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To Celebrate Roman Polanski's 80th Birthday, A Retrospective

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 18, 2013 at 7:55PM

Happy birthday to Roman Polanski, who turns 80 on Sunday August 18. Published just ahead of this occasion is James Greenberg's picture-packed coffee table book "Roman Polanski: A Retrospective," which covers all of Polanski's movies as well as his career as an actor. Part of a series of glossy filmmaker retrospectives (Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg) from England's Palazzo Editions, "Roman Polanski" is published stateside by Abrams and is the only book of its kind the filmmaker has ever participated in.
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Polanski and Seigner at Cannes
Polanski and Seigner at Cannes

Timed to Roman Polanski's 80 birthday on August 18, Abrams has just published James Greenberg's picture-packed coffee table book "Roman Polanski: A Retrospective," which covers all of Polanski's movies as well as his career as an actor. Part of a series of glossy filmmaker retrospectives (Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg) from England's Palazzo Editions, "Roman Polanski" is the only book of its kind the filmmaker has ever participated in. 

A respected film writer, Greenberg has Variety, American Film and Premiere among his past outlets; he has edited the DGA Quarterly for the past eight years. He not only interviews Polanski but adds sharp analysis and criticism of the films as well as telling biographic details.

Polanski debuted his latest film "Venus in Fur" at Cannes in May to good reviews; it opens in Europe in the fall, and was picked up for stateside release by Sundance Selects. "It's a two-hander adapted from a well-reviewed but unusual Broadway stage play that played all over the world," says Greenberg during a phone interview. "It's kind of kinky, a mysterious sexy story about a director casting a play that's based on the work of the author who coined the phrase 'masochism.'" 

Also appearing at the festival was James Toback's upcoming documentary "Seduced and Abandoned," featuring a Polanski interview, as well as his vintage 1971 race car documentary "Weekend of a Champion," which his buddy Bret Rattner has acquired for Netflix release. (Polanski cameoed as a French police official in "Rush Hour 3.)" Here's Polanski's Skype interview at a recent San Francisco screening.

Greenberg first met met Polanski over 20 years ago on a cruise ship going from Venice to Athens. The director was shooting exteriors on "Bitter Moon," and invited a handful journalists and some friends to go along for a week to fill out the depressingly skimpy cast and crew, says Greenberg. "It was November in the Mediterranean, the weather was terrible and the food even worse," he recalls, "but it was an incredible experience to watch this little dynamo running around the boat having his hand in everything. Of all the sets I've been on, I've never seen a director who has the full equation of filming in his head. If a wire broke on the camera, he'd fix it. If a light was off, if a tie was not correct, the glasses on the table, he'd go fix it. Everything was very precise. He knew the technical answer as well as the aesthetic. He was quite remarkable, and had boundless energy." 

He looks more or less the same today, says Greenberg, "a wonder of science, and genetics." The writer was in Paris a year ago to interview Polanski for four days: "I hadn't seen him for about four or five years. He looked the same, trim and fit, a full head of tousled hair, the same boyish enthusiasm. There's something youthful about him in his being."

I once interviewed the director in Cannes in 1994 for "Death and the Maiden," riding with him in a festival car down the Croisette from the Majestic to the Carlton, and found him charming--but intimidating. He was in great spirits when I talked to him on the phone after he won the best director Oscar for "The Pianist." But I watched Polanski walk out on a huge press conference packed with world-class directors who had participated in an omnibus Cannes film, annoyed by an interviewer's question. Of course he grabbed all the attention that way; and he also doesn't suffer fools. 

This article is related to: Roman Polanski, Books, Critics, Seduced and Abandoned, Interviews, Interviews , Interviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.