Polanski in the water [Part 2]

In Gupter Puncher/Oli Johns on March 14, 2010 at 12:03 pm


[If you’re reading, Roman, look away again now as it’s part two of your mind. And we’re going back in time.]

The Making of ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’, 1967

The Professor was in the bed pretending to be asleep, that was set, and the girl was in the bath, naked, okay, and I was where I was supposed to be, and the assistant, what was his name?…he had the camera. Not that I could trust him completely, but he wasn’t incompetent, and he could follow orders, so everything was set. The keyhole was there, all I had to do was look through it. All he had to do was a mid-shot from the side. It wasn’t difficult.

We played the shot.

Behind the bathroom door, I could hear her singing. It wasn’t a bad voice, but she wasn’t trained, so it wasn’t great either.

Then she got louder.

What? I never told her to-…Jebana debilka…suki.

I got up off my knees and told the assistant to stop the camera.

Behind the door she was still singing, so I opened it and she looked at me like a startled rabbit.

I never told you to sing that loud,’ I said.

She put up her hands, revealing her breasts….but then realised it, and sank lower into the water.

I told you…softly, softly…’

Sorry, Roman, I didn’t-…’

Yes, yes, but don’t you get it? I told you. I instructed you and you didn’t follow. You see?’

Her eyes were incredible. Her hair was red as fire, as red as fox fur.

I thought maybe you wouldn’t be able to hear-…’

Oh, we heard…we fucking heard it…’ I swept my hand through the air and turned away in disgust. ‘Jebana debilka. Fucking…just do it as I say, okay?’

Okay, Roman.’ She rose a little higher, her breasts re-emerging like two-… ‘Softly.’

I closed the door and took a breath then knelt down beside the keyhole.

Again,’ I said.


We were all in the lodging house preparing the scene. The professor was in his pyjamas again, I was in mine. The funny guy playing the innkeeper was outside ready to climb the stairs, and the camera was out there too.

The assistant had it again, which was starting to irritate me a little. He was competent, yes, but he didn’t have what I had. He couldn’t do exactly what I wanted of him, and…perhaps I shouldn’t have put myself in this film? Maybe Wilder was right, it’s a fool who acts and holds the camera…

But there wasn’t anyone else. Who could play it the way I knew it had to be played? No one. And certainly not anyone cheap.

I told the assistant to start the camera thirty seconds ahead of the action.


We start thirty seconds ahead…’ I gestured motion with my hands. ‘Run into the film, not in line with it…you understand?’

The assistant nodded.

Jesus, he didn’t understand. He didn’t understand a fucking thing. Why was this so hard to get? Krosnoludek bezwartosciowewas I really that far ahead of him?

I got into bed next to the professor and gave him a few pointers. Go this way, do that, turn your head.

This was what it was, wasn’t it? Genius. The simplest thing in my mind and they couldn’t comprehend…they didn’t get it. They fought against it.

I turned on my side, hearing the funny guy climbing the stairs in the corridor outside.

Professor,’ I said, and shook him.

But why didn’t they get it? Where did it come from? I knew I thought differently to them…I knew I-…or was it…it was thinking, wasn’t it? They weren’t broad thinkers. I was. I thought more than them. I thought more openly…or I thought…I thought better than them?


Yes, I thought better than them. This fucking guy, this professor…he was the brain, I was the klutz, but really, I was the one who-…I was the genius.

The Professor pretended to wake up from his pretend sleep.

Booeerrhhhhhggghh,’ he grumbled.


We were all looking up at the open skylight.

The assistant was at the side filming us, but I could see out of the corner of my eye that the Professor wasn’t doing it right.


I put my hand in front of the camera and said ‘stop’ again, and then turned on the Professor.

Listen, you’re not doing it the right way…’


No, it’s too…’ I pushed upwards with my hands. ‘And I need it to be more…’ I pulled downwards. ‘You understand?’

The Professor shrugged, looked back up at the skylight, and doubled the size of his eyes in pretend terror.

That’s what you want,’ he said.

I looked at the pathetic old man in front of me. He was good once, but now he was old, and what the fuck was he doing? Four weeks in and no one could understand a word he was saying. And his face…did I really have the right guy? Was this some joke-double no one had told me about?

No, that’s not what I want.’


He did the same face again.



No, that’s really not-…’

Well use a sodding waxwork then.’

He walked out of the room, shouting back, ‘If anyone needs me, I’ll be liver deep in the nearest bottle of whisky.’

Wait, what are you-…’

He was gone. Pijak smutna.

The assistant was looking at me, still with my camera in his hand.

Give me that…’ I took the camera. ‘You’re holding it the wrong way…it’s like this…like this, see?’

I pointed the camera up at the skylight and gestured with my shoulder for him to come and see. But he didn’t come. She did. Moje nic piekne.

You’re very good at this,’ she said.

I’m trained to be good,’ I snapped back. ‘What are you doing here?’

She didn’t flinch. She hadn’t flinched since the bath scenes. Why not? I hadn’t been nice to her. I’d been worse. Did she want to fuck me, was that it?

I wanted to learn something.’

Yes, well…’ I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

She put her hand on my shoulder.

I’d like to watch you more, if you don’t mind, Roman?’

She did want to fuck me. Incredible. I’d pulled her in, this nic piekne, by treating her like dirt. Because she was dirt. She had a face, but she was still dirt. Dirt in the brain, compared to what I had. That was it, that was the balance. I was at the top of the scales and she was down at the bottom, begging to climb on. She was nothing without me. She would become nothing. Robotniekiem  Ładnienic piekne.

If there’s space, you can learn.’

Thank you, Roman. I really do appreciate it.’

Yes, yes…’

I would fuck her after this shot. No, I’d fuck her after the whole shoot. There was no need to endanger the film for some dirt idiot, some quick fuck. But she was pretty, very pretty. That’s why she was in the film. It wasn’t Ibsen or anything, it was comedy, and she was the pretty face. I knew that when I put her in. It’s not like she was especially talented. She was okay, she wasn’t awful. It wasn’t terrible when she spoke, she didn’t need many line readings. But she wasn’t me…she wasn’t at my level. She knew that and I knew that, that was the balance. She was nowhere near my level.

She leaned in close and looked through the eye of the camera, my camera, and I felt some of that red hair, that fox fur, brush against my cheek, and…God, moje suka piekne.


We were in the Italian Castle, the Count’s castle.

I’d found it with the location scout a few months before, and as soon as I saw it I knew it was the one. There was something different about it, something fresh. It didn’t have that Transylvanian aspect to it, it didn’t look terrifying. It just looked lonely.

The Professor was dancing around like a bat in front of the Count. I couldn’t remember the Count’s name, but he was doing a fairly capable job so far. Not the most terrifying vampire in the film world, but he was doing okay. And was he supposed to be terrifying? It was a comedy, with a little bit of drama, not terror.

But…what the fuck?

Something wrong was happening. That idiot drunk professor was dancing away from us and around the room and out of camera shot.

Where was he going?

Jesus, it was comedy, but it wasn’t meant to be this broad. What was he doing? Pijak smutna. He was ruining it, the vision…this scene, the Count…he’s supposed to reflect the castle, he’s supposed to be lonely, depressed…and us, we’re supposed to be funny scared, not funny-…not lunatics…Jesus, it was supposed to be a funny scared bat dance, not Buster fucking Keaton…what was this?

The Professor did his bat shapes up onto the grand table and towards the Count. He went right up to his face and bent down and said, ‘Gooby-da-doo, gooby-da-doo, gooby-da-boosh!’

Stop,’ I shouted.

The camera stopped, but the Professor didn’t.

Gooby-da-doo, gooby-da-doo, gooby-da-…’

Stop, damnit.’

He stopped and waved me away with his hand.

Nonsense,’ he said.

I climbed up onto the table and poked him in the chest. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Sharon. It wasn’t her scene, but she was there. She was always there now.

You’re over-acting, you fool…’

What rubbish…I’m acting over-acting, fool. Anyone can see that.’

I poked him again.

Funny-scared, I said…you are too far…you’re going much too far.’

I am too far? I am too far. Ha!’

He jumped off the table and told the Count to join him in the castle bar. The Count looked at me for instructions.

I shook my head at him.

Fine, I shall keep the drinks company all by myself.’

Come back here now and do your-…’

But he was gone.

I walked over to the Count and apologised, and he said it was fine, he’d seen worse, and I nodded and said, you probably will.

Then I walked to Sharon in the corner and put my head on her shoulder.

He’s an asshole, honey…’ she said.

