Oy-yoy! You got the wrong Polanski

Analysis of the controversy around Polanski´s movies using the example of "Dance of the Vampires"

Term Paper, 2009

25 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Content Table

1. Introduction
1.1 The topic of my interest

2. Methodology
2.1 Analysis of the movie reviews

3. Analysis
3.1 A parody on vampire genre versus a comedy set among vampires
3.2 A parasite on Hammer production versus a great horror movie in its own right
3.3 Comedy versus Drama
3.4 A fairy-tale versus a piece of real life
3.5 Polanksi's odd film out versus Polanski's best
3.6 A cult film

4. Conclusion



1. Introduction

His name rings a bell of recognition even in the ears of those people, who are not at all interested in cinema. He belongs to the greatest directors both in Hollywood and in Europe. Enigmatic and scandalous are two adjectives, which are most frequently used to describe him, one of the most controversial directors, actors and scriptwriters - Roman Polanski.

His films are not regarded as authorial, since most of his works are collaborations with other scriptwriters and producers. However, certain trademarks, which make up a “Polanski film”, can be found throughout his movies: a circular plot structure, complex relationships between the victim and the perpetrator or the evil as his main subject (Cronin, 2005). His movies shock, but even more shocking is his own life, which is often reflected in Polanski's film-making. His life tragedy started already in the childhood, when Roman, a little Polish Jew, had to hide from the Nazis terror in a cow stall in the Cracow ghetto, and deteriorated through the murder of his beloved wife Sharon Tate and the rape charge against him, which still prevents the director from coming back to the United States.

With his movies Roman Polanski manages to reconcile what seems to be irreconcilable. Mazierska (2007) points out that his cinema is at crossroads between many competing discourses, such as art film and mass cinema, America and Europe, entertainment and art-house visual effects, convention and its inversion. And the philosophical issues Polanski draws on are so culturally transposable, that he, furthermore, manages to cross the cultural boarders and gain popularity all over the world.

1.1 The topic of my interest

In the following paper I will take up the challenge of uncovering the controversy of Polanski's work using an example of the movie Dance of the Vampires that he shot in England in 1967. In the first step I am going to clarify the diversity of different ways, how the audience respond to the film, with the help of movie reviews displayed on amazon.com. Thereafter, using the literature about this particular movie, Polanski's movies in general and the director himself, I am going to analyse the reasons for the emergence of these controversial reviews and compare the viewers' attitudes with the opinions of the film critics and Polanski himself. In short, my research questions are as follows:

- What are the different ways, how the audience of Dance of the Vampires respond to the movie?
- What features that set the film apart and the intentions of the filmmaker generate this resonance?
- Can be Dance of the Vampires considered to be a cult film?

2. Methodology

2.1 Analysis of the movie reviews

Altogether there are 107 users, who wrote their reviews on Dance of the Vampires on amazon.com1. The overall attitude is rather positive, since 60 out of 107 customers gave Polanski's movie 5 stars, the best possible assessment. However, there is, first, a big diversity of opinions, since different viewers value different aspects of the movie differently. And secondly, there is still a number of negative comments.

Despite the discrepancies in evaluating, all the reviews could be sorted in one of the six categories that you can find below:

- A fairy -tale

“One of the aspects that impressed me the most [...] was the extensive amount of detail and attention to creating a complete sense of putting the viewer within the context of the story. It's like a fairy tale come to life. The period sets and pieces are exquisitely beautiful and intricate ” (25. February, 2004).

“It plays (in my mind anyway) like a sort of old world fable or fairytale and Polanski keeps it pretty authentic as far as the occultist aspects (5. September, 2001).

- A funny slapstick comedy

“The Fearless Vampire Killers Or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck« is simply the best vampire film AND the best horror comedy made so far. Polanski has taken every fantasy we have about vampires - surroundings, landscape, castle, characters - and exaggerated” (28. February, 2001).

“This film is my all time favourite - the best characters for me being the way ward inn keeper and his sausage brandishing wife! The whole thing from start to finish is tremendously funny - and I absolutely love it - a classic in the spoof genre! (3. August, 1999).

- A horror movie

“I remember when I was a child and this film was on television. Even the beginning with the blood dripping on the screen with the hypnotizing music told me this was going to be scary. I was mesmerized by everything I could see and hear [...] (14. August, 2001).

http ://www. amazon. com/review/product/B0002KQNJU/ref=pr_all_sumn1ary_cm_cr_acr_txt?_encoding=UTF8&showViewpoints=l

- A bad parody of Hammer horror/Not a “Polanski's movie”

“Theplot is haphazard -you don't really understand [what] the characters are trying to do or why[...]. And the ending is just thrown on - sort of like they got tired of making the movie. While watching the film, I kept on saying to myself "this is the guy who did 'rosemary's baby'?" I couldn't quite figure out what he was parodying or trying to point out. ” (18. October, 2001).

