Monday, 6 September 2010

Sunday Night Cinema

We watched the above Polanski film on DVD last night (or rather, I watched the last half - about one and a half ours of it).

You know the opening scene in 'Saving Private Ryan', where the Americans are landing on the beach under heavy fire? You remember how exhausted you felt after the first 15 minutes of relentless bombardment, with bullets and shells zipping through the water around you as you follow the others through the sea, trying to head for the beach, where you will be strafed by the machine-guns of low flying aircraft and shot at by hidden snipers in the smouldering ruins of the small, French, sea-side resort? Well, 'The Pianist' has a similar effect on your energy-levels, but it is a sort of slow-release enervation - it takes about 3 hours to completely lose the will to stand up and turn the DVD off. The penultimate scene - where the hero (this is a true story about a Polish pianist whose entire Jewish family are shipped out of the Warsaw ghetto to be exterminated by the nazis, whilst he spends the entire war hiding in apartments and in the burnt-out ruins of the old sector, trying to find food and drink, whilst being beaten by his captors) just when you think he is about to be rescued by the Russians - he makes the mistake of wearing the great-coat of a helpful German soldier, and is greeted by a hale of gunfire in the frozen but burning street. There's some nice piano music, though.

At some point or other, it seems that Hollywood expects all film-directors to make a movie about the Holocaust. Spielberg had to, and many others had to in the past. Polanski - with the unanswered issue about the young girl hanging over his head after all these years - is probably more compelled to make one than most. At least Spielberg can go in and out of the USA without getting arrested, at the moment.

Her Indoors remarked that - as Polish directors go - Polanski has nothing on Wajda, who made that film about the Katjin massacre recently. She's probably right, but I haven't seen it yet. I know that his film 'Ashes and Diamonds', made years ago, was bloody marvelous and Polanski is no stranger to the cinematic turkey.

There is one film I saw years ago which would definitely take the prize for the power to drain you of every drop of energy you have. I have been trying to remember the name of it, but it is a science-fiction, where the crew of a small space-craft land on a planet which is entirely covered in jungle vegetation. The other thing is that this planet is in the perpetual grip of a colossal rain-storm, and has been since it was first formed. It must have been an extremely cheap film to make, as the 3 or 4 actors in it are always in the same set (amongst the leaves of huge plants and seen from the waist up only) with gallons of water cascading down on them from above. The rain is so heavy, that they have to shout above the noise of it as it hits the leaves around them, as they try and find their way through the jungle which has no end. They spend the entire two hours of the film shouting their lines at the tops of their voices, and getting absolutely drenched from head to foot.

When you consider that - unless they did every scene in one take - there must have been about 5 times as much footage shot as the film lasts, then you begin to realise that they really did earn their money. They must have looked like shriveled prunes at the end of each day, and they would need professional voice training to avoid losing their natural ones.

The simple tendency to empathise is what exhausts us during these films. You would have to be as unfeeling as one of Polanski's nazis to not become drained from the experience of watching them.


  1. Didn't they say that, during the stage version of The Diaries of Anne Frank, the audience started shouting 'She's in the Loft', because it was so tedious and badly acted.

    Bad movies can be wonderfully soporific.

  2. Yes - I love that story. Apparently the entire cast and audience fell around laughing and took a while to continue.

  3. We watched In The Valley of Elah the other night...a good not great movie. I found the hopelessness and sadness so exhausting, it was hard to stand up afterwards.

  4. The Pianist is hard to watch at times, but I really loved it. Though it's definitely one of those movies you see once and then that's it for the rest of your life. I can't watch Saving Private Ryan because it makes me sick, literally. I had to leave the theater and sit in the lobby for half of the movie.

  5. I'm beginning to think I may have more stamina than I thought...

  6. Yeah, you really have to be in the right frame of mind to watch holocaust films, of any sort.

    (I'm driving everyone around me mad with the Happy Talk, thanks to you)

  7. ... if you don't havva dreem, you godda have a dream.... how you gonna make your dreem come true?

  8. Well, we watched 'Katyn' last night - me for the first time. Grim but very interesting. Wajda politely avoids mentioning the Allied complicity in the Russian mass (but individual - 20,000 of them, each one with a pistol shot to the back of the head) murders in the interview afterwards. It is a much better film than Polanski's, I think, and also there is a much more valid reason for it to be made - Wajda's own father was one of the murdered Polish officers, and the story had never been told about the Soviet lie against the Germans.