Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ira Levin R.I.P.

The American suspense novelist Ira Levin (1929-2007) has passed away. Levin was best known for such works as Rosemary's Baby (1967), The Stepford Wives (1972) and The Boys From Brazil (1976), all of them also turned into film adaptations: the most successful of them Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968), which is very faithful to the original book.

One of Levin's strengths was to take what were some current trends in society and turn them into masterful works of suspense and paranoia that did not took place in any traditional Gothic settings such as haunted castles with their mad scientists and horror film monsters, but in (superficially) familiar and mundane everyday settings of urban/suburban life, where the uneasiness of main characters gradually grows as the events unfold.

Such mentioned trends of the time were in Rosemary's Baby the interest in occultism and re-assessing of the religious issues in the 60s (arguably, there might not have been such "Satanic" book and film hits of the 70s as The Exorcist or The Omen had Levin not paved the way with his work); or the same era's rise of female emancipation, as reflected in The Stepford Wives, a horror/sci-fi/satire on some robot-like and very un-emancipated suburban housewives.

["Stepford wife" has now even become a catchprase in everyday usage -- according to Wikipedia it is: "usually applied to a woman who seems to conform blindly to an old-fashioned subservient role in relationship to her husband, compared to other, presumably more independent and vivacious women. It can also be used to criticise any person, male or female, who submits meekly to authority and/or abuse; or even to describe someone who lives in a robotic, conformist manner without giving offense to anyone. The word 'Stepford' can also be used as an adjective denoting servility or blind conformity (e.g. 'He's a real Stepford employee') or a noun ('My home town is so Stepford')."]

Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford's Wives also make use of a very similar premise in both of them: an ordinary housewife finding herself in a new life situation -- young Rosemary Woodhouse getting pregnant with her first child and all subsequent hopes and fears arising there; a modern and feminism-orientated Joanna Eberhart with her husband and children moving from city to a suburban small town with some very conservative and old-fashioned values as to the place of woman in family and society -- and her slowly growing suspicious, even paranoid, towards the people in her nearest environment, where everything is obviously not as it seems.

  • Ira Levin @ Intercourse With The Dead

    Trailer for Rosemary's Baby (1968)

    Trailer for The Stepford Wives (1975) -- Levin himself was not particularly excited with this adaptation, though it has now become a cult film (which was also remade in 2004).

    Time magazine published in April 1966 its famous "Is God Dead?" issue, which Levin also featured in Rosemary's Baby.