Tuesday, September 29, 2009

DVD Views: Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired *** ½
Directed By:
Marina Zenovich.

What Roman Polanski did to a 13 year old girl in 1977 was repulsive. I don’t care what anyone says about it perhaps being consensual, or questioning why the mother left him alone with his daughter or anything about cultural differences between America and Europe. The fact remains that Roman Polanski gave alcohol and Quaaludes to a 13 year old child and had sex with her. For that there is no excuse. However, like everyone else who is charged with a crime in America, Roman Polanski deserved a fair trial by a judge who wanted to see justice served, not his face in the newspapers. And that is what did not happen for Roman Polanski.

Polanski’s life is the stuff of Hollywood legend. Born in France to Polish parents who moved back to Poland when he was young, Polanski survived the Holocaust as a Jewish child in Poland. As a young man, he made a name for himself with his strange short films and his debut feature, the stunning Knife in the Water. He came to Hollywood shortly thereafter, and made some more great films, including Rosemary’s Baby. His beautiful wife, Sharon Tate, was one of the people killed by the Manson family, but Polanski had to endure months of rumors and innuendo that he had something to do with her death. The logic – anyone who could make a demonic film like Rosemary’s Baby was capable of doing anything.

Somehow Polanski soldiered on, and continued to make great films, none greater than 1974’s Chinatown, still one of the very best films ever made. He was one of the few directors who was also a celebrity. Everyone wanted to work with him, and everyone wanted to party with him.

Things change in 1977 when he was charged with a slew of crimes related to the having sex with a minor Samantha Gailey Geimer. Suddenly, this was the trial of the century in Los Angeles, which seemingly has a new trial of the century at least once a decade. The DA and the Defense Attorney met to hammer out a deal. This deal was agreed to by the lawyer for the victim, who didn’t want to see his client be put through any more than absolutely necessary. Everyone seemed happy with the deal, including the Probation Board, who recommended that Polanski be put on parole.

Everyone that is than Judge Laurence J. Rittenband. It would be one thing if the judge thought that Polanski’s crimes was too great to simply be put on probation. That would be understandable. But that’s not why Rittenband did what he did. As the senior judge in Santa Monica, Rittenband had first choice of the cases that he wanted to personally handle. Whenever one with a celebrity came up, he took it. He loved seeing his name in the paper, loved the publicity and attention it brought him. He liked being around celebrities, but was not star struck. He loved the limelight.

But what Rittenband did goes beyond that. He had the lawyers come into his chambers and work out deals, and then had them reenact these arguments in the public forum of his courtroom. He had decisions and sentences already written before any arguments were made. He made promises that if Polanski went to Chino state prison for a 90 day observation, and if they agreed that probation was best for him, that is what he would give, and then backpedaled when the media turned against him. Facing a 50 year prison sentence, Polanski fled the country. And even the DA and the victim say they understand why he did it.

All this, and much more, comes out in Marina Zenovich’s Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. The movie does not seek to excuse Polanski of his crimes, but simply to examine a justice system that didn’t work this time. Aside from Polanski and Rittenband, Zenovich gets interviews with all the key players, including the DA, the Defense lawyer and the victim herself. The interviews she does have with Polanski all come from the time period around the trial and his fleeing the country. They certainly do not really do him any favors, and he gives the impression that he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. In that Roman Polanski is wrong. But in much of the rest of the case, it was Rittenband who was wrong.

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