Monday, July 30, 2007

Shooting Kinski #7: Vittorio Storaro

To paraphrase one of Nastassja's later film, talking about the work of Vittorio Storaro is a bit like dancing about architecture. Some things have to be seen to be believed and Vittorio's greatest works for directors like Bertolucci, Argento, and Coppola have some of the most amazing photography you will ever see in cinema.
Halfway through the shooting of ONE FROM THE HEART, with everyone's nerves near shot Nastassja and Vittorio blew up at each other in a moment of frustration that has been well documented in many interviews over the years. Nastassja would speak of the incident to a British journalist over a decade later while promoting ONE NIGHT STAND. She would say, "I saw the rushes and I looked terrible, the lighting was so dark and the camera was the wrong angle. I said, how can an audience believes this guy sees me and goes crazy for me? And Vittorio Storaro said, 'You! I thought you were an actress! You're like all the other stupid people who only care about how they look.' And because he is so great you're not supposed to say anything. But I told him, 'Wait a minute. This situation demands I look great. Excuse me.' He never forgave me."
Regardless of the problems the two had together, Storaro's photography in ONE FROM THE HEART is one of its most lasting assets and in the final product Nastassja does indeed look great. Coppola gave him an incredible difficult assignment and Storaro managed to deliver a film that looked like no other.
Storaro was born in Rome in 1940. His father was a projectionist and he began studying photography before he was even in his teens. In his early twenties he got some work as an assistant camera man including what would prove to be a life altering job on Bernardo Bertolucci's BEFORE THE REVOLUTION in 1964.
He began his work as a cinematographer right around the time of his work on BEFORE THE REVOLUTION and shot a handful of films before ending up photography Dario Argento's first feature, the legendary BIRD WITH CRYSTAL PlUMAGE(1969). The wondrous work he did on that and his friendship with Bertolucci led to THE CONFORMIST (1970), a masterpiece that would cement his position as one of the most striking photographers in the world.
He would continue to do astounding work with Bertolucci on the films, THE SPIDER'S STRATAGEM (1971), LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972), 1900 (1976), LUNA (1979), THE LAST EMPEROR (1987), THE SHELTERING SKY (1990), and LITTLE BUDDHA (1993). Throughout his career he has also worked with a variety of directors and photographed some of the world's most beautiful women including Stefania Casini, Laura Antonelli, Charlotte Rampling, Florinda Bolkan, Michelle Pfeiffer, Isabelle Adjani, and currently Paz Vega in the upcoming DARE TO LOVE ME.
Francis Ford Coppola greatly admired Storaro's work with Bertolucci and hired him for his 1979 feature, the masterful but nightmarish to shoot, APOCALYPSE NOW. The film would be the first of several he would photograph for Francis and they included, along with ONE FROM THE HEART, TUCKER, THE MAN AND HIS DREAM (1988), and LIFE WITHOUT ZOE (1989) from NEW YORK STORIES. ONE FROM THE HEART and APOCALYPSE NOW remain two high points of originality and perseverance for the talented Storaro.
There are many pages dedicated to and interviews with Storaro online so here are a couple of links for those interested.

It is a shame that Nastassja and him had their falling out on ONE FROM THE HEART as they have never worked together again. She is as magical looking as the film's much heralded set design and stages. Storaro's painting with "light AND motion' suited her and Coppola's film very well, I am willing to bet their falling out was due more to damaged nerves more than anything else.

Soundtrack #4. One From The Heart (Tom Waits)

Even though he scored a much deserved Oscar nomination for the film's music, Tom Waits ONE FROM THE HEART is often overlooked not just by his own fans but also film lovers in general.
ONE FROM THE HEART represents Waits at a real turning point in his career. It is the last album he recorded before his audacious SWORDFISHTROMBONES record in 1983, an album that would set the experimental tone for the rest of his career. HEART ATTACK AND VINE(1980) had proceeded ONE FROM THE HEART and it had already shown Waits getting away from his more piano based music of the seventies, so ONE FROM THE HEART closes a real important chapter in Waits career.

Waits' singer partner on ONE FROM THE HEART was a surprising choice. Crystal Gayle was a popular country singer in the seventies, known for her smooth voice and incredibly long hair. Waits had originally wanted the sassy Bette Midler for his partner as the two had already done a memorable duet on his fantastic FOREIGN AFFAIRS album in 1978. Midler wasn't available in time for Coppola's film so Waits chose the softer, but no less accomplished, Gayle to accompany him.

