Revisiting the Devil in the Details of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

In celebration of Halloween, we’re rerunning our essay on Rosemary’s Baby, one of the most haunting and wonderful films of all time. Take a read below and check out what other terrifying features you should be watching tonight.

“But I love him, Bob. I love him. I’m going to have to quit,” Mia Farrow said helplessly after her husband, Frank Sinatra, told her that if she was not done shooting Rosemary’s Baby by mid-February that he would divorce her. She was set to star alongside him in The Detective and Sinatra refused to delay his shoot date simply because Roman Polanski’s perfectionist obsessions were pushing Mia’s shooting schedule further and further back.

“If you walk out in the middle of my film, you’ll never work again,” crooned producer Robert Evans. Now in hysterics, Mia continued to cry, “I don’t care, I don’t care. I just love Frank.” So to quell her sobbing, Evans brought Mia into his executive screening room and showed her an hour of Rosemary’s Baby cut together. “I never thought you had it in you. It’s as good, no, even better than Audrey Hepburn’s performance in Wait Until Dark. You’re a shoo-in for an Academy Award.” Yes, the world is an entirely different place when love is involved, but the world is also a very solipsistic place when satisfaction of the ego is in full view. Devotion tends to evaporate when you realize the person you love the most stands in the way of finally achieving something great. And when the lights when dark, Mia’s pleas of, “I don’t care,” turned into Rosemary Woodhouse’s “All of them witches.” She didn’t hit the road and run of—just as swiftly as she made her decision, she was served divorce papers by Sinatra’s lawyer on the set. And that, according to the notorious Evans, is how this kid stayed in the picture.

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The studio heads at Paramount wanted William Castle, a veteran director, to helm the film but Evans wanted Roman Polanski—bad. He knew that the young Polish director, who had made Repulsion, Knife in the Water, and The Fearless Vampire Killers had just worked with Marty Ransohoff, someone whom Evans says, “whatever he liked, I hated, and vice versa. When I heard Marty ranting all over town about what a no-talent Polanski was, I knew Roman was the man for me.”  Knowing that Polanski was an avid skier, Evans lured him over to his house with the enticement of directing Downhill Racer. “He looked at the titles of the books on my shelves. Within five minutes he was acting out crazy stories—somewhere between Shakespeare and theater of the absurd,” recalls Evans. Eventually he told Polanski that Downhill Racer was out the cards, the director’s seat had already been filled, but if he read this book by Ira Levin and liked it, his next ski trip could be billed to Evans himself. And so thus their working relationship began and Levin’s 1966 novel, Rosemary’s Baby, was set for a screen adaptation. The two got along famously, although things weren’t always easy—but what good ever comes from easy? “Fighting is healthy. If everyone has too much reverence for each other, or for the material, results are invariably underwhelming. It’s irreverence that makes things sizzle. It’s irreverence that gives you that shot at touching magic,” says Evans.
When it came to casting the film, Farrow had been Evans’s number one choice for the leading role of Rosemary Woodhouse, a naive and loving housewife who becomes trapped in a haze of paranoia and obsession once she begins to believe that a coven of witches is scheming to steal her unborn child for a human sacrifice. Polanski worried that the “ethereal quality” she possessed wouldn’t translate onto the screen, but at the end of the day Evans won the battle and 45 years later, it’s still impossible to imagine anyone else fitting the role with such a haunting presence. And for the part of her husband, Guy Woodhouse, a narcissistic actor who sells his unborn child to the devil in exchange for personal fortune, Polanski had his eye on Robert Redford. But he was taken. Naturally, Warren Beatty was upset that Evans never bothered to offer him the role, to which Evans responded, “It’s yours Warren, but you’re not right for Rosemary’s Baby unless you play it in drag.” Eventually they went with a young actor by the name of John Cassavetes who had recently starred in The Dirty Dozen. At the time, this was hardly ideal casting, but when you watch the film now with all the knowledge of Cassavetes’ maniacal demeanor and volatility matched with an endearing charm the role of Guy only makes complete sense—someone that Rosemary loves so deeply yet is so blind to.
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Rosemary and Guy are a young couple who have moved into a large new apartment in the Bramford, an antiquated (and supposedly haunted) New York City apartment building. They quickly become friends with their elderly neighbors, Roman and Minnie Castevet, who are a bit eccentric and nosey, but who at first pose no danger. The Castevets invite the Woodhouses to dinner at their home and the two couples begin to spend a lot of time together—particularly Guy, acting as if they serve as a parental figure missing from his life. When Rosemary becomes pregnant, Guy and the Castevets insist that she begin to see an obstetrician, Dr. Sapirstein (also the name of Polanski’s dog), who tells Rosemary that rather than taking the usual prenatal vitamins, Minnie will make her a special herbal drink to have everyday to aid in the baby’s health. Over the first few months of her pregnancy, Rosemary suffers from extreme abdominal pain, which the doctor tells her will “go away on its own.” She begins to loose weight and her complexion pales as she craves raw meat and chicken liver—to her own disgust. She senses something is wrong and doesn’t want to lose the baby. Meanwhile, Guy’s career is on the rise since his understudy role turned into a lead when the main actor inexplicably goes blind.

Rosemary consults her old friend Hutch about her feelings of unease, and he is disturbed when he hears that her drinks from Minnie have been containing tannis root; he tells Rosemary he is going to look into what she has been consuming. A few weeks later, Hutch mysteriously falls into a coma only to regain consciousness right before his death to leave her a book about witchcraft. When Rosemary attends his funeral, she receives the book along with a cryptic message: “The name is an anagram.” She eventually realizes that Roman Castevet is actually the son of a former resident of the Bramford who was accused of worshipping Satan. This leads her to realize that her neighbors must be part of a coven of witches out for her baby and that Guy is cooperating with them in exchange for help in his career. From there, Rosemary spirals into a web of paranoia and doors with no exit. She’s trapped from that moment on, only to realize everyone in her world has sinister intentions and there’s nowhere to turn.

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What works so incredibly well about Polanski’s adaptation of Levin’s book is how it avoids the pratfalls of the typical “horror” or “suspense” genre. It’s a brooding, anxious psychological horror-thriller that’s more of a slow breathing on your neck or a chilled hand grazing your spine rather than a swift jab at fright. The danger of the film is of another world: of the Devil; it’s beyond our mortal grasp and is therefore compelling in that it leaves us unable to know where to run. It’s not only frightening because of the outside powers that be, but speaks to the fear of one’s own mind. The Castevets, Dr. Sapirstein, and Guy all lead Rosemary to believe she’s the crazy one, and she is therefore trapped in a disassociated bewilderment at what reality really is. Her pregnancy also leaves her a vulnerable target for blame, allowing Rosemary to fall prey to their satanic demands.

Polanski gives us plenty of information early on in the film, and his attention to detail allows us to get to know the characters well from the very beginning; the slow reveal of their idiosyncrasies and personal details only heighten the suspense and make their later changes even more poignant. The horror in the film comes from the normalcy of it all. Rosemary’s live goes on as usual as this thing grows inside her. This sense of waiting creates an anxiety and therefore echoes Rosemary’s growing sense of paranoia. Polanski uses interior space and blocking to create a sense of claustrophobia. The Woodhouses’ apartment, which once seemed huge and open, now feels like a confined trap that Rosemary is locked in.

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But one of the most important and most chilling scenes in the film comes in the form of Rosemary’s dream. The Castevetes have drugged her with a mousse dessert and, as she falls into a slumber, a dream sequence begins that is disturbingly realistic. The sequence hops from one moment to the next, inviting in fear and sexuality from the most unlikely of sources. Voices penetrate the dream as in life they are wont to do; this is not your typical haze-lit daydream. The dream’s bizarre world that moves from a boat, where Rosemary is being publicly undressed, to scaffolding where she lies under Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, is like a surrealist manifestation of her subconscious desires and anxieties. Naked figures surround her as a creature of some kind begins to claw at her flesh and rape her. Rosemary yells, “This is no dream, this is really happening!” The voices she hears in her dream mirror the reality of what is consciously happening in waking life, as Guy impregnates her, giving us two worlds that Rosemary is inhabiting—both evil. She is stuck in the nightmare, but would reality be any better?

