Tag Archives: roman polanski

Westwood On Polanski

It was over a year ago when we first asked Emma if she'd like to join us on Hell Is For Hyphenates. She was interested, and immediately flagged Polanski as her filmmaker of choice. After that it was simply a matter of finding a time when our schedules aligned.

What a difference a year makes. It's not like Polanski was a less controversial figure in 2016, but the conversation around abusers in the film industry has certainly changed. 2017 will be remembered as the year of #MeToo, and we've already seen a few of the biggest names in cinema experience swift and immediate ostracism after allegations of wrongdoing surfaced.

Did this mean it was the worst time to talk about the films of Roman Polanski, or the best? Ours is a show that enthusiastically embraces auteur theory, approaching film through the prism of the author (who is often, but not always, the director). The whole point of Hyphenates is to celebrate the artists that we discuss… could we still do that?

We do our best to answer that question in the show. Our middle segment is entirely devoted to the question of whether we can separate the art from the artist, a concept that has been memed into parody, but is clearly an important issue that we're yet to collectively come to grips with.

And hey, we also talk about the actual films a bit too. Whether we struck the right tone of not will be in the eye of the beholder - or the ear of the belistener - so leave a comment or get in touch with your own thoughts. Either way, we do look at an undeniably impressive body of work, one that includes all-timers such as Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist. There is more than one canonised classic in this oeuvre, and there's plenty of gold there to be unearthed.

We also find time amongst all that to look back at some of the new releases of this month. So if you've seen, or if you plan to see, Kathryn Bigelow's historical thriller Detroit, Kenneth Branagh’s Agatha Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express, Yorgos Lanthimos’s modern Greek tragedy The Killing of a Sacred Deer, or DC superhero team-up Justice League, you'll find even more in this episode with which to agree or disagree.

Further reading:

  • Detroit is Kathryn Bigelow’s first film since Zero Dark Thirty. To hear us talk about her films in more depth, listen back to our Bigelow show from December 2013.
  • Broken by the New York Times, and then in this New Yorker piece by Ronan Farrow. Farrow has written subsequent articles about Harvey Weinstein, which can be read here.
  • We also refer to other recent controversies in the show, and you can read about the allegations against Louis CK here in the New York Times, and the initial Kevin Spacey accusation that opened the floodgates here on BuzzFeed.
  • There was a very interesting Twitter thread from Moon director Duncan Jones. Kevin Spacey appears in Moon, and Jones discusses why he is reluctant to distance himself from the film as a whole in this chat.
  • There was a fascinating interview with Jerry Seinfeld on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Seinfeld and Colbert discuss whether they can still listen to Bill Cosby's old stand-up routines, and it's definitely worth watching both parts, as Seinfeld appears to have had a revelation in the commercial break. Watch the first segment here, and the second segment here.
  • There's some great analysis from Sarah Lyall and Dave Itzkoff writing for the New York Times. Their piece “Charlie Rose, Louis CK, Kevin Spacey: Rebuked. Now What Do We Do With Their Work?” can be read here.
  • Arguably the best piece written on the subject of art-from-the-artist is “What Do We Do With the Art of Monstrous Men?” by Claire Dederer writing in The Paris Review. If you only read one piece, make it this one.
  • If you have a spare hour, watch legendary Australian broadcaster Clive James talking to Roman Polanski back in 1983. This one hour documentary, recorded after Polanski's self-imposed European exile, is definitely worth a watch.
  • Emma mentions Karina Longworth's popular You Must Remember This She covered Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate and Charles Manson back in 2015 in a series of 12 shows that begun with this one.
  • In her blog It’s Better in the Dark, Rochelle discusses what it was like to engage with Polanski’s works in preparation for this episode. Read it here!
  • On her website The Westwood Digest, Emma blogs about preparing for and recording this episode. Read it here!
  • Roman Polanski is, of course, of French Polish descent. If you're unfamiliar with how to use French polish, check out this handy DIY video from Woodworkers Journal.

Special thanks to Stephen Baker for his help with the recording.

Outro music: score from Chinatown (1974), composed by Jerry Goldsmith

The latest episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Emma Westwood talking the films of Roman Polanski, can be heard on Stitcher Smart Radio, subscribed to on iTunes, or downloaded/streamed directly from our website.

Lee, Emma and Rochelle record this month’s show. Or, rather, pose for selfies immediately after recording this month’s show.

Hell Is For Hyphenates – November 2017

Emma Westwood joins us to talk the films of Roman Polanski!

Author, journalist and film historian Emma Westwood is our guest this month, joining Rochelle and Lee to talk about some of the key films of November, including Kathryn Bigelow’s historical thriller Detroit (01:20), Kenneth Branagh’s Agatha Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express (05:26), Yorgos Lanthimos’s modern Greek tragedy The Killing of a Sacred Deer (08:05), and DC superhero team-up Justice League (13:20).

Then, in the wake of 2017’s massive revelations about sexual assault and harassment in the film industry, Emma, Rochelle and Lee discuss whether it is actually possible to separate the art from the artist, and whether it is permissible to enjoy the product of makers who turn out to be monsters (16:14).

Emma then introduces us to her filmmaker of the month, the French-Polish director Roman Polanski (28:46). From his early years in western Europe making short films and black-and-white features like Knife in the Water (1962), Repulsion (1965) and Cul-De-Sac (1966), Polanski soon found himself snapped up by Hollywood, where he made the game-changing horror Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and the classic film noir Chinatown (1974). After Chinatown, he famously and controversially fled the US, returning to Europe where he continued to direct. His subsequent films included titles such as Tess (1979), Frantic (1988), Bitter Moon (1992), The Pianist (2002), Carnage (2011) and more. Few filmmakers are as controversial or divisive as Polanski, and in addition to discussing the films themselves, we also examine how his personal life influenced his work, and how it influences our engagement with it.