Waits' soundtrack for Coppola's film works incredibly well as not only a musical companion to the film but also as a solid lp on its own. ONE FROM THE HEART might not be in the same class as SMALL CHANGE (1976) or BLUE VALENTINE (1979) as my favorite early Waits record but songs like BROKEN BICYCLES, LITTLE BOY BLUE, and especially THIS ONES FROM THE HEART belong in any music lovers home. Equally fascinating are the tracks that bookend the album, the OPENING MONTAGE and the quite astonishing PRESENTS that wraps things up.
Produced by Bones Howe and featuring some of the most straight jazz oriented material of Waits career, ONE FROM THE HEART might be an ideal introduction to Waits for someone who isn't perhaps prepared for the manic intensity of SMALL CHANGE or the more abrasive sounding BONE MACHINE. ONE FROM THE HEART might well be described as the most easy listening album of Tom Waits career, but that doesn't make it any less valuable.
Tom Waits of course would soon become well known as an actor as well and he has a memorable cameo in ONE FROM THE HEART. His first role, for Sylvester Stallone's PARADISE ALLEY (1978), would show Waits as being as charismatic on the screen as his unmistakable voice was on vinyl. Coppola would cast him in several more films of his including RUMBLE FISH and THE OUTSIDERS (both 1983) and THE COTTON CLUB (1984). He would unfortunately never score another one of Coppola's films again though.
ONE FROM THE HEART is available in a beautifully remastered gatefold edition cd with bonus tracks. Unfortunately Nastassja's infectious take of LITTLE BOY BLUE remains unreleased and the film is the only way to hear it.
Waits would lose the Oscar for ONE FROM THE HEART but it remains one of his most important albums if just for the door it closed for him. He was getting ready to, along with his new bride Kathleen Brennan, make a series of bold recordings that would cement his status as one of the most important musical figures on the planet. ONE FROM THE HEART is well worth grabbing for soundtrack fans and popular music lovers in general.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

7. One From The Heart (1982)

There are very few films that can accurately be described as being unlike anything other. Francis Ford Coppola's challenging 1982 film ONE FROM THE HEART is one of those few films. The feature was one of the most notorious failures in screen history when it struggled to play in just a handful of theaters in 1982 but it has since undergone some critical and popular rethinking. ONE FROM THE HEART would all but destroy Francis Ford Coppola's desire to have his own group of players in his own self contained studio system, and it would finally bankrupt him financially but not artistically.
ONE FROM THE HEART is a tough film to write about. It is a flawed film that can't truly be considered among Coppola's greatest films but the work has to be admired for just how brave and uncompromising in its vision that it is. ONE FROM THE HEART is part old fashioned romantic comedy part old Hollywood musical but built, by 1982's standards, out of the most progressive shooting methods ever employed for a film. Coppola's shooting and editing style on this work (chronicled in the dvd's amazing supplemental section) was over a decade before its time and would influence countless filmmakers. The film remains a clear example of one that has to be seen, reading and writing about it can't really come close to describing its many charms and weaknesses. So the following should be looked upon as maybe some scattered notes rather than a full review of the film.
ONE FROM THE HEART'S plot is remarkably simple. A couple, Hank and Frannie, have a fight on their fifth anniversary and split up. On the night of their break up Frannie meets the suave waiter Ray, and Hank meets the mysterious Leila and the film follows the four of them as they recount their dreams, disappointments and desires. Hank and Frannie are played by Frederic Forrest and Teri Garr while Ray and Leila are played by Raul Julia and Nastassja Kinski.
After the gruelling four year long ordeal that had been APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), Francis Ford Coppola wanted very much to create a simple old fashioned love story that would be filmed entirely on stages at his Zoetrope studios. Nothing is ever simple with Francis Ford Coppola though and the production of ONE FROM THE HEART became its own particular apocalypse. Dogged by financial difficulties, a massive and overwhelming set and stage scheme, crew walkouts (although at one point the majority gallantly worked for free), leaked press reports damning the film before anyone had ever seen it and a director that was falling apart trying to keep it all together, it is a miracle that ONE FROM THE HEART managed to get completed at all.

The film's virtues are easy to point out. The sets are stunning, with special mention going to the brave work of Production designer Dean Tavoularis. The music by Tom Waits is lovely and haunting as is the cinematography by legendary Vittorio Storaro (with assistance from Ronald Victor Garcia). The acting is uniformly good with special mention going to the young Raul Julia and Nastassja. The lead work by Forrest and Garr is fine but both of them at times feel slightly miscast (something I will get to in a second). Finally the direction by Coppola is always solid and at times what is wrong with ONE FROM THE HEART?
The main problem I see with the film is that stylistically it is so inventive and so progressive that it frankly overwhelms Coppola's extremely slight screenplay. Add on the decision to set the film in modern times, even though the studio scenery and full frame photography all suggest old Hollywood and you've got an oddly disjointed film. Garr and Forrest are excellent in the lead roles but Coppola has the characters so underwritten and normal that his astonishing set simply buries them. Kinski and Julia come out better because they are more exotic and are allowed to not simply fade into the background. Nastassja's Leila is one of her most haunting, if smaller, roles and her performance of LITTLE BOY BLUE is one of the unquestionable highlights of the film, as is her final monologue about the art of disappearing.

Most of ONE FROM THE HEART'S fault indeed does belong in Coppola's script which he wrote with Armyan Bernstein with additional dialogue by Luana Anders. Bernstein was an inexperienced screenwriter and it shows as ONE FROM THE HEART'S storyline and dialogue always feels a little hollow. Anders, who did such great work on films like SHAMPOO (1975) and PERSONAL BEST (1982), probably gave it some flair but I think the script of ONE FROM THE HEART needed an entire makeover to make it the equal of Coppola's magnificent creative achievement.

Problems aside, I like ONE FROM THE HEART. I admire it and always like revisiting it. There was always something touching about it and when one views the documentaries on the film it feels simply revolutionary. It is also apparent from the dvd extras that this film never stood a chance as the press seemed absolutely obsessed with destroying Coppola and his dream studio..
I wish ONE FROM THE HEART had been a success as I have always loved the idea Coppola had for Zoetrope. It was to be not only a place where he could shoot his own films without studio interference and with his own actors but also a place of learning. Talented young actress Rebecca De Mornay is one of the films many 'understudies' and one of the most stirring aspects of the documentary is the shot of children coming to visit the set to see how a film is made (including Coppola's own children Sofia and Roman, both of who would attend the premiere with him and would later become accomplished writers and directors in their own right). Coppola's films are often centered around family and his movie company would have been as well.
Had ONE FROM THE HEART succeeded there is no question that Nastassja's career would have turned out differently. Coppola had planned on making her one of his key Zoetrope players and the two got along well during the shooting of the film. The film's crushing failure made this impossible though and the two never worked together again, although on the film's great audio commentary Coppola says that he would like to.
ONE FROM THE HEART is among the key films of the eighties and it is a work that visually is pretty untouchable. Its faults and failures perhaps make its sweet and sentimental tale of a love that is vanishing all the more poignant. It is currently available in a two disc set from Fantoma, featuring a group of extra features that are among the best ever offered on the home video market.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

This One's From The Heart

Up next I will be looking at one of the strangest and most controversial films in Nastassja's filmography, Francis Ford Coppola's ONE FROM THE HEART. This 1982 feature has divided film fans and critics since it was first released and it is a difficult film to write about. I have very strong feelings on it though and hope I can do it some justice in the next week or so.
While not necessarily hurting Nastassja's career, the films disastrous initial reception would set in motion a series of films for her that typically would be greeted with more disdain than acclaim, even though almost all of her films from this period have taken on major cult status. Perhaps none more so than ONE FROM THE HEART.
My look at this wild, flawed and ultimately very brave film will begin in the next day or so. I am entering into Nastassja's greatest period and I extremely excited about it. I hope anyone who might be reading will share in it and enjoy the posts.

Odds and Ends #6 (Tess)

"He had wanted to do it with his wife…Sharon was Tess, she was always there, anyway, with him, although I would be the one to make it visual for people."
-Nastassja speaking on Sharon Tate-

It seemed fitting for me to end my look at TESS with a few words for, and images of, Sharon Tate. TESS is the most important film Nastassja Kinski ever got to make and it isn't a stretch to say that it would never had happened had Sharon not given Roman the book in that fateful year of 1969.
Sharon Tate was a talented actress, comedian and probably the most beautiful woman God ever gave America. She was loved by her family and friends and her spirit continues to haunt people to this day. It is her sweet and generous spirit that runs through Polanski's TESS, like some enduring and indestructible wish. There has never been a more moving and fitting dedication in film history than Roman's simple, 'To Sharon."

TESS would make Nastassja an international star and would send her on a five year journey that would find her working on some of the most controversial and misunderstood films of the 1980s. Her next role would allow her the opportunity to work with one of the most famous and honored directors in film history and much like the title of that film, everything that Nastassja offered from TESS on was very much from the heart.

Nastassja On Tess

To wrap things up on TESS I thought I would offer up some quotes by Nastassja on the film and Polanski. I apologize for not having the exact source for these as many of my articles are cut out and I didn’t have the foresight to note the exact publication and date. These all appeared in a variety of interviews ranging from 1981 to around 1996.

“I’ve always dreamed of being a person like her. She’s not spoiled by the society she moves through. She still stays untouched. She goes through everything for love.”

“By the time we made the film, (Polanski and I) were no longer together but our relationship was still so close. We hardly talked on the film because each of us understood so well what the other wanted.”

“I understand Polanski, I know him so well. He’s had to struggle so hard to survive terrible times in his life. Anybody who lives on with all that strength in them, with hope and enthusiasm that keeps them working to finally find happiness, I totally look up to. I totally adore him. If I didn’t see him for 20, 30 years, I’d have that in my heart...He gave me a tremendous opportunity and so much respect and trust while being very strict. I was terrified, but I was so grateful, because I hadn’t gotten very much respect before, or in my childhood, or very much afterwards either.”

“Polanski took a lot of time, two years, preparing me for that film.”

