Sep 28, 2009
Polanski's Cul de Sac
And I don't mean his fabulous movie, but his legal travails in the US. A very informative and fascinating documentary about his case was at the Quad last year. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, provides a sympathetic look at what actually transpired when Polanski was accused of raping a 13 year old girl and furnishing her with drugs, among other sensational things that apparently did all happen. The problem was his celebrity and a narcissistic judge who tried to exploit his case to make himself a star. That was the real reason why Polanski skipped town, never to come back to the US.
Because his wife had been gruesomely murdered by the Manson family, because he had directed Rosemary's Baby, and because he led an unapologetically fast life, even after the murder of Sharon Tate, the press in this country was extremely biased against him. Terrible, silly things were said and written about him; that he consorted with the devil, that he summoned bad luck, that he killed his own wife, (things that have a whiff of the old antisemitic blood libel in them).
Well, I have my own bias. I adore him and I adore his movies (like the French, who made him a Chevalier of Arts and Letters).
The movie intimates, without saying it in so many words, that the press disliked him intensely because he was a short Jew with a weird accent, talent, fame and fortune. I think it is also because he was defiant. The kind of things that undid him in the public eye were his appetite for partying and his penchant for young girls. He refused to act according to the media's idea of good behavior, and in turn he gave them fodder to sell a lot of papers.
Now, having sex with a 13 year old girl is very wrong, no matter how much of a film genius you are. However, as is usual in actual reality (a construct that the media in this country, and much of its adult population, refuse to acknowledge), reality can be murky.
Yes, Polanski exploited this girl. But this girl was exploited by her own mother, a wannabe actress who brought her daughter along to crazy Hollywood hippie parties and who allowed her to go unchaperoned with the notorious Polanski to a photo shoot. Who in their right mind, right? But the mind is not usually right in the blinding presence of fame and fortune. The victim is interviewed in the film, and she basically just obfuscates. She doesn't say much, but her attitude does. I guess for some legal reason that goes unexplained, and that requires explanation, some of the her testimony is not shown while other is. This is problematic. But perhaps that's the deal she struck to appear on camera.
Still, it seems from her demeanor that the sex was not entirely non-consensual, that at her tender age she knew what a quaalude was from first hand experience and agreed to take one. Today, she doesn't act like a self-righteous victim. She seems to be more of a victim of the scandal that was unleashed around her, than a victim of the rape. Years later, we learn she settled a civil suit against Polanski and she publicly pardoned him. Hmmm...
Now, what happened after their tryst that led her to sic the cops on him? Did she get scared and come crying to Mom, or did Mom pick her up and saw her intoxicated and could tell what went on and decided to press charges? This we don't know from the movie. The woman refuses to blame her mom or herself. It's understandable, but there is a whole chunk of essential information missing in her account. It is the part of personal responsibility that is awol. And this is not blaming the victim, but maybe they would think of acknowledging at least that they made a mistake in trusting him.
As for the appalling antics of the judge in the case, same thing. He was blinded by the potential exposure, by the floodlights of fame. He loved handling celebrity cases and he asked to be given this case. There are revelations of shocking judicial misconduct in the film. It is also not explained why the lawyers for the defense and the prosecutor at first agreed to accommodate the judge's illegal demands. I wonder if today they wouldn't immediately scream for his removal. Still, Polanski was lucky he got himself a fantastic lawyer, not in the ultra-tanned Hollywood celebrity mold, but a straight arrow, and also that the prosecutor was not one of those power hungry guys that use cases like this to advance their careers. He was also decent and competent, it seems, and between him and Polanski's lawyer, they ended up protecting him from the judge's abuses.
The whole thing is endlessly fascinating, legally, morally, humanly.