The personalities behind the scenes
BOTH Bunuel's and Polanski's autobiographies are more personal than professional statements. Luis Bunuel is universally acknowledged as one of the foremost film directors, however much scandal may be given by the virulent hostility of many of his films to the Church and the establishment. Yet mischievous humour and
imaginative fertility make others irresistible — like the Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie or Exterminating Angel.
The startling discovery of his autobiography is the extreme conventionality of his upbringing in Spain — "bourgeois" as he would say, and does say of the apartment his parents took in Saragossa. Clearly education in the Jesuit college failed to secure his faith. "Still atheist, Thank God" is the heading of his fifteenth chapter.
Bunuel's autobiography does not make clear whether he chose or drifted into film-making. His early efforts were usually funded by money borrowed from his
mother. Their first active inspiration seems to have been his visit to Paris and an enthusiasm for surrealism acquired thortigh his friendship with Dali and meetings with "Les Six" and other French intellectuals of the period.
The turbulent history of his time made Bunuel a wandering film artist. He worked in Spain, France, Mexico and Argentina. Although he never outgrew a taste for morbid and macabre, some of the films he made after his return to Spain have a
classicism as lucid as the cool beauty of the star of Tristana and Belle de Jour, Catherine Deneuve.
The triumphs and tragedies, the scandals and sensations of Polanski's career are all too public knowledge, understandably he may have wanted to tell his own side of the story. But as I suggested, the attempt to do so is more of a personal than a professional statement. It might be charitable to as Polanski is one of the millions of Polish victims of their country's history and the Nazi and Soviet occupations; a little boy of partly Jewish parentage and once apparently imitating the Catholic practices of one lot of foster-parents.
But the chronologically plodding record by a profligate and promiscuous young man of his amorous adventures and excesses — as well as the gruesome tragedy of his second wife Sharon Tate's murder by the monstrous Manson gang, makes neither edifying nor entertaining reading.
Polanski has made four or five notable films. The only light his autobiography throws on them is the disclosure of his determination from an early age to get into films in general and the Polish film school at Lodz in particular, when the Polish film renaissance and the school were at their most flourishing.
Best of the straight star biographies is Monty Clinch's Burt Lancaster. Lancaster is not a scandalous or sensational star. he has given a ,few notable performances between Come Back Little Sheba with Shirley Booth, and Visconti's The Leopard after the popularity of his acrobatic beginnings. But I should not have picked him as a likely subject for a biographer. Monty Clinch, however, has done her work with such sympathy, diligent research and good judgement, that she has achieved a well-rounded study of the development of a hardworking, intelligent professional man's career.
1 so much enjoyed and , admired this biography that I have difficulty in reconciling the author's extensive knowledge and talent with one another. After justly citing "the brilliant critic C. A. Lejenne", the one of a male pronoun betrays her unawareness that C stood for Caroline, our first really respected film critic, who died only eleven years ago.