“Roman came along and gave me TESS, it was like…it gave me such dignity, you know what I mean? He would be very strict with me and send me to school. And then when we did the movie he said, ‘I really want you to do this for me, because I wanted to do it for my wife and it means so much to me. But the only way you can do the film is to show you’ll learn the accent, So I’m going to send you to England for four, five, six months and when you come back we’ll do the test.’ He gave me a lot of respect. It was all very serious. He was a very severe person, in the best sense.”

“Polanski introduced me to beautiful books, plays and movies…that period meant so much to me. No other film will ever mean so much. It was on that film that I went through the biggest change, a discovery of myself, of love and life. TESS was my jewell, a wonderful time…it was so beautiful and worth leaving everything behind to start a new life. TESS changed my whole attitude, my passion for acting really began there.”

“I’ve changed so much with this part…Tess is such a rich complex character…you find yourself taking on her patience and strength and courage…I’ve always dreamed of being a person like her.”

“He never spoke of the murder of his wife nor of the jail sentence he fled. I will say though that certain segments of the American society are very hypocritical….TESS was very special. It was the story, the character, and especially being in the country. I’m a country person. Also, I felt protected by Roman the first time.”

“One day he told me about a book and he gave it to me to read. And I read it and I loved it. It was TESS….Roman is a true poet. He is very cruel sometimes too. He just wants the inner part of you. He is every character in the movie. He is Tess and Angel and the countryside and everything…TESS is about the evilness of a mass people. It is the story of how laws and society can only destroy the purest people, how the truest and purest are trapped by the spiders…Tess is much deeper than revenge. She is always the same, knowing she would die again and again for the same thing. TESS was my first real confrontation with myself, my own thoughts and feelings…the book became like a drug to me. TESS is the best thing I’ve ever done, not in terms of performance maybe, but the purest and the most beautiful thing.”

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Few Words For Roman

I have been debating on what to do with Nastassja'a directors here. Since she has worked with some of my all time favorite filmmakers it seems more fitting to save full tributes to them for my main blog, Moon In The Gutter.
I did want to say a few words about Roman Polanski though and recommend some of his films and books that are out about him.
Roman Polanski is one of the most written about directors in screen history, although often for the wrong reasons, and one of my five all time favorite directors. If you see the credit 'Directed by Roman Polanski" you can rest assured that you are viewing a very special film. For the uninitiated the clear starting points, along with TESS, are KNIFE IN THE WATER (1962), REPULSION (1965), ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968), CHINATOWN (1974) and THE PIANIST (2002). These five films are among his most popular and acclaimed and are all unquestionable great works by a great director.
Equally rewarding are lesser known films like CUL DE SAC (1966), FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (1967), THE TENANT (1976), and the three striking films he has made with his talented wife, Emmanuelle Seigner, FRANTIC (1988), BITTER MOON (1992) and especially THE NINTH GATE (1999).

Even the small handful of films that Polanski has made that have been widely considered as disappointing like WHAT (1972) and PIRATES (1986) have more great moments than most acclaimed films by lesser directors.
Of the dozens of books out on Roman may I recommend his own autobiography ROMAN BY POLANSKI. Also well worth searching out are ROMAN POLANKI INTERVIEWS, Barbara Leaming's POLANSKI and the recent Taschen book ROMAN POLANSKI by F.X. Feeney.
Roman and Nastassja shared a very special connection and he remains probably the finest director she ever worked with. When asked about Roman's legal troubles and forced exile from America in a 1982 interview with David Letterman, Nastassja stated very strongly, "It's America's loss."
I agree with her.

Rare Scans #4 (Rare People Article)

Here is a pretty rare People Magazine article from 1981 that I don't think has appeared online either. I apologize for not having a specific date on this one but thought I would go ahead and scan it due to its rare nature. I really like this particular photo of Roman and Nastassja in this one and it is another that rarely pops up which makes this particular article even more valuable.

Rare Scans #3 (US-March 3rd 1981)

Here is an article that I don't believe has appeared online before. This is from the March 3rd 1981 issue of US magazine and includes an extraordinary shot of Nastassja and Klaus that rarely pops up. I don't much care for the smarmy tone of the article but it does contain some fascinating quotes by Nastassja on Polanski and TESS that makes it well worth posting. Please click on each image to enlarge and again I apologize for the poor quality of these.

Rare Scans #2 (Nastassja And Roman)

There are quite a few images of Nastassja and Roman widely available on the internet. Here are a few from my own personal collection that aren't as widely seen. I apologize for the quality of these as some are copies and others are just very aged. I thought they were interesting enough to post regardless of the quality and hopefully there will be at least one or two fans of either might not have seen before.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Thomas Hardy's Tess

It has been nearly Twenty years since I read Thomas Hardy's heartbreaking TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES so I won't attempt to make any kind of real statements on it other than it really moved me at the time and I have no doubt it would still if I revisited it.
The Victorian Web has some remarkable drawings from a rare serialisation of Hardy's work and I am sharing one of the striking images here. Fans of the film should go to the link below as it is interesting to compare some of these drawings to Polanski's film.