Pijak smutna…’

‘…and a drunk. Seriously, he’s lucky to even be here…’

Krosnoludek bezwartosciowe…’

‘…I don’t know why he thinks he can get away with…with this, y’know?’


I pushed myself off her shoulder and looked level into her eyes. What was she saying?

He’s out of control, honey…’

And…what does this mean exactly?’


You think I cannot control him?’

Honey, no…’

This man, this drunk…you believe he has the best of me, don’t you?

What? No.’ She reached out, some of her red hair getting caught on her sleeve and reaching too. ‘Roman, I’m saying it’s him, it’s his fault, not you.’

I turned my back on her. This whore, nic piekne, this ‘would be nothing without me idiot’, without my hand guiding her…did she really think I couldn’t control him?

Roman, wait…’

I didn’t wait, I walked onwards, out of the room and away from all of them, up to one of the higher windows, up to higher ground.

I got to the window and stared down into the snow. I forgot about her face and her red hair and the whole film, and thought about my last film, and my future films, and how remarkable they’d be and how…and how they’d…how they’d…

Fuck her. Pijawka głupimrowka smutnafuck that stupid red haired whore if she didn’t think I was in control of this. I was. I would be. It was my movie not hers, not the drunk’s. Mine. My fucking baby. My fucking genius. She was a prop, a tool for me…like a trowel to dig the soil in my fucking garden…and I was the…the gardener…the God of the garden, and she was the trowel…the fucking red haired brainless little trowel…mrowka smutna


The drunk ran ahead of me, across the raised blocks on the castle roof.

The assistant was over on the other side, using the long lens to capture us. Not that he’d chosen his position. I had. It was me.

The drunk wobbled a bit on the third block and looked like he was going to fall. Fucking dramatist. Did he really believe I couldn’t follow that?

He straightened himself and made it onto block four and then block five and then onto the other roof.

I stepped across onto block one. I thought about wobbling, but didn’t. Not yet at least.

I went onto the second one and then the third, thinking it was weak to copy the same action on the same block, so I didn’t wobble, I kept on going to the fourth, and that’s when I did it.

As I purposefully jumped short and slipped down onto the edge of the block, I thought of how it would look on camera, and if we could use it, and, yes, of course we could use it, it was dramatic, it was dangerous up on the snowy roof.

My hands clung to the edge, the grip firm, but not indefinite. My legs dangled down into nothingness. Where was that fucking drunk?

He was stood still on the other side, muttering something I couldn’t quite hear. He was complaining, wasn’t he?

Professor!’ I shouted.

He didn’t move.

I looked down and guessed the height and how long it would take me to hit the ground. A second maybe, two at most, but wouldn’t the snow break my fall? Possibly. Or possibly not. I couldn’t be sure. Perhaps this was it then? The end of a brilliant director, dying for his art on a castle roof, off a castle roof…whichever sounded best.

And what about Sharon? Moje Sharon piekne. What would she think of this? Ha, I knew it, I knew it as sure as anything I knew. I was the one she would never forget. The one she would’ve married…the one she would’ve had children by…the one who was too fucking talented to stay living in this world…

Young dangling fool,’ someone said.


I said…’

The professor was standing above me holding out his hand, repeating ‘young dangling fool.’

Old, deranged drunk,’ I mumbled, as he pulled me up.


I sat on the edge of the roof, waiting for the drunk to come back from the toilet. Not that he was in the toilet. I knew where he was, the…Pijak smutna.

In the snow below, I saw Sharon making a snowman with the Count and his son. They had the head and the body, but it was undecorated. No eyes, no nose, no buttons.

I thought about what had happened the previous day, my almost death. The brief future I had planned out for us…or the future without me…the love we had…the passion…

She bent down and scooped up snow at the same time as the Count’s son. I couldn’t be certain, but…she touched his hand and laughed. Yes, she definitely laughed. Which meant…no, they weren’t…but…

Suka smutna…I revised quickly, madly…there would be no futures with her. There would be no children and no us. She was a whore, mrowka smutna. A Monroe to my Miller. Why should I carry her anywhere? She was nothing to me, and I didn’t care if I was anything to her…and maybe I wasn’t, but I would be, eventually…after she’d-…with him…she’d love me more fiercely than she ever would with that…that ant…that fucking ant…

I looked back down on the snow and the snowman and saw the three of them walking away. If I jumped, I could probably land on him…mrowka smutnacrush his bones into the snow…couldn’t I?