The pay off at the end of the film, no matter how frightening, is that it’s finally a confirmation for Rosemary that she is not insane, that all the events she has experience actually happened. It’s a successful film because it wraps you around its crooked finger, never letting you know for sure just what to believe, and therefore consuming you in the fears that Rosemary faces. Mia Farrow’s face works as a wonderful blank canvas to project your fears onto as we see the once vibrant and beautiful mother-to-be wither away and succumb to her paranoia. We never see the demonic newborn, only the look of pure, unfettered horror on Farrow’s face. It’s a choice that at first feels like a tease, but then you realize that the act of not seeing is even worse—the imagination can make of it what they may.

In an afterword to the 2003 New American Library edition of Levin’s novel, he said, “Lately, I’ve had a new worry. The success of Rosemary’s Baby inspired Exorcists and Omens and lots of et ceteras. Two generations of youngsters have grown to adulthood watching depictions of Satan as a living reality. Here’s what I worry about now: if I hadn’t pursued an idea for a suspense novel almost forty years ago, would there be quite as many religious fundamentalists around today?” Let’s chew on some tannis root about that one for a while.

Brett Ratner, Jackie Stewart, and Roman Polanski: On Speed (Part I)

A conversation with Formula 1 legend Jackie Stewart and Hollywood mogul Brett Ratner, and a noticeably absent Roman Polanski.

With apologies to James Agee, let us now praise famous dead men: Jo “Seppi” Siffert, Jochen Rindt, Lorenzo Bandini, Piers Courage, Francois Severt. These are just a few of the dozen Formula 1 racers who died in the eight years that Grand Prix legend, Jackie Stewart was dubbed the Flying Scot for his remarkable run at the top of the world’s fastest, most dangerous sport. “We were killing between four and eight drivers a year,” Stewart has said of the era in which he was king. “If you raced for five full seasons, there was a two-in-three chance that you were going to die.

Motor racing is still the fastest sport, but it’s no longer the most dangerous—the NFL and the World Boxing Federation can fight over that dubious distinction. No one has died in a Formula 1 Championship since Ayrton Seena in 1994, and much of the change was lead by Stewart, who witnessed so many friends die on Europe’s treacherous courses that he dedicated his life to making the sport safer.

Stewart, who won 27 Grand Prix titles in eight years, stood out as a loquacious dandy sporting a black Corduroy cap and long sideburns. “The longer they got, the faster I got,” he wisecracks. A working class kid from near Glasgow, he once described himself as “completely uneducated by traditional standards,” and had such severe dyslexia he couldn’t recite the alphabet. Yet by the time he was 30, Stewart was as famous at home as The Beatles and Twiggy. It was that mix of celebrity, sex, and danger that drew another global superstar, Roman Polanski, to shadow Stewart as he prepared to race the Monaco Grand Prix in 1971. The resulting documentary, Weekend of a Champion, was never released at the time, and might have been left moldering in a cupboard if it wasn’t for a phone call from Polanski’s old lab in London.

“They contacted me asking what I wanted to do with the negatives of the film, whether they should destroy it,” Polanski recalled during a recent interview. “So I looked at the film and I liked it, after 40 years almost. I decided to give it a new life.”

After showing the film to Rush Hour director Brett Ratner, a long-time friend and mutual fan of the sport, the idea of giving a proper release to Polanksi’s time capsule took shape. To do that, Polanski and Stewart returned to the same hotel room, at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco where much of the original documentary was filmed in (the first time around Stewart is in his underwear; the second time—wisely—in a suit). The result is a great snapshot of two men—friends—at two moments in their lives: at pinnacle of their young success, and then older, more reflective, with the added hindsight of 40 years.