I also highly recommend the following sites dedicated to Hardy:

Shooting Kinski #6: Geoffrey Unsworth and Ghislain Cloquet

Halfway through the shooting of TESS, the acclaimed and much loved cinematographer of the film, Geoffrey Unsworth, would tragically pass away. Nearly 25 years after this when she was asked about Unsworth on the TESS dvd documentary Nastassja Kinski still teared up talking about it.
Academy Award winner Unsworth was born in London in 1914. He shot more than 80 films in his career from his first in 1943 up until TESS. Some of his greatest works include Peter Glenville's BECKET(1964), Stanley Kubrick' 2001(1968) and Richard Donner's SUPERMAN(1978).
Unsworth had a remarkable style about him and the range of films he shot is very impressive. It is hard to think of two more stylistically different films than say BECKET and 2001 and yet Unsworth gave them both a startling fresh and crisp look that worked incredibly well for each.
Unsworth's work on TESS was simply stunning and everyone in front of and behind the camera adored him. It is especially important to note that he had just finished up SUPERMAN when he came on board TESS, as a comparison between the shots of the Kent farm in SUPERMAN have a remarkable similarity to certain outdoor shots in TESS. They both remain two of the most striking looking films of the seventies.
The camera of Geoffrey Unsworth was in love with Nastassja Kinski and whether she is being shot from a distance or close up, outdoors or indoors...the effect remains entrancing and at times nearly overwhelming.
The production could have been in serious trouble when Unsworth died close to Halloween in 1978 but Polanski quickly placed the equally skilled Ghislain Cloquet in charge of the films look. It was a tricky assignment for the talented Cloquet who had to manage to match the shots Unsworth had already completed while not losing his own individual style.
The Belgium born Cloquet was ten years Unsworth's junior when Polanski handed him the mammoth task of completing TESS but he pulled through beautifully. While the dvd documentary details which one did certain shots, the film feels perfectly cohesive and the two very unique stylists managed to compliment each other perfectly.
Cloquet had already done some remarkable work before TESS including Bresson's astonishing UNE FEMME DOUCE (where his camera would bring some of the same brooding intensity that it gave to Kinski with the young Dominique Sanda) and Jacques Demy's DONKEY SKIN. The Oscar winning Cloquet would unfortunately also pass away just a few years after filming TESS in the winter of 1981.
Unsworth and Cloquet would win a whopping 5 international film awards for TESS including the Cesar and Oscar. They were two great individuals who were joined in a very tragic circumstance, and it is to both their credit that they managed to help create a film as beautiful and lasting as TESS.
Even the handful of critics who didn't fall under TESS'S spell never questioned how beautiful and well photographed it was. Nastassja Kinski under the lens of Unsworth and Cloquet remains one of the most stunningly beautiful images the screen has ever seen. Their photography in this film is among the most noblest in all of cinema and it remains the most beautifully shot of Nastassja's career.

For a more factual and knowledgable look at their work in TESS I highly recommend the following article at the Internet Enclopedia of Cinematagrophers.

Soundtrack #3: Tess (Phillipe Sarde)

Upon hearing Phillipe Sarde's final score for TESS, Roman Polanski was said to have broken down in tears. Sarde's score for TESS is as lovely and wondrous as the film itself and remains a high point in one of the most prolific of all modern film composers.
Born in France in 1945, Sarde scored his first film in 1970, the Claude Sautet film THE THINGS OF LIFE. Sarde quickly became one of the most in demand composers in the world and is known for his stirring and quite majestic themes. He would work with the talented Sautet several times and would supply the lovely Romy Schneider with some of her most memorable themes.
1973 would find Sarde scoring Marco Ferreri's LA GRANDE BOUFFE and this would start a collaboration between the two cinema mavericks that would result in Sarde scoring several of Ferreri's most intense works. It is also rumored that Ferreri based some of his most extreme characters on the lively Sarde.
In 1976 Sarde was hired by Polanski to score his masterful film, THE TENANT. Fans of Polanski know that scoring one of his films is a big task as the scores of Komeda for his most famous films in the sixties are pretty untoppable. Sarde quickly proved himself as one of Polanski's greatest composers as his work with THE TENANT was as unnerving and brilliant as the film itself.
After the success of Sarde's work on THE TENANT, Polanski asked him to score his upcoming TESS and Sarde delivered a score that still is possibly his finest. Sarde's Oscar nominated score is a moving and at times sweeping work that stands very much apart from a typical period piece movie. There is something remarkably fresh and modern sounding about Sarde's work but it never feels out of place with Polanski's images from the past.
The undoubtedly highlight of the score and the accompanying soundtrack album is the stunning main theme. The moving theme replays throughout the entire film and sections of it play well into other tracks on the album. The lp is a resounding success with each short piece playing off the other very nicely. Other highlights of the album include the lovely just over a minute long TESS AT GRAVESIDE and the lengthiest piece on the album, FINALE.
Sarde's TESS has had a slightly frustrating history on vinyl as well as cd. Originally available as a just under thirty minute lp with a number of musical cues from the film left off, the soundtrack finally appeared on an import French cd in a further abbreviated version matched up with THE TENANT. That cd is now out of print and the score is getting harder and harder to track down which is unfortunate and very frustrating.
Sarde would work with Polanski one more time on the doomed PIRATES in 1985. He continues to be one of the busiest and most in demand composers in the world with his most recent score being for the great Andre Techine's latest film.
TESS is my favorite work by Sarde and one of the best soundtracks to any of Nastassja's films. One hopes that one day it will get re-released with the complete score as it is a very valuable work that should be easily available.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Critical Reactions #4 (Tess)

Since there is such a wealth of critical opinion on Roman Polanski's TESS I thought I would just highlight some of the original and current consensus on Nastassja's performance instead of the film itself. The film achieved mostly positive to glowing reviews upon initial release and in the years since, with only a few exceptions.
Here are a few sampling of reactions to Nastassja's performance back in 1981 when the film premiered in the States, and some more current ones, positive and negative:

"In her first starring role Nastassia Kinski, whose occasional resemblance to the young Ingrid Bergman is startling, does more than might be expected of her: even the West Country accent works a lot of the time. If a certain stolidity-spiritual, not physical-rather bogs her down, she is far more than a pretty face."
-John Coleman, The New Statesman-

"Kinski plays a naive, soft spoken girl, and she has a great deal of trouble affecting the proper English accent. She is so demure that her emotional embroilment in the final sequence of the film is too low keyed, and the audience can only glean from the nature of the dialogue that Tess is tortured, almost mad, and incapable of escaping her fate."
-Melanie Wallace, Cineaste-

"The perfect full blown passivity of Kinski's mouth, needed to underscore the easy sensuality of an erstwhile peasant girl...a perfect vehicle in Kinski."
-Marsh McCreadle, Films In Review-

"Kinski is the right raw material for Hardy's Tess."
-Tom Milne, Monthly Film Bulletin-

"Kinski, a breathtaking beauty (looking like a young brunette Ingrid Bergman), becomes monotonous in her suffering."
-Judith Crist, Saturday Review-

"Polanski's leading lady, Nastassia Kinski, a truly beautiful young woman is further burdened by her attempt to speak with an authentic West Country accent. She does all right considering she is German, but her effort seems to slow her speech."
-Richard Schickle, Time-

"Kinski is a willowy vision of innocence untinctured by experience. She has the "mobile peony mouth: that Hardy ascribes to Tess, and a blinding Ingrid Bergman radiance...unfortunately Kinski's capacities as an actress are limited...she moves gracefully but somnambulantly through her part, the weakest link in TESS'S strong chain of events."
-Carrie Rickey, Village Voice-

and now David Denby who originally panned Nastassja in his December 80 review only to lighten up a bit in 1981.

"The principal problem with the movie is its star, Nastassia Kinski is a slender, beautiful girl who bears a startling facial resemblance to Ingrid Bergman, unfortunately reminding us how well Bergman would have played a doomed romantic heroine like Tess. In Brief Kinski doesn't have the range for it."
-Denby, New York 12-22-80-

"The beauty of Nastassia Kinski in Roman Polanski's TESS is so great that, at times, simply gazing upon her loveliness satisfies a moviegoers every longing. Polanski has clearly taught her a great deal...Kinski is like a young aristocrat in an 18th century the same time, her dark eyes and full, ripe lips (the lower protrudes, just slightly, in a suggestion of sensual hunger) are the features of a passionately alive woman, not a noble idea....Polanski uses her very shrewdly...her confusion is exquisite...her acting lacks flow and ease...she seems too small emotionally and spiritually, for the acts of defiance and violence Tess is called upon to commit."
-Denby, 2-2-81-

"Kinski is just right for the title role. She has the youth, the freshness, and the naivete of a Tess, and none of the practiced mannerisms of an actress engaged to "interpret" the role. That's good because Tess is a character who should stick out like a sore thumb in many scenes, and Kinski's occasional shy awkwardness is just right for the story of a girl who attempts to move up in social class on sheer bravado."
-Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times-

"Although Kinski's beauty is exquisitely framed and she copes well with the characterization of the innocent country girl corrupted and discarded by polite society, her slightly German-accented English is disconcerting."
-Channel Four Film-

"The acting by Nastassja is also quite good, considering she had just learned how to speak English (German being her mother tongue) from her mentor...Nastassja also looked the part of a healthy, naturally pretty country maiden and I think the casting was very good here."

