The Tenant (1976) Dir. by Roman Polanski
Directing a movie is easier when you have a script to follow. I learned this firsthand in my senior year of college, when I attempted to direct a short film called We Are I/Splitsville. (It was a movie about split personalities, so I thought it was clever to give it two titles. You keep on keepin’ on, me.) Not only did I not have a complete script, I barely had one at all. And what pieces I had didn’t match up to any part of the rest of itself.
You see, since a lot of people in my film club group had wanted to take a part in writing it too, I told three other people to work on portions of the screenplay as well. This would’ve worked if there had been some sort of close communication between us, but the direction that I gave was “Work on part of it,” which is like telling your advertising team “Hamburgers! Go!”
In the end, the film turned into a disjointed mess that wasn’t all there. Being in college, I tried to turn this to my advantage, saying “Well it’s about split personalities, you know? WHAT IS REALITY?!?!? It makes since that it’s barely half of a movie.” It didn’t, at all. I haven’t seen the movie in three years, but I take away three things from the production of it:
1) Don’t try to insert your long director’s cameo when you’re drunk on Four Loko. For all the kids who don’t remember, Four Loko was the energy drink/alcohol that not only got you intoxicated, but also turned you crazy. I wanted to Tarantino myself into it and give myself an important role, a decision probably influenced by my inability to operate heavy machinery at the time. I set up a camera in front of me and just spoke nonsense into it, taking sips of Four Loko as I went along. I ended up shooting about twenty minutes of that, before my friend walked in the room and I quit filming to insult his sexual orientation. If I had left it in, We Are I/Splitsville would’ve ran for twenty-five minutes, instead of five, with one looooong section in the middle, in which someone completely separate from the film got progressively drunk on camera and then screamed “Gay!” at an invisible opening door.
2) Write a script. A full one. And only then begin making your movie. It will cut down on most of the problems you’ll have, the primary one being the most prominent problem in all of filmmaking: What the fuck are we doing here?
3) It’s okay to make stupid movies, but it’s better to not make movies that are masquerading as smart ones.
Which brings me to Roman Polanski’s The Tenant. It’s the third film in his “Apartment Trilogy,” a series of movies that center around the paranoia of being trapped and insane in your apartment, and it’s by far the worst one. Sure, it’s a well-made film, with really good cinematography and constant hints at the uneasiness and paranoia that marks a lot of Polanski’s early Thriller work, but the story is one that follows the narrative logic of “Just because.”
The lead is played by Roman himself and he does an okay job. He’s shifty and nervous and it works for him, but The Tenant feels less like an actual story and more of a showcase of…I’m not sure yet. It’s supposed to be a character’s psychological breakdown and a story about transforming into other personalities (Eh, eh, split personalities! I’m the next Roman Polanski! Edit: No. Please God, no.), but it never comes together in the way that it needs to to feel cohesive in the end. It’s all just kind of dumb. There are little hints that drop along the way that should intensify the plot that Roman is following, but there is little justification for Roman wearing women’s clothing by the climax.
I tried to watch The Tenant about four years ago and couldn’t finish it. Now, I can finish it and was underwhelmed. Oh well. Better luck…Pirates!
One-And-A-Half Roman Polanskis In Dresses Out Of Five
Little Children (2006) Dir. by Todd Field
I used to put Little Children in my top ten films. Now, upon re-watching it, I’m not so sure.
The film concerns a lot of unsatisfied adults living out their lives and trying to grasp at the happiness that seems to elude you when you get yourself involved with children, whether by having them or otherwise. I’ve never had one single child, so I can’t vouch for how much a life goes down the drain when you raise a tiny mix of you and your spouse, but in the Little Children world, what gets knocked down a notch is everything. You used to be able to play football at night and not have a job and make out with whoever you wanted before you had kids. Now it’s just self-defeat and lusty visits to the pool. Sounds terrible.
Some things have remained great in my opinion. I actually like Patrick Wilson and Kate Winslet’s performances more, and I think Jackie Earle Haley is still awesome. For the most part, Todd Field’s direction is spot on, but I started to have an increasing annoyance with the use of narration.
After I saw the movie for the first time, I went out and bought the book, a spectacular one by Tom Perrotta and I enjoyed that too. Now, seeing it after I’ve read the book, everything follows up too closely. It’s a faithful adaptation, but it’s so faithful that it gets on my nerves sometimes. Bring in a Velociraptor or make it all a dream or something. I’m kidding on that last part, but NOT on the Velociraptors.
But that’s a really minor complaint overall, and not really a valid one in the grand scheme of things. Little Children, you rock and everyone reading this should all see it. It’s not in my top ten anymore, but top fifty? Possibly.
Four Velociraptors Don’t Appear In Little Children Out Of Five