Sunday, May 25, 2014

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS: Adapting "Rosemary's Baby" to the Big & Small Screen

Now that the green haze of tannis root has lifted, and the public’s memory of NBC’s four-hour Miniseries Event “reimagining” of Rosemary’s Baby (May 11th and 15th, 2014) is as murky and nebulous as Rosemary’s own chocolate mousse-induced dream; the votes are all in (not very good), the results have been tallied (Rosemary en France a ratings disaster), and the line for the "I told you so"s starts to the right.

The idea of adapting Ira Levin’s 1967 novel, Rosemary’s Baby, and its much-reviled 1997 sequel, Son of Rosemary, into a TV-miniseries has been bouncing around Hollywood for years. In 2005, ABC Television acquired the rights and announced a Rosemary’s Baby miniseries for its Fall 2006 schedule. When that project failed to materialize, the network made a similar announcement (to similar effect) in 2008. In each instance, fans of Polanski's film breathed a collective sigh of relief, attributing the abandonment of each project to an 11th-hour attack of common sense on the part of the producers. Or at the very least, perhaps, a dawning awareness of the fool’s journey involved in remaking a film widely-regarded as a modern classic, and one of Hollywood’s few faithfully-rendered adaptations of a popular bestseller.
Your Worst Fears Realized
In the "reimagined" Rosemary's Baby, Satanism trailblazer Steven Marcato - seen here exuding more sleaze than menace- looks like a Eurotrash runway model with blue contacts. We're asked to believe he's managed to keep his evil past a secret for decades, in spite of the fact that he looks pretty much exactly like your standard issue, garden-variety, Sunday School image of the Devil. 

Having been taken down this road several times before, when I learned that NBC had actually made good on its lingering threat…I mean, promise…to turn Rosemary’s Baby into a four-hour telefilm, my natural curiosity trumped my innate cynicism. I knew I was going to watch the TV remake, even if only to satisfy my curiosity over what degree of hubris could possibly inspire the kind of delusional, presumptuous, thick-headed arrogance necessary for one to think they should try their hand at Levin’s modern gothic masterpiece. Especially when, in 1968, a young, pre-felony Roman Polanski fairly batted that particular Satanic ball well out of the park.

And that was just my curious side.

My cynical side suggested to me that the producers, in lieu of trying to arrive at a reasonably fresh approach to justify the need to retell a story already quite expertly told, merely went in search of a marketing hook. One such hook was the simple updating of the story. A lazy but valid pandering to those viewer factions devoted to never watching anything older than the age of their cellphones. The other hook was tried and true, "Strike while the iron is hot!" angle. The horror genre was experiencing something of a renaissance on TV. The popularity of the FX Network’s anthology series American Horror Story: Coven temporarily made witches relevant again, and NBC’s own blood-soaked Hannibal has shown there to be a viable market for network-suitable horror. With these two ratings hits on the charts, Rosemary’s Baby: the redux had at last surmounted its most significant remake obstacle: the ascertaining of a distinct ratings demographic to which to pitch its advertising.
Rosemary's Baby - 1968
Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Stanley Blackmer
Directed by Roman Polanski
Rosemary's Baby - 2014
Zoe Saldana, Patrick J. Adams, Carole Bouquet, Jason Isaacs
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Well, after much ballyhoo and yo-yoing anticipation on my part, Rosemary’s Baby: The Miniseries Event finally premiered. Two evenings, four hours and countless commercials later, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised it wasn't the unmitigated disaster it could have been (à la, the dreadful theatrical remakes of Carrie and Sparkle), but annoyed that the filmmakers hadn't been able to seize upon anything pertinent enough to the times we live in to either justify a remake, or discourage comparisons to Roman Polanski’s incontestably masterful 1968 original. (Two excellent examples of “remakes” successfully distinguishing themselves from their originals are Kate Winslet’s HBO miniseries adaptation of Mildred Pierce [2011], and Martin Scorsese's brilliantly intense revisit to Cape Fear [1991].)

