On August 9, 1969 Sharon Tate died. 46 years on, she remains a fascinating woman. Incredibly beautiful yet insecure she left a mark on Hollywood with her brutal murder. But she is about more than the day she died. She had a beautiful, gentle soul that can still be felt in her few films. This post is to celebrate her short yet vibrant life.
Sharon is too nice. She doesn’t believe in her beauty. Once when I was very poor in Poland, I had got some beautiful shoes, and I immediately became ashamed of them. All my friends had plain, ordinary shoes, and I was embarrassed to walk in front of them. That’s how Sharon feels about her beauty. She’s as embarrassed by it.
— Roman Polanski
She was kindness itself to everybody and everything around her — people, animals, everything. She just didn’t have a bad bone in her body. She was a unique person. It’s difficult to describe her character. She was just utterly good, the kindest human being I’ve ever met, with an extreme patience. To live with me was proof of her patience, because to be near me must be an ordeal. She never had a bad temper, she was never moody. She enjoyed being a wife. The press and the public knew of her physical beauty, but she also had a beautiful soul, and this is something that only her friends knew about.
— Roman Polanski
All of you know how beautiful she was, but few of you know how good she was.
Many people may not realize it, but Roman Polanski has a great sense of humor. Often times dark, yet hilarious. This is best show cased in his comedy The Fearless Vampire Killers (also known as Dance of the Vampires) in which Polanski directs, writes, and also stars. The film is a parody of Christopher Lee’s Hammer horror Dracula films.
Sharon Tate is Sara Shagal, the girl that Alfred (played by Polanski) must save from the Dracula-esque vampire villain. The film is great because it is genuinely funny, even more so since I’ve seen some of the films it parodies. Polanski is a talented actor who does surprisingly well with some of the more slap stick humor. The other memorable thing about the movie is the audience can see Polanski and Tate fall in love on screen as they did in real life.
Sharon is my favorite part of the film. Her beauty is captivating. She’s funny and plays the part of the innocent girl very well. Maybe part of my love of her in this movie is just from nostalgia. But she did possess some powerful charisma.
The following scene is my favorite in the whole film. It’s the one scene in the film that is horrifying as opposed to funny. You can see the master of suspense and horror at work as Sara is kidnapped by the vampire. I love the music, the tight shots, Sharon in the bathtub. To me there’s nothing more captivating as her gaze as she slowly looks up at the skylight. The struggle with the vampire that ensues is dramatic in the best sense possible, it always has me on the edge of my seat.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy is one of my favorite novels. It’s the story of a young peasant girl, Tess, and the event that changes the course of her life. Tess struggles to make her own way in the world, but is oppressed time and again by the Victorian society she lives in. It’s an incredibly beautiful novel that captures the beauty of one woman’s soul in the midst of terrible circumstances. It’s a hefty, dense novel that in incapable hands could easily become another boring historical period piece. But Roman Polanski is more than capable. He manages to create a film that is both faithful to the novel, but also improves upon it. Tess is an amazing feat and one of Polanski’s best.
When I first sat down to watch Tess I was very intimidated by its running time. It’s nearly three hours and I anticipated getting bored about half way through. But was I ever wrong. This film is engrossing in a way that few films are these days. Other directors (ahem, Christopher Nolan and Peter Jackson) could learn quite a bit from this film. There are no action sequences or special effects, but still this film flies by. It was so enjoyable, it felt nowhere near three hours long.
Tess is about so many things, but what stands out to me is the impact coincidences have on one person’s life and the power one event has to change everything. At the beginning of the film, Tess’s father is told that his family (the Durbeyfields) are descendants of the great d’Urberville’s. Tess’s family is very poor, but this bit of information gives her parents hope. They beg Tess to go claim kin with the d’Urbervilles and hopefully bring home some money as well. This sets the whole narrative in motion. Tess does not want to go, but her family’s extreme poverty forces her to.
Nastassja Kinski plays the role of Tess quite well, especially since it was her first English film. She seems a little reluctant on screen, probably due to the fact that she had only very recently learned to speak English just prior to shooting. But somehow this weakness actually becomes an advantage. Tess is shy, quiet, and mysterious. But when she has to be, she is very firm and willful. Kinski’s has quite a few powerful scenes, but my favorite is her conversation with the vicar after her baby has died. She is eerily calm as she describes how she herself baptized her child. Then in a flash she becomes angry when the vicar refuses to bury the baby. The pain Tess feels is undeniable and the credit goes to Kinski’s performance.
Leigh Lawson (Alec d’Urberville) and Peter Firth (Angel Clare) are good actors as well. But my praise goes mainly to Leigh Lawson. He takes a character that should be extremely unlikeable (he rapes Tess after all) and somehow makes him almost sympathetic. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actor do that before. Alec takes advantage of Tess, yet he is charming and always there for her when she is in need. Leigh is simply amazing. He walks such a fine line so incredibly well. Peter Firth on the other hand is quite good, but I hate his character, Angel Clare. Peter plays him well, but he can’t compete with Leigh. One of my only problems with the film (and also the book) is that Tess is apparently so in love with Angel. He abandons her and mentally treats her so cruelly that to me it surpasses anything Alec did to her physically. Yet in the end Tess still loves Angel. It would have been more understandable with a more charismatic actor.
One of my favorite scenes in Tess is a short, but powerful one. Tess is in the garden with Alec d’Urberville (Leigh Lawson) when he offers to feed her a strawberry. “No,” Tess declares, “I would rather take is with my own hand.” But Alec insists. The scene speaks volumes about the relationship between Tess and Alec and also brilliantly foreshadows what is to come. The way the scene is framed is wonderful (the cinematography throughout the film is brilliant). And the look in Tess’s eyes seems shy, reserved, but also curious.
This film is visually a very beautiful film to watch. Between Kinski’s mesmerizingly beautiful face and the pastoral backgrounds (France masquerading as England) I could watch the film with the sound off and still be entertained. I’ve never seen a film that shows the changing of the seasons so well and without any special effects. The costumes are great as well, I particularly like Tess’s final outfit, the red dress (the woman always has to wear red :P).
Tess is a wonderful film, I would even go so far as to say it’s a masterpiece. But maybe I’m just a sucker for this kind of story from my favorite director. I’m lucky enough to have the Criterion edition of the DVD which I would recommend to anyone wanting to buy it. The film looks beautiful and there are plenty of interesting extras. Tess perfectly captures the novel it is based on. I don’t believe there could ever be a better adaptation than this. 9.5/10
I couldn’t find a good trailer, so here’s a scene from the film: