Exactly fifty years ago, a young director named Roman Polanski made his first completed film - a two-minute student exercise which he called Murder. In the half-century since, Polanski has become an iconic figure, widely admired for his mordant, sexually charged films and yet derided as - in his own words - 'an evil, profligate dwarf'. In January 1978, facing a possible fifty-year sentence for 'unlawful sexual intercourse' with a 13-year-old girl, Polanski fled the United States and flew to France, where he was a naturalized citizen. Thirty years later, he remains in exile: the much revered eminence grise of filmmakers and a criminal fugitive who complains of harrassement by the US authorities. Others have told pieces of this story, but Christopher Sandford brings it all together in one lucid, gripping account, beginning with Polanski's horrific experience in the Holocaust and ending with his current life in Paris, where he provides a 'living symbol of Franco-American misunderstanding.'
The book draws on dozens of interviews with actors, writers and other Polanski collaborators, previously sealed transcripts of his criminal hearings, testimony before the California grand jury and the graphic evidence of former lovers and friends. There is a wealth of unpublished material, too, on what Polanski has called the 'central tragedy' of his life - the brutal murder of his wife Sharon Tate and others by members of the so-called Manson Family - an event which, for sheer savagery, rivals anything in modern criminal history. Amidst the personal tragedy, the focus is also on the professional triumph. Polanski's films are seen here anew, with behind-the-scenes stories on everything from 1962's Knife in the Water to 2005's Oliver Twist. We follow the director through the backstage feuds of Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown, his unflinching version of Macbeth, described by one critic as a 'film exorcism' in the wake of the Manson murders, and his Holocaust masterpiece The Pianist, which won Polanski his first and only Oscar.
The generally downbeat themes - betrayal, corruption, satanic worship - are vintage Polanski, but there is also a lighter, knockabout side: this is the man who gave us The Fearless Vampire Killers or Pardon Me but Your Teeth Are in My Neck. Fascinating, flawed, wildly creative, the 'world's most notorious artist' is seen here in full.
Christopher Sandford has reviewed and written about film and music for over twenty years. A regular contributor to titles on both sides of the Atlantic, himself profiled in Rolling Stone magazine, he's published acclaimed biographies of Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Keith Richards, Paul McCartney and Steve McQueen. His bestselling life of Kurt Cobain is currently in development as a feature film. A dual national, Christopher Sandford divides his time between Seattle, Surrey and Lord's cricket ground. He's married, with one son.