- A Friday late night movie/Not a “Polanski's movie”

“The good thing is, that while The Fearless Vampire Killers is not a great film, by any stretch of the word, it is highly entertaining, and a good diversion from ones cares ” (19. September, 2008).

- A cult film/ Polanski at his best

“The issues are hidden underneath the surface, yet they are thrown at the audience with deliberate intention by Polanski. In the end the film offers a decent cinematic experience, which will offer some room for amusement and contemplation ” (3. November, 2004).

“What can I say? I just love it. [..]I was too young then, though, to fully appreciate the "maestra" of director Polanski; his incredibly unique aptitude to create terror, or in that instance laughter, out of sheer absurdity. Humour is always there, horror is always there; the sense of absurdity contaminating each and every part of the (anti-)hero's world. A deadly absurdity. A grotesque that kills. But don't worry: it's all fun. “ (4. October, 2004).

The diversity of these partly mutually exclusive opinions raises many questions: How can this movie be a good comedy and a scary horror at the same time? Or how can this film be seen as an odd one out in Polanski's repertoire, whereas considered by others to be one of the filmmaker’s best productions?

In the following analysis I will try to disclose the controversy and complexity of this movie by contra posing the opposite views among the average audience as well as among the film critics in the subsequent six chapters. In the first chapter I will contrast the predominant view that Dance of the Vampires is a parody on vampire genre with an idea, also presented by the director himself, that his movie is rather a comedy set among vampires. The second chapter will deal with the question, whether this movie is a parasitic growth on Hammer productions or deserves to be called a horror movie in its own right. In the third chapter the coexistence of comedy and tragedy in the movie will be exposed. The subsequent chapter will be about, how Polanski created the world of fairy-tale in order to make it more realistic. In the fifth chapter I will deal with the controversy of whether Dance of the Vampires is a typical Polanski's film or rather a black sheep in his repertoire. The purpose of the last chapter before the conclusion is to analyse, whether this movie can be considered to be a cult film.

3. Analysis

3.1 А parody on vampire genre versus a comedy set among vampires

The majority of critics and viewers regard Dance of the Vampires as a clear example of a parody genre, which is a “comic distorted yet generally affectionate imitation of a given genre, author or specific work” (Gehring, 1999, p. 126). Others, however, consider the movie to be rather a “comedy set among vampires” (Butler, 1970, 128). The director himself insisted on treating his film as the latter (Delahaye & Narboni, 1969, p.30). In his view, the term parody, which can bear a “parasitic” character (Gehring, 1997, p. 127), undermines the original idea of his film and, moreover, neglects the grotesque as the crucial characteristic of the world that he intended to create in Dance of the Vampires (Butler, 1970, p. 128).

In this chapter I am going to analyse, what can make this movie an example of a parody genre and what speaks against this assumption.

Cersowsky (2006) explains that the idea to make Dance of the Vampires originally occurred in Paris, where Gerard Brach, a future scriptwriter of the movie, and Roman Polanski observed, how a horror movie in one of the Parisian cinemas made its audience laugh instead of feeling terrified. According to Cersowsky (2006) this incident gave them an idea to film basically an affectionate parody of Hammer horror films, well known in the 1960-s from late-night TV in the United Kingdom.

From my point of view, the classification as a parody is based on the fact that the movie indeed contains a number of characteristics typical of the given genre, as identified by Gehring (1999). Thus, the dominant part of the humour in the film is considered to be provided through a playful and distorted imitation of the famous motives from the vampire movies (Cersowsky, 2006; Butler, 1970).

Polanski closely follows the classical pattern of vampire movies. We have a mysterious castle, garlic and crucifix as a remedy against vampires, a beauty desired and eventually kidnapped by a vampire and, last but not least, good guys, attempting to conquer bad guys, the vampires, and save the beauty. Even though the characters and motives derive from the repertoire of vampire films, they vary in a humorous way. Thus, Polanski introduces the first homosexual vampire (Butler, 1970), a son of a Dracula - like Count von Krolock, who is obviously in love with Alfred, and a Jewish vampire Shagal, who cannot be defeated through a crucifix, a traditional anti-vampire tool.

When Shagal attacks his maiden Magda, she thmsts the cmcifix in his face. “Oy-yoy! You got the wrong vampire”, is Shagal's sarcastic response.

