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On ROMAN POLANSKI


Unless you’ve been living on the moon the past few weeks I’m sure you’re aware that Roman Polanski, one of the world’s great filmmakers and a longtime fugitive from U.S. justice, is back in the news--and, in all likelihood, soon to be back in the U.S., having been arrested by Swiss authorities in September as he arrived at the Zurich Film Festival to accept a lifetime achievement award. The arrest was instigated by a 1977 criminal case in which Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl and then, following a preliminary 45-day prison sentence, fled the US because he believed the judge was going to renege on the leniency he promised.

     As I’m sure you’re also aware, an online petition, instigated by Harvey Weinstein and signed by over 100 movie luminaries, has been mounted in opposition to Polanski’s arrest. Among the signatories are Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, David Lynch, Harrison Ford, Guillermo del Toro, Michael Mann, John Landis, Terry Gilliam, Jonathan Demme, John Milius, Tilda Swinton and Asia Argento.

     This in turn has inspired a veritable internet lynch mob. Anti-Polanski editorials and petitions are rampant. Even in France, where Polanski has been living the past 31 years, popular sentiment is against him: in an online poll by the French newspaper Le Figaro 70 percent of the participants said Polanski should face justice. The French filmmaking community isn’t entirely on his side either, as evinced by the following quote from the prominent Gallic moviemaker Luc Besson: “There is one justice, and that should be the same for everyone…I have a daughter, 13 years old. And if she was violated, nothing would be the same, even 30 years later.”

     There have been calls to boycott not only Polanski’s films but those of the petitioners, with the IMDB message boards of Scorsese, Lynch et al filled with postings about the case. And the outrage doesn’t end there: celebrities who DIDN’T sign the petition have also been hit with boycott demands. Jodie Foster and Meryl Streep, for instance, kept their names off the petition and have absolutely nothing to do with Polanski or the case at hand, but (according to a poster on Deadline.com) are apparently “guilty by their silence.” Also feeling the brunt of the outrage are those who’ve befriended Polanski in the years since his conviction, such as director Brett Ratner, who must be “shunned” (so claims a thread on Polanski’s IMDB page). Ditto all the actors who’ve appeared in Polanski’s post-1976 films (producers and crewmembers apparently get a free pass), such as Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Hugh Grant and (even though he’s been dead for some time) Walter Matthau.

     I’ve refrained from commenting on the case thus far because, frankly, I have little to add--and what I do have to say will likely offend people on both sides of the argument. Also, my job (so to speak) is to write about Mr. Polanski’s films and not his life. In this case, however, that life is far more interesting than most, and anyway, seemingly everyone else on the internet is giving their two cents regardless of whether they know the facts or not, so why shouldn’t I?

     Essentially, I agree with majority: I feel Polanski (who happens to be among my top 5 favorite filmmakers) should face justice for his crimes. You might say I “support” Polanski more than any of the petition signers, since I believe he should return to the US and get this sordid mess over with. His reputation is beyond repair, savaged irretrievably by two incredibly bad decisions, but Polanski does at least have a chance to finally sort out his legal woes.

     And no, I won’t be boycotting the films of Polanski or any of the petition signers. I know many of you will, of course (as you’ve been claiming in various message boards and chat rooms). Seeing as how I’ve aligned myself with this very crowd, I feel it incumbent to point out a few things in the interests of reason and clarity. I’m sure my efforts will be futile, but I’ll try anyway…

Get The Facts Straight
    
Having read several books on Polanski, I know a little something about this case. Those books include Thomas Kiernan’s THE ROMAN POLANSKI STORY (1980), Barbara Leaming’s POLANSKI: THE FILMMAKER AS VOYEUR (1983), John Parker’s POLANSKI (1993), and Polanski’s own 1984 autobiography ROMAN (which presents a considerably sanitized version of his crime that doesn’t jibe with the evidence turned up at the scene).
     Yet reading the many internet rants I was surprised to learn many things I didn’t previously know. I was unaware, for instance, that Polanski was a “Satanist” who “mutilated” his “8-year-old” victim after raping her, for which he “didn’t spend a day in jail.” Also, he “probably rapes his own children” as well as “the entire cast of (his 2005 film of) OLIVER TWIST.”
     Seriously: I think the above misconceptions (likely of the willful variety) illustrate how the specter of child molestation can reduce any discourse to name calling and hysteria (see my thoughts on the McMartin case below). Outrageous factual distortions won’t help the case against Polanski, and “probablys” and “must-haves” don’t count as evidence.

Quit Blaming “All of Hollywood”
    
To many commentators the signatories of the Weinstein petition constitute “All of Hollywood,” and are illustrative of the “Great Cultural Divide” between the dream factory and the rest of America. Yet looking over the full list of signers (available here) I find that the majority are European filmmakers and critics, while quite a few Hollywood luminaries are absent. In other words, the signatures of Steven Spielberg, Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino are nowhere to be found on the petition, but you can find names like Sophie Deschamps, Marie-Helene Raby, Loic Sorel and Jacques Thivierge.
     I have no problem with Hollywood-bashing, but let’s keep the facts straight.

