Tag Archives: Roman Polanski

Book Review–“Restless Souls”, by Alisa Statman and Brie Tate

14 May

“Your girlfriend’s dead.”

That’s what Randy’s Mom announced to us on August 10, 1969 –with an odd smile, yet.  It was about 11:00 a.m., a Saturday morning, and I was hanging out in Randy’s bedroom listening to his latest LPs (probably something by Joan Baez or Diana Ross).  I had just graduated from High School and Randy was already in college.  We had been best friends since 1967, and it was the kind of friendship where we completed each other’s sentences and never had a disagreement of any kind because our interests and souls were so in tune.  Mainly, we were interested in movies, not only in the current releases but in the stars and the industry that made them.            A new exciting crop of stars was rising, too, celebrities who seemed much more hip and in tune with the sixties – stars like Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow – and we were fascinated by them.  Directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese were just beginning their careers and even then were remaking “the movies” as we knew them.  It was all so incredibly exciting.  In particular there were Roman Polanski and his amazingly beautiful wife, Sharon Tate.

Randy and I followed their lives intensely.  He was such a film genius, and, for me, she was the only woman who could equal Elizabeth Taylor in beauty.  We became so immersed in their glamor and bits of gossip that this was why, on August 10, 1969, Randy’s mother came to announce her terrible message.

We were in total shock, and instantly turned on the television.  News reports only said that something had happened in the Benedict Canyon area of the Hollywood Hills, and that five people were dead.  We immediately thought that it could only have occurred because of a gas leak or a landslide…maybe a fire.

But then the details of the Manson Family’s butchery came out.  There were three horrible events that had occurred in rapid succession that turned me into an adult, i.e. they had stripped away the myths I was currently telling myself – how a second brother in the Kennedy family could be assassinated; that a school mate from my high school could be killed in Viet Nam just weeks after we had graduated, and that a pregnant woman, a movie star, could be stabbed to death in her own living room.  Somehow, I truly believed that pregnant women had special guardian angels, that no one could ever be so perverted as to kill a woman who was within two weeks of giving birth.

I grew up fast that summer.  So did Randy.

All of these scenes have been going through my head, replayed over and over, as I read Restless Souls”, a compendium of unfinished biographies written by Doris Tate, Sharon’s lioness of a mother, Paul Tate, the steely army intelligence colonel (who was just a trifle bit weird), and Pattie Tate, the little sister who was only twelve when Sharon was murdered.  Apparently the Tates were compelled to write their own stories so that other victim’s families might take heart from their courage, or to simply correct the record.  For it turns out that there was another phantom victim in all the tragedy, and that was Sharon’s own reputation.  She had participated in Black Masses and orgies, and downed immense quantities of drugs, or so screamed the headlines.  The Polanski’s were little better than wealthy hippies, it was said, who let anyone into their home at any hour, just so they could partake in sex games devised by the diminutive Polanski, the maker of weird horror films, and his depraved wife.  Somehow Sharon Tate had to be blamed for her own murder.  As always, there was something very comforting in conspiracy theories; that somehow the victims had brought their own demise on themselves.

Until now, none of the Tate family’s stories ever saw the light of day; they had been laid aside, probably too painful to finish.  Instead they have been compiled – not too cleanly – into one volume, juxtaposed and heavily edited, by writer Alysa Statman and Patti Tate’s daughter, Brie.  The result is mesmerizing, if not literary.

Like a rock thrown into a pond, making waves that keep on going and going, washing over distant parts of the pond far removed from the initial turbulence, the crime at Cielo Drive had horrible consequences for everyone concerned.  For three years Doris told herself that Sharon was merely away making a movie in Europe.  Paul Tate went underground in an ineffective search for Sharon’s killers, then became a recluse that haunted his own family.  Patti Tate grew into a scared and shivering adult, convinced that the remnants of the Manson family were out to kill her, too.  (Breast cancer killed her instead – another tragedy for that unfortunate family.)

From August 10th until their deaths many years later, Sharon’s murder continued to haunt, bedevil and ruin her family’s peace.  Doris ultimately fought back by founding several Victims Family Rights groups, becoming the fierce advocate of her dead daughter, and ensuring that the beasts who had murdered her stayed in prison.  “That old bitch” is what the Manson followers called her, and the sobriquet became the greatest joy of her life.  But for all of that you can’t forget her anguished cry at Sharon’s coffin – “This can’t be the end!”

There is not much comfort in this book.  You do get glimpses, however, that in her mere 26 years of life Sharon had packed a lot of living into it.  She was destined for major stardom, yet seemed coolly detached from the entertainment business, far more interested in being a wife and mother.  Polanski, whose own mother had been murdered in a concentration camp, had just come around to believing enough in the goodness of life to finally have the courage to welcome a child into the world.  And then August 9th happened.  He would go on to continuously voice the belief that had he been there that night (he was in London) he could have somehow averted the cataclysm.