In the famous book by Bram Stocker “Dracula”, which became the basis for most of the vampire movies ever made, there is a clear distinction between the good, represented by the heroic and altruistic Dr. van Helsing, and the evil, portrayed through the blood-thirsty and dangerous Dracula. Whereas van Helsing is a respected professional, whose poise of the head could strike “at once as indicative of thought and power” (Stoker, 1959, p. 289), Professor Abronsius is, according to the mocking voice-over at the outset of the movie, “a scholar and scientist, whose genius was unappreciated. [He] had given up all to devote himself body and soul to what was to him a sacred mission - he had even lost his chair at Königsberg University, where for a long time his colleagues used to refer to him as the nut.” Instead of the heroic van Helsing the audience observe the absent- minded and Don Quixote-like foolish Abronsius, who is totally obsessed with science and even tempted to spend a deathless eternity researching von Krolock's library (see flg. 1, app.). He is not able to understand Alfred's feelings for Sarah, for he has no comprehension of humanistic values. His very appearance is already comic; his clumsy movements and an obvious inability to control his body properly make him look like a ridiculous caricature. A great hero, isn’t he?

Furthermore, Polanski generates humour by exaggerating the class differences, often reflected in vampire legends (Eagle, 1995). On the one hand, there is a pathetic group of ragged, stupid peasants, who totally subordinate themselves to the vampire leader. Their ridiculousness is best seen in the scene, where Shagal's wife is knocking down her unfaithful husband with a huge sausage. The vampires, on the other hand, represent the demonic feudalism. Their lavish location and beautiful clothes stand in a great contrast to the way, the sleazy villagers live and look like. At one point, namely during the ball in the castle, vampires even resemble a secret order, led by their high priest, von Krolock (Cercowsky, 2006).

Another characteristic of a parody as suggested by Gehring (1999) and which can also be found in Dance of the Vampires is a “compounding phenomenon” (p. 13), meaning that a parody refers to more than one target subjects. There is no clear evidence that Polanski used one concrete Hammer movie as the basis for his work, he has rather drawn from the entire repertoire of the vampire horror movies. This can be, for instance, indicated through the fact that Abronsius' and Alfred's costumes are the very copies of those worn by characters in the first vampire movie ever, Mumau's Nosferatu (Butler, 1970).

Last but not least, the movie includes an ultimate parody prick, since “nothing can lessen a horror genre faster, than a self-conscious reminder that this is just a movie” (Gehring, 1999, p. 16). In Dance of the Vampires this is achieved by using some evidently fake-like looking props, such as wooden graves, which function as bed-substitutes for the vampires or an artificial Saturn, at which mesmerized Abronsius is gazing through a telescope.

Although many of the characteristics that Gehring (1999) identifies can be indeed found in the movie, the question remains, whether Dance of the Vampires is just a parody.

Genre theorists distinguish between parody and satire (Gehring, 1999). Whereas the former pokes an affectionate fun at the expense of a given form or structure it parodies, the latter attacks the “flaws and follies of mankind” in a more aggressive way (Gehring, 1999, p. 5). Using this definition, I conclude that Dance of the Vampires is more than just a parody, since Polanski makes an extensive use of satire, by, for example, caricaturing the rigidity of social hierarchy as explained above. Moreover, it was not the filmmaker’s main purpose to poke fun at vampire movies, not even at Hammer movies in particular, as he explains in one interview (Delahaye & Naroboni, 1969).

This goes in line with what Mazierska (2007) points out: “[...] mimicking and ridiculing typical of the horror genre” is not the main source of the audience’s laughter (p. 169). She emphasizes that the humour is predominantly created trough the clash between the “visual universe” and “the naturalistic behaviour of its inhabitants” (p. 169).

A viewer Adrian Baleiron from New York (6. July 2001) emphasises that, in his opinion, the humour is predominantly transported though the main characters, such as a “clueless Einstein look-alike” Professor Abronsius, a “horny tavern owner” with a heart of a big womanizer, an ugly and jealous wife “trying to catch her husband red handed”, a priest-like “pompous” von Krolock and his homosexual son. This description reveals that, although Polanski placed the narration in the world of exaggeration, he still gave his characters very realistic character traits, which creates a big portion of humour according to Mazierska (2007) and the viewers themselves.

3.2 A parasite on Hammer production versus a great horror movie in its own right

Often critics call Dance of the Vampire probably one of the most underrated films by Polanski. How could this idea be generated?


Excerpt out of 25 pages


Oy-yoy! You got the wrong Polanski
Analysis of the controversy around Polanski´s movies using the example of "Dance of the Vampires"
University of Amsterdam  (ISHSS)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
oy-yoy, polanski, analysis, polanski´s, dance, vampires
Quote paper
Ksenia Danilova (Author), 2009, Oy-yoy! You got the wrong Polanski, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/133269


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