Repulsion

Roman Polanski’s second feature film (and his first English language) has been called by one critic Psycho turned inside-out. I’m not sure that’s the best concise description of the film, but it’s certainly better than how the trailers summed it up. The star, and the titular repulsed woman, is played by the gorgeous, blonde Catherine Deneuve. She speaks in a broken English, lives in a messy flat in London with her brunette sister and works as a nail technician in a salon. This is all Polanski wants his audience to know, and the rest is up to the viewer to process and identify with as they like.

As noted in the above-mentioned critic’s review, in stark contrast to the 1960 Hitchcock film, Polanski is more concerned with exploring the dark recesses of the mind of the psycho, rather than keeping the psycho solely in the shadows. However, the trailer would have you believe that the director takes us into the mind of Denueve’s paranoia, but that’s never really the case. Instead we get to see a couple of her dark nightmares (possibly indicating a sexually traumatic event in her past?), and a couple seemingly benign delusions. In the nightmares she’s stalked by men, later attacked by men and ultimately raped by men. Consequently, in reality she’s repulsed by men, the touch of men and the general presence of men.

Similar to the New York Mad Men universe, Repulsion is set in a ’60s London where Deneuve can’t walk down a city street (and she walks down many of them), without getting whistled at, groped or chased down by men desperate to be her boyfriend. It’s actually interesting to compare these on-location city-walking scenes with those of (pretty much) any ’60s French New Wave film (e.g. Breathless, Cleo, etc.), and notice how the similarities in style of filmmaking are almost identical, except when coupled with the performance of Denueve and the disjointed score, Polanski is able to fashionably pull off an overwhelming sense of dread in such a modern, un-staged, cinematic style – unlike most anything Hitchcock would ever do.

While Denueve’s nightmares are obvious and rather digestible for audience interpretation, the visions she has of her apartment (her prison) cracking around her, are much more cinematic and questionable. In fact, the visions seem almost in direct opposition to her rapidly developing fear of leaving the apartment and venturing out to where the staring and whistling men are. Yet, it’s when she retreats in her home, (later, even barricading herself there), that she has these visions of the walls splitting apart when she touches them. Is it the passage of time becoming exponential in her mind? Is it the frailty of the world around her that she fears? Or is it even darker fears that no matter where she hides, the men (the world, even) will always break through to find her in between the cracks?

I like the subtle inexplicabilities in a Polanski film. There’s even some question at the end whether or not she is a victim of her own illness. I’ve read in multiple reviews on the film that she’s in fact dead at the end of the film, the third casualty, as it were; but, I have watched the ending a few times now and I would argue she is alive – catatonic, maybe – but alive.

Like Hitchcock, Polanski uses well-developed cinematic scenes to lure a viewer into the light of a scary moment and then – bludgeon them (sometimes literally) with a surprise. Unlike many lazy directors of late, Polanski always ensures motive for his supporting characters’ actions. In a wonderfully crafted scene involving Deneuve’s first murder, her pushy boyfriend barges into her apartment – her slowly cracking sanctuary – to work on reversing the cold shoulder she’s been giving him.

Polanski’s masterfully crafted scene of murder.

While the character leaves the front door open after coming in, Polanski develops the scene from a two-shot into a three-shot with the nosey next door neighbor and her nosey dog appearing, framed up right in the center of the open doorway, eavesdropping (rather openly). When the boyfriend notices, he storms to the door, shuts it and without a second thought Denueve walks up behind him, candlestick raised over her head, brought down swiftly on the back of his skull. The moments of her insanity reaching their peak like this, are so expertly crafted, it’s hard to adjust to it momentarily. I hesitate to say this, for fear I even give someone the unborn idea, but a remake of this film would be destroyed by many genre directors of today. Subtly, pacing, drama, build-up and atmosphere are not in many of the new Hollywood elite’s repertoires (save, Fincher or Romanek).

While Hitchcock was pure Hollywood and genre, Polanski for a long while remained on the outskirts, coupling the fresh, bold European filmmaking styles of the ’60s with his own brand of calculated suspense via avant garde cinematics. I would never dare to call Repulsion an inside-out version of Psycho, for I feel that is actually a slight against Repulsion, with a point in favor for Psycho. No, instead, these are two films which should remain separate and apart, and whether the 1960 “shocker” was identified as some sort of inspiration for Repulsion or not – Roman Polanski was cinematically and stylistically years ahead of Hitch in ’65.

Akira Kurosawa is Open for Business: A Look at the Rape of Cinema by Hollywood’s New Remake Code

Remakes bother me terribly, no matter how great they are. I’m all for putting a fresh coat of paint on something that’s the original (thank you, Criterion), but without originality in filmmaking where is this business going to ever find its way back to becoming the Golden Age of movies? Sadly, the last decade has almost felt like Hollywood doesn’t care or have the creative know-how to blossom into a Golden Age of movies again. Hollywood has gobs of talent to go around, but no one wants to do anything original or outside the box anymore. I understand the concern to make money on your product; it’s not the just the artistry of the whole thing, in today’s tough film-going market, and for the price it cost to make big budget now, you have to ensure you’re audience will give you a return on it.

So maybe that explains why a large percentage of everything that comes out now are remakes. Simple, outlined story to work from, cost-effective, and “kicked up a notch” by today’s standards, you may even get someone who saw the original to say, “yeah, I’m curious to see what they did to it.” Some terrible films maybe would benefit from a remake now, but really what’s the point even then? The problem is though, it’s never the poor films that get the remakes, it’s the ones that were great, and many times the ones that have collected a sort of following or classic status. Take for example the Kate Bosworth-Americanized version of Peckinpah’s 70s triumph, Straw Dogs. This is a film that should never have been touched by another director or reflected a different cast. The original is truly a slice of the times it was made in, and is close to perfect. Remaking this movie is just blatant exploitation and a simple way to cash-in with sex, violence and pretty girls.

Taking inspiration from other filmmakers and building off that inspiration, that’s the beauty of great filmmaking. No art is truly original, everything has to come from somewhere – some catalyst. Most filmmakers, I’d wager, are consumed by media around them; saturated with it. So it’s fair to say not everything they come up with in their work is going to be original. It’s just human nature.

Take George Lucas for example, most film buffs know that Star Wars was inspired by (if not based upon) Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. But Star Wars is not The Hidden Fortress and is not trying to be, and that’s the beauty of falling in love with both films. When Gus Van Sant remade (shot-for-shot no less) Psycho, did it feel like an amazing, revelatory film experience? No. Yet when he made Elephant (inspired by Alan Clarke’s amazing film of the same name), it was critically acclaimed and made its mark in contemporary film history. Maybe most contentiously, there’s Quentin Tarantino, a filmmaker people sometimes blaspheme for his heavy-handed homages and wink-wink’s, but Tarantino again creates films using only inspiration from others, and at the very most, is only derivative of another filmmaker’s work in something he does, akin to a DJ sampling a beat from an obscure 1960s blues record. The best art is art that both builds on something familiar and at the same time seems amazing all on it’s own.

Variety reports that a company called Splendent Media is now selling remake rights to nearly every Akira Kurosawa film in existence, which I’ve identified below (sans the four ones crossed out, which ironically all already have remakes in the works). So, now you know, if you see one of these titles coming soon at a theater near you – it’s not new. The part of this story that leaves me sitting on the fence is, the fact that Splendent is also offering up the rights to make films from the 19* screenplays which Kurosawa never produced. I’m interested to check these out, if they ever get made, but I fear I’ll never look at them the same as I would if they were made by the master of emotional manipulation himself.

EDITORIAL: Weinstein Company is apparently remaking The Seven Samurai (much to my dismay, as well), and as of last reports it looks to be directed by upstart-action-rookie Scott Mann. Fantastic.

As Director:

1943    Sanshiro Sugata
1944    The Most Beautiful
1945    Sanshiro Sugata Part II
1945    The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail
1946    No Regrets for Our Youth
1947    One Wonderful Sunday
1948    Drunken Angel
1949    The Quiet Duel
1949    Stray Dog
1950    Scandal
1950    Rashomon
1951    The Idiot
1952    Ikiru
1954    The Seven Samurai
1955    I Live in Fear
1957    Throne of Blood
1957    The Lower Depths
1958    The Hidden Fortress
1960    The Bad Sleep Well
1961    Yojimbo
1962    Sanjuro
1963    High and Low
1965    Red Beard
1970    Dodesukaden
1975    Dersu Uzala
1980    Kagemusha
1985    Ran
1990    Dreams
1991    Rhapsody in August
1993    Madadayo

As Writer Only:

1941    Uma (Horse) [uncredited as writer]
1942    Seishun no kiryu (Wind Currents of Youth)
1942    Tsubasa no gaika (The Triumphant Song of the Wings)
1944    Dohyosai (Wrestling-Ring Festival)
1945    Tenbare Ishin tasuke (Bravo! Tenbare Ishin)
1947    Yotsu no koi no monogatari (Four Love Stories) [one segment]
1947    Ginrei no hate (To the End of the Snow-Capped Mountains; aka Snow Trail)
1948    Shozo (The Portrait)
1949    Jigoku no kifujin (The Lady from Hell)
1949    Jyakoman to Tetsu (Jakoman and Tetsu)
1950    Akatsuki no dasso (Escape at Dawn)
1950    Jiruba no Tetsu (Tetsu of Jilba)
1950    Tateshi danpei (Fencing Master)
1951    Ai to nikushimi no kanata e (Beyond Love and Hate)
1951    Kedamono no yado (The Den of Beasts)
1952    Araki Sauemon – Ketto kagiya no tsuji (Sauemon Araki – Duel at Key-Maker’s Corner; aka Vendetta for a Samurai)
1952    Sengoku burai (Vagabonds in a Country at War; aka Sword for Hire)
1953    Fukeyo harukaze (Blow! Spring Wind; aka My Wonderful Yellow Car)
1955    Kieta chutai (Vanished Enlisted Man)
1955    Asunaro monogatari (Hiba Arborvitae Story; aka Tomorrow I’ll Be a Fire Tree)
1957    Nichiro senso shori no hishi – Tekichu odan sanbyaku ri (Three Hundred Miles Through Enemy Lines; aka Advance Patrol)
1959    Sengoku gunto-den (The Story of Robbers of the Civil Wars; aka Saga of the Vagabonds)
1985    Runaway Train
2000    Ame Agaru (After the Rain)
2000    Dora-Heita (Alley Cat)
2002    Umi wa miteita (The Sea is Watching)

Unproduced Screenplays*

Deruma-dera no doitsujin (A German at Daruma Temple)
Shizukanari (All is Quiet)
Yuki (Snow)
Mori no senichia (A Thousand and One Nights in the Forest)
Jajuma monogatari (The Story of a Bad Horse)
Dokkoi kono yari (The Lifted Spear)
San Paguita no hana (The San Pajuito Flower)
Utsukishiki koyomi (Beautiful Calendar)
Daisan hatoba (The Third Harbor)

*There are apparently 19 in total which Splendent Media now owns the rights to, but I have not been able to track them all down as of yet as Splendent has – conveniently – taken down their page as of late. Hence, this part of the list above is incomplete.