Tess (1979)

Tess is an adaptation of Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, a story given too many adaptations that are often extremely similar.

Roman Polanski’s arguably only romance film, Tess, is one his critically best accepted works, and the performance of 18-year-old Nastassja Kinski, along with Paris, Texas, is probably the high point of her career. “Without Mr. Polanski’s name in the credits,” wittily stated the New York Times, “this lush and scenic Tess could even be mistaken for the work of David Lean.” This great compliment is wholeheartedly justified–Polanski created one of the best literary adaptations to date. His inspiring vision was greatly empowered by the terrific screenplay he was helped to write by Gerard Brach and John Brownjohn. Interested to see what makes for a truly great adaptation of a 19th century classic? Take a look at this scarce screenplay we were lucky enough to stumble upon.

Roman Polanski’s Tess is a work of great pastoral beauty as well as vivid storytelling

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Polanski’s roots as a genre filmmaker clearly ground him with an interest in every visual aspect that produces a period drama and pays far more attention to auteur like detail than most period feature film directors.  Instead of merely obeying period accuracies and avoiding anachronisms (the main key to many lesser quality period dramas) Tess uses Hardy’s narrative as an excuse to film a very season based film, exploring all of the potential colours and light that is produced in the countryside.

 

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“Tess of the D’Urbervilles” is what you might call a feminist story – it deals with issues like sexism, rape, victim blaming, sexuality, social class,and religion. Published in 1891, Thomas Hardy writes with a subtly that is pure art form as he criticizes many Victorian ideals, including direct judgement of the church and its skewed principles. But what’s really great about this book is that it directly parallels issues that still haven’t been resolved today. Hardy was so ahead of his time when he wrote “Tess” that aside from being borderline scandalous, it was almost completely dismissed during his lifetime.

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Screencap from the final scene of Roman Polanski’s film Tess which was dedicated to his late wife Sharon Tate. In 1969 when she departed England for her final trip back to the USA, Sharon left him a copy of Thomas Hardy’s book along with a note telling him that the book would make a good film. It would end up being the last note Roman would ever receive from Sharon.

The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck

"That night, penetrating deep into the heart of Transylvania, Professor Abronsius was unaware that he was on the point of reaching the goal of his mysterious investigations."

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Fearless Vampire Killers is what we may easily call a toothless affair, but it’s sort of charming in its own stupid way. Film is inspired by the aesthetics and mechanics of Hammer horror film, being a half tribute and half spoof of the classic British horror movies that came out of Hammer Studios in the 50s and 60s (they, again, were inspired by the even more classic Universal horror films of the 30s and 40s). Most of the slapstick is kind of awkward. It’s not really scary enough to be a proper tribute and it’s not really funny enough to be a spoof or comedy.

But I liked the castle. The castle, like all good spooky castles in horror movies, is more than an impressive set piece; it’s a character. The ersatz snow and faux-frost covering every (clearly soundstage) location gives the film a strange, phony atmosphere that sort of appealed to me too. Then there’s the awesome, bone-jangly musical score composed by Krzysztof Komeda. It feels like what it would have sounded like if Philip Glass had composed the music for Argento’s Suspiria (1977). There’s also a pretty good vampire ball towards the end. Vampires of all ages fancy regalia and dance in an elegant—albeit a bit dust-covered—ballroom. And they don’t actually kill a single vampire the entire film!

 

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Amongst the ancestral portraits in the castle is a depiction of an ugly old woman inspired by a sketch of ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ and since the 18th century frequently connected with Margarete Maultasch, countess of Tyrol (1318-1369) and the murals in Count Krolock’s hall show motifs of Peter Brueghel the elder’s “Triumph of Death” (c. 1562).

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For the ballroom scene (when the music stops and only three people are visible in a huge mirror despite of a few dozen vampires in the room) Roman Polanski had the room completely copied behind a fake mirror with three doubles acting as the human protagonists.

