Monday, January 02, 2012

Knife In the Water (1962)I don't have anything personally unique to say about this movie, which I do however think is quite good. It is, rather incredibly in a way, the first film of the controversial director Roman Polanski's that I have seen. As most people know, it is also his first full-length movie, and the only one he made before leaving Poland. Successful movies are more collaborative affairs than is sometimes acknowledged by hack fans like me, and there was a good amount of artistic talent collaborating on this one. Still, cinematic and theatrical talent seems to flourish best under superior direction, and it is apparent that Polanski in his youth at least had something of the soul of an artist. The movie is distinctive, forceful, bracing, and, most importantly, attractive. Doubtless many people possess these qualities, or the germs of them, in youth; few however seem to benefit enough by technical instruction or the association of comparably talented artistic or near-artistic spirits to make any kind of real artistic impression.

Idle thoughts about the movie:

It would have been interesting to have one or two more films from this director made in Poland before he left the country, though I guess his first few movies after his emigration are among his better ones, and among the defining movies of their time. He was not bound to a particular place or system or culture--I suppose we are all bound to a particular time to some extent but he at least exerted a greater influence over the direction and character his time assumed, for better and for worse, than most people do.

I like the depiction of the men in this movie. They have personalities, everything they do in the film, and one supposes in their lives, has a purposefulness to it; the direction of the young man's life perhaps is still in doubt, but one is certain that it will not be totally devoid of assertive action, conflict, sensuality, all of which are certainly hallmarks of the director's persona.

While the film is most handsome to look at, and contains a lot of outstanding camerawork, it still consists entirely of three characters who are on a small sailboat on an otherwise empty lake for 95% of the movie, so that most of the interest of it has to be generated by the dialogue. The skill with which this was accomplished I found admirable.

The DVD, which I believe was from the Criterion Collection, had 8 of Polanski's short student films, some of which were clearly exercises in shooting conventional type situations, others of which were narratives told in a pretty conventional form, and others that were early attempts at expressing something of his distinct spirit. None of them were anything great, though a few had bit parts for Polish college girls, which is always appreciated. While it did not exactly show how he progressed from having conventional instincts to be able to illustrate a more interesting vision of humanity, it is important to be reminded that that is a process that even talented people have to struggle through.

I don't have anything else to add about Knife in the Water.

Despite the long break from movie reviews I don''t have anything else to write on at this time because I have gotten bogged down watching the Poirot television series from the late 80s and early 90s, which one of my video guides rated as 5-star fare. It is not that, but is bearable and often entertaining enough, and the break from cinematic films will have me raring to go when I start up with those again. I believe there are 36 50-minute episodes of this series, and I have gotten through 23 of them. I am pretty confident in saying that I am not much of a fan of the murder mystery genre either in literature or film, or at least not of the Agatha Christie portion of that genre. I don't usually figure out who the murderer is, but I don't actually care all that much. The interest for me in the Poirot program, of which I can watch about two or three episodes a week with modest enjoyment, is in its nostalgia for 1930s Britishness (even though the title character of course is a foreigner), which comes across as an especially pure and well-developed strand of that historical phenomenon, and which the series does a good job of evoking.

I noted to my wife that the world of the Poirot stories, echoing those of other writers of the time like Waugh and Graham Greene, was for the most part almost entirely devoid of children, the prospect of which seems odd to me now, to which she made the sensible rejoinder that children and murder mysteries are not a natural mix, and probably wisely avoided.

The murder rate of aristocrats and other wealthy men with ambiguous wills or lines of hereditary succession while being visited by/attending a social event with Poirot is so stratospheric that one wonders after a while how the man can get invited anywhere. It is also remarkable that despite the high incidence of murder that takes place on properties where he is known to be present, he himself never comes under scrutiny as a potential suspect. I know this is arguing along the same lines as to say that in real life Sir Topham Hatt would be fired as director of the Thomas the Tank Engine railway if his trains kept continually plowing into buildings full of people like they do on the TV show, that (adherence to certain aspects of reality--there is a better word for this idea that however I cannot remember now) is not important in this particular instance. However I find this aspect of the stories to be so incongruous as to diminish my sense of their quality considerably.

Other than Poirot, who is distinguished and talented and non-needy for acceptance enough to be generally accepted, foreigners are depicted uniformly negatively. At first I thought the Americans were the only ones getting the cringe-worthy treatment, but since then there have been equally gruesome representations of Egyptians, Russians, Italians, Germans of course. The Argentines got off all right in their individual depictions. People seem to like them.

It is a good series for fine-featured Anglo-Irish actresses wearing beautiful clothes, if you lke that sort of thing.

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