Posters Thoughts

Polanski Poster Irony

Is there an ironic subtext to the posters of Roman Polanski’s movies?

Roman Polanski posters

The Roman Polanski arrest story still seems set to run and run (most likely until he gets deported to California) with Hollywood luminaries calling for his release, whilst others (i.e. those who have read the disturbing 1977 testimony of the girl he had illegal sex with) denounce him in the comment sections of websites all over the Internet.

The whole story reads like a Philip Roth novel on steroids, but some Polanski movie posters highlighted on The Auteurs made me wonder if there was some kind of cosmic subtext to his career.

In the the 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, the prosecutor Roger Gunson commented on the recurring themes of the director’s work:

“Every Roman Polanski movie has the theme [of] corruption meeting innocence over water”

The infamous events of March 1977 could be interpreted in these terms: Polanski (corruption) met Samantha Geimer (innocence) over water (Jack Nicholson’s jacuzzi).

But do the posters of his films shed any light on the unfolding drama?

Some of them are ironic, to say the least.

Repulsion (1965) had one poster with two hands touching a woman’s body:

Repulsion UK poster

Another had the tagline:

“The nightmare world of a Virgin’s dreams becomes the screen’s shocking reality!”


The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) has the image of a vampire about to sink his fangs into a half naked woman in water and, for good measure, carries the warning:

“Not suitable for children”

The Fearless Vampire Killers

What? (1972) had a poster which is almost certain to give any card-carrying feminists pause for thought – a buxom woman is pictured bending over the top of the grinning mouth of a man.

What poster

The Tenant (1975) has the eerily prescient words:

‘No-one does it to you like Roman Polanski’

The Tenant

If only Samantha Geimer’s mother had taken this statement literally.

Tess (1979), his adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel, has the lengthy tagline:

“She was born into a world where they called it seduction, not rape”

Tess poster

There is also the curious line:

“She was Tess, a victim of her own provocative beauty”

Was Columbia’s marketing department trying imply something with Polanski’s first film in ‘exile’?

Frantic (1988) has the simple three word tag line:

“Danger. Desire. Desperation”

This is about as succinct a description of the thirty-two year old affair that I can think of.

Frantic poster

Bitter Moon (1992) has the provocative thud of a Carry On movie:

“A kinky voyage with a head full of steam”

Bitter Moon

Death and the Maiden (1994) has the rather poetic:

“Tonight, mercy will be buried with the past”

Perhaps reflective of the anti-Polanski brigade who want to see him brought to justice?

Death and the Maiden

The Ninth Gate (1999) has the marvellously concise statement:

“Leave the unknown alone”

The Ninth Gate

But perhaps the most fitting poster of all is for Marina Zenovich’s 2008 documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired:

“The truth couldn’t fit the headlines”

Roman Polanski - Wanted and Desired

It was presumably intended as a comment on how the back room legal shenanigans were obscured by the initial media representation.

But given the ongoing twists and turns of the case that led to HBO editing the documentary before it aired last year and the startling admission by a key interviewee that he lied in the film, it seems a more pertinent statement on how the story continues to confound, repulse and fascinate those who try to explain it.

One reply on “Polanski Poster Irony”

Creepy. To be fair though, you could probably pick the taglines from any thriller director’s back catalogue and have them fit Polanski’s nasty past. Although the Tess tagline is particularly pertinent. And The Tenant actually. Ugh. Creepy.

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