Like Polanksi and Stewart, Brett Ratner has a powerful biography of his own. As a child he shared a room with his great-grandmother—a Holocaust survivor—in a four-bedroom house in Miami. The other rooms were divided between his mother, his grandparents, and his uncle. He didn’t get to meet his father until his 16th birthday. “One day, I got the courage to ask him why he never visited me as a child,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012. “He explained that he made the difficult decision to stay away because he was embarrassed since he had been disowned by his family, had abused drugs for many years and knew he couldn’t provide for me or my mom. Holding a job was impossible for him.” A few years later, Ratner ran into his father on the street, homeless but fiercely independent. “He would occasionally call to check in, but it pained him to ask for help, so he stayed away,” he recalled. “My father died a few years later, alone, without me or any family member by his side.”

Now a newly-minted Hollywood mogul on the back of a $450 million deal with Warner Brothers, Ratner sat down with Stewart to talk about Polanski, Monaco, and the common denominator between motor racing and film making: adrenalin and passion.

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From David Lynch to Roman Polanski, Here are the Films You Should Be Seeing in NYC This Weekend

The weekend is good for many things. It’s a time to sleep, a time to drink, a time to be merry, and a time to escape the city and dive headfirst into a refreshing body of water. But when it’s awfully humid outside the just the idea of having to put on a pair of pants in the morning makes you sweat, the best escape is an pitch black, ice cold movie theater. And this weekend, some of the  greatest films in cinematic history are screening around the city with just enough variation and appeal to suit anyone’s film fancies. From the twisted and beautiful mind of David Lynch to the aesthetically and emotionally ravishing world of Xavier Dolan, a mix of classic and premiere films are begging for your attention in the coming days. I’ve compiled a list of the best movies playing throughout the city, so peruse the list, grab a lover (or a box of M&Ms), and enjoy.

 

BAM


Short Term 12
Newlyweeds
Before Midnight
Frances Ha
Much Ado About Nothing
The Manxman
Continental
The Ring
Blackmail
The Lodger  

 

Museum of the Moving Image

Mulholland Drive
The Tree of Life
Lost Highway
No 
The Sandlot  

 

IFC Center

The Adventures of Baron Munchauen
Aliens
Byzantium
History of the World: Part I
Mulholland Drive
Museum Hours
Maniac  

 

Nitehawk

Before Midnight
The Bling Ring
Bad Girls Go To Hell
Total Recall
Maniac
The Passion of Joan Arc
Airplane  

 

Film Linc

Big Trouble in Little China
Much Ado
The Bullet Vanishes
The Lady Avenger
Rigodon
The Berlin File
The Legend is Born: Ip Man
Enter the Dragon  

 

Landmark Sunshine

I’m So Excited!

The East
Much Ado About Nothing
Fill the Void
Samurai Cop  

 

Angelika Film Center

Laurence Anyways
The Attack
Stories We Tell
Twenty Feet From Stardom
Before Midnight
 
 

Film Forum

Rosemary’s Baby
A Hijacking
Sing Me the Songs That Say I Love You
Yankee Doodle Dandy

Check Out New Photos and Trailers for Some of Cannes Most Anticipated Films

Yesterday, the Cannes Film Festival line-up was officially announced, and this year’s slate looks to be filled with some pretty incredible premieres from Roman Polanski’s Venus in Furs to James Franco’s As I Lay Dying to the latest from the Coen Brothers and Sofia Coppola. But the film at the top of my list is Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow-up to 2011’s Drive, the visually-stuninng Thai boxing thriller Only God Forgives, which will will re-team him with his leading man Ryan Gosling. Watch the new international trailer that premiered yesterday HERE.

Another one sure to be a heavy-hitter is James Gray’s The Immigrant. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard, less is known about the feature but the story will apparently "chronicle the journey of a Polish immigrant (Cotillard) who becomes caught in a triangle between a cabaret owner/pimp (Phoenix) and a magician who wants to save her (Jeremy Renner)." Also, today, Fracois Ozon’s wonderful new drama In the House begins its theatrical run, but his next film, has already been completed and is heading to Cannes in May as well—titled Jeune & Jole (Young and Beautiful) which stars Charlotte Rampling and Marine Vacth.