They disappeared round the corner of the castle wall. I heard the drunk singing a few yards behind me.

Forget it. Forget her,’ I muttered. She’d never last.

Back in Switzerland, 2010…

I watched Sharon in the bathtub.

I watched myself, my younger self, watching her from the door, through the keyhole, unable to open the door and get to her.

I watched her breasts. Her neck.

Then the Count dropped down from the skylight and bit her open.

And I thought of our house, the living room floor where they had put the rope around her neck, and that faggot trying to save her, but he didn’t, he couldn’t…and I tried not to think of the animals standing on her and screaming their poison at her and…and showing that knife and putting it in…sixteen times…sixteen times…moje Sharon piekne…

I zoned out and watched the movie on the screen and thought of old parts of Sharon’s life, all the times she’d told me she would only forgive so much.

Then she was on screen again, running out of the Count’s castle with me and the drunk, and-…

She wasn’t running anymore. She hadn’t been running for forty years. Forty years.

I stared at her as she died on screen, died in the carriage in my younger self’s arms, and I wondered if I would’ve had the courage to do what the faggot did.

Then it was over. The screen went blank and my name appeared.

I stood up and stared at the credits for a while, trying to settle on a direction for my thoughts, but I was unsure, and I was confused, and there were a thousand different things playing at the same time.

She was dead.


The faggot tried to save her.

I couldn’t save her.

She died before me.

She died forty years before me.

I was the grieving widow.

She beat me to the ground.

I cheated on her.

I never really cheated on her.

She loved me.

I never loved her.

I loved her now.

I loved her more than I’d ever loved Mani.

Sharon never loved me.

She would’ve left me.

Moje Sharon piekne.

She had my child in her stomach.

I wanted children.

I loved children.

I fuc-…

I fucked a child.

I was guilty of rape.

I was a rapist.

I was a monster.

Morgan Freeman and the blacks thought I was a monster.

It wasn’t my fault, she wanted it.

I fucked her because she was nothing but an ant.

A fucking ant.

I wanted Sharon again.

I wanted to live inside that film forever.

I wanted to run around the Count’s castle with Sharon and the drunk for as long as my legs could carry me.

This was stupid.

This was nothing.

I never wanted anyone.

I only ever wanted one.

I miss you Sharon.

I miss you so fucking much.

I walked over to the door and into the snow outside. I put myself down and lowered my face towards the snow, and hesitated for a moment, thinking of the last forty years and how I should’ve followed her right after it happened, and then I put my face in as deep as I could.

I smothered myself for almost a minute, losing the tears.

Then I sat up and looked at the trees in the distance.

Pieces of snow crumbled and fell off my face, but I didn’t wipe.

I didn’t care.

A few minutes later I got up and walked back inside the house.

Polanski’s vocab

Fucking idiot = jebana debilka

Sweetheart = moja kochanie

Prostitute = Prostytutka

Whore = suki

Drunkard = pijak

Pathetic ant = mrowka smutna

Dear follower = drogi stronnik

Worthless puck = krosnoludek bezwartosciowe

Brainless leech =  pijawka głupi

Beautiful nothing = nic piekne

Beautiful drone = robotniekiem  Ładnie 

My little whore = moje suka malo

  1. OK, I’ve read both parts of this together now, and it is very strong. It is very good. The ending has a lot of power. And there is that completely genius line about his small hands, that for me, brought the whole character together. You deal with these difficult themes so well, and without making them trite or unreal. Bravo.

  2. I think some of it might be overdone – the part where he thinks about Sharon, and maybe it stays in his head for too long? It works when he’s in 2010 Switzerland, i think, but maybe not in 1967 when there’s more of a story going on around him.

    Can’t see the line about ‘small hands’…where is it?

    I didn’t really know about this when i wrote it, but it’s interesting which position Polanski is in during each flashback scene. On the roof looking down, by the keyhole, next to his camera…

  3. I read both halves and thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought the second half could have been tightened a bit. I love the way you return to earlier themes toward the end. Really, the ending is great.

    I’d like to read the whole thing again on paper. I hate reading on a computer monitor. Maybe I will print it out and take it with me while I spend a long week up in Michigan.

