"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Theme Week

Million Dollar Movie: Rosemary’s Baby

Because what’s scarier than having your body taken over against your will by an alien being? Or, as it’s more commonly known: pregnancy.

Of course, in most cases, when a woman is pregnant it’s not because her husband has arranged for some neighborly witches to have her raped by Satan in exchange for a boost to his acting career. The premise is ludicrous, but Rosemary’s Baby unfolds slowly and, by focusing on the mundane details of Rosemary’s life as well as the subtle horror, quite believably.

Lovely yuppie couple Rosemary and Guy Woodehouse, played by Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, move into an old New York City apartment building (played by the Dakota) with a disconcerting history of violence and witchcraft, which they of course ignore. Their next door neighbors, who they can occasionally hear through the walls in certain rooms, are the pushy and snooping though seemingly well-meaning Castavets (Sidney Blackmer and the fabulously irritating Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar)– though to be fair, their pushiness only makes itself felt after their young female house guest kills herself, and they realize Rosemary is… fertile.

Mia Farrow gives a great performance, from glowing, beautiful, pliant young wife to a ghostly, half-mad, desperate soon-to-be mother. The character’s passivity can be frustrating – she lets herself be pushed into doing all kinds of things she doesn’t want to do by her husband, her neighbors, and the doctor they corral her into seeing – but it’s also understandable; Rosemary doesn’t want to make a fuss, doesn’t want to be rude, doesn’t want people to be upset with her, isn’t even sure she’s right. It’s in those scenes that Rosemary’s Baby becomes something of a feminist parable, not something I expected from Roman Polanski (maybe the ultimate “love the art, hate the artist” example, for me). The real horror of Rosemary’s situation comes not from being raped by the devil and impregnated with his spawn but from feeling cut off and powerless, used as a vessel for childbirth and not much else, ignored, told not to read or do or think anything for herself. By the time she gets up enough panicked courage to take action, for the sake of her unborn baby if not herself, it’s too late.

That’s another credit to the movie: it takes Rosemary nearly the entire running time to figure out what’s happening, whereas the audience is clued in from the start – to the fact that something sinister’s afoot, at least, if not precisely what. And the somewhat surprising ending is widely known, at this point (“What have you done to his eyes?!“). But while it’s frustrating to watch Rosemary become entangled in this sinister conspiracy over the course of hours, Polanski uses that frustration to invest the audience further, to deepen the viewer’s discomfort and tension. There are few movie characters I’d like to eviscerate more than the Castavets and their friends, especially that Laura-Louise. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review,

When the conclusion comes, it works not because it is a surprise but because it is horrifyingly inevitable. Rosemary makes her dreadful discovery, and we are wrenched because we knew what was going to happen –and couldn’t help her.

For all its horror, Rosemary’s baby is often wryly funny, and the movie keeps its sense of humor til the very end (when Rosemary drops her kitchen knife in horror near her baby’s bassinet, Mrs. Castevet picks it up and quickly rubs at the mark it left in her nice wood floors). Still, that end comprises the complete triumph of evil – the banality of evil, in fact.

Use protection, kids. Beware of too-good-to-be-true New York City real estate deals. And never, ever marry an actor.

Million Dollar Movie

I watched horror movies as a kid–respectable ones like “Carrie,” and “The Shining,” “The Exorcist,” and “The Omen,” as well as “Halloween,” and “Friday the 13th.” I also saw a bunch of low-budget horror classics like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “I Spit on Your Grave.” But it was a phase that didn’t last. Horror movies were never my thing, and the older I got the less interested I was in being scared.

I was also just as likely to be scared by an action movie like “The Road Warrior” or “Aliens” or a thriller like “Fatal Attraction” than I was by a horror movie. Horror movies were just iller, with all the blood and guts gore.

I got to thinking about scary movies over the weekend cause of Halloween and you know which one stands out? “Taxi Driver.”

It’s not a horror movie, strictly speaking, but it is a nightmare vision of New York and one that was easy to identify with–the isolation and danger, the fear and violence.

Scorsese once told an interviewer:

It was crucial to Travis Bickle’s character that he had experience life and death around him every second when he was in south-east Asia. That way it becomes more heightened when he comes back; the image of the street at night reflected in the dirty gutter becomes more threatening. I think that’s something a guy going through a war, any war, would experience when he comes back to what is supposedly ‘civilization’. He’d be more paranoid.

Pauline Kael gave it a rave in the New Yorker:

In its own way, this movie, too has an erotic aura. There is practically no sex in it, but no sex can be as disturbing as sex. And that’s what it’s about: the absence of sex–bottled-up, impacted energy and emotion, with a blood-splattering release. The fact that we experience Travis’s need for an explosion viscerally, and that the explosion itself has the quality of consummation, makes “Taxi Driver” one of the few truly modern horror films.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw it, this scene featuring Martin Scorsese himself, really freaked me out…just, so…tense:

Million Dollar Movie

When critics discuss Woody Allen’s best films, or the great films of the 1980s, I’m consistently disappointed that there isn’t more discussion of his 1987 picture Radio Days. Coming on the heels of his great and somewhat audacious Hannah and Her Sisters, audiences and critics alike seemed to mistake Radio Days as something slight – a fine, funny movie, but not a major statement. As time passes, it becomes clearer and clearer that Radio Days is one of Allen’s most perfectly realized films.

Joe (Seth Green), is the narrator/Woody as a child, a radio-obsessed kid living in Rockaway Beach with his parents (Michael Tucker and Julie Kavner, both excellent), his grandparents, cousin Ruthie, Uncle Abe (Josh Mostel) and Aunt Ceil, and his sweetly optimistic spinster Aunt Bea (Diane Wiest).  The film is full of cameos by Allen veterans and notable character actors: Jeff Daniels, Tony Roberts, Danny Aiello, Wallace Shawn, Kenneth Mars, et al. Even Diane Keaton appears as a singer late in the film.

However, it’s Allen’s stand in family that remains the heart of the piece. Radio Days is the most warm-hearted film of Allen’s career and one of his most personal statements. It’s a love letter not only to the pre-TV days when radio ruled American consciousness, but also to family and childhood and to the stories we tell and the way we tell them.

Radio Days has a unique structure: we don’t follow a story from beginning to end, rather we get served a series of anecdotes that are conjured up by the songs and shows of 1940s radio. Allen serves as the voice-over narrator, stringing together memories and commentary on the action, which splits time between a fictionalized version of his own family and childhood, the glamorous world of the radio stars themselves and the rise of Sally White (Mia Farrow) a cigarette girl who dreams of radio stardom.  (Allen’s narration functions much like the greek chorus of stand up comics did in Broadway Danny Rose.)


feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver