Sunday, October 4, 2009

Weekly Rant: Punish Polanski


When the news broke a little over a week ago that Roman Polanski had been detained in Switzerland relative to an international alert from 2005 and a crime from 1977, I had no reaction. No joy. No outrage. I couldn’t even muster up the energy to yawn, though such a gesture would have accurately reflected my feelings. My thoughts at the time were that, yes, Polanski absolutely deserved to be arrested but that, no, it didn’t make sense for the American legal system to waste much time on a 76-year-old man who as a result of his flight from justice has been out of the United States for three decades and who in 1993 settled a lawsuit with his victim, Samantha Geimer. But as Hollywood has rushed to support Polanski, creating a petition demanding his release that’s been signed by, among others, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky, Pedro Almodovar, Michael Mann and (you can’t make this stuff up) Woody Allen, I find myself with a strong opinion. I hope Polanski is extradited to the United States and winds up in a courtroom, hopefully for a long and humiliating trial.

Why? The better question is why not? In 1977, Polanski (1) brought a then-13-year-old Geimer to his friend Jack Nicholson’s empty house, (2) encouraged the girl to let him photograph her, (3) gave her champagne and quaaludes and then (4) had sex with her (5) against her will. This is rape. It’s also something else: premeditated (no matter what Polanski says). And it’s something even more: totally and completely wrong from the get-go. I’m not suggesting that if Polanski had only invited a 13-year-old girl to spend time alone with him at Nicholson’s house that he should be jailed for that potentially harmless offense, but right then and there Polanski was stepping over the line, the same way NFL player Mark Chmura made a mistake the moment he got into a hot tub with teenage girls at a prom party in 2000, regardless of what happened next. Even before you get to the part where Polanski forces himself on an under-aged girl, Polanski’s transgressions are entirely indefensible and, you know, illegal.

Having said that, I have tremendous empathy for those who love Polanski’s films and find his crime difficult to reconcile, but I’m flabbergasted by the Hollywood mob that considers Polanski’s arrest some kind of injustice when in fact it’s a step (and only a step, mind you) toward the opposite of that. According to the Guardian, via Hollywood Reporter, producer Henning Molfenter (The Pianist and Inglourious Basterds, among others) decided to boycott the Zurich film festival, where Polanski was heading when he was detained, because “you can’t watch films knowing Roman Polanski is sitting in a cell 5 kilometers away.” Huh? So apparently Molfenter is quite comfortable watching films in the company of a rapist but takes offense when said rapist is prevented from having a good time like the rest of us. Sure, that makes sense.

Somehow many of Polanski’s supporters seem to think he has been punished enough by his exile. They ignore that Polanski has been allowed to pick his own punishment – if you can call living in France, making movies and a winning an Oscar punishment – and that Polanski has always had the option to return to the U.S. and face the music, but he hasn’t. Instead, Polanski has hidden in plain view, proving himself a coward as well as a criminal. Yes, I understand that the enthralling documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired raises important questions about the ethics of the judge who handled Polanski’s case, Laurence J. Ritterband, thus putting Polanski’s 1978 flight from justice in somewhat less nauseating context. But Ritterband died in 1993. Polanski can face a new judge now. He just doesn’t want to. What criminal does?

In that sense, the fact that Polanski has gone 32 years without taking his medicine makes his arrest more justified, not less. I don’t care that Geimer is ready for this to all go away and seems satisfied with Polanski never again appearing in a court room. She has moved on, as she should. The trouble is, until last week, Polanski had moved on too. He violated a girl who was closer to 9 than to 18. This wasn’t something that just happened, as Polanski has claimed. He didn’t trip and wind up raping a girl. He committed a crime, and until now he’s gotten away with it. Polanski thought he was above the law then. He continues to think he’s above the law now. That bothers me.

This bothers me, too: I wonder, what if Polanski had raped the 13-year-old daughter of Jack Nicholson rather than raping a non-celebrity 13-year-old at Nicholson’s house? What kind of petition would the Hollywood elite sign then? Quoted in the Guardian, Harvey Weinstein says he wants to “fix this terrible situation.” Well, that’s simple, Harvey. Get Roman Polanski back to the United States and march him into a court room. Allowing a rapist to go unpunished is the thing that’s “terrible” here, and all of this should have been resolved a long time ago. If you want to blame anyone for Polanski only now being detained, blame Polanski.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rape Harvey Weinstein. That would fix it.

Adam Zanzie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stacia said...

Thank you. If I hear one more person blame the media or the law for making things worse for the victim, I will freakin' scream. The only person who victimized Geimer is Polanski, first by the crime, then by running away and creating a 3-decade-long sensation while he was in "exile" yet still winning major, international film awards.

As for whether the judge took the advice of someone in the DA's office and reneged on the plea bargain, prosecutor Wells -- the person who said he tried to get the judge to slam Polanski with a huge sentence -- now says he never did any such thing. Kind of calls into question whether the judge was unduly influenced or not, now that Wells says he never tried to influence the guy.

What a mess.

Jason Bellamy said...

Anon: What's interesting about your comment is that I think Polanski's Hollywood backers would be more offended by your tongue-in-cheek remark than they are by Polanski's actual crime.

Adam: Thanks for your kind words. I've enjoyed your comments, so I hope you keep coming back.

As for the corruption of Polanski's trial ...

Stacia: Even if some of the testimonials in Wanted and Desired are fabricated, I think there's enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that Ritterband didn't have his priorities straight and was seduced by the media attention. But I agree with you and Adam: Geimer is the only real victim here. Polanski brought all of this on himself, and he's had three decades to do something about it and hasn't.

Tommy Salami said...

Well put. Playing Polanski as the victim is disgusting and he should resign himself to facing justice. Obviously he learned nothing of empathy from all that he suffered himself.

Jamie Yates said...

Well, when I read this post, I was hoping to add some thought-provoking comment, but it looks like everyone else has put the discussions in much more eloquent terms.

It's acceptable to appreciate Polanski the artist while condeming Polanski the criminal. There's really nothing worse than child rape, and I'm not trying to sound like I'm rationalizing it, but I'm sure that there are dozens of directors and actors who have done terrible things that have not been publicized.

Jean said...
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Jean said...

As it usually is the case with all punish-Polanski articles, none of the facts given there is correct. You are repeating what the manipulating media have been telling people, and they have, regrettably, been lying, which is not difficult to see if you address the materials of the case, such as full transcripts, all evidence, reports and other documents. I have spent a considerable amount of time putting them all together, and the picture they paint is quite different from the one you are presenting here.

http://polanski-oddmanout.blogspot.com/2011/03/famous-case-nobody-knows.html

I do not expect you to just suddenly change your mind and agree with me. I beg you, however, to have a look at this, and then to form your own opinion. The opinion you’re expressing here can’t be called yours because it is not based on any genuine facts, only their slanderous interpretation in the media.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jason,

You posted this op-ed more than a year ago, when Polanski was arrested, but I'd like to point out a few things from it:

"I hope Polanski is extradited to the United States and winds up in a courtroom, hopefully for a long and humiliating trial."

Trials in and of themselves are not supposed to be punishments. They are to determine if punishment is warranted, and if it is, to decide what that punishment should be. The mere fact that you made this statement makes me glad that Polanski was NOT extradited. It is a hallmark of dictatorships to turn trials into punishments. The United States is supposed to be a democracy.

"Yes, I understand that the enthralling documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired raises important questions about the ethics of the judge who handled Polanski’s case, Laurence J. Ritterband, thus putting Polanski’s 1978 flight from justice in somewhat less nauseating context. But Ritterband died in 1993. Polanski can face a new judge now. He just doesn’t want to. What criminal does?"

You can blame Judge Rittenband for the fact that Polanski was released. The dicking around by the original judge is what made the Swiss suspicious enough not to extradite him. And the fact that the LA DA refused to release papers that the Swiss requested in order to make a determination about his sentencing, is sufficient proof that the same shenanigans that happened in the original court system are still present today.

"Polanski thought he was above the law then. He continues to think he’s above the law now. That bothers me."

Polanski cooperated with the LA justice system for an entire year, and even agreed to go to prison for a 90-day evaluation. It was only when he realized that the judge was using the normal judicial process as a punishment in and of itself (which is not okay in a democracy, as I explained above) was when he fled.

Jason, because you mentioned the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, may I assume you watched it? Because if you did, then you must realize what a load of horseshit the whole rape charge was to begin with. Yet instead you chose to go along with the lynch-mob because you were upset about the petition to free him.
Yes, there are people who think that Polanski is so great a director that he should be above the law. But in fact, Polanski has never been above the law in any way, shape, or form. So stop pretending otherwise.

Anonymous said...

"Polanski can face a new judge now."

Meet the new judge, same as the old judge.