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Happy Birthday Mia Farrow

February 9, 2016

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Mia Farrow has had to suffer the indignity of being over-determined in the media imagination in terms of her relationship with others.  Male stars (with the possible exception of Warren Beatty) tend to avoid this lack of perceived autonomy.  Mia Farrow’s tempestuous relationships with Frank Sinatra, Andre Previn and Woody Allen have led her to be described as a “muse” rather than an artist in her own right – something that inspires others to create rather than a creator – a noun rather than a verb.

Unfortunately, her most memorable (insofar as I keep remembering it) performance involves someone trapped in the worst relationship possible – with Satan he/she/itself.  Everything about Rosemary’s Baby is about taking something nice and turning it nasty.  Even the venue is bizarre, given that horror movies are set overwhelmingly in rural settings.  The Dakota Building was apparently so called because when it was built in the nineteenth-century it was so far away from what was then fashionable New York that wags remarked that it might as well be in the Dakota territories.  It now nuzzles against the western edge of Central Park.  Roberta Flack used to live there – just opposite John Lennon and Yoko Ono.   And of course, twelve years after Rosemary was raped and inseminated in the building, John Lennon was shot outside it by a man who was such a loser that even the voices in his head had given up speaking to him.  Oh, and Judy Garland, Lauren Bacall and Leonard Bernstein lived there too.   And Boris Karloff.

I can hear the floaty music in my head and sending a little shiver up my sky.  And the casting is a joy – so many wonderful and terrifying old people – Ralph Bellamy, Sidney Blackmer, Ruth Gordon etc. etc.   But above all, this is Mia Farrow’s birthday.   Somehow the severe Sassoon haircut makes her more vulnerable and exposed.   And no horror movie is scary unless you care about the people who are under threat.  You can chop up human beings in any number of ways – but if the human beings can’t project emotion you might as well be in a lumber yard.

Mia Farrow is authentically afraid in Rosemary’s Baby, but she’s no mere screamer.  She’s a frightened person who doesn’t want to be afraid, someone who struggles to master her fears and reclaim her destiny – who increasingly rebels against every single person who claims to know what’s best for her and to make her own decisions.

And she still fails.  That’s what’s really scary.

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