And now, we’ve got two new photos from Only God Forgives behind the scenes, the first shot from The Immigrant, and the trailer for Jeune & Jolie (unfortunately sans subtitles). So take a look and start getting excited for a year of great release.

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Ryan Gosling, James Franco, & Roman Polanski Head to Cannes With This Year’s 2013 Line-Up

After months of speculation and close watch as to who would be heading to France come May, an official list has finally arrived. This morning, the line-up for this year’s Cannes Film Festival was revealed and yes, we expected as much from some of the selection, but the roster isn’t without a few very welcome surprises. As we’ve known for some time now, Baz Luhrmann’s grand adpatation of The Great Gatsby will be providing a dramatic and lavish opening to the festival with begins May 15th.

And with anticipation for Nicolas Winding Refn’s stunning thriller Only God Forgives, we were pleased to see that it would be entering the festival in competition alongside the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llwelyn Davis, Roman Polanski’s Venus in Furs, and Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, and Alexander Payne’s Nebraska—just to name a sampling of the selection.

Previously in the month, we learned that Sofia Coppola’s teen fashion heist film, The Bling Ring, would be entering the Un Certain Regard at the festival but now we learn that not only will she be joined by Clare Denis’ The Bastards and Fruitvale, or newly, Fruitvale Station, but James Franco’s As I Lay Dying will be making its way into the category as well. Personally, that came as the biggest surprise for me, not realizing that the film had even gone into post-production—silly me, as if Franco wouldn’t forego sleep for years just to finish something before Cannes!

Anyhow, check out the rest of the list below and get excited to see more pictures like the one above on the red carpet next month.

Opening film (out of competition): The Great Gatsby,  Baz Luhrmann
Closing film: Zulu, Jérôme Salle
 
Competition:
Only God Forgives, Nicolas Winding Refn
Borgman, Alex Van Warmerdam
La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty), Paolo Sorrentino
Behind The Candelabra, Steven Soderbergh
La Venus à la fourrure (Venus in Fur), Roman Polanski
Nebraska,  Alexander Payne
Jeune et jolie, François Ozon
Wara No Tate (Shield of Straw), Takashi Miike
La vie d’Adèle, Abdellatif Kechiche
Soshite Chich Ni Naru (Like Father, Like Son), Hirokazu Kore-eda
Tian Zhy Ding, Zhangke Jia
Grisgris, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
The Immigrant, James Gray
Le Passé, Asghar Farhadi
Heli, Amat Escalante
Jimmy P. (Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian), Arnaud Desplechin
Michael Kohlhaas, Arnaud Despallières
Inside Llewyn Davis, Ethan & Joel Coen
Un Château en Italie, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi
 
Out of competition:
All Is Lost, J.C Chandor
Blood Ties, Guillaume Canet
 
Special screenings:
Otdat Konci, Taisia Igumentseva
Seduced and Abandoned, James Toback
Week of a Champion, Roman Polanski
Stop the Pounding Heart, Roberto Minervini
Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, Stephen Frears
Max Rose, Daniel Noa
 
Midnight screenings:
Blind Detective, Johnnie To
Monsoon Shootout,  Amit Kumar
 
Un Certain Regard:
Grand Central, Rebecca Zlotowski
Sarah préfère la course, Chloé Robichaud
Anonymous, Mohammad Rasoulof
La jaula de oro, Diego Quemada-Díez
L’image manquante, Rithy Panh
Bends, Flora Lau
The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola
L’inconnu du lac, Alain Guiraudie
Miele, Valeria Golino
As I lay dying, James Franco
Norte, Hangganan ng kasaysayan, Lav Diaz
Les salauds, Claire Denis
Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler
Death March, Adolfo Alix Jr.
Omar, Hany Abu-Assad

From Lynch to Polanski: Looking Back on Some of the Best Psychological Dramas

When it comes to my favorite films, psychological dramas have always attracted and enticed me the most. I tend to fall in love with films that focus on the interior and psyche of their subjects and filled with the unstable and troubled emotional states of their characters. Usually merged with thriller, horror, mystery, or crime, this genre of dramas tells subjective stories through an objective lens, allowing the viewer to have a necessary distance from the obscurity of the character’s world while penetrating their mental landscape.