"The acting is uniformly excellent, with Nastassja Kinski's heroine an alarmingly wonderful find."
Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant-

"Even unbiased observers must admit Kinski's performance is amazing, not least for her accent (much credit to dialogue coach Kate Fleming). Her character is passive yet strong-willed, a fascinating contradiction, and her emotions flood every frame in which she appears. Spotting potential in the star of Passion Flower Hotel was a brilliant call by Polanski."
-Trash City-

"And Kinski--a soft, European gamine--isn't rooted in the earth of England or any other country; she's a hothouse flower, who manages the West Country sounds in a small, uninfected schoolgirl voice. She's affecting and sensitive."
-Pauline Kael, The New Yorker-

"Beautiful exquisitely acted by Nastassia Kinski as Tess...What you must do is balance the extraordinary magic of Nastassja Kinski, and the effect of her beauty upon you, against the length of the long novel...Polanski has the good fortune of having Kinski in the lead. It is a performance that will stand by the side of Greta Garbo's CAMILLE and Bette Davis' OF HUMAN BONDAGE as an enduring example of a female stars in a great role."
-Archer Winsten, New York Post-

"With her dark beauty, at once patrician and earthy, Nastassja Kinksi bears and uncanny resemblance to the young Ingrid Bergman. The daughter of the great German actor Klaus Kinski does not yet have the range of a mature actress. Her performance is hushed, intimate, sotto voce. But if she does reach for peaks, she makes no false moves. There is a quiet, heartbreaking conviction in her work, and Polanski has fused her eloquently into his design."
-David Ansen, Newsweek-

Several things strike me in looking at these reviews. One of the main things is the many comparisons to Ingrid Bergman. It would be these very comparisons (to not only Bergman but Bardot, Monroe, Garbo and several others) throughout the next few years that would severely hurt Nastassja's career. These critics did a real disservice to a very talented young actress by continually comparing her to actresses that had already slipped into legendary stature. How does someone live up to being called the new Marilyn Monroe?
I am including the negative reactions, and will continue to do so, even though I highly disagree with them. I think it is important contextually to include these and I think they are finally essential in understanding one reason Nastassja's career didn't go the places it should have. I don't think the critical community as a whole was ever fair to Nastassja Kinski. It is just my opinion but her greatest work was always dogged by comparisons to either her father or some past icon...she deserved a lot better than she got in my eyes.

Monday, July 16, 2007

6. Tess (1979)

The late and much missed Sharon Tate loved Thomas Hardy's novel TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES dearly. She was said to have related to the title character in an extremely personal and intense way. Shortly before her murder in 1969, Sharon Tate gave her husband, Roman Polanski, a copy of the novel in the hopes that he would film it one day. Ten years after she was the victim of one of the most brutal and senseless crimes of the century, Roman Polanski released his version of the work she had felt so completely connected to. The mood of the entire film is set just after the film's opening credits with the stirring and sweet, "To Sharon"
Polanski had kept Thomas Hardy's influential and important work with him throughout the seventies. After Tate's murder he knew that he had to film the novel in tribute to her memory and spirit but that the trick was finding an actress that would be able to portray the difficult and heartbreaking character of Hardy's doomed heroine the way it needed to be.
Roman Polanski first caught a look at Nastassja Kinski in the mid seventies and befriended her and her mother. Throughout the seventies he was Kinski's mentor, sometimes lover and among the most influential people in her life. TESS wasn't actually the first time they had worked together, their first collaboration was on an intriguing pirate themed photo shoot for Vogue magazine in 1976. The photos from the session would be among the best taken of the young Kinski and would foreshadow one of Polanski's dream projects, the ill fated PIRATES that he would eventually film in 1985.
Filmed on location in France throughout a nine month period just after his masterful THE TENANT, Polanksi's TESS is his most personal and hauntingly beautiful work. It is also his most human and Nastassja, with her warm aura of dignity and decency was the only person who could have injected Hardy's character with so much soul.
Everything about TESS works. It is paced perfectly and never drags even though it runs nearly three hours. The majestic score by Philippe Sarde is among the award winning composers best. Anthony Powell's costume design and the art direction of Jack Stephens are both peerless in their craft and attention to detail. The look of the film is perfectly realized even though the cast and crew suffered a major shock when beloved cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth died halfway through production and Ghislain Cloquet stepped in and did the impossible task of finsihing the film. Watching TESS is like watching an extremely complicated machine with hundreds of tiny parts that are working perfectly to compliment the other and throughout it's mammoth running time, the complex machine never once slips.

