WHAT? (1972)

PrintE-mail Written by John Knott

Roman Polanski has had an interesting yet tragic and controversial life. He’s also one of the great auteur directors. But between the highs of Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974), he actually didn’t do very much. Hardly surprising though. It was in 1969 that his wife Sharon Tate was shockingly murdered by Charles Manson and his “family”. We can only guess at his state of mind in that period, but whatever we might think, nothing can quite explain how or why he came up with What?

So what’s it about? It’s about two hours too long and its run-time only 114 minutes. Joking aside, it’s a “comedy” based on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and some people even like it.

Nancy (Sydne Rome) is an American hitchhiking across Europe. The movie starts with a “humorous” scene in which Nancy is sexually assaulted in the back of a car by three men. Yes, you read that right, it’s clearly played for laughs. She escapes in her ripped clothes to find a lift that takes her to a coastal villa full of whacky sexually-obsessed characters who end up stealing the rest of her clothes so she spends most of the rest of the movie without any. We think these characters are supposed to be based on those from Alice; the ping-pong playing Tweedledum and Tweedledee are obvious (yes, we know they’re from Through the Looking Glass) and we think Mosquito (Polanski himself) is supposed to be the Cheshire Cat, but to be honest, we can only guess at the rest. We’d tell you more about the plot but there isn’t really one to tell. It’s a series of episodes in which the near-naked Nancy goes along with a series of sexual humiliations and inexplicably falls in love with Alex (the completely wasted Marcello Mastroianni). About two-thirds of the way through Hugh Griffith turns up and the film gets a bit better for about two minutes because Hugh can deliver a line. Nancy’s leg has been painted blue (we have no idea why) and he says “I like that in a woman”. That’s the best moment of the movie. Other than that, this is a movie that makes British sex-comedies of the ‘70s look like high art. Although, if we’re going to be really fair, it’s better shot than a British ‘70s sex-comedy so at least there is a point to the High Definition. As far as we’re aware, Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1974) is yet to get the Blu-ray treatment.

This is Polanski’s least famous movie, but in a sense that’s quite surprising. Roger Ebert once said that a bad director can only make a film that’s so bad. But a great director will sooner or later get given the money to make a real stinker. Oddly enough, we believe he was actually talking about What? at the time. This one should be infamous.

And then he made Chinatown. Go figure.

Special Features: Featurette: Sydne In Wonderland - Interview With Star Sydne Rome / Featurette: Memories Of A Young Pianist - Interview With Composer Claudio Gizzi / Featurette: A Surreal Pop Movie - Interview With Cinematographer Marcello Gatti / Theatrical Trailer.

BLU-RAY REVIEW: WHAT? (1972) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: ROMAN POLANSKI / SCREENPLAY: ROMAN POLANSKI, GÉRARD BRACH / STARRING: MARCELLO MASTROIANNI, SYNDE ROME, HUGH GRIFFITH, ROMOLO VALLI, DIETER HALLERVORDEN, CARLO DELLE PIANE, ROMAN POLANSKI / RELEASED: JULY 4TH


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