Search This Blog

Thursday 30 November 2017

Some Thoughts: On Watching Polanski

Since August this year I've been co-hosting the long-running film podcast Hell is for Hyphenates along with funnyman and film buff extraordinaire Lee Zachariah. For those unfamiliar with the monthly show, we spend the first part reviewing three or four new release films, while the middle section deals with a topical cinema-related issue or question. The final (and probably most important) segment is dedicated to our Filmmaker of the Month, where a special guest joins us to discuss the entire works of their favourite filmmaker. Lee and I endeavour to watch or re-watch as many of these films as possible.

Time constraints mean I'm far less of a completist than the obsessively thorough Lee, but I use the show as an exercise in self-education, a chance to fill in a few of the many gaps in my film knowledge. So far, I've enjoyed digging around in the works of George Miller (chosen by Edgar Wright for August), Sylvester Stallone (selected by Michael Ian Black for September), and Jean Pierre Jeunet (chosen by Adam Elliot in October).

November's episode presented a conundrum. Our special guest, author, film historian and film critic Emma Westwood, had put up her hand a year ago  to speak about the films of the prolific French-Polish director Roman Polanski. There was no denying his genius or his right to exist among our eclectic pantheon of auteurs. From his highly original early black-and-white films like Knife in the Water (1962) and Cul de Sac (1966) through to Hollywood masterpieces Rosemary's Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974) and later the Academy Award-winning Holocaust story The Pianist (2002), Polanski is a director who cannot be ignored. He's interesting even when his films are batty or misconceived. (I didn't get a chance to see What? (1972) but from Emma's commentary in the course of recording the show, it's one such a crazy curiosity and I intend to catch it now.)

But Polanski as a person has famously done bad things to girls and women. Some very bad things, and the list of allegations keeps growing. With 2017's ongoing revelations of widespread sexual assault and harassment in the film industry, and the urgency of the massive #MeToo public campaign, it's even more impossible now to talk of Polanski without also asking how we as film commentators and consumers deal with the works of artists who've committed crimes and abused power. 

We had to talk about it, even if we had no answers. And there are no easy solutions, especially if, like me, you want the choice to remain an individual one. Don't tell me what I can and can't see. It seems ridiculous and dangerous to insist that an artist has to be morally impeccable in order for me to consider their work. At the same time, offences must be dealt with, preferably by the legal system, and things have to change in film industries all over the world so that it's no longer considered fame's privilege to sexually abuse or coerce the less powerful. 

You can listen to us grappling with this mess around the 16:14 mark. Emma puts a persuasive case for separating the art from the artist. I dance around the issue trying to have it both ways, while Lee reveals himself to be an adorable moral idealist, who'll nevertheless continue watching every film ever made.

Lee Zachariah, Emma Westwood and Rochelle Siemienowicz post-Polanski debrief

No comments:

Post a Comment