The original Rosemary’s Baby is more than just an ingeniously realized thriller; it’s a deceptively subtle commentary on the enduring nature of evil, the vulnerability of innocence, and the uncertain relevance of religion in the modern world. It's a film that concludes on a note of moral and psychological ambiguity, leaving you contemplating issues extending far beyond the parameters of Levin's story. By way of contrast, NBC’s version, with roughly 30 more minutes at its disposal, was so plot-driven and devoid of subtext, I found myself not even thinking about the broader “Is God Dead?” ramifications of what it means for the living son of Satan to be born into the world today (neither does the film), merely wondering about plot points that led nowhere (the whole Roman Castevet/Steven Marcato, eternal youth thing) and scratching my head over how a longer version of Rosemary's Baby managed to have less character development. The miniseries left me with nothing, not even a chalky undertaste.
Minnie & Roman
Roman & Margaux
In the original film, there's a perverse, contemporary wit in having the orchestrators of Satan's plan to overthrow 2000 years of Christian hegemony all look like harmless residents of the nearest nursing home. As much as I adore Carole Bouquet in the remake, the vision of evil this Roman and Minnie (Margaux) represent is as superficial and obvious as one of those Hammer Films from the 60s.

Rosemary’s Baby: The feature film, is a seminal horror classic, integral in moving the horror film from the B-movie bargain basement into the mainstream. Rosemary’s Baby: The miniseries, while respectful, ultimately proved itself an innocuous work of professional competency. By any qualitative standard that makes a movie resonate with me (character development, physiological sensitivity, narrative cohesion, use of cinema vocabulary, subtlety) there really is no comparing the two.
However, what does intrigue me is how these two films–so vastly different in approach, yet adapted from the same book–illuminate the intricacies involved in adapting a novel to film. Forty-six years have transpired between these disparate book-to-screen adaptations of Levin’s 1967 bestseller; and what is reflected in the artistic choices taken by the filmmakers says as much about how significantly movies have changed over the years as it does about our culture.

NOTES ON AN ADAPTATION
First off, let me address the word, “reimagined.”  There is no such thing. Like the Devil, reimagined is a corporate invention. “Reimagined” is “remake” with its negative connotations surgically removed after first passing through the obfuscating, verbal camouflage of legalese and marketing. Rosemary’s Baby on Ice?: now we're talking reimagined. Rosemary's Baby as Kabuki theater performed by The Muppets?: that's reimagined. Merely updating it, moving it to Paris, and throwing superfluous characters and elements from The Omen and 666 Park Avenue into the mix...that's a remake. A desperate, starved-for-ideas remake, but a remake, nonetheless. If you doubt it, imagine what would happen if every year they gave an Oscar or Emmy for Best Remake; the word "reimagined" would go the way of the word "rerun" (which we all know has transmogrified into "encore presentation").

(In the interest of brevity, Rosemary’s Baby and its remake will hereafter be referred to as RB1 and RB2, respectively.)

The Setting
The Manhattan setting of RB1 is a purposeful upending of traditional horror genre conventions. In lieu of a gothic tale of ancient evil set in a dark, abandoned castle somewhere in Europe, RB1 stages its horrors in broad daylight, in the middle of a crowded city, framed against the steel and glass backdrop of New York City, circa: 1966. A Western Age of Enlightenment where reason and logic have replaced fear and superstition. A world where science rules -“I want vitamins in pills, like everybody else.”; our welfare is entrusted to authority figures -“He’s very good. He was ‘Open End.’”; and religious faith has grown irrelevant -“I was brought up a Catholic. Now I don’t know.”
Contemporary culture’s disavowal of all things spiritual -“There are no witches, not really,” coupled with the credence granted surface appearances -“Honey, they’re old people, and they have a bunch of old friends….” is precisely how it is possible for an unimaginable evil to flourish, undetected, right under everyone’s noses. RB1 plays with our notions of safety by showing us how easy it is for evil to hide in plain sight.

Standing in for The Bramford, La Chimere: an exclusive Paris apartment building
If RB1 is a departure from gothic tradition, RB2 is more a reversion to type. It’s set in Paris; a city more than 10,000 years old, crammed with gargoyles and gothic structures. Exactly the kind of place you’d expect to find witches. Roman Castevet, cast as perhaps the least disarming person you've ever seen in your life, looks about as trustworthy as a Bond villain; and this Rosemary is required to ignore one blatant red flag after another while a virtual torrent of dead bodies piles up around her. Why? For no logical or character-based reason beyond the story demands it. And therein lies the problem with this remake. Superficial changes to location and character description are no substitute for understanding that Rosemary's Baby has always been more than just a "scary movie." Which is why it has endured. Without making this version be "about" anything other than the mindless tracing of the footsteps of its predecessor; character identification suffers, narrative coherence is lost, and RB2 becomes just another forgettable, plot-driven horror film with nothing to say about anything except, "Boo!"


