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By James Whittington, Thursday 5th January 2017 Roman Polanski is one of those rare auteurs, with his seminal films countlessly making the critics' 'must-see' lists, including ChinaTown, Rosemary's Baby, Repulsion, The Pianist, and his slightly more adventurous The Ninth Gate - which receives its network premiere on Horror this Saturday at 9pm. While I could just write about the film itself, I think the really interesting story here is how Polanski's personal life, fuelled by tragedy and controversy, seems to reflect the films he makes (and sometimes vice versa!), creating a fascination and lore unto itself that stems from his films into the fan psyche.
Let's start with a brief history. Born French/Polish, Polanski survived the Holocaust but not without war wounds, including run-ins with Nazis, and a near fatal beating. But his obsession with the cinema saved him, with his early film Knife in the Water even receiving an Oscar nomination. The disturbing Repulsion followed in 1965, made while in France before a move to Hollywood in '68. However the movie that was about to change his life forever was Rosemary's Baby, which as you know follows a young woman who - unbeknownst to her - is impregnated by the devil during a satanic ritual. Chillingly, just one year later his beautiful wife, actress Sharon Tate who was 9 months pregnant with their child at the time, was murdered by the satanic Charlie Manson family (whether the connection to the film was intentional or not is unclear). This forever changed him. The downfall continued as, three years after Chinatown, Polanski was arrested for sexual assault of a minor while on a photo shoot at Jack Nicholson's house. He fled the USA for France, where he's been in exile ever since. If that's not a real life horror story, I don't know what is!
Some 30 years after his dabbling with devilish themes in Rosemary's Baby, Polanski returned to the infernal with occult flick The Ninth Gate in 1999. Thankfully the film has a more adventurous feel to it and stars Johnny Depp as Dean Corso; a rare book collector hired by a mysterious man played by Frank Langella to authenticate a manuscript said to be penned by Lucifer himself in 1666. Just three copies of this diabolical book remain, but only one of those is real, and is essential to performing a satanic ritual. Meeting a beautiful superhuman femme fatale on the way (played by Polanksi's current wife Emmanuelle Seigner), Corso finds himself drawn to the dark side!
Even this relatively lightweight satanic film has spawned esoteric interpretations all over the internet, largely due to the idea of a book within a book. The film is actually an adaptation of the Spanish 1993 novel The Club Dumas, which depicts an (apparently?!) fictional book written in 1666 - The Nine Gates to the Kingdom of Shadows - full of medieval satanic symbolism, scriptures, and creepy wood carvings. This has become such a fanboy obsession that people are now buying handmade versions of this 'fictional' book online for around £50, but don't get too excited; beyond the infamous wood carvings, the text is just your basic random creepy Latin! The film, like the book, is rich in symbolism - to the point of every scene being interpreted by Freemasonry experts and the like on Youtube! It's clear that, once again, Roman Polanski's film The Ninth Gate transcends more than mere celluloid, and has got its claws right into those with a love of all things esoteric.
Join us as we ride out with the Devil in Roman Polanski's brilliant The Ninth Gate, this Saturday 7th January at 9pm.
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