Dealing with issues of distorted realities, questions of identity, and the link between sex and death, these films tend to be visually rich, using a cinematic sleight of hand to bring the audience into a character’s frame of mind in a way that’s visceral, sensual, and disturbing. And this week, we’ll see the release of Danny Boyle’s hypnotic Trance, Shane Carruth’s confounding Upstream Color, and Antonio Campos’ haunting Simon Killer. To celebrate these psychological drama, here’s a handful of their iconic predecessors. From David Lynch’s ravishing masterpiece Mulholland Drive to Darren Aronofsky’s dizzying Black Swan, here are some of our favorites. Enjoy.

Mulholland Drive, David Lynch

Fight Club, David Fincher

Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick

Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky

Persona, Ingmar Bergman

Lost Highway, David Lynch

Straw Dogs, Sam Peckinpah

Three Colors: Red, Krzysztof Kieslowski

Crash, David Cronenberg

Blue Velvet, David Lynch

The Conformist, Bernardo Bertolucci

Satan’s Brew, Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Autumn Sonata, Ingmar Berman

Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese

Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky

Spellbound, Alfred Hitchcock

Memento, Christopher Nolan

Repulsion, Roman Polanski

Watch a Rare Interview With Roman Polanski & Diane Sawyer From 1994

In 1967 producer Robert Evans bribed a young Polish director Roman Polanski to read Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby with the promise of a ski trip if he enjoyed it as much as Evans thought he might. And of course, we all know how history followed from there. So after going on to make Chinatown and becoming one of the most beloved new filmmakers of the decade and a marriage to one of the most beautiful women in the world, Polanski’s life changed with the blink of an eye. After the horrific Manson murders that robbed him of a wife and his happiness, it was almost a decade later in 1977 when he was arrested for the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl.  His story has been told through films like Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out, and Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir but in a rare 1994 interview with Diane Sawyer we see the Polish director give his first interview in a decade prior to that, in which he talks about everything from the death of Sharon Tate to his exile. See for yourself below.

Classic Thrills and Hauntings Chills: This Week on Hulu

Roman Polanski once said, "Cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theater." And as one of the great filmmakers of suspense, his work always manages to transport you into a psychologically haunting place. And this week, the Criterion Collection is highlighting a handful of their favorite nail-biters for free on Hulu. From Polanski’s classic black and white thriller Knife in the Water, to the Götz Spielmann’s emotionally-gutting Oscar-nominated Revanche, here’s what you should be watching this weekend from the psychologically terrifying to the charmingly haunting and all the goodies in between.

 

 

Knife in the Water, Roman Polanski (1962)

 

 

Revanche, Götz Spielmann (2008)

 

 

A Man Escaped, Robert Bresson (1956)

 

 

Purple Noon,  René Clément (1960)

 

 

The Vanishing, George Sluizer (1988)

 

 

The Shadow Within,  Silvana Zancolo (2007)

 

 

The Wages of Fear, Henri-Georges Clouzot (1953)

James Franco To Star As Jay Sebring, Celeb Hairstylist Murdered By The Manson Family

You’ve got to hand it to James Franco for picking interesting projects: his newest role will be directing and starring in a film about Jay Sebring, the Hollywood hairstylist and sometime-boyfriend of Sharon Tate, who was murdered by the Manson family.

Beautiful People will be a biopic of Sebring, reports the Guardian, who was murdered with Tate (pictured above) at her and Roman Polanski’s home on Cielo Drive in Los Angeles in the summer of 1969. He was reportedly murdered by the Manson family during the home invasion while trying to protect Tate, who was pregnant with Polanski’s child and due to give birth in two weeks. 

His celebrity clients had included Warren Beatty, Kirk Douglas, Steve McQueen, and Jim Morrison from The Doors. 

Contact the author of this post at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.