August 30, 1969 [Rosemary’s Baby]

I’ve sat through my share of dusk-‘til-dawn drive-in lineups--X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes followed by The Young Swingers and Bikini Baby--topped off by Sabrina, for some reason known only to the mad programmers of those dew-soaked, mosquito-ridden marathons. I bear down and grip the wheel and stay alert--don’t want to nod in the driver’s seat--while everyone else drops off--and then eventually the dawn, red and slow, and the children stir in the back seat as I ease the Dodge over the hump and home.

But to see Rosemary’s Baby that way was both strange and strangely fitting. Roman Polanski’s wife and others have been brutally murdered, her unborn child among them--while up there on the screen is little Mia Farrow, trapped by a grinning John Cassavetes, her kindly neighbors closing in, stroking her like hog butchers with a fresh carcass--and New York City's right outside, but it turns its back on the big old house haunted by middle-class Satanists--who go further than the bored nihilists of The Seventh Victim--they simply stood and hoped their victim would succumb on her own; but Farrow’s tormentors take the initiative: They have a real Lord to serve--and they happily serve her up, and her child.

Rosemary suffers far from the Santa Monica mountains where Sharon Tate and her baby died--but the movies can be cruel, and love their ironies sometimes too much. So East and West Coasts are brought together, the whole country squeezed into a single room where the party rages, eyes rolling up white in Helter Skelter.


  1. Great creepy movie about a conspiracy of malignance and indifference, and about being made a stranger in your own life. After sharing in Rosemary's experience, it's hard to walk through my own apartment without wondering if there's somebody lurking behind my walls, or even in an office across town, whispering about me to people I've never met. How completely I trust the unknown to be inconsequential in my everyday life! Polanski offers a challenge to this kind of functional denial.

  2. In essence, about the perilous journey of child-birth.

  3. I taught a course last year on Magic Realism in film, and we looked at the Magical Realist painters of the early part of the last century, who focused on the uncanny in everyday life, and forced us to accept a secret world--"There's a world going on underground," as Tom Waits sings. The cool thing about these painters is that almost none of them considered "fantastic" images--everything was "real," but imbued with a separate reality. Think Grant Wood's "American Gothic" or Wyeth's "Christina's World." And of course, the European Magical Realists kicked it up more than a couple of notches. Go here for all kinds of info and images:


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