
Sissi never recovered from this tragedy and sank into a even deeper depression and melancholy. Within the span of a year, her mother, her father, her sister, and now her son, had died. From then onwards she dressed only in black for the rest of her life. Even this became her new fashionable trade mark, with her long black gowns that could be buttoned up at the bottom, a white parasol made of leather, and a concealing fan to hide her face from curious onlookers. From her 30’s she stopped sitting for portraits and wished not to be photographed. Only few photographs of her, taken later in life, by press photographers who were lucky enough to capture her without her knowledge, remain. (today they’d be called paparazzi pictures). These snapshots show a woman who was graceful, but almost too slim, and unhappy. Later in life she became bitter, avoided royal duties, and started to travel extensively. But towards the end of her life she became close friends with her husband and shared a platonic relationship with him, and continued seeing the world, and travelling to places like Morocco, Algeria, Malta, Turkey, and Egypt; countries where European royals usually didn’t travel to. Her favourite destinations includes the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera), Lake Geneva in Switzerland and Bad Ischl in Austria.

Last photo of Empress Elisabeth, the day before her death, at Territet, Switzerland

Last photo of Empress Elisabeth, the day before her death, at Territet, Switzerland

The Assassination of Sissi
In 1898, Sissi travelled incognito to Geneva, Switzerland. On 10th September 1898, the sixty-year-old Elisabeth, and Countess Irma Sztáray de Sztára et Nagymihály, her lady in waiting, left the hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva on foot to catch the steamship Genève for Montreux. They were walking along the promenade when the 25-year-old Italian anarchist, Luigi Lucheni, stabbed Elisabeth. Unaware of how grave the situation, she still managed to walk and board the ship. Bleeding to death from a puncture wound, not noticeable due to the corset, Sissi lost consciousness and collapsed, when she regained consciousness, and was asked if she felt any pain Sissi died uttering her last words, ‘‘No, what has happened?’’

Nuwan Sen’s Historical Sense
Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense

The two earliest Polanski films I watched was back in the 1990’s; Frantic (1988) and Bitter Moon (1992); both pretty good, but neither great.
And the two most recent were, Carnage (2011) and Tess (1979), last year, both excellent.

Carnage - Behind the scenes
Roman Polanski, with Polish/Russian roots, was born in 1933, in Paris, France, to Polish parents. Few years after he was born, his family moved back to their native Poland. As a Jewish child, he witnessed firsthand the cruelties of the second world war. With the invasion of Poland, they were forced into a ghetto along with thousands of other Jews and from there sent to concentration camps. Polanski saw his father being dragged away to another camp. His mother was killed as soon as she was taken to Auschwitz. Roman Polanski, still a child, escaped, and he was secretly brought up by many Roman Catholic families that protected him. When the war came to an end in 1945, a fifth of the Polish population had been killed off by the Nazis.
After the war, Polanski was reunited with his father, who remarried.

Roman Polanski, had a keen eye for film ever since he was a little child, way before the war. Post WW-II, Polanski, started watching films on a regular basis either in school or at the local Cinema. When he grew up, he attended the National Film School in Łódź, Poland. He graduated in 1959.
Meanwhile he acted in films like Trzy Opowiesci (1953), Pokolenie (1954) and Zaczarowany Rower (1955), to name a few, and directed his very first short film Rower-Bicycle (1955), which unfortunately today is a lost gem.
After making a few other short films, he made his very first full length, 94 minute, feature film, Knife in the Water (1962). Which was nominated for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at the Oscars the following year. And the rest is history.

Image features Leon Niemczyk and Zygmunt Malanowicz
Back in the 90’s when I watched, Frantic (1988) and Bitter Moon (1992), I really enjoyed them; though I realised none of them were like the greatest movies ever made or anywhere near that. Unlike many other great directors, I started liking Polanski pretty late. Mainly due to the fact I hadn’t seen some his best work yet, although I was aware of some of his greats, especially in the horror genre.

