BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE NINTH GATE (Roy)

By • Jul 18th, 2000 •

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Vinnie LoBrutto has reviewed The Ninth Gate for FIR, but I’d like to add my two or three cents. I never caught up with the film in a theater although I love Polanski and would catch anything he does theatrically regardless of reviews, hype, etc. I must have been overwhelmed with work the week it came and went, and then I resigned myself to catching it on DVD.

I found it equally balanced by positives and negatives. Loved the love of literature that drove the narrative, though how could Artisan have believed it would find an audience in the US, where literature has been abandoned to a great extent, and internet browsing has become the literature of choice. Still the textures of those old volumes were palpable. Only why, my partner Rocco pointed out, did everyone flip those three hundred year old pages so hard, and generally treat the volumes with frightening disregard for their rarity. I found it strange, too. I treat my laserdiscs better than that.

As with many devil plots, I found it odd that everything Johnny Depp’s character accomplished couldn’t have been accomplished earlier and easier by one of the other human characters in the film, or by the devil’s representative herself? Kind of blew the inner logic wide open, unless, as FIR columnist Victoria Alexander suggested, Depp was supposed to be the devil, or a devil’s messenger unbeknownst to himself, and Emmanuelle Seigner his familiar. But Polanski, in his commentary, says nothing to suggest that interpretation.

As for the ending, well…it sounds from the commentary that the book ended similarly, but as an audience member I felt betrayed. Sayles tried it a year or so ago with Limbo, ending the film with a question rather than a resolution, and some people at the screening liked it, but most, including me, didn’t. Here, I sat for two hours and thirteen minutes watching a low-key, carefully controlled horror-noir only to be set free prior to learning what it was all about…

The commentary track interested me. I once interviewed Polanski for ÔThe Perfect Vision’ magazine (but it went belly-up before the interview could be published). He’s a congenial person who wanted to talk about developments in film technology rather than about his own work. And I expected as much on the commentary, which is pretty much what I got. Not so much technical explanations as production details, and a lot of talk about the use of computer effects, the amount of which were spread throughout the film being staggering, though not glaring, as one would expect in a film about Lucifer.

Polanski seems tired on the track, but being the old pro, he knows how to pace himself. About an hour in he pauses to light a cigar. Then, at the 85 minute point, he says “Now that I’m through with the cigar, I must eat a piece of chocolate, to get some energy for the rest of this undertaking.” Which he does, though at the end he decides that neither the cigar nor the chocolate helped, and in fact may hampered his ability to speak.

Now when Rocco and I were writing Substitute 3 for Artisan, we got the distinct impression that our point man was fired because of the overages on The Ninth Gate, which he was supervising at the same time. Polanski expresses his gratitude to Artisan for leaving him alone creatively, and says that any quarrel we may have with the film should be addressed to him. So whatever the problems may have been with escalating costs, and whoever took the fall, the director was satisfied with the end result on a creative level.

Polanski’s favorite film influence: Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out (on DVD from Image Entertainment ). His favorite scene in The Ninth Gate – Depp and Seigner in his hotel room. His favorite shot in the film – Depp finding the crippled book collector dead, her wheelchair rolling into the wall over and over like a motorized toy car.

And over the end titles he first praises the voice of Sumi Jo, the Korean Soprano who gives us a Morricone feel as good as any the maestro ever provided. Then, always the technical perfectionist, Polanski concludes with his feeling on the evolution of the media: “There’s no better way of seeing the movie than in a theater, with an anonymous audience around you who participate in the experience. That’s cinema. That’s something that’s so deep in human nature that it may always exist, this gathering, starting in Greek theater, or Roman Circus, or medieval passions, or rock concerts. But next to it is watching the movie at home, and I’m so happy this DVD was invented. VHS is such poor quality: for me it was impossible to watch moves at home. I was only watching them on laser disc, and those were huge and heavy and clumsy, and did not have enough information on them. Now watching DVD is a real thrill.”

The DVD distributors should quote him.

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