The book leaves you with the question about who is luckier – the slain victim or the loved ones who lived on with such gruesome images playing in their head?  Instead of “Restless Souls” the book could just as easily have been called “Blighted Lives.”

Do I recommend this book?  Yes.  Did I like it?  Find it well-written?  Not particularly.  But it was indeed fascinating, even though I found myself unable to read it for long stretches of time.

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Excuse Me, Are Those Your Fangs In My Neck? Part One of Two Parts

2 Apr

I don’t know when I first became enamored of vampires.  I read “Dracula” when I was very young, and though it didn’t terrify me, it nevertheless made quite a creepy impression.  I remember how Dracula is first introduced as a decrepit old man who then grows progressively younger and more vigorous during the course of the book, as the blood of his victims begins to rejuvenate him.  The most vivid impression that remains was of the Count slithering up the side of the castle like a reptile.  There was a mixture of the effete and the bestial in Stoker’s vampire, which is still a horrifying alchemy.  When would this tuxedoed gentleman inevitably bring his darker nature to the fore?  After all, we were simply meals to him.  This touch of cannibalism also brought with it a further creepy factor, that of ending one’s days in the jaws of a feral beast.  But not just any beast, but one that disguised its terrible predatory habits by simply resembling us.

I had seen the 1931 “Dracula”, of course, the one starring Bela Lugosi, when I was very young.  In 1950s Southern California, we had the Million Dollar Movie on Channel 9, which showed the same film over and over again for five nights a week, and consequently I saw “Dracula” probably every day of that week.  (This was well before videotapes and DVDs – we never knew when we would ever see these films again and had to store up the experiences.) Lugosi, with his middle European accent and fluid, balletic gestures seemed the quintessential blood-sucking nobleman of my youth.

Then in 1967 I saw Roman Polanski’s “The Fearless Vampire Killers”.  My best friend Randy and I were diehard film addicts and we had long heard of this mangled masterpiece by the Hungarian wunderkind.  It had been recut by MGM to feature its slapstick humor and general quirkiness, and a toning down of the violence had supposedly occurred.  (It a parody of all the Hammer epics starring Christopher Lee, you see.) What I did not expect was the full-blown horror that the film showed alongside the slapstick.  Polanski’s vampires were once again elegantly attired royalty inhabiting a seedy castle.  But when the blood lust came upon them they became animals, sporting huge jagged fangs that ripped into their victims’ throats with horrifying rapacity.  No delicate little puncture holes for our Roman Polanski; in fact, the man who designed the fangs was given a screen credit.  I remember being so terrified during the attack sequences that I had to go stand in the lobby.  I was in love with Sharon Tate back then, too, and “Valley of the Dolls” had been released earlier that year.  I remember saying to Randy that my one overwhelming memory of Tate would always be the moment when she turned into a vampire at the end of the film.  Alas, she was to be remembered for something far more dreadful.

My real conversion occurred when Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire” was published in 1976.  (I still have the first edition).  She literally redefined the genre.  It was the time of the disco sex revolution, and I was just old enough to participate in all of it, and somehow the goth-influencing Rice novel seemed a mirror of it all – the infernal highs of mind-bending drugs (which is how the vampires described their ingestion of blood) and the gender-bending concepts of love and devotion.  It was all very perverse and exceedingly glamorous.  Just like Louis and Lestat, we were all night time prowlers looking for sex in all the wrong places.  And we were all so deliciously bored, you see, by our perceived immortality and the constant parade of flesh that paraded through our lives with barely an acknowledgment.  (Except that our immortality lasted all of five or so years before the dying set in.)

I never got into the “Twilight” phenomenon.  I read the first book because I decided that I must know more about this craze if I were to be a knowledgeable writer.  But it just didn’t take.  Perhaps I was the wrong age, and/or the wrong sex.  I was much more a creature of the rampaging 70s than the timid 90s, and it all seemed so vapid.  Was I really supposed to believe that the first question that the 100 year old vampire Edward asks Bella is “What’s your favorite color?” Really?  That’s it?  I simply don’t buy it; I believe that any 100 year old creature would be so mentally advanced when compared to a 17 year old high school girl that I wonder if he could ever think of her as anything other than a comestible…?

Nevertheless, inspired by both the success of Twilight and Charlaine Harris’ wonderful “True Blood” series (which I am unashamedly addicted to), I have decided to take the plunge and write my own vampire saga, called “The Chronicles of the Sanguivorous”. You can buy it here for a mere 99 cents.

Sanguivorous means “blood eater” and I’ve taken the story all the way back in time to the very first mention of vampires in history…to the river plain of Mesopotamia, to Ur of the Chaldees.  Each book will begin in a new time, until by the seventh we arrive in the 21st Century.  They also give to mankind both the art of writing and…religion.

What do you think?  Should Anne Rice become one of the vampires in the last volume?  After all, my heroine starts off with the name Enna.  Could she be one and the same?

Sometimes I think it’s the only explanation.

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