The Time
RB1 was released at a time when the Catholic Church was in a state of reformation. Pope Paul VI (his 1965 new York visit is referenced in the film) took strides to modernize the church’s image, while simultaneously, Christian theologian Paul van Buren was making headlines with his “God is Dead” theories. Into this atmosphere came a horror film whose premise was viewed by many to be a bastardization of the allegory of the Christ child. A reversal of the New Testament Christian myth complete with a divine father figure, a chosen vessel, and a birth–signifying the dawning of a new era–attended by adoring followers. In Levin's fantasy, Satan, Rosemary (significantly, a lapsed Catholic) and the birth of the anti-Christ, all signaled the dawning of a new Dark Age for the world. A bleak period all too imaginable given the climate of the times (gun violence, political assassinations, urban riots, the Vietnam War). In the socially-conscious world of the 60s, Rosemary's Baby as a quasi-religious horror parable had an eerie urgency that struck a chord with the public.
No such urgency occurs in RB2. To an almost hermetic degree, the real life horrors of today fail to intrude upon the cliche horrors on display in RB2. Just going from my own idea of what a contemporary embodiment of Satan on earth would be like, I envision him as one of those conservative, ultra-right wing, billionaires using his vast fortune to convince middle class people that the problems of the world are the fault of the poor. He would use his money to help perpetuate fear, oppress the powerless, accelerate global warming, and subtly promote war, gun violence, and international terrorism. That sounds evil to me. A story proposing Rosemary's pregnancy unleashing this kind of evil into the world, I would find compelling, to say the least.
Then how is ultimate evil embodied in RB2? The best this movie can come up with is that Satan is like Charlie Sheen crossed with Jack the Ripper. He’s a wealthy whoremonger who hangs around in sex clubs. That’s the entirety of this this movie’s idea of evil, folks.
Polanski knew the only way RB1 would work was to ground it firmly in a recognizable reality. RB2 goes ludicrously in the opposite direction and situates itself within a reality known only to television. The world inhabited by the Parisian Castevets is of the elite rich (are we supposed to be impressed, or repulsed?); racism is non-existent (the film is either unaware or purposely ignores the implications of what it means to present a solitary black woman at the center of a drama in which she is ceaselessly exploited by a league of white people); and Catholicism plays no part (can't risk offending anyone, for ratings sake). It's a world so artificially realized that some viewers actually thought this Rosemary’s Baby had a happy ending (!!).

The Characters
Had Roman Polanski been as enamored of Levin’s spawn-of-Satan plotline as those who’ve unofficially cribbed from it over the years (The Stranger Within, The Devil Within Her, It’s Alive, The Devil’s Advocate, The Astronaut’s Wife), Rosemary’s Baby might have turned out as undistinguished a thriller as those listed. In choosing to place the emphasis on character, Polanski puts the supernatural, genre-dictated aspects of the plot in service of the motivations, interactions, and relationships of principals of the story. This approach perhaps produces a horror film too slow and bloodless for today’s ADHD mode of moviemaking, but mercifully spares us the sort of leaps in logic and character inconsistencies that plague RB2’s more action-driven adaptation. 
I've never seen Zoe Saldana in a film before, yet without actually becoming Rosemary for me (or any human being I've ever known, the script has her behaving so erratically), I think she is very good. Not so much the epically inexpressive Patrick J. Adams, whose sole, all-purpose expression (noodly wimp) supports a Guy Woodhouse that makes absolutely no psychological sense. On the plus side, Adams is so unrelentingly awful, his work has the potential of making folks look more kindly upon the subtleties of John Cassavetes' underappreciated performance.