TESS tells the story of the young Tess Durbeyfield whose drunken father finds out at the beginning of the film that their poverty stricken family is actually descended from the wealthy and proper D'Urbervilles. Tess is sent to claim kin to, what is thought, to be among the other final remaining D'Ubervilles and her life after is systematically and tragically torn apart by virtually every man she meets and the society that she was unfortunate enough to have been born in.
At the core of TESS is the idea of fate. An early long tracking shot towards the beginning points directly to this as Polanski films Kinski walking down a long path surrounded by a covering of trees to what she thinks is her kin's house. This is one of the most ominous shots in all of Polanski's impressive filmography and there isn't any question, for Tess or the audience, that she is walking into another world and there won't be any turning back. Throughout the film's running time we are continually presented with the idea that Tess is being led by some sort of unspoken destiny, and that no matter how hard she fights it there is finally not going to be an escape for her.
TESS is also one of the most masterful films ever made in dealing with the problems of class. One of the great geniuses of the screen play, credited to Polanski, Gerard Brach and John Brownjohn, is that our leading character is ultimately somebody who doesn't care about position, only respect. Everyone around Tess is obsessed by their positions. Her family is jealous of the higher ups and want nothing more than to be among them, no matter if it costs them their daughter. The higher ups in the film are all portrayed as cold and obsessed with their position and how much it means to be able to have their way over the lowers. Tess is caught in the middle of this struggle but as a character all she wants is to love and be loved. Tess is the one truly honorable character in the film and she is the one character who is constantly getting run over by the harsh system her life has been destined to. One of the most telling lines in the film is said by a worker after Tess rides away with the shallow and insensitive Alec, "Out of the frying pan and into the fire."
Along with the question of class that is repeatedly brought up, TESS also centers on treatment of women in society as something less than even second rate. Almost without exception, every villain in TESS is a man and Polanski shows us a harsh world where it isn't just that women are looked down upon but there isn't even the slightest hint that the men in it have any feeling for them, other than how they make them feel as men. Peter Firth's Angel is the darkest character in the film mainly because he claims a goodness and caring but even towards the end when he takes Tess back we are still given the feeling that the act is ultimately a selfish one on his part. Angel, like every other man in the film, ultimately can't understand what Tess means when she explains, "What all women say, some may feel." The only person who says exactly what she feels, and who genuinely loves in this film, is Tess herself.
Nowhere in the film are these issues of class and the split between men and women more noticeable than in the astonishing sequence where Tess takes her dead baby to the town's priest asking for a church burial. After explaining that she had baptised the baby by herself and having the priest tell her that was right in the eyes of God she is still turned away from the church because the father is afraid of the town's reaction. Here Polanski presents us wity a holy man who cowers more towards the very man made rules of class and sexism rather than the wishes of the God he proclaims to serve. Kinski is stunning in this sequence and Polanksi's unnerving closeup of her face and her denouncement of the church is among the greatest moments in either one of their canons.
TESS is finally a film about nature, specifically how far society is slipping away from it and how Tess is essentially a part of it. Kinski is often photographed as not only a character on a landscape but as essentially belonging to it. It is no coincidence that the first close up of her in the film is a stunning shot of her standing in front of a sunset. The rising and setting sun will play a part throughout the film and it is almost always shot with Kinski somewhere in the frame. There is something almost mystical about Tess in these moments and whether she is speaking about laying in the grass and transporting herself to the sky to a table full of confused onlookers or having a wild deer approach her in the words, Tess is very much in tune with the world that the men around her are only looking to pillage and destroy. Of course one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the film is that, much like the land that the men will ultimately destroy, Tess is equally savaged and finally left very much behind to pay for the mens crimes against nature and humanity.
Polanski's direction of the film is flawless. This doesn't feel like a film about the past, this feels like a film filmed in this past. TESS is filled with some of the most beautifully composed shots of his career, from the close ups of Kinski whistling to a group of caged birds to her staring through a window (both of which recall Sharon Tate in THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS) to the final shots of the vast and foggy landscape surrounding Kinski as she sleeps atop Stonehenge. TESS might not be the greatest film Polanski ever made but it is without question the most beautiful.

Despite all of the great people that worked so tirelessly behind the scenes on TESS, the film would not have worked without Nastassja Kinski. She is magnificent throughout the film and gives an explosively humbly performance that infuses the character with a dignity that very few actresses could have even begun to approach. As promising as she was in her first five films, through Polanski's lens Kinski comes alive and carries the film through from beginning to end in an endearing performance that is refreshing, tragic and ultimately heartbreaking.

TESS was a film that nobody thought had a chance and yet when it came out it was one of the most acclaimed and talked about films of Roman Polanski's career. Nominated for six academy awards (including picture and director) and winner of three, TESS was a smashing success. Kinski was shamefully ignored by the academy but was nominated for a Cesar and Golden Globe and the film made her a global superstar.
The film made it's debut on VHS in the eighties in full screen transfer and outside of a Japanese widescreen disc, this was the only way to see it for two decades. Thankfully it finally got its due two years ago in a gorgeous widescreen special edition dvd that has an engrossing ninety minute documentary on the making of the film featuring interviews with nearly everyone connected to the project.

TESS is a near perfect film and one of the great cinematic meditations on fate, destiny, class struggle, sexism and redemption. The teaming of Roman Polanski and Nastassja Kinski was one of the great partnerships in modern film and while it is regrettable that they have never worked together again, perhaps it is right. TESS would be mark an end to a period in Polanski's life and career, it remains his most personal work and one of his greatest. As Tess, Nastassja was given the most important role in her career and there are few performances in cinema that I hold in higher esteem.
I have no doubt that Sharon Tate would have been most pleased and highly moved had she been allowed to see the film that she had asked Roman to make in that fateful and tragic summer of 1969. Her contribution to the film shouldn't be undervalued and TESS is a bold, beautiful and fitting tribute to her memory.