Picks and Pans Review: Polanski: the Filmmaker as Voyeur

updated 02/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Barbara Learning

The biography is of a familiar genre: the artist as madman. His name was Raymond Polanski but friends in Poland called him Romek. His childhood in Nazi Europe was no childhood at all. And so Polanski, who is small and looks almost like a malevolent child, has never quite grown up. This account of the film director whose life has been a series of tragedies and scandals is missing a key ingredient—a fresh interview with the subject himself. Many of his friends and co-workers, including novelist Jerzy Kosinski, talked freely with Leaming, a film teacher at New York's Hunter College. The chapters on Romek's early life are an engrossing account of a rebel student at the film school in Lodz, a strange world no American can imagine. Polanski's films are described in great detail. When he had a strong producer and needed a successful film to revive his career, Polanski made Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and Tess. At other times he has indulged himself in highly personal disasters (Macbeth, The Tenant) that reflected the morbid events in his life. All the gory details of the Manson family murders of wife Sharon Tate and her friends are included in this book, along with an amazingly explicit account of Polanski's "unlawful sexual intercourse," as the charge read, with a 13-year-old California girl. It was the prospect of jail and possible deportation that caused Polanski to flee America four years ago. Unfortunately, Learning could not decide whether she wanted to shock us or convince us that we ought to be sympathetic to her creepy subject. (Simon and Schuster, $15.50)

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