RB2's saving grace and sole element of inspired casting and character is Carole Bouquet's Margaux Castevet. I absolutely love the changes in the character, how it's written, and how it is played. Mysterious, maternal, malevolent, VERY sexy...it's the only part of RB2 I'd give an unqualified thumbs up.
Mrs. Castevet, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?

I've been crazy about Rosemary's Baby since I first saw it as a child in 1968 and it scared the crap out of me. It has always seemed to me such an ideal, perfectly realized film; I never seriously thought anyone would really attempt remaking it. Well, they finally did, and after seeing it, I would be lying if I said I didn't feel a slight sense of vindication in my belief that Polanski's film is precisely Levin's novel, beautifully realized, and should be left alone. With Hollywood hooked on so many remakes and continually returning to the well of past successes, a great deal of our culture today seems on a fast track course of mediocrity. Example: Had NBC's Rosemary Baby proved a ratings hit, I'm almost positive it would have spawned a series. Something else for those literal-minded souls made uneasy by ambiguity and require every detail and consequence S-P-E-L-L-E-D  O-U-T.
A genuine, bonafide classic motion picture is a rare thing. When it occurs, maybe we should just let it be and just enjoy it, dated material and all. It has value. Even if only to remind ourselves that excellence, not imitation, is something to strive for.

BONUS MATERIAL
Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby, the ill-advised 1976 TV-movie sequel to Rosemary's Baby, is available on YouTube. Has to be seen to be believed. It stars Patty Duke, George Maharis, Ruth Gordon (shame on you), Ray Milland, and Tina Louise...as The Movie Star.


"You're trying to get me to be his mother."
"Aren't you his mother?"

Copyright © Ken Anderson

17 comments:

  1. Hi Ken,

    Enjoyed your take on the two versions. I didn't watch the new mini, it just sounded like a bad idea from the get go even though I'm not a huge fan of the original.

    I'm not a big fan of horror so I put off watching RB1 until just a few years ago and found it much better than I expected, more tension filled suspenser than flat out horror.

    I'm completely unsurprised the new version is a bland miss. Hollywood often remakes stories and sometimes they poke and prod a story into a classic, The Maltese Falcon comes to mind, then stop but that's rare. Usually for some inexplicable reason they think that redoing a classic will yield something equally special, has that ever worked?

    Occasionally they'll find an idea that was good but the execution was wanting such as the original Oceans Eleven, or Cocktail Hour with The Rat Pack, and make it better if not perfect. You would think the success of that venture would have encouraged the seeking out of similar properties but it didn't even work that way for the makers of that film! They just made a terrible sequel and a slightly better one after that.

    You did site two other good examples of the concept of reworking films although both were more successfully realized the first time. The original Cape Fear was dark but impeded by the strictures of the time, though Mitchum was always able to convey a cancerous menace within the code better than almost anyone else. What I think made the new one so good, aside from the cast, was having as distinctive a director at the helm as Scorsese.

    The same goes for Todd Haynes taking on Mildred Pierce, I must admit that I found that redo less satisfying, competent but uninspired. It was different, closer to the book and there's no question that Kate Winslet is a more accomplished actress than Joan Crawford but she was less compelling in the part. The splitting of the role of Veda between two actresses was a major flaw but really who could match the venal pit viper that Ann Blyth created? Even though the remake left me more or less cold there is no question that it was taken on by a stylist, RB2 had no such luck.

    As you said the setting of the original was a key element but then so was the casting, which is a credit to Polanski too. Mia Farrow's waif in the big city drew you in and the seemingly benign neighbors were the most disturbing of all. Your completely right about Jason Isaacs, a man I find immensely sexy and from what I've read a very nice man, there is something about his physical presence on screen that exudes menace. It's been utilized effectively in many films making him a fine villain but the minute you see him you think he's trouble. Actually a shame for the actor who in his few romantic leads has been quite charming but he's typed as a bad guy. However in Rosemary's Baby such a tip is a fatal blow to the story.

    I did see Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby when it was originally broadcast, I don't know why since I hadn't seen the original yet, probably the cast. As far as I remember it was dumb and not scary in the least but I was a faithful viewer of all those TV movies of the weeks and saw far more junk than I want to remember, since for every The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, Something for Joey or Baffled there was a Curse of the Black Widow, It Happened at Lakewood Manor or Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

    Thanks for the tipoff on RB2, now I know I made the right decision on skipping it.

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    1. Remakes are a curious thing, aren't they. Especially since the public is not exactly calling for a boycott on them. I'm not sure I fully understand them in any ways that are not cynical. Remakes of flawed originals makes sense...but I'm not altogether sure I get the remake mania of past successes.
      I once asked a friend who worked in DVD marketing why they so often give all the details of a movie's plot on the DVD case, and she explained that market research has shown that there is a large segment of the population who wants to know EVERYTHING they're getting, even when rentng a movie. She went on to explain that remakes and the constant re-releases of the same titles work the same way. People would rather plunk down money for a bad copy of something they already know, rather than take a chance on the unknown. Using market tactics borrowed from old detergent ads and the like, if you convince people that there is at least one new ingredient in the remake (color, HD, state of the art special effects, more explicit violence), the theory is Hollywood could probably make about 10 movies and then just keep remaking them forever. Adam Sandler certainly hasn't lost any money following this theory.
      That's my cynical side. Sometimes i really think directors have something new up their sleeve they want to try (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and a remake then can be almost exhilarating
      By the way, I was a big fan of TV movie growing up, too. A couple of folks on YouTube have entire channels devoted to these films in full. Oh, what memories! Thanks Joel. I very much enjoyed reading your thoughts on remakes.

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  2. Hi Ken - I agree that the first RB was horribly unsettling. As a practicing Catholic, I found it even more unsettling because of the way that religion/God were viewed by the Castavets and their friends....while all around them seemed "normal". In one scene on the street, you can even see Radio City Music Hall in the background, with the marquee advertising a Disney movie! Without gore, this movie chilled me to the bone and made me think of how (again, as a Catholic) horrific this would be to come true. The remake, I'm sure, was unnecessary.

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    1. Hi Michael
      I have to say, having been raised Catholic and seeing RB when I was 11 and still in Catholic school...it sent me through the roof. When you're that young, you take all that church stuff SOOO seriously, and to see a movie in which the church is ridiculed and the entire plot was like this weird reversal of the virgin birth...it was just beyond scary.
      It makes me feel I was the perfect audience for the film: old enough to understand it, but young enough to take it seriously. The remake was a bit misguided about what is scary about the story.
      (By the way, in all the times I've seen the film, I can't recall ever looking at the Radio City marquee...back to the DVD!) Thank you for commenting!

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  3. Great article, Ken! Like you, I couldn't stay away from this "NBC Miniseries Event"...even Lester Holt gave it a lead-in at the end of Dateline in his sonorous, important-sounding voice. "Stay tuned." ...because the original is one of my favorite films, and based upon one of my favorite books, too.

    In fact, I am a big fan of the conspiracy/devil worship genre itself, with movies like The Omen, Devil's Advocate, Polanski's Ninth Gate and 2000's The Calling among my personal film collection. I even end up watching the dumb and uninspired Heather Graham film Blessed, which was very similar in tone to this remake. At least they changed the names to protect Levin's iconic characters, though...

    Like you, I tried to watch with an open mind. If this had just been a film about a couple in Paris who meet a coven of witches, I would have dismissed it as another artless TV-movie, but probably would have enjoyed it more. I also loved the character of Margaux as created by Carole Bouquet. She and Isaacs as Roman were the only compelling elements in a film that used every cliche in the horror lexicon, borrowing liberally not only from Rosemary but from every "chiller" I've ever seen. (I laughed out loud when you mentioned 666 Park Avenue. You nailed that one!)

    The elegance of the Polanski film didn't need any blood and gore, but of course, this production takes elements of The Omen and Omen II to show each murder in cartoonish bloody detail. Silly. But kind of fun.

    I disagree with you about Zoe Saldana. I found her as wooden as her costar, and that's her own fault, since she produced this vehicle to star in herself and could have commissioned a better-written script and leading lady character. She is much better than this. I accept Mia Farrow as a vulnerable waif in 1966, but isn't Zoe's Rosemary too bright to hang around for this type of victimization? I think the Rosemary of today would follow her gut intuition, get on a plane and go home before the bodies started piling up.

    ...and "based on Rosemary's Baby AND Son of Rosemary?" Does this mean there will be a sequel, another Miniseries Event in our future? I hope not!

