Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Nominee #20 - Rosemary's Baby (1968)
When a young couple moves into a new apartment, they soon begin to notice their strange neighbours and when the wife (Mia Farrow) suddenly becomes pregnant, her concern regarding the safety of her unborn child grows into a paranoia that controls her life.
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Ira Levin (novel), Roman Polanski (screenplay)
Stars: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon
Barely 12 months after novelist Ira Levin’s book, Rosemary’s Baby was published in 1967, Paramount Pictures released the movie adaptation, in 1968 with Mia Farrow as the main character, Rosemary Woodhouse opposite John Cassavetes, as her husband Guy Woodhouse. Even back then the book sold over 4 million copies. The book’s success was merely a precursor to the milestone that the movie would become in the Hollywood horror movie genre.
Director Roman Polanski’s approach to Rosemary taught successor directors how to make a horror movie without zombies, freaks, castles, vampires, werewolves, shape-shifting shadows, dead bodies, cemeteries and graves. He taught filmmakers how to create horror in the humdrum of city life. And he did it with an insight that made audiences hold their breath at the seemingly harmless: an annoying odour on a pendant, a disturbing taste in a cup of chocolate mousse, a cabinet hiding a closet, a pregnant woman’s cravings, an infant’s cry. Most of all he did it by focusing his camera lens on.........................people. Men, women, young, old.
Polanski’s camera found an underlying terror in their insistence, their irritation, their anxiety and we – the audience – found it too in their slow, deliberate actions, their hurry, their smile, their stare, their repetition.
Legend has it that Polanski convinced a heavily-padded “pregnant” Farrow to just walk out on to a busy New York street. When Farrow wondered about hurtling cars, Polanski who was adamant about spontaneity simply reassured her with a “Nobody will hit a pregnant woman’’. No one in the crew was prepared to film Farrow walking so unprotected - Polanski filmed the shot himself.
Polanski’s frames are filled with people. People, people, people.
Those who admire the way Donner’s lens gazed in The Omen (1976) and the way Friedkin’s lingered in The Exorcist (1973) would do well to recall that Polanski’s Rosemary came before them, laying the ground for the horror classic. They’d seen how Polanski filmed the simplest of scenes: making a phone call, chatting over tea or dinner, starting an argument, closing one, expressing doubt, silencing it, nursing a private anxiety.
Polanski’s frames are filled with people. People, people, people. And amidst that moving, sitting, walking, climbing, sleeping population – good and evil and everything in between.
The movie, centred on the theme of Satanism, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress Ruth Gordon, who played an elderly neighbour. It was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The movie made Mia Farrow a star and won her international acclaim. Three decades later Levin wrote a sequel to his novel, calling it Son of Rosemary – he dedicated it to Farrow. Nearly 50 years after Rosemary first hit cinema theatres Zoe Saldana played her in a two-part TV mini-series.
Small wonder that Stephen King is reported to have called Levin, the writer who started it all, the “Swiss watchmaker of suspense novels. He makes what the rest of us do look like cheap watchmakers in drugstores”.