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October 28th, 2014


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10:31 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Rosemary's Baby
I've said it many times before, but I like using this project as an excuse to work my way through the movies I should have watched years ago, but never got around to watching. I just assumed, during the era of home video, that my friends would buy movies on VHS and later DVD, and that sooner or later they'd sit me through everything that was important.

This has been a good philosophy, for the most part. I stopped seeing movies in theaters when the multiplex started skimping on amenities, and giving a movie some time for its following to incubate means that the mediocre movies (mostly) fall by the wayside, and the good ones (mostly) rise to the top. Granted, it took me three years to see The King's Speech, but I managed to sidestep After Earth which all of my coworkers were complaining about on the Monday following its opening weekend. I call that a win.

My philosophy is not perfect. Now that we stream everything over the internet, my friends no longer have big disc collections for me to peruse. Another problem is that classic films don't often get Big Deal Special Edition releases, so people tend not to seek them out. Everybody is surprised to learn that I've never seen Jaws, but none of my friends has ever had a copy handy. I don't really think that matters; I honestly think that I've more or less absorbed Jaws through cultural osmosis, but I do regret that I still haven't seen (for example) Chinatown.

Rosemary's Baby almost falls into that category. Almost because I've seen it now (which disqualifies it as a movie I haven't seen, duh), and because at one time I was actively seeking it out. I even bought a copy--which I didn't watch. I need to explain this.

I have a friend who was being told a few years ago the she looked a lot like Mia Farrow, and as a result she started watching Mia Farrow movies, which led her to a fondness for Rosemary's Baby, and the book it was based on. Around the time she was gushing about it to me, I found a copy on DVD and bought it for a couple of bucks, and before I got around to watching it, Amazon offered me a copy of the ebook for $3. So I bought it and read it, and wasn't crazy about it. My wife expressed an interest in not watching the movie again, so the DVD sat on my shelf, unviewed. At some point my friend grew her hair out, and presumably people stopped telling her she looked like Mia Farrow.

I still have not seen the DVD, but Netflix recommended the movie to me tonight. I'm lazy and I was already sitting down, so...

It's been a few years since I read the book, but I have to report that I'm more or less pleased with the movie, though I'm still lukewarm to the story. Don't know the story? Here we go: Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse (John Cassavetes and Mia Farrow, respectively) move into an old, New York apartment building which is obviously quite a bit more lavish and expensive than a struggling actor and his unemployment housewife should be able to afford. No matter--the money isn't an issue addressed in the story. They become friendly with the neighbors, an elderly couple named Roman and Minnie Castevet (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon), who can't seem to keep their noses out of the Woodhouse's business.

On the night that the Woodhouses plan to conceive a child, Minnie brings over a chocolate mousse which, in retrospect, Rosemary believes to have been drugged. Rosemary passes out but Guy goes ahead and impregnates her anyway, and her memories afterward are confused and violent. The pregnancy seems off from the start, and the Castavets insist that she see their doctor instead of the incompetent hack all her friends are seeing. Minnie prepares a special vitamin drink for Rosemary every day, and makes her wear a moldy-smelling good luck charm made of "tannis root". Rosemary becomes paranoid and suspicious, especially after the revelation that Roman was once suspected as a Satanist, but guy brushes her off.

Everything comes to a head when Rosemary goes to see her original doctor and tells him that Roman and the Castavets are conspiring against her. Assuming that she is delusional, her doctor betrays her, sending her home with Roman. Back at the apartment, labor begins, and Rosemary is sedated. Waking up later, she learns that she has lost the baby. She can hear its cries, however, and eventually follows them, bursting in on a Satanic gathering in the Castavet's living room. Rosemary teeters on the verge of nervous breakdown as Roman explains that the child--Adrian--is the son of Satan, and that although she didn't factor into the cult's original plan, Rosemary is welcome to raise the child. She accepts. The end.

I really don't understand why this movie resonates with people, but I have my guesses. First of all, director Roman Polanski is a good filmmaker. I have to confess that I don't especially love his movies, but Rosemary's Baby looks startlingly sophisticated next to most other films from 1968. It's a well-made film, and I can still see its influence in modern horror movies. The other factor, I think is that it was made at a time when American filmmakers were beginning to explore the boundaries of sexuality and violence in films. Rosemary's Baby predates the MPAA's G/M/R/X rating system by a few months, but Rosemary's pregnancy is portrayed with a level of frankness which was unheard of at the time. The film is full of themes that are both more mature and more maturely presented than ever before, and I think that's what propelled Rosemary's Baby to its status as a cinematic classic; in a way it's a line in the sand separating Serious Films from kid stuff.

Unfortunately, I don't care for the story. Perdition is a scary concept, but I think Satan is basically the Rob Ford of the Bible and I have a hard time taking stories like this one seriously. I can't handle the idea of the Castavets running a big, Satanic cult, because if there's a Satan, and if he's who he says he is, then there's also a God. The Christian God is not threatened by Satan, He allows Satan do to his stuff because it's beneficial, apparently, to test His creation, separate the righteous from the sinners, etc. If I'm understanding Christian theology correctly, then God could swat Satan like a fly--but hasn't. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like the Castavets are at the racetrack, putting all their money on a horse whose leg was amputated long ago.

Doesn't matter. It's a good movie--hell, it's a groundbreaking movie--but it's one that I didn't particularly enjoy. History says that there was a potential version of Rosemary's Baby that I'd have loved, but it never began production; William Castle bought the film rights early, but the studio recognized it as a major film from the outset, and wouldn't let Castle direct. Instead, they brought in Polanski, retained Castle as producer, and gave him a cameo. Castle, if you don't know him, was famous for using in-theater gimmicks to sell tickets, and his movies are rarely good, but they're all silly and fun and a little bit spooky. I can guarantee that Castle's Rosemary's Baby would be on nobody's Best Films of All Time list--not a good movie, but fun, at least.

Here's the trailer.

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31 Days of Halloween: Rosemary's Baby - Garmonbozia for the soul.

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