Watching disciples of the satanic rule
Pentagram of blood holds the jackal’s truth
Searching for the answer, Christ hasn’t come
Awaiting the final moment, the birth of Satan’s son
—Slayer, “The Antichrist”
Roman Polanski: ROSEMARY’S BABY is the middle offering in director Polanski’s so called, ‘Apartment Trilogy’. The first installment was REPULSION — where a gorgeously ethereal Catherine Deneuve wanders down eerie hallways being grabbed and caressed by hands coming out of the walls. She had either dropped some potent Orange Sunshine, or she suffered from a beautiful version of schizophrenia that made her vulnerable baby face even more desirable.
Mia Farrow: ROSEMARY’S BABY was Mia’s fourth film, with her third being the dangerously mysterious SECRET CEREMONY. Professor Camille Paglia has called a certain scene in the film, “One of the most spectacular moments of my movie going career… Halfway through the film, inexplicably and without warning, Elizabeth Taylor in a violet velvet suit and turban, suddenly walks across the screen in front of a wall of sea-green tiles”. (Fascinating Joseph Losey-directed presentation, SECRET CEREMONY is filled with baroque images, lesbian undercurrents, which Universal tried to de-emphasize at the time, and myriad layers of madness and mayhem between Mia and Liz.)
John Cassavetes: Cassavetes apparently caused a few problems on the set of ROSEMARY. He had already written and directed SHADOWS and TOO LATE BLUES, the former a cinema vérité improvisational jazz-influenced mini–masterpiece of race relations during the Beat Generation, that has such a legacy that most film critics will label him as the absolute inventor of independent cinema in this country. (He was so artistically obsessed that he once refinanced his home just to pay the lab film processing fees on the current project he was working on!). Mia Farrow explains the differences between the Cassavetes and Polanski styles: “As the movie went on, John had issues. If you’ve seen John Cassavetes’ movies, you’ll know that they’re freewheeling, people can improvise, and I think, move around a lot, and there’s a lot of leeway the way he shoots. Roman is absolutely the opposite.”
Ira Levin: He wrote the books ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE STEPFORD WIVES, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL and SLIVER. The latter, like ROSEMARY, also takes place in a New York city apartment house where peculiar situations abound. But that’s where the similarities end. Actually, ROSEMARY’S BABY is to SLIVER as the last lost Faberge Egg smuggled out of the Kremlin is to your Aunt Lillian’s egg salad brought over to your backyard barbecue last 4th of July.
Frank Sinatra: Sinatra had married Mia in 1966 when she was twenty-one and he was at the top of his game at fifty. (There were t-shirts floating around at that time saying, “It’s Sinatra’s World, We Only Live In It.”) Ol’ Blue Eyes didn’t really want Mia to work after the wedding, and when she let him read a script for ROSEMARY he told her he couldn’t envision her in the role. That didn’t stop her from accepting the part, of course; but just to keep the marriage alive, she also agreed to do Sinatra’s next film, THE DETECTIVE. But with endless scheduling overruns on ROSEMARY, Mia eventually had to bow out of Frank’s latest world-weary, tough-guy cop-drama. This was the final breakdown for Sinatra; he had Farrow served with divorce papers right on the set — which hit her as hard as a car crash, and created even more tension and drama for the cast and crew.
Polanski & Preminger: Polanski felt there was a conspiracy to oust him from the director’s chair, headed by producer William Castle who was running to Paramount chief Robert Evans badmouthing their perfectionist “auteur”. Roman was so distraught leaving the studio lot one day that Otto Preminger (then directing the psychedelic gangster romp SKIDOO — with Groucho, Carol Channing and Jackie Gleason), felt compelled to ask what was wrong. Roman poured out his woes and he and Otto had the following (paraphrased) conversation:
Polanski: I’m over budget and behind schedule.
Preminger: Well, how are the rushes?
Polanski: Great, they love them.
Preminger: Nobody is gonna fire a director if they like what they see in the mornings. Forget about being behind schedule. If the suits like what they see, you’re in like Flynn; if they don’t, you’re out on your ass!
Sidney Blackmer: Blackmer, whose penultimate role turned out to be ROSEMARY’S BABY, and who delivered some fine work in films ranging from I WANT A DIVORCE (1940) to 1965’s HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE, played next-door warlock Roman Castevet. His name turned out to be an anagram, but it was almost also a portmanteau — a playful combination of Roman Polanski and John Cassavetes.
Endless Levels of Intertwined Insanity: Here’s a brief compressed panoply of ideas and events and personages that have swirled around ROSEMARY’S BABY for the past half-century:
- The Dakota was called the Bramford in the film
- John Lennon was murdered at the Dakota in December 1980
- Lennon said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus
- Twice in ROSEMARY you see and hear that God might be dead
- The Beatles and Mia Farrow and Mike Love of the Beach Boys went to India to sit at the feet of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
- Another Beach Boy, Dennis Wilson, befriended Charles Manson and followers and let them move into one of his homes. Wilson called Manson “The Wizard”
- Sharon Tate, who was omnipresent on the set of ROSEMARY supporting her husband Roman, had earlier made a film called EYE OF THE DEVIL
- Manson became obsessed with the Beatles’ WHITE ALBUM, and felt the Beatles were sending him clandestine messages
- Lennon did send a not-so-clandestine message to Mia Farrow’s sister on one of the WHITE ALBUM songs. It was called “Dear Prudence”.
- The Manson Family murdered a nine-month pregnant Sharon Tate in the Summer of ‘69 in Bel Air, as she begged for the life of her unborn baby. It’s a horrific nightmare scenario that harkens back to an about-to-give-birth Rosemary, surrounded by witches and warlocks and apologizing to her child for not being able to protect it.
- Around this time, John Lennon calls a meeting at the Beatles Apple Records to announce that he is Jesus Christ come back to life. He later blames his foolishness on one of his more than one thousand LSD trips.
- In the party scene in ROSEMARY, one of the guests turned out to be future cult-leader, South American-born guru known as Michel, who presided over a spacey la-la land of semi-New Age philosophy in the land of Reaganomics, called BuddhaFields.
And so on… as Kurt Vonnegut was fond of saying.
Mia Farrow: Krzysztof Komeda composed the minor-key folk-lullaby that Mia hums with harpsichord over the opening establishing shots and credits. It’s the creepiest, strangest piece of music you’ll ever hear — only bested in harpsichord weirdness by Yoko Ono’s “Who Has Seen the Wind”, released as the flip side of Lennon’s 1970 “Instant Karma” single. I think that’s the most interestingly gruesome thing about ROSEMARY’S BABY. The fact that it goes from “Mommy” to “Macabre” and still retains a certain normality. The fact that Rosemary thinks her marriage and life is a fantasy castle made out of spun sugar; when in reality it’s just a sleazy, dark tattoo-massage parlor out on the edge of Highway 666.
Elisha Cook, Jr: Cook, who was in legendary Bogart vehicles, THE MALTESE FALCON and THE BIG SLEEP, (and whose first film was entitled HER UNBORN CHILD), played Mr. Nicklas in ROSEMARY. He was in the opening sequence, humorously and eccentrically showing Guy and Ro around the Bramford… I always thought Cook should’ve reprised his role as Nicklas in David Cronenberg’s whacked-out, over-the-top, early meisterwerk SHIVERS — when the young couple was looking for an apartment in Starliner Towers in Montreal, when the film begins.
Scariest Line in Film History? My friend Jane Storella (also MC and House Manager at The Colonial), told me that the line “This is no dream; this is really happening!” scared her more than any other words uttered in modern films. And she could be right. Think about it: what if you woke up from a nightmare, and you really found yourself in prison, convicted of a crime you know you never committed? Or, you wake up and The Donald is now the leader of the free world, and not Madame President Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton! You’d say, “This is no dream; this is really happening! But it feels like a dream. Maybe I can go back to sleep, and when I wake up, everything will be normal again!” (I know I said that at the time.)
“Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.”
—1 John, 2:18
ROSEMARY’S BABY: See it. Love it. And just be aware, that when you’re sitting around your family dinner table with everyone eating a “chocolate mouse”, laughing and conversing, and maybe later playing Monopoly, Twenty Questions and Scrabble — just be on your guard that something evil and Satanic isn’t lurking behind the Pepsodent smiles and FATHER KNOWS BEST demeanors of people who you think are the closest ones to you! I’m not saying its true. I’m just saying it could be true… After all, it’s almost Halloween.