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A musical adaptation of Dance of the Vampires premiered at the Raimund Theater in Vienna, Austria, on October 4, 1997. It was directed by Roman Polanski, and featured music by rock composer Jim Steinman, who is best known for his work with Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler.

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Photos from the dance sequence.

And some devilish delights: Roman Polanski & Jack MacGowran on the set of The Fearless Vampire Killers.

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LE BAL. Ettore SCOLA. 1983.

One cheesy dance-hall, no dialogue, some wonderful music equals great visual jokes, tragic observation about mankind and  the 50 year history of Europe in front of you. Different characters live through their dances from 1930s to the 1980s as the time passes by and politics, social behavior, and fashion change with each new epoch… For less than two hours we would go through the wars, peace, racial conflicts, student riots of 1968 while Ettore Scola’s camera never leaves the ballroom.  The film was nominated by the Academy for the Best Foreign Language movie award. It should’ve been nominated for the best Universal Language award – the language of music and film.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVJdvA4eSGg

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An image I shall never forget is that of Antonioni and Kurosawa accompanying him around the shrine—three of the cinema’s great masters laughing and chatting informally. Ray gave off an intense self-confidence without seeming in the slightest degree arrogant or complacent. Never sentimental, he probably agreed with the king in The Chess Players, who says that “nothing but poetry and music should bring tears to a man’s eyes.” While in Agra, he told Kurosawa about a huge tree in India that measured almost one mile in girth. Much later, Kurosawa wrote to him, reminding him of that incident and saying, “I have always felt from the first time I met you that you are the kind of man who is like a huge tree. A great tree in the woods in India.”

-Peter Cowie on Satyajit Ray

[Criterion]

dragon

I want to express the failure of erotic desire to be realized in contemporary urban space. I would like to make my films about disappearing, like The Skywalk is Gone [2002] and Goodbye Dragon Inn. The whole theatre is disappearing in that film! This subject is important to me because society changes so fast and everything disappears so fast – historical sites, culture. One day I walked to the area where Lee Kang-Sheng was selling watches [in What Time is it There?], and I realized that ‘the skywalk is gone.’ It happens in Asia like that, things just disappear. People in their forties have no way of finding traces of their childhood. Modern people are afraid of disappearance. Living in Taipei, for example, we constantly have to deal with compelling visual change. We ask the question: what do you love the most? Who do you love the most? You will lose them – it will happen in modern society. My films ask the question: how we can face the disappearance? The loss?

-Tsai Ming-liang

[Yale]

milani

Personally, I don’t see cinema itself as truly important. I am not crazy for film. I chose film as a medium, as an instrument with which I can explain my ideas and to describe what is going on in my head and heart. And I think that I have been pretty successful at it. I have made nine feature films and a short for UNICEF.

Eight films deal with Iranian women, the middle class, and social, economic, and other problems. I try to show our society what is going on in women’s heads, what are their hopes, what they want and love. I attempt to describe my ideas to our society. And I am not like other directors. For example, I don’t concern myself with foreign film festivals. I love my people and I love it when Iranians come and see my films. I am truly happy that I am so successful outside of Iran, but my main goal is to satisfy the Iranian public.

-Tahmineh Milani

[Qantara]

rohmer

I always thought, even when I was a critic, that the brutal and simplistic reaction of the spectator is a good thing. I know that back then in Cahiers, we praised very commercial films in trying to defend them from a point of view that was not that of the man on the street. But this point of view doesn’t bother me. If people want to take things literally in the film, things that I myself may not take literally, I don’t say that this goes against its meaning, I say that it’s a more unsophisticated way of receiving the film, that’s all. I absolutely take on board every interpretation. That doesn’t mean I have to accept them, but once I finish a film, it escapes me, it closes itself off from me, and I can’t enter it any more. It’s up to the public to penetrate through whichever door they wish. I am not speaking about critics, who claim to have found the key, the right key, the only one which opens the big entrance gate. But that’s not my problem any more, thank God. I am not looking for the keys to Hitchcock any more, like I used to.

-Eric Rohmer

[Senses of Cinema]