My love for Rosemary’s Baby is a paradox I navigate deftly, considering how much I loathe both Mia Farrow and Roman Polanski as human beings. With Polanski, my complaints are predictable, but Farrow is a far less frequent object of scorn, so I’ll just say I find her support of Polanski hypocritical, her kid-collecting a tad excessive, and her acting often cloyingly twee. I’ve long suspected the canned ingenue thing is really just an extension of her own affected persona; the woman makes Godard’s female characters look like Sarah Conner. Still, I’d argue that Mia Farrow’s simpering sweetness and Roman Polanski’s predatory instincts are exactly what make Rosemary’s Baby work so well—who better to paint a nightmarish situation in which women are repeatedly victimized and never believed? The 1968 mini-documentary on the making of that masterpiece—Mia and Roman-pretty much confirms my instinctual distaste for both of them.
Polanski’s pretentious and macho, driving race cars and callously expounding on how Farrow was not his first choice for the lead—“I saw a more healthier, more stronger maybe a little more sexy girl in the beginning.” Farrow—just back from the infamous trip to India where she meditated with The Beatles—fawns breathily and paints her trailer with flower-power schmaltz. Even Polanski admits there is something contrived about her public face. Perhaps portending of her future child menagerie, Mia goes on about her extensive pet collection.
I think the worst part is the charts they both make—Mia for the crew, and Roman for Mia—that attempt to measure the “good behavior” of their subjects. I’m not sure exactly what made Mia Farrow think this was cute and not crazy diva bullshit (Obliviousness? Did she think her unintimidating haircut inoculated her from accusations of prima donna eccentricity?) and Polanski’s elaborate revision of her original design has the additional feel of a creepy paternalism. I cannot imagine working with two such insufferable people. I checked though—Rosemary’s Baby? Still an amazing movie.
There’s no denying that Rosemary’s Baby is one of the scariest and creepiest movies ever made. The first time I saw it, I was up “late” with my mother, who was waiting for my father to come home from a night shift, and it was on TV. I don’t know how old I was—young—but even if I didn’t exactly get what was going on, I certainly got the gist of it and that was enough for it to be, well, fucking frightening.
The whole friendly old people and Satan routine was a new one in screen horror and when you throw in those primordial maternal fears of a pregnant woman, holy shit is that film intense. Rosemary’s Baby is an evergreen movie masterpiece. It’s a film for the ages and will still be watched as long as the human race exists. It’s a perfectly cut cinematic diamond.
This fascinating time capsule piece “Mia and Roman” was made soon after the film had wrapped production—this isn’t a made for DVD extra produced decades later—and features tons of behind-the-scenes footage. Polanski discusses how supreme attention to the smallest details are of paramount importance to him as a director and describes how he likes to watch the actors block out their scenes without any suggestions from him before he decides where to place his camera.
We also see Polanski driving race cars and fencing. Farrow lists all of the animals she has in her menagerie and spouts some “love and peace” stuff that she’d learned hanging out at the ashram with the Maharishi and the Beatles. Farrow says that she and Polanski just “groove together” and he (very sincerely) praises he professionalism as an actress to the hilt.
Krzysztof Komeda’s haunting score for the film is used throughout. Komeda would die from a head injury not long after completing work on Rosemary’s Baby.
Save for the Kennedy assassination, coincidence has perhaps never coagulated with the same deeply improbable intensity as it did around the Manson killings.
Stranger still is the manner in which coincidence seems to knit the Tate/LaBianca murders together with both Rosemary’s Baby (a great film) and “the White Album” (a great record), as if all three were somehow of a piece—and in a sense that goes beyond the former’s being directed by Polanski, or the latter’s inspiring Manson’s derided “Helter Skelter” scenario.
Take, as a mere appetizer, the possibility that the Beatles may have stayed (and dropped acid) at 10050 Cielo Drive in the mid-sixties, something (apparently unwittingly) implied by John Lennon during a 1974 Rolling Stone interview.
And then, well, we just decided to take LSD again in California…We were on tour, in one of those houses, like Doris Day’s house or wherever it was we used to stay. And the three of us took it. Ringo, George and I… And a couple of the Byrds… Crosby and the other guy, who used to be the leader… McGuinn. I think they came round, I’m not sure, on a few trips.
