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What? (Diary of Forbidden Dreams)

Movie Information

In Brief: Roman Polanski's little-seen — and much maligned — 1972 film What? is undeniably one of the director's strangest works. In essence, it's a variation on Alice in Wonderland — except played out in surrealistic terms as a sex comedy. It's no wonder that no one seemed to know what to do with it or how to market it, but for all that the film has a screwy appeal — and it contains moments of incredibly fragile delicacy amidst the madness.
Score:

Genre: Surreal Sex Comedy
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Sydne Rome, Hugh Griffith, Roman Polanski
Rated: R

World Cinema continues revisiting some of their previous presentations with Roman Polanski’s rarely shown What? — a film that frankly ought to be better known than it is. From my original review I write: “What? might almost be called The Missing Roman Polanski Film. It was made between Macbeth (1971) and Chinatown (1974) and was scarcely released in the U.S., though it received a spotty release in the late ‘70s in an attempt to cash in on the notoriety of Polanski fleeing the country. At that time it was recut and retitled Diary of Forbidden Dreams and marketed as ‘the erotic fantasies of the world’s most notorious filmmaker.’ Although the film could be classed as a sex comedy and is a very sexual film, I find it hard to believe that What? represents Polanski’s erotic fantasies — or those of anyone else. All the sex in the film (and there’s a good bit of it) is either playful or downright silly, and any eroticism is simply from the film’s plentiful nudity. Of course, if the idea of Marcello Mastroianni in a moth-eaten tiger skin (apparently from a geographically-challenged animal he claims to have shot in Africa) being whipped by Sydney Rome — or Mastroianni in an Italian police uniform spanking a handcuffed Ms. Rome with a switch — turns you on, then that’s another matter. That does, however, give some slight idea of this exceedingly strange and oddly fragile absurdist reworking of Alice in Wonderland.” 

Full review: http://avl.mx/mz

Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present What? Friday, Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District, upstairs in the Railroad Library).  Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

3 thoughts on “What? (Diary of Forbidden Dreams)

  1. Ken Hanke

    Mine is an older (anamorphic at least) DVD. I think it’s Region 0. It was put out by some place called Alfa Digital.

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