    Good work.

  4. The bit about small hands is in the first part and it is the strongest sentence.

    I was a bit worried that this would turn out cheap, but it didn’t really.

    I think the opposite to PD, I think the second part is stronger than the first, aside from the small hands part which is brilliant.

    The only criticism I would have is that it didn’t surprise me. That doesn’t diminish it, but it may have caused me to tune out just a little at times.

    • My impression might have been prejudiced by eye strain. By the time I got to the second half, my eyes were complaining. I guess that’s the result of all those hours in petrology spent studying rock samples with hand lenses. For years after that class, I had a flutter in my eyelids, and my eyes have never been the same. That’s why I print out everything I write in order to proof & edit.

  5. Didn’t surprise you because it was me writing it? Or the course of Polanski’s mind?

    Well, you’re right. I think this story’s okay, but i’m in a slump right now. Not sure how to get out. What if this is as good as it gets?

  6. I think we’ve just been writing too much.

    Need to get back out into the world and live a little for a year or two.

  7. feedback where? Here?

    I think there’s too much “wanking” on year zero, and not enough real criticism. I’m glad you and PD have brought up problems in this, because otherwise I’d have to do it myself.

    Though I did do some “wanking” over PD’s ‘Maya’ story the other day…

    • Thanks again, I put a lot of value in what you said because of your honesty.

      Believe me, I’ve done more than my share of wanking there & elsewhere. It’s tough when you are afraid of offending friends & colleagues.

      My biggest complaint with Year Zero is that it is mostly members reading & commenting on each others’ work. If that continues to be the case, it will become quite obvious to everyone. But really, I think the collective has taken some great first steps. (More wanking? No.)

      • Yeah, it’s hard to actually get readers to the site. Which either means people don’t know about it, people know about it and don’t really care that much, or people know about it but no one in authority has told them it’s any good so they won’t get involved…

        I think we’re doing all we can though, and it should grow…

  8. Yeah, I’d agree there’s not enough crit on YZ, for sure, but that’s not what I meant. I mean…actually, I’m not sure how to put it. I think all the crit I’ve gotten over the last year has helped me grow a lot, but conversely, I’ve lost something in all of that. That state of mind where you just sit down and write a fucking book without giving a shit about anything else. I’m not entirely coninced that all this interaction is healthy for a writer. I mean, I’m currently re-reading the best book ever written (Maldoror), and the kid wrote it by himself, no crit, no feedback, no interaction. Then, he died. C’est Parfait.

    • I can relate to that. I wrote all my early works, including the 300,000 word dystopian, speculative western Giants in Their Steps, in a virtual vacuum. And it was great so far as developing my own voice was concerned. Even now, when I am working on a novel, nobody reads it until its done. Of course, writing in longhand with ink pens makes it hard to share before it’s typed up.

      Amid all the bullshit and major wanking, I learned a lot on authonomy and elsewhere. But I have to wonder how much of this criticism leads to a homogenization of literature. Modern literature is pushed by editors and agents to read like a literary equivalent of television and cinema: short scenes focused on action and dialog.

      That’s one of the reasons why I like the bizarro writers: many of them fly in the face of these modern conventions. Of course, they do produce a lot of pure crap as well.

  9. You lose a bit of gamble, I guess.

    Maybe you should disappear and create some kind of mystique or something? Though that’d only be mystique in the minds of a hundred or so people…but you should take a break from year zero, maybe? Others seem to do it…come and go when they please…though you should make sure you’re stocked up with back catalogue writing first, so you can release something or edit something during your break, just to keep you in touch with things without having to actually write anything new…would that work?

    But then, what about Billy redux?

  10. It’s not really a case of mystique at all.
    You know?
    Anyway, enough about me.
    This is about you.
    Or, this is about Polanski.

  11. Polanski needs to do something wacky to get back in the news and get some more people to this story.

    All he’s doing now is sitting in that fucking chalet.

    • I used to live right next to that chalet when I was a kid. There really isn’t anything to do in Gstaad. I once saw a peacock and followed it for a couple of hours. Also, I got chased by stray dogs a lot. I’m surprised he hasn’t gone mad, although maybe he needs it right now. And I heard they finally got a strip club.

  12. Get out of town.

    Did the strip club arrive at the same time as Polanski?

  13. You’re a funny fucker, ha.

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