    Thanks Ken, for saying so many of the things I wanted to say about poor Rosemary's Baby, who is probably rolling around in his black cradle about this debacle!! ;-)

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    1. Hi Chris
      Thank you. Yes, when you said you were a fan of devil worship/conspiracy movies, I thought this Rosemary might work for you, but I see your point that it might have been a tad easier to take had it just "borrowed" from Rosemary's Baby and went about it's merry way without the pretext of being an adaptation.
      Although I liked Saldana's performance, i think I might be on the same page with you about how she never seemed as stupid as the script required her to be. I was actually amused by all the hoops the screenplay leapt through in trying to come up with sound reasons for her not to just say "F#@% this S#*t" and head off to another doctor without telling anyone (or just hopping on a plane and leaving her husband, Mr. Peepers behind).
      I've always staunchly felt that Rosemary is a smart cookie...she wasn't in this movie.
      By the way, when i saw that Saldana was producer, my mind went to the 80s and all those TV movie remakes Loni Anderson and Melissa Gilbert cast themselves in from their own production companies. Do you remember them? I remember seeing Anderson in terrible remakes of "Leave Her to Heaven" and "Sorry, Wrong Number", and Gilbert in "Splendor in the Grass"...hoo boy! the line between artistic challenge and vanity project can be pretty thing.

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    2. Ken, yes, those movies-of-the-week were such guilty pleasures for me, too...they were a hoot! Thanks for the reminder...your point actually helps put this remake in context for me. And I think Saldana is both beautiful and talented, and will no doubt go on to do more interesting things in the future.

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  4. I disagree that the mini series lacks subtext. I think Polanski's version was more a blatant horror movie that the mini series that is more subtle. The fact that in the original movie they don't show the baby in the end and let you imagine him being a monster speaks for itself. It wants to scare you, old fashioned way (and thus with imagery of monsters and horrible creature and blatantly creepy characters that try too much to be creepy) The miniseries instead plays with the fact that 'evil' can't be conventionally bad looking or unattractive. You can't understand if someone is bad or good simply from their appearance. Probably 'the evil' it's the very opposite. In that, the original Rosemary's movie failed about subtleties because it proposed an evil that looked too much like the stereotyped idea of evil that people have. Truth is, bad people might be good looking and attractive and look benevolent. If evil looked like a monster and in a way that scared good people away, no one would become a victim of its charm.
    Rosemary also is in this an allegory about pregnancy and motherhood. She's also a woman who lost her first baby and desperately wants to have another and in the end she can't fight against her love for her son and it's that love that people around her take advantage of.

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    1. Thank you for your comments and sharing so thoughtfully about what worked in the miniseries for you. We're obviously on different pages when it comes to which film we prefer, but I like that you detailed comparatively what you enjoyed about the 2014 film and were less sold on in Polanski's film. The subjective movie viewing experience is illuminating. Much appreciated!

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    2. For readers: This is not a rebuttal or challenge to the above comment, but some information for the "Rosemary's Baby" In his 1884 autobiography "Polanski by Polanski," the director writes about how he set out to make the definite occurrences in Levin's book less obvious: "Being an agnostic, however, I no more believed in Satan as evil incarnate than I believed in a personal god. I decided that there had to be a loophole: the possibility that Rosemary's supernatural experiences were figments of her imagination. the entire story, as seen through her eyes, could have been a chain of only superficially sinister coincidences, the product of her feverish fantasies."

      To this end he edited out footage he had already shot that would have confirmed Guy's involvement in a scheme (one deleted scene was Rosemary meeting Guy's agent and thanking him for the theater tickets Guy said were given to him, that took her out of the apartment the night he joins the coven, and being told that he never gave Guy any tickets). We never see Guy or the Castevets ever involved in anything.

      His decision not to show the baby is rooted in Polanski's firm belief that nothing supernatural happened to Rosemary.
      "I could not make a film that is seriously supernatural. I can treat it as a tale, but a woman raped by the devil in today's new York? No, I can't do that. So i did it with ambiguity"

      He doesn't show us the baby in the end because he wanted to take a psychological departure from Levin's literal-minded book. Polanski left it to individual viewers to decide for themselves if there was a monster in the cradle or a normal baby being looked upon by a woman having a neurotic breakdown.