Terry Melcher, of course, was Doris Day’s son, the Byrds’ producer, Manson’s almost-producer, and Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski’s predecessor at 10050 Cielo Drive.
In normal circumstances, Mother Superior could very well be accused of having jumped the gun were we to therefore conclude that the Beatles probably had sat turning their minds inside-out within the very walls that would—a few years later—have their as-yet unwritten song-titles scrawled upon them in blood (as if the killers were tracing indentations made by psychic shrapnel). Circumstances, however, are anything but normal…
In the spring of 1968—a handful of years after those mooted sojourns at Cielo Drive—the Beatles made their pilgrimage to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Valley of the Saints in Rishikesh, part of a sparkling celebrity coterie that included Mia Farrow and Mike Love. For the next couple of months, the days were mostly spent in epic bouts of Transcendental Meditation, as the Maharishi attempted to guide the most famous men in the world—who he himself described as “angels”—towards “total consciousness.” The Beatles, though, would spend much of their spare time writing songs – particularly Lennon, who found they were veritably “pouring out.”
Many of these new tunes would find their way onto the Beatles’ next LP, “the White Album.” One such was Lennon’s “Dear Prudence,” which playfully chided Prudence Farrow, Mia Farrow’s sister, for excessive metaphysical studiousness.
Mia Farrow herself had only recently completed filming Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. Her exquisite performance as Rosemary—a resident of New York’s Dakota building, impregnated with an anti-Christ by a coven of neighboring witches—surely meant she arrived in the Valley of the Saints carrying some very interesting inner baggage. Certainly her stay would leave its mark on history—most chroniclers ascribing some rumored sexual impropriety (or worse) on the part of the Maharishi towards Farrow as being the principal reason for Lennon and Harrison’s (the last remaining Beatles) acrimonious departure that August.
Lennon later claimed that, while packing his bags, he came up with the rudiments of another tune destined for “the White Album,” “Sexy Sadie,” four syllables that supplanted the original—and extremely libelous—“Maharishi.” The same four syllables would also find themselves supplanting the name of Manson Family Tate/LaBianca murderess Susan Atkins—known in the Family as “Sadie Mae Glutz” prior to Manson’s fateful encounter with “the White Album.” Before falling in with Manson, Atkins was an associate of Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan. LaVey is said to have served as an unaccredited technical adviser on Rosemary’s Baby.
Incidentally, Lennon and Harrison’s jaded view of the Maharishi was such that, when their protracted flight from Rishikesh was impeded by a series of disruptions—they were abandoned in a broken-down taxi, and Harrison soon thought he was coming down with dysentery— our ruffled angels feared they had been cursed by their unceremoniously discharged guru. (Echoes, here, of Bobby Beausoleil’s attempted escape from Kenneth Anger, legendarily curtailed by Anger’s magickal locket.)
Around the very time the Beatles were arriving in Rishikesh, meanwhile, Mike Love’s cousin and fellow Beach Boy Dennis Wilson would reportedly pick up hitchhikers (and Manson Family members) Patricia Krenwinkel and Ella Jo Bailey in Malibu.
Whether or not this actually happened (Charles Manson, for one, would later contradict this account, saying he first met Wilson at the house of a mutual friend’s) Wilson would definitely spend the following months as a sponsor and de facto member of the Family—footing the bill for their VD treatments (and much more besides), introducing Manson to industry figures like Neil Young and Terry Melcher, and so on.
Although Death Valley—in apparent contradistinction to the Valley of the Saints—sounded like an overtly hedonistic and nihilistic environment, Manson arguably presided over a commune no less spiritually preoccupied than the Maharishi’s, and Mike Love and Dennis Wilson seemed similarly as well as simultaneously attracted to their Ying/Yang gurus. But it appears positively miraculous that Wilson would be fraternizing with Manson while his cousin, on the other side of the world, would be fraternizing with the Beatles at the very time the songs were “pouring out” for “the White Album,” some of which would find themselves daubed on the walls at Cielo Drive in Sharon Tate’s blood, and two of which concerned Prudence and Mia Farrow, the latter having only just starred in a role once earmarked for Tate herself…
And that, as aficionados know only too well, ain’t even the half of it. (A little more to come from me on the topic though, shortly.)
After making one remarkable self-titled psych-pop album in the ‘60s that’s been a collector’s staple for years, Jamme are one of those bands that somehow slipped through the net. Their debut has just been reissued for the first time, 40 years later (via Now Sounds), and has a fantastic story attached to it.
In 1968, Jamme—a four-piece made up of two Brits and two Americans—were just another young group of musicians trying to make it on the Sunset Strip when they were handed the opportunity of a lifetime after John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas offered to produce an album for them, thinking he had found the new Beatles.
So far, so good. However, not everything went quite to plan. The band came into Phillips’ life in the summer of 1968, just as the Mamas and the Papas were breaking up, his marriage to Michelle Phillips was on the rocks and he was having an affair with Mia Farrow (right under the nose of Frank Sinatra!).
All of that contributed to a rather bizarre recording experience, all of which took place in the studio Phillips had installed in the roof of his Bel Air mansion—the same studio Sly Stone later used to make “There’s A Riot Goin’ On”—the entrance to which, incidentally, was hidden (James Bond-style) behind a secret panel on the first floor of the house.
The whole amazing story of the Jamme is detailed in the pretty lengthy liner notes that come with the reissue. For now, listen to their groovy signature tune, “Strawberry Jam Man”, which sounds it like it should be the theme to some whacked-out Saturday morning kids TV show, and enjoy this little nugget from the notes:
One night, Michelle Phillips, Mia Farrow and Jamme drummer Terry Rae all dropped acid together in the lounge below the studio, while John was upstairs leading a session with the band. When the panel that lead out to the main house was closed, the room was cast into pitch blackness. They all laid underneath a table with their heads pressed together, legs sticking out like the spokes of a wheel, all giggly and loose.
“Wouldn’t it be great to go to France,” squealed Mia. “Just jump on a plane right now and go.”
“Let’s go to France, then,” added Michelle. “Let’s just go!”
Rae’s 18-year old acid-fried mind was having trouble taking all this in. He was sitting under a table in the dark with Michelle Phillips and Mia Farrow as they were discussing taking him with them halfway across the world on a Lear jet. When the talk turned to more intimate matters, Rae began to get feel uncomfortable.
“What would the sleeping arrangements be,” Mia asked out loud.
“What if John was here? You wouldn’t be talking like this,” Rae stammered.
But no sooner had he said it then the panel opened up, the room was flooded with bright white light and John Phillips’ voice boomed out: “I am here.”
He had been there all along, standing silently at the bottom of the stairs that led up to the studio, listening to every word. Rae was mortified. “Being on acid, it blew the whole thing up in my mind. I was just totally blown away that he might have thought I was doing anything. But he took the opinion that I was a threat and had all the intentions of going to France with them to get laid. It was just a crazy fantasy. A joke, basically. We were having fun. But it turned out to be my demise.”
Shortly afterwards, John pushed the other members of the Jamme into firing Rae. As he was not only acting as their producer but also bankrolling the sessions, they had little choice but to comply.
“Funny enough,” Rae reflects, “both Mia and Michelle were in love with John. There were obviously problems with Michelle, but I don’t think she would have ever frivolously just gone off with some guy to get laid.”
A month after he was fired from the band, Rae was bemused to get a call from Mia Farrow. She invited him to the house on Copa De Oro Road that afternoon on the pretext of showing him some candid photographs of her with the Beatles in India.
“Nobody had photos, you know, actual 4x4 photos of the Beatles. You never saw stuff like that,” he says, even while acknowledging that he again found the situation alone with Mia Farrow in Frank Sinatra’s house“really weird”.
After a fashion, Mia sighed. “I have a problem,” she said, gingerly. “My best friend is Michelle, but I’m in love with John. What should I do?”
“Stick with Michelle and don’t mess with John,” Rae offered, his advice colored by his own recent experience at the hands of John Phillips.