Defending the Nazis and the Manson Family is WRONG
    
The fact that Polanski grew up in Poland under Nazi rule and his mother died in Auschwitz has been brought up a lot lately, as has his widow Sharon Tate’s 1969 murder at the hands of Charles Manson’s followers. Neither of those facts excuse Polanski’s crimes, but it’s also not a good idea to use them as a bully pulpit to help make your case against him.
     Examples (taken from actual newsgroup postings): “The Nazis should have killed his ass along with his mother!” and “Too bad the Manson Family didn’t get Polanski along with his whore wife!” Reminds me of Amok Press’ THE MANSON FILE (1988), a pro-Manson book that insinuates Sharon Tate deserved what became of her because of the debauched lifestyle she shared with her husband. A pretty questionable idea, but so is cheering on the Nazis or the Manson family in their insanity.

Stop the Politicizing!
    
One of the more annoying facets of the many postings and editorials about this case is the tendency to politicize it. This comes largely from the right, who’ve branded Polanski sympathizers “liberals” and equated them with such enemies of the republic as supporters of President Obama and believers in evolution.
     Please! I know quite a few liberals who claim they’d like nothing more than to see Polanski fry (see this
Huffington Post entry), while there are conservatives who actually support him (David Lynch, a staunch Ronald Reagan supporter and onetime darling of the NATIONAL REVIEW, is nobody’s liberal, and the right-leaning ideals of fellow signatory John Milius are legendary). Then there are the politics of Roman Polanski himself, who according to biographer John Parker is a “right wing reactionary” who’s anti-union and hates feminists. In short, someone Rush Limbaugh could call one of his own.
     In the interests of fairness, there has been similar badgering from the left. In a recent Atlantic Magazine interview Gore Vidal branded Polanski’s victim a “hooker” and claimed the rancor is based on anti-Semitism. Clearly he hasn’t listened to the Howard Stern show lately: just last week Stern and Rosy O’Donnell, Jews both, gave Polanski a sound bashing, and anti-Semitism didn’t enter into it.
     The point? This isn’t a liberal-conservative (or anti-Semitic) issue, and making it out as such won’t help your case one way or the other.

Don’t Misrepresent the Motives of Polanski’s Defenders
    
I’ll confess I’m a little hazy on why so many creative folk are calling for Polanski to be set free. Based on the wording of the Weinstein petition, it seems they’ve (mis)interpreted his arrest as a freedom of speech issue: “The arrest of Roman Polanski in a neutral country…opens the way for actions of which no-one can know the effects.” There’s also the fact that the focus happens to be one of the world’s greatest filmmakers (which apparently renders him immune from prosecution).
     One thing I don’t believe is that the petition signers are “supporting child rape,” as many have claimed. I can’t speak for every individual whose name graces the petition, but I do know that David Lynch, Martin Scorsese and Terry Gilliam all have daughters, and so probably aren’t too thrilled with the idea of child rape.

Remember the McMartin Trial
    
I’m referring to the much-publicized case against the McMartin family preschool, which took place during the 1980s in Manhattan Beach, CA. The allegations were made by several children who claimed, among other things, that the McMartins molested them. Growing up in Manhattan Beach as the case progressed, I was afforded a first-hand glimpse at how it was overtaken by hysteria and the trial turned into a circus. The McMartins were eventually found innocent of all charges, and no surprise, as by the trial’s 1990 conclusion the accusations against them had grown downright insane (Satanic rituals! CIA experiments! Child prostitution on the streets of Tijuana!).
     Here’s the thing: as one who didn’t attend the McMartin preschool but knew many kids who did, I have reason to believe untoward behavior by the McMartins DID occur, and that justice was NOT served by letting them off. Yet I also decry the insanity that overtook the trial, and the entire city--but that’s a whole ‘nother essay. Suffice it to say that I believe the truth in this case was obscured due to hysteria and false allegations. Sound familiar?

Follow Through on Your Threats
    
To reiterate a point I made earlier, I know quite a few of you have sworn a complete boycott of any and all films connected with Roman Polanski, the signers of the Free Polanski petition, Polanski’s friends and the casts of his recent films. Fine. This means no more viewings of CHINATOWN, GOODFELLAS, BLUE VELVET, PAN’S LABYRINTH, ANIMAL HOUSE, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or MIAMI VICE reruns. It also means you need to quit shelling out for crappy INDIANA JONES, CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, RUSH HOUR or PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequels--and that you can stop emailing me about how Polanski’s pal Brett Ratner is an underappreciated genius and I’m anti-populist or worse for not recognizing that “fact.” (Hmmm, I’m liking this boycott idea more and more!)
     On a related note, it helps to have a viable target for your boycotts. This is to say that the genius who recently emailed me demanding I “boycott Miramax” because Harvey Weinstein supports “Polansky” should take into account that Weinstein is no longer with Miramax--and learn to spell while he’s at it!

Finally…
    
Ultimately it hardly matters what I or anyone else thinks about the case, as it seems Roman Polanski’s deportation to the US and eventual sentencing are inevitable. American prosecutors have been looking to apprehend Polanski for over 30 years, and now that they’ve finally got their man I don’t see them letting him slip through their fingers.
     Furthermore, the present details of the case are much like those of the original 1976 conviction. Back then (as now) it initially seemed Polanski was going to beat the rap, and (as now) he got plenty of support from his famous friends--as one commentator said of a pro-Polanski meeting, “Not since Renaissance Italy has there been such a gathering of creative minds in one locale.” That support, however, eroded (as now), leading to…well, you know what. Yes, history appears to be repeating itself in many ways, although I doubt Polanski will evade justice this time. Also, maybe this time around the media and online commentators will actually demonstrate some tact and intelligence in covering the case…and maybe pigs will fly.

 

--11/1/09

     

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