      From a phalanx of harmless-appearing elderly residents of the Bramford, to every event that can be explained away as being something Rosemary is turning into a supernatural plot in her mind, Polanski asserts that Levin wrote a book about a literal Devil in new York; but he himself made a film in which those who wished to, could see it as a horror film, others could see it as a psychological thriller.

      "Rosemary's Baby" - 1968 works either way because of what is left ambiguous in the telling. This according to the film's director, not me.

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    3. Very interesting point, Ken, about the supernatural elements of the story not necessarily being literal in Polanski's version...Donald Baumgart's well-timed blindness, the fact that Guy had traded ties with him, earlier Hutch's coma (after losing the glove)...all COULD well have been explained as coincidences...and were obviously dismissed as such by Dr. Hill when Rosemary runs to him for help. The ambiguity adds to the suspense and makes the climax all the more startling.

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  5. I was all set to talk about the genius of Polanski' s movie being, like his earlier film Repulsion, it can be viewed as a story of a woman’s descent into madness. And then you go ahead and quote Polanski himself about that aspect of the movie. Nuts!

    I had no desire to watch the remake even out of mild curiosity. But after reading your detailed comparison of the two I feel I already have!

    Interesting that you managed to find so many shots that imitate the composition of the original. Geez, even the knife Rosemary is wielding in the final scene looks exactly the same! That’s paying homage to the extreme. I would've expected more originality from Holland who has made some wonderful movies but now seems to have given into the temptation of cable TV where she has been directing episodes for umpteen different series for the past fifteen years or so. Clearly the real faults lie in the uninspired adaptation. But what did you expect from the men who created Final Destination 3 and Queen of the Damned ?

    I am very perturbed by the comment left above by Anonymous. You deserve an award for great restraint and politeness in your reply. I would've given Ms. or Mr. Anonymous a lesson in the meaning of the word subtext which the commenter seems to have confused with superficiality and then let loose on likening old age with ugliness and evil as if it were some sort of common belief. "[T]he original Rosemary's movie failed about subtleties because it proposed an evil that looked too much like the stereotyped idea of evil that people have." I had a little fit over here when I read that. I've never imagined "stereotyped" evil to be a group of elderly eccentrics. Rather I think of evil more often than not as drop dead gorgeous because the movies have taught me to distrust all handsome devils and beautifully dressed and glammed up wicked city women. This is why I am spending my life with one of the most kind-hearted and normal looking people I could ever find. ;^D

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  6. John
    Reading your comment makes me SO wish I had not been so johnny-on-the-spot with my preceding reply, you would have done the job for me beautifully! You said all the things I wanted to but couldn't (out of politeness).

    Thank you for referencing "Repulsion", which as part of his unofficial "Apartment Trilogy" (with RB and The Tenant) makes a great case for Polanski's fascination with depicting mental illness, not horror. Thanks, too, for noting the screencaps, which were chosen to refute claims by the filmmaker that this was not to be a remake. Please...had the original not existed, this film would have no visual style at all. The original is iconic and its influence impossible to avoid. I had major misgivings about the screenwriters (those are the kinds of credits you leave OFF of your resume!), but harbored hope for the director, although I had not known she'd spent her last few years in television (I'd only ever seen Europa, Europa).

    Rosemary's Baby: The Miniseries, is emphatic and overexplicit (there IS a Satan, Guy DID sell his wife out, and there WAS a plot against Rosemary all along) - and we are given scene after scene of sinister-looking people plotting behind her back gory deaths to put across the literalness.
    By way of contrast Polanski asks "Couldn't Guy have had an innocent attachment with the Castevets?", "Why doesn't Rosemary see any "marks" on Guy's body proving he joined a coven?" - to me, it is nothing short of genius to take a literal horror novel and imbue it with doubt. Doubt and ambiguity so subtle, viewers themselves aren't really sure if they are responding to what Polanski is showing us (nothing) or what they are doing with their minds (applying their foreknowledge of the book to the film...seeing a "monster" and literal Satan).
    In the film, Polanski turns Rosemary into the ultimate unreliable narrator. That's genius to me. The TV movie turned Satanism into a syndicate.
    And, as you so comically allude to ("I had a little fit over here...") the elderly resident's of The Bramford are really no one's idea of stereotyped evil. Not unless one is an aficionado of the "hag horror" genre of "Baby Jane" et. al., which associated aging with grotesque.
    Beautifully sleek characters have been signifiers of evil since way before wicked city woman Cyd Charisse seduced Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain." It's a cinema cliche. Jason Isaacs and Carole Bouquet are as subtly evil as Boris and Natasha. On the other hand, Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer appear to be so harmless, they would not be out of place as Abner and Gladys on "Bewitched."

