Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Roman Polanski

Over the weekend, Roman Polanski was arrested by Swiss authorities, who are no holding him waiting for America to officially request his extradition to the States to face criminal charges stemming from a 1977 incident, when the famed filmmaker drugged and raped a 13 year old girl. At the time, Polanski and his lawyers worked out a plea agreement with the prosecutors, who also consulted the victim in the case, and found the deal to be satisfactory. He did everything that was asked of him, and then the judge decided that Polanski deserved more time in jail then he initially said. Polanski was to undergo a 90 observation at Chino State Prison, where doctors would evaluate him and tell the judge whether or not he was a danger to society at large. The doctors cleared Polanski, who thought that his legal nightmare was over. But the judge in the case, a glory seeker named Judge Rittenband, decided to give Polanski substantially more jail time. Facing a sentence that was likely to keep Polanski in jail for decades, he fled America and returned to France, where the Polish born director also had citizenship. In the decades since he left, he has never returned to America – not even to receive his Oscar he won in 2002 for The Pianist – because if he did, he would be arrested.

I want to make it clear right off the bat here that I find what Polanski did to the girl in 1977 to be disgusting and despicable – certainly deserving of jail time. He fed a 13 year old girl Quaaludes and alcohol, and then had sex with her as she was in a drunken stupor – perhaps even passed out.

Yet, I also believe that in America, they have a justice system where everyone is supposed to receive fair and equitable treatment. While many times when a celebrity does something wrong, people complain that they got off more lightly than any regular person would have, in this case, it seems that Polanski was going to get worse treatment because of his celebrity. This continues to be the case right up until he was arrested in Switzerland over the weekend. Why is it, that although America has had an arrest warrant out for Polanski since he fled the States in 1978, that they have only being actively asking countries for their help in arresting Polanski until 2005? And why is that Polanski was able to spend months in Switzerland earlier this year, and have nothing happen to him, and this time he gets arrested on his way into the airport? Do the Americans pursue ever criminal who committed a crime more than 30 years ago with the same vigor? Did someone pressure the Swiss authorities to arrest Polanski this time? Would they have done anything if Polanski was not famous?

The excellent documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired from 2008 (I will also be posting my review of that film later today) does an wonderful job of laying out the criminal case against Polanski, and everything that was wrong with it. After the movie came out, Polanski filed a motion to get the charges against him dropped due to the revelations that the movie produced. The judge who reviewed not just the movie, but also the case files, admitted that there was substantial Judicial Misconduct at the time, but refused to dismiss the charges because Polanski himself did not appear in his courtroom. A fugitive from justice has no standing to file any motions.

Does the fact that in the 30 years since Polanski was charged with this crime that there have been no other similar allegations leveled at him matter? I understand that legally, it does not matter very much, but I would think that the fact that he has stayed clean should count for something. I know there were allegations that Polanski had an affair with Natasha Kinski, who was 17 at the time, on set of the movie Tess. But I would argue that there is a significant difference between drugging and having sex with a 13 year old girl, and having a consensual affair with a 17 year old – who to this day has no problems with her relationship with Polanski.

Or does it matter that the victim in the case has repeatedly asked for the charges to be dropped, because she wants to put the entire matter behind her matter? Does the fact that she received a financial settlement from Polanski make her desire to put this behind her any less real? Perhaps these two facts should cancel each other out.

What Polanski did was wrong. Not only that, it was disgusting and sickening, and Polanski deserved what he got – and perhaps even deserved more jail time then the initial plea bargain called for. Surely other people who committed the same type of crime served more time in jail than Polanski ever did. The bottom line no matter what the judge did, or the Prosecutors are now doing, Polanski did fuck a little girl, and no matter what mitigating circumstances Polanski tries to make you believe were in play, he still did something repulsive and illegal.

I don’t really buy the argument that Polanski has suffered enough for his crime, as his career was hurt as a result of this conviction. Since 1978, Polanski has directed 8 films – starring some of the biggest names in Hollywood (Harrison Ford, Walter Matthau, Hugh Grant, Kristen Scott Thomas, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Johnny Depp and Adrian Brody). He has won the Palme D’Or at Cannes, and Best Director Oscar. Had Polanski wanted to be more prolific during this time period, he surely could have been.

And neither do I believe that Polanski’s turbulent, tragic early life is an excuse for what he did. As a Polish Jew, he escaped the Krakow ghetto during WWII, and survived the war living with various families who took him in and sheltered him, as much of his family – including his mother – died at Auschwitz. In 1969, his pregnant wife Sharon Tate was among the victims murdered by the Manson family, and by all accounts, he was devastated by her death. And this bullshit about there being different moral standards between Europe and America is absurb. I don’t know of too many cultures where it is permissible to drug and rape a 13 year old.

I don’t give Polanski a pass simply because he is one of the greatest filmmakers in history. Knife in the Water, Repulsion, Cul De Sac, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Rosemary’s Baby, Macbeth, Chinatown, The Tenant and The Pianist are all great movies, and most of his other films are also pretty damn good. Polanski certainly ranks among the troubled geniuses of the cinema.

Yet I do believe that Polanski deserves the same treatment by the justice system as any other criminal would receive. That was not the case back in 1977-78, and it is not the case now. I don’t know what is going to happen next, but I do know that if Polanski ever does get sent back to America, the media circus surrounding this will simply get bigger and more intense. Whoever the judge in this case is, I feel sorry for them. What the hell are they going to do when half the people want to give Polanski a parade to his genius, and the other half want to string him by his testicles? I mean really what is going to happen? America should request extradition immediately, and Polanski should probably not fight it. True, this could go on for 6 months, but does anyone really want that? If the States are not ready to fully prosecute him, then they should just cut him loose and drop the charges. After all the hubbub about this, does anyone really see any possibility of Polanski actually getting any more jail time out of this? And if he does get sent to jail, who really is better off? What is really going to happen is that Polanski will get, at most, probation, and go back to living his life just as he has for 30 years. This whole thing is way too complex for me try and figure out what the right thing to do here is. While I have no sympathy for Polanski, I think it is probably best for everyone if this whole mess goes away – the quicker the better

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