Repulsion (1965) 50th Anniversary Tribute Part #1 – Catherine Deneuve + Ian Hendry + John Fraser + Yvonne Furneaux (dir. Roman Polanski)
Picture above: Ian Hendry, Catherine Deneuve and Yvonne Furneaux toast the start of filming
This is Part 1 of 3 articles paying tribute to the 50th anniversary of Repulsion (1965)
Repulsion is a 1965 British psychological horror film directed by Roman Polanski, and starring Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser and Yvonne Furneaux. The screenplay was based on a scenario by Gérard Brach and Polanski. The plot focuses on a young woman who is left alone by her vacationing sister at their apartment, and begins reliving traumas of her past in horrific ways. Shot in South Kensington, London, it was Polanski’s first English-language film and second feature length production, following Knife in the Water (1962). Filming began in the summer of 1964.
Picture: Kensington Mansion, Trebovir Road – location of the apartment used in Repulsion (1965)
Picture: Roman Polanski with Catherine Deneuve at the Cannes Film Festival (May 1965)
The film debuted at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival before receiving theatrical releases internationally. Upon its release, Repulsion received considerable critical acclaim and currently is considered one of Polanski’s greatest films.
It was the first installment in Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy”, followed by Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976), both of which are also horror films that take place primarily inside apartment buildings. The film was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography.
In James Greenberg’s book, Roman Polanski: A Retrospective, the director says:
‘Repulsion was my discovery of London…. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the Anglo-Saxon world: language, objects, sets, people. It was new to me and I was tremendously inspired.’
For those looking for an in-depth analysis of the film I can recommend the essay by Bill Horrigan, director of media arts at the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University,
In London, Belgian immigrant Carol Ledoux shares an apartment with her older sister Helen, and works as a manicurist at a beauty salon. Helen uses the word “sensitive” to describe Carol’s overall demeanor, which is almost like she walks around in a daze, rarely speaking up about anything. When she does speak up, it generally is about something against one of those few issues on which she obsesses, such as Helen’s boyfriend Michael’s invasion of her space at the apartment. That specific issue may be more about men in general than just Michael’s actions, as witnessed by Carol being agitated by hearing Helen and Michael’s lovemaking, and she not being able to rebuff the advances effectively of a male suitor, Colin (played by John Fraser), who is infatuated with her.
One of those other obsessive issues is noticing cracks and always wanting to fix them. While Helen and Michael leave on a vacation to Pisa, Italy, Carol chooses largely to lock herself in the apartment, ditching work and begins to relive the traumas of her life (from imDB Repulsion)
Trailer – Repulsion (1965)
Documentary Short – Roman Polanski on Repulsion
This short film gives some great background to the film, cast and locations – with interviews with Roman Polanski and producer Gene Gutowski.
Making Of Repulsion
Director Roman Polanski describes his collaboration with actress Catherine Deneuve:
`Like dancing a tango’
Rene Rodriguez, film critic at the Miami Herald, describes Polanski’s approach to the film:
…..the movie bears the artistic bravado of a much more experienced director. Essentially a horror picture in the vein of David Lynch’s Eraserhead (which can be seen as a direct descendant), Repulsion tracks the gradual mental deterioration of a young woman (Deneuve) who shuts herself inside her London apartment and slowly goes insane after her roommate-sister leaves her alone and goes on vacation.
A deliberate exercise in audience manipulation, Repulsion is a singularly creepy and disturbing film. (Polanski never made another remotely like it, not even when he revisited the subject matter of an eccentric apartment-dweller in The Tenant.)
Polanski admits his motivation for making Repulsion was purely `opportunistic.’ A producer of soft-core sex films wanted to go legit by making a low-budget horror flick, and Polanski seized the offer, although the movie he made was far different from the exploitation fare the money men had in mind.
Polanski says he purposely paced the first half of the movie slowly, so viewers would let their guard down, making them easier to shock. `You can only zap someone when they’re on the verge of boredom’.
Dave Kehr reviewed the film for The New York Times praising the film’s techniques and themes, saying:
‘Mr. Polanski uses slow camera movements, a soundtrack carefully composed of distracting, repetitive noises (clocks ticking, bells ringing, hearts thumping) and, once Carol barricades herself in the cramped, dark apartment, explicitly expressionistic effects (cracks suddenly ripping through walls, rough hands reaching out of the darkness to grope her) to depict a plausible schizophrenic episode.’
According to Polanski, the film was shot on a modest budget of £65,000. To finance the film, Polanski and producer Gene Gutowski approached Paramount Pictures and British Lion Films, but both companies refused. Eventually, Polanski and Gutowski signed a contract with Compton Pictures, a small distribution company that had been known primarily for its distribution of softcore pornography films.
Themes and Style
Charles Silver (MoMA) describes the London that Polanski portrayed:
The London Polanski depicts is not exactly that of a tourist. In some ways the film is even more claustrophobic than Knife, with its three people isolated on a boat. Even the scenes outside the apartment Catherine Deneuve shares with her sister—in a pub; in a “beauty” salon/torture chamber where she works, with little recognition of contemporaneous swinging London—seem isolated. Polanski subsequently bemoaned the limited resources at his disposal, but these constraints may have contributed positively to the surreal effect of his imagery.
In developing the apartment set decoration, Gilbert Taylor photographed the apartments of various female friends in Kensington for inspiration. Taylor was a renowned cinematographer and worked on many visually stunning films including Dr. Strangelove, A Hard Day’s Night (both 1964), The Omen (1976), and Star Wars (1977).
The film is unusual for being a horror movie that features a female killer. It explores the repulsion Carol feels about human sexuality and the repulsion her suitors experience when they pursue her.
The movie vaguely suggests that her father may have sexually abused her as a child, which is the basis of her neuroses and breakdown.
Other critics have noted Carol’s repeated usage of items related to her sister’s boyfriend Michael, as well as noting that his presence greatly provokes Carol at the beginning of the film.
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian describes the film in glowing terms:
It is one of Roman Polanski’s most brilliant films: a deeply disturbing, horribly convincing psychological thriller that is also that rarest of things: a scary movie in which a woman is permitted to do the killing. Catherine Deneuve’s glassy stare of anxiety dominates the movie: it is like Janet Leigh’s empty gaze at the end of the Psycho shower scene. Polanski clearly took something from that movie, as well as from the chaos, squalor and mania in Joseph Losey’s The Servant (1963).
Repulsion – On Set
There’s something special about these candid pictures which capture the cameras, director and crew with the actors whilst they are setting up the scenes for the shoot.
Picture: Ian Hendry on set with Roman Polanski – Repulsion (1965)
Picture: Catherine Deneuve – Repulsion (1965)
Picture: Catherine Deneuve and John Fraser with Roman Polanski – Repulsion (1965). Note ‘Repulsion’ on the van!
Picture: Catherine Deneuve with John Fraser in the bath – with crew. Repulsion (1965)
Picture: Catherine Deneuve with Roman Polanski – Repulsion (1965)
Picture: Catherine Deneuve with Roman Polanski- Repulsion (1965)
Picture: Catherine Deneuve with camera – Repulsion (1965)
Picture: Catherine Deneuve with Roman Polanski – Repulsion (1965)
Picture: Catherine Deneuve with camera crew – Repulsion (1965)
In Part 2 of this 50th anniversary tribute to Repulsion, we provide more stills from the film – including many of Ian Hendry’s scenes – and material relating to it’s promotion.
Editor, Official Website of Ian Hendry
A detailed account of the life and work of Ian Hendry in the new biography: