FLASH FRIDAY: Roman Polanski's (GOD OF) CARNAGE
Few names in the modern lexicon can and do raise such vitriolic and vociferous reactions from film fans, Broadway babies and pop culture mavens alike - let alone everybody else - and not only for his classic spate of films, but, even more so because of his tumultuous personal life and the fact it has been painted on pages in the press for decades; yet, no question, the name Roman Polanski does just that. Given what has come to pass in his oft-vaunted career, the perils of his private life have always informed his art in one way or another - from his war-torn orphan upbringing in Europe in a concentration camp to his wife and son's brutal slaying by the Manson Family to the infamous rape case that made him a fugitive to the US; up to the new millennium and the recent HBO documentary examining the court case and, of course, the upcoming feature film, CARNAGE, itself. From the suffocating claustrophobia and bizarre social and sexual proclivity examinations in KNIFE IN THE WATER, REPULSION and CUL-DE-SAC, to his more mainstream US films like the horror classic ROSEMARY'S BABY and, in my critics' opinion one of the finest films ever made, CHINATOWN. Taking into account his seamless stage-to-screen transfer of DEATH AND THE MAIDEN in 1994, Polanski's CARNAGE could very well stand alongside that tremendous achievement as a solid film all its own - even divorced from its theatrical roots - especially judging from the looks of today's just-released trailer for the feature film version, coming out in December as one of the year's most highly-anticipated Oscar-bait entries being released at the end of the year as always. For those not familiar with the hit source play, GOD OF CARNAGE concerns itself with one evening and the meeting of two couples in Manhattan to discuss their sons' situation in school and over the course of the colorful extended conversation the tables are turned and the parents reveal themselves to be children at heart - in more ways than one.
Devil & God
Starting with KNIFE IN THE WATER, CUL-DE-SAC and REPULSION, Polanski immediately established himself as a purveyor of noir-ish suspense and supreme tension that permeated seemingly every element of those three tight, terse monochrome masterworks. Note: CUL-DE-SAC has finally been given a proper DVD and Blu-ray release by the Criterion Collection just this week, to go alongside their superb REPULSION and both are must-haves for film fans of any sort. Next, Robert Evans brought him to the US in a big way with the near-word-for-word adaptation of Ira Levin's satanic thriller bestseller ROSEMARY'S BABY by the end of the 1960s and his directing career went into full swing. During this time, he met Sharon Tate - the star of his hilarious vampire horror spoof, THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS or PARDON ME, BUT YOUR TEETH ARE IN MY NECK later adapted into the European smash and the Broadway flop DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES - and it was not long before they were wed. Just when everything seemed to be going right and fashion icon and model Sharon announced she was pregnant, the dream was shattered and Polanski became embroiled in two of the most shocking scandals in modern Hollywood history: The Manson Family Murders and, later, rape charges stemming from an illicit incident with an underage would-be model and starlet. Following the gruesome murder of his wife and unborn son in the Manson Family Murders of the 1960s, Polanski's already very accomplished and increasingly hot career went into overdrive as he threw himself into his work. The result? He directed a horrifyingly macabre adaptation of William Shakespeare's MACBETH less than two years later, released in 1971 - quite evidently exorcising some of his more-than-understandable, but unknowable, demons. Just as he would revisit the horrors of the Holocaust of his youth in THE PIANIST in 2002, winning a Best Director Oscar in the process, each of Polanski's films are imbued with his own predominate passions and specific emotions - for better and worse; then and now. Just listen to his commentary track on THE NINTH GATE and you can sense his deep affection for not just the process, but the art form. He has produced at least one excellent film each decade of his career and some have many more than even that - the aforementioned sixties classics, along with CHINATOWN, FRANTIC and DEATH AND THE MAIDEN round out last century. Last year, Polanski was again in the news - and, again, it was not for his movies - when he was jailed and nearly deported back to the US to await trial for the thirty-year-old rape charge that had been recently reopened. While the complexities of the case are many, in the HBO documentary created around the shady dealings of the court case, Roman Polanski: WANTED & DESIRED, the victim herself even absconds him of his past litany of sins, for whatever that's worth. And, anyway, today we are talking most about the movie the man is directing and how his life informs it, not so much about the much-discussed perils of his personal life - whatever your opinion may be. The art speaks for itself, in any evident - and, if you don't let it, then you simply aren't listening. Now married and a father of two and living abroad, the play GOD OF CARNAGE, by Pulitzer Prize-winning ART playwright Yasmina Reza translated by Christopher Hampton, seems the ideal fodder for a man in his seventies who is, virtually, now, at last, a family man. Finally.
While CARNAGE and its source play GOD OF CARNAGE are ostensibly about family and relationships, the drama also deals extensively with the naiveté and unease we also feel as adults in social situations and how suppressed emotions manifest and reveal themselves in a multitude of relatable, risqué, strange and amusing ways. Each of the four protagonists has their individual journey, and it seems clear from the trailer that each actor will contribute a multi-layered and complex portrayal of their rich archetypes - or, should I say: characters. After all, isn't the entire play a bit of a metaphor for something else without giving too much away? Whatever it is, CARNAGE opens up enormous room for discussion, dissection and copious devouring of ideas. Just look at how provocative and striking the poster is!
For the film adaptation of CARNAGE, Roman Polanski has certainly assembled the best Hollywood actors imagineable to the fill the shoes of the stalwart original Broadway foursome of Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden and James Gandolfini and, later, replacement casts included Annie Potts, Lucy Liu, Dylan Baker and Jimmy Smits, especially with these three Oscar-winners and a nominee, respectively: Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet and John C. Reilly. Certainly, it will be tough to top Marcia Gay Harden's Tony-winning portrayal of Veronica, but if anyone is up to the challenge here and now it would seem to be hard-working - and also-Emmy-nominated this year for the Todd Haynes/HBO film MILDREd Pierce - Kate Winslet. While the power and sway the play held over a rapt audience for nearly 500 performances at the Bernard B. Jacob's Theater will be incredibly difficult to capture onscreen - let alone how the comedic and farcical elements will translate - Polanski has proven that he is more than up to the challenge of adapting a major play to celluloid given his peerless work on the prior stage-page-to-sound-stage adaptations of MACBETH and DEATH AND THE MAIDEN.
So, without further ado, feast your eyes on the sparse, precise and witty trailer for Roman Polanski's CARNAGE, opening in December 2011, just in time for Oscar season.
Now, as a special bonus, check out these trailers for the previous Polanski film adaptations of stage plays discussed above.
Here is the trailer for MACBETH. WARNING: DISTURBING IMAGES.
So, now that you've seen the trailer for the film version are you looking forward to CARNAGE? Do you think Yasmina Reza's previous Broadway hit, ART, would make a good film? Would you want a proven master of theatrical translation like Polanski to take it on or would you prefer it got a fresh directorial look? And, most importantly: will this new cast of CARNAGE somehow manage to live up to - or, better yet: momentarily erase - the vivid memories we have of their Broadway counterparts in this permanent film record of the play or all the ages? Certainly, all these questions and more shall be answered come December!
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