The Roman Polanski Cheat Sheet

Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: we program you a double feature that will not only make for a great evening's viewing, but will bring you suitably up-to-speed before our next episode lands…


We demand autobiography from auteurs. As soon as we grant adjective status to an artist - Hitchcockian, Bergmanesque, Spielbergy - we begin combing obsessively through their work in order to cunningly infer insight into their personal lives. Few filmmakers have met this requirement as forcefully as Roman Polanski. His horror film Rosemary's Baby is either an all-time classic or an embarrassing clunker depending on who you ask, with the film dividing cinephiles like few other canonised works. The story of a pregnant woman who comes to believe that she is the subject of occultist manipulations made s aplsh on its release, but took on a whole new meaning when, the following year, Polanski's pregnant wife Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson Family cult. Once you've watched that, continue your evening of biographical tourism with The Pianist, Polanski's 2002 Holocaust drama. Although it is a biography of Polish-Jewish pianist Władysław Szpilman, it is set in a time and place that Polanski himself experience as a child, and so there is a palpable verisimilitude to the aesthetics and detail and drama. Details from Polanski's childhood colour the film, details from his life repurposed and merged with Szpilman's. Both Rosemary's Baby and The Pianist are two essential stories, not just because they adaptively relate key parts of Polanski's life, but because they are enduring works in their own rite that bookend a career, presenting the filmmaker he was in the 20th century, and the one he became in the 21st.

Substitutions: If you can't get or have already seen Rosemary's Baby, check out Chinatown (1974). Arguably the best film in his canon, Chinatown is an enduring exemplar of the gumshoe genre, grittier and darker than its Hayes Code-curbed antecedents could ever afford to be. If you can't get or have already seen The Pianist, check out Carnage (2011). Latter-day Polanski has displayed a repeated interest in adapting single-location stageplays to the screen, irising in on the human drama of people bottled in a confined space. Carnage is arguably the best of the lot, as two couples (Jodie Foster & John C Reilly and Kate Winslet & Christoph Waltz) poke and prod at one another over the course of an afternoon.

The Hidden Gem: Want to see something off the beaten path, a title rarely mentioned when people talk about the films of Roman Polanski? Then you should seek out Knife in the Water (1962). It's strange to suggest a renowned filmmaker's debut film is somehow “hidden”, but with so much of the conversation around Polanski's filmography beginning with his arrival in the United States, the early work is often pushed to the background. His first feature, shot on location in Poland, tells the story of a wealthy couple who invite a hitchhiker to join them on their yacht. Tensions, as they often do, escalate. It's a remarkable entrance, skilled and confident, and leaves little doubt as to why his career took off with such sudden force.

The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Emma Westwood talking the films of Roman Polanski, will be released on 30 November 2017.

Our Next Hyphenate Emma Westwood

Author, critic and Hi4H November 2017 guest host Emma Westwood

Get off the edge of your collective seat, because we're ready to announce our next guest! This month we will be joined by Melbourne writer, journalist, film historian and screenwriter Emma Westwood.

Emma's enjoyed a rich and varied career in the arts, writing for outlets such as Empire, Fangoria, FilmInk, Senses of Cinema, Metro, and many others. She was the arts editor for street press publication The Music (formerly Inpress), she penned a weekly performing arts column for The Age, and she worked as researcher on the ABC's arts panel show Vulture.

Her first book, Monster Movies, was published by Pocket Essentials in 2008, and her second, all about David Cronenberg's The Fly, is due out this month from Columbia University Press. She is one of the founders of Bakewood, and you've probably heard her on the Triple R film show Plato's Cave alongside numerous other Hi4H alumni.

So which filmmaker has Emma chosen to talk with us about?

None other than writer and director Roman Polanski.

Polanski was born in Paris to Polish-Jewish parents. The family moved back to Poland in 1937, and the young Roman spent most of his childhood trying to survive the Holocaust. As a young man, he rose to prominence thanks to his early work, with films such as Knife in the Water (1962), Repulsion (1965) and Cul-De-Sac (1966). In America, he made groundbreaking, enduring works like Rosemary's Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974). He went on to directed popular thrillers and award-winning dramas such as Frantic (1988), The Pianist (2002), The Ghost Writer (2010) and Carnage (2011), working in everything from comedy to horror, farce to suspense, and has proven himself a master at nearly every genre and filmmaking style.

But let's not beat around the bush: fundamental to any discussion of Polanski is the fact that in 1978 he was convicted of raping a minor. Polanski fled the US after a very controversial trial, and has not returned to the country in almost four decades. The charges are still pending.

Due to this, as well as other accusations that have come to light over the years, he is a very difficult filmmaker to discuss. It is impossible to talk about his career without acknowledging his past - or, for that matter, his present - and nor would we want to.

And so this episode will be at least partly devoted to examining whether we can embrace, or even just watch, works authored by people who have committed heinous crimes. Is discussing a body of work the same as celebrating it? Forget separating the art from the artist, can we separate the artist from the person?

It might seem like the worst possible time to discuss someone like Polanski, and maybe it is. But as we witness the toppling of Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner and Kevin Spacey, and the beginnings of what we can hope is real progressive change in the film industry, perhaps it's the ideal time to wrestle with this topic.

So join us on November 30 for what we're fairly confident will be a very lively and interesting show.

Our next filmmaker of the month, Roman Polanski