    Since I am more or less the "host" of this blog, I like to be polite, but the next time I have a slightly misinformed or confused comment, I think I will have to send out a bat-signal and call on you. I loved your comments not because you agreed with me, but because you understand the dictionary definitions of ambiguity, subtlety, and subtext.
    And continue your distrust of handsome devils and glammed up city women... that's one area where Hollywood knows whereof they speak. :-) Thanks, John!

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  7. Ken, I've become so cynical about lackluster remakes of classic films (“Psycho,” for heaven's sake!) that it didn't even occur to me to watch NBC's attempt at “Rosemary's Baby.” As you so artfully put it, "Roman Polanski fairly batted that particular Satanic ball well out of the park" in 1968, and there is absolutely no reason to tinker with that masterpiece. The only remake I've preferred to the original that comes quickly to mind is Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 re-do of The" Man Who Knew Too Much." Of course, Hitchcock reworking Hitchcock is another matter, and if Roman Polanski decided, for some reason, to "reimagine" "Rosemary," I would be quite curious and not cynical at all. Not that there's any chance of that...

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    1. Hello Eve
      Curiosity is a dangerous thing. I've seen enough lousy remakes to seriously have me swear off them forever, but there is something in me that always feels that no one would be stupid enough to tackle a classic unless they REALLY had something up their sleeve.
      Why I hold onto this naive notion is beyond me, since usually all they have is hubris and avarice (yes, that PSYCHO remake)!
      On the topic of Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" that is a great example of a remake improvement. Although not every director remaking his own work can count on the same luck. I adored George Sluizer's creepy thriller "The Vanishing", but was left unimpressed with the remake.
      No, as far as I'm concerned, "Rosemary's Baby" is one of those films should really be left alone. You definitely saved yourself 4 hours, Eve. Good to hear from you!

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  8. Hey Ken, happy to have found your blog by chance. Now I've got a lot of reading to do! :-)
    The original Rosemary's Baby has always been the 'perfect' horror film to me. No other film has had the same "tone", nor the same perfect mix of seriousness and humor that RB1 has. I am frankly surprised that there are people who do not like it!
    I have yet to read the rest of your texts, but based on a quick browse I just want to say I miss the times when films were basically cinematic experiences that drew you into their world. Remember lobby cards? Black and white photos from some random moment in the film you were about to see - I could stare at those for a long time and imagine what would take place in the film I was about to see. Most photos from RB1 are like little works of art. Rosemary holding her belly in the Bramford hallways looking frightened, or using a knife to stop a cradle from rocking - it's all so iconic!
    God I love that film! :-)
    Sorry for the rant, I'll read the rest of your stuff now!

    /Snake Plissken

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    1. Hi
      So happy that you happened upon this blog! You already get points for being a fan of "Rosemary's Baby" (a film which stands as my #1, all-time favorite of any genre), but I love that you have a nostalgia for the old-fashioned cinematic experience.
      When I was young I would ALWAYS stop outside of any theater I walked by and just stare at the Lobby Cards on display in those little frames they had below the posters. And as you say, I would imagine what the images signified, get all worked up for the "Coming Soon" panels in the display cases, and essentially turn that outdoor advertising area surrounding the movie boxoffice into my own private cinema museum.
      Before the day of VHS and DVD, anticipation was so much a part of the experience.
      That's how I developed my love of movie poster art.
      I think we feel very similarly about Rosemary's Baby, and perhaps film in general, so I'm very pleased you found the site and I look forward to hearing from you! And if Snake Plissken is you anon name (I saw that John Carpenter movie just once), I have to say that on my tumblr blog, my anon name is Guy Woodhouse. That movie gets under your skin...

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