Bitter Moon (92')
Then about a decade ago, I finally got a chance to watch Rosemary’s Baby (1968). I hated that movie, but wait, I didn’t hate it because it was bad, I hated it because it was an excellent horror flick. A movie about a pregnant woman, who’s been psychologically traumatised by her husband and neighbours, and is lead to believe she’s about to give birth to the devils child, with a shocking twist at the end, was pretty disturbing in many a levels. I watched this and felt no fear what so ever while watching. The ending though a bit of a shock, also felt a bit predictable. Went to sleep. But the next few days (being a person who loves to analyse films) I started to feel sick, and wanted get the video tape back to the library as soon as possible. And I felt a sense of relief not to see it hanging around anymore. But it also made me realise what an excellent horror flick it was. I’ve seen quite a few silly visually horror films that are pretty laughable, but in this, the concept itself was sickening, that I realised what a great piece cinema this cult classic was.
What’s really sad though in the tragedy associated with the aftermath of the release of Rosemary’s Baby. The real life ritualistic murder of Polanski’s beautiful wife, actress Sharon Tate, when she was nine months pregnant, by the Charles Manson gang.

Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate on their Wedding day (20th January 1968)

Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate on their Wedding day (20th January 1968)

In July, 1969, Polanski was busy with a shoot, thus his heavily pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, left for United States alone. Before leaving, she had given Polanski, Thomas Hardy’s novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, and had mentioned that it would make for a great film. This was the last time Polanski would see his wife alive. On 8th August, 1969, Sharon Tate, now in Los Angeles, had spoken to her husband, who was in London. She was worried about his delay in returning and confided with friends that she was afraid he wouldn’t make it in time for the delivery. That same night, she along with their friends, altogether five people, were murdered, a sixth person escaped. Sharon Tate was stabbed sixteen times, with rope tied to her neck. A sad tragedy. Later when Polanski made the movie Tess (1979), he dedicated it to his late wife, Sharon Tate.

Tess (1979)

Tess (1979)

Around the time I watched Rosemary’s Baby, I also watched Repulsion (1965), which was shown in a local Norwegian television channel (I was residing Oslo at the time, 2003-2004, that’s where I watched both Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion). Repulsion wasn’t as great as Rosemary’s Baby, but still was another masterpiece of near excellence, with French actress Catherine Deneuve playing the lead (see my post Being mesmerised by ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, from last month).

Around the same time, I watched Chinatown (1974), on the big screen, in Luton, United Kingdom. This neo-noir flick was running in the Cinema, for a film festival at that time. I thought Jack Nicholson was superb as the broken nosed nosey detective who tries to make sense of mysterious woman (played by Faye Dunaway). The scene where he keeps slapping her to tell the truth, and she keeps saying ‘She’s my daughter, my sister, my daughter, my sister’ is really touching, once we realise that she is in fact speaking the truth, and what a disgusting old man her father really is. Here she cries, that the young girl in question, is both her daughter and her sister and that she’s been trying to protect her from her father. In a reversal of fortune, we suddenly start to sympathise with the femme fatale of the movie. Another excellent venture, and the best neo-noir tribute to classic noir films of the 30’s & 40’s, that I’ve seen till date.

In April 2004, I went back to live in England (having previously lived there in 2002-2003, doing my M.A. in International Cinema), this time in Portsmouth, a sea port (where I resided for six months before moving to London). While in Portsmouth, I saw quite a few Polanski flicks. I saw The Pianist (2002) and The Ninth Gate (1999) on a cable network. The Pianist was a superb film, and I felt this was the best Polanski movie ever, that I’ve seen. Starring Adrien Brody (who won an Oscar for this movie), The Pianist is a true story about Jewish pianist, who survives the holocaust of World War II, with the help of a Nazi officer whose infatuated with the pianist’s musical skills, rather than the person himself. The Ninth Gate, starring Johnny Depp; a thriller about a ‘rare book’ dealer, who gets drawn into a conspiracy dealing with demon text, which happen to be the key to raising Satan; however was a pretty bad movie, with an abruptly silly ending.

Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water (1962)

Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water (1962)

Meanwhile, whilst residing in Portsmouth (UK) itself, there was a Polanski festival shown on some cable network and I ended up catching some of his really good classics, like the Polish film, his first feature film, Knife in the Water (1962), and the British, Cul-de-Sac (1966), along with his French flick, The Tenant (1976) in which he played the lead role as well. Both Knife in Water and Cul-de-Sac were really good films.

Cul-De-Sac (66')

Knife in Water was an intriguing boat crime; where a married couple invite a young student to accompany them on to their yacht for a weekend trip; and Cul-de-Sac (1966) was a tragicomedy about a criminal and his partner who take refuge in a Beachfront Castle. It’s interesting to see a young Jacqueline Bisset, in a small role, in the her second film appearance. The Tenant, yet another film that explores the themes of social alienation and psychic and emotional breakdown, was the worst Polanski film I’ve seen till date. I like him as a director, and I liked his cameo appearances in Repulsion and Chinatown, but I wasn’t so crazy about his lead role in The Tenant, nor did I fancy the movie. Then in 2005, I watched Polanski’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ famed novel, Oliver Twist (2005). This was the worst film adaptation of Dickens’ acclaimed piece of literature, out of all the cinematic and television adaptations of Oliver Twist, I’ve seen till date.

Jacqueline Bisset in Cul-De-Sac (1966)

Jacqueline Bisset in Cul-De-Sac (1966)

Post 2005, after going through a bit of a Polanski drought for few years, I watched The Ghost Writer (2010), a couple of years ago, when it was shown on ‘Star Movies’, the Indian division of this cable channel, thus an edited version of the film. But thanks to the Indian and Malaysian/Hong Kong cable channels provided by our cable operator, we get to watch some good films and programmes, even though it’s the censored versions of them. Although as a film buff, am dead against unnecessary censorship. With The Ghost Writer, a really good thriller starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan, Polanski’s bounced back, though it wasn’t amongst his best.

Last year I went to India (New Delhi) during Oscar season (February/March 2012); thus ended up watching some really good films on the big screen whilst there. And one of the greats I watched was Polanski’s Carnage (2011). An excellent film set within span of a few hours in one day, where four parents of two teenagers meet to discuss their children, who’ve got into a fight, resulting with one kid landing in a hospital bed. An excellent film with a great cast comprising of Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly, this film was shot in real time, without breaks. This brilliant Carnage of adult minds is among Polanski’s best work. (See my critique on Carnage in my list titled Oscar Winners … and then some 2012 on IMDB)

Though set in Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York, Carnage was made in Paris, where Polanski resides, due to his ban from United States.
In March 1977, Polanski was arrested for a number of offences, including statutory rape (sexual relationship with an underage girl/ a minor). Polanski pleaded not guilty; and all other charges were dropped, except for statutory rape; and underwent a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation. In 1978, he fled to France, once he learnt that he might face imprisonment and deportation. Since then Polanski has mostly lived in France, and hasn’t set foot in the United States till date.

In October last year, Tess (1979), based on a novel by Thomas Hardy, was shown at the Russian Centre here. Almost instantaneously I fell in love with this beautiful movie, and blogged about it back then (see my post titled ‘Tess’ from October 2012). Tess is definitely the best Roman Polanski film I’ve seen till date, thus reducing The Pianist to second place now.

Am yet to watch Roman Polanski’s greats such as The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971), Che? – Quoi? – What? (1972), Death and the Maiden (1994), Venus in Fur (2013) and D (which is yet to be released), to name a few.

Roman Polanski celebrated his 80th Birthday last month, on the 18th of August 2013. (See my list titled Roman Polanski (XIV Films) The Best to The Worst on IMDB which I made as tribute for/on his 80th Birthday)

Nuwan Sen’s Film Sense

KITW (62') The Pianist pic