« Head spinning/swimming | Main | Podcasts to listen up for... »

September 27, 2009


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Ryan Kelly

It's insane how moralistic people get over something that in no way, shape, or form involved them. Even the woman whom he 'violated' says the past should just be buried. If SHE isn't upset about it, what right does anyone else have to be? I'm not saying it was right, I'm just saying it's not really anyone else's business.

Tom Carson

@Ryan Kelly: putting 'violated' inside dismissive quotation marks goes a little far in my book. The details in the original indictment -- not the lesser charges RP eventually copped to -- make for pretty grim reading. Agreeing that he got shafted by a judge who kept moving the goalposts on him is one thing, exonerating him is another.

But when it comes to the brass-tacks question -- do I really want to see Polanski brought back to the US in handcuffs? -- the answer is no. For one thing, if we're talking justice, the mind reels at all the '70s rock stars and Hollywood names who should be on trial with him.

Ryan Kelly

Gah, that does send the wrong impression, you're right, and you were very right to take me to task for it. Of course what he did was very, very wrong and something no sane, rational adult would do.

And yes, I understand that he did much more than have consensual sex with a minor. It probably still would have been a crime even if she hadn't been 13.

papa zita

In America, justice is interpreted as blood vengeance. Nothing more or less. It doesn't help that Polanski was foreign-born and partook in something that was not uncommon in '70s Hollywood.

As Glenn mentioned, it hardly matters if some poor sod is guilty or not as long as the state gets to kill someone or destroy their life. I always thought that if there was an execution of an innocent proven (and the state makes it near-impossible to do so), the prosecutor, judge, and jury should be punished. Prosecutor should be imprisoned (and sentenced to death if he shows any misconduct in railroading an innocent man), judge should lose his law license and be removed from the bench (and lose his pension), jurors should never be allowed to sit on another jury again in their lifetime, and their names published. And the family members (if any) should be given every nickel the judge and prosecutorial team has made for the entire time during and after the miscarriage of justice. Not for vengeance, mind you, but deterrence. It would make them much more careful about who they decide to kill by state sanction.

Glenn Kenny

What's always interested me is the vehemence of those who would bring Polanski to "justice," which to my mind extends beyond reason even if you take as a given how incendiary the issues of rape and violation are. How many times does one feel obliged to preface any kind of critique of the handling of the case with "Well, of course, what Polanski did was utterly deplorable, but...?"

I also sometimes wonder what might have happened had Polanski not fled the country. What kind of man, what kind of artist, might have emerged from the river up which Judge Rittenband suddenly decided to send him?

Ryan Paige

I'm personally doing quite a bit of frothing about Cameron Todd Willingham. What's especially infuriating is how Governor Rick Perry and then-prosecutor (now judge) John Jackson still defend the sentence. Judge Jackson saying on Nightline that even though the arson evidence has been completely discredited, the fact that Willingham was put to death doesn't bother him at all. He then twists all logic to say that the arson evidence wasn't the most important evidence but the fact that he had tried to kill his kids before (he allegedly beat his wife while she was pregnant which a sitting judge conflates into "trying to kill his kids").

But if there was no arson, then there was no crime. Even if he had actively tried to kill his kids in the past (which there's no real evidence to suggest he did), you can't put him to death because his kids eventually did die in an accidental fire.

If Willingham were still alive, he'd likely get a new trial (just like Ernest Willis). It's only because he's dead that the governor and the prosecutor (now judge) twist and conflate and do whatever they can to convince themselves (and others) that they did the right thing.

And sadly, unlike DNA evidence, the discrediting of the arson "science" isn't quite as definitive to the general public (if, to bring in another suspicious Texas case, DNA testing showed that Leoncio Perez Rueda raped Sister Tadea Benz, it would be extremely difficult to continue to support the idea that Johnny Frank Garrett raped and murdered her.)

Since the original investigation was botched, we can't find a definitive cause of the fire that killed the Willingham children. And as long as we can't, there will always be those who will say "well, you can't prove he didn't start the fire."

I don't care anything about Roman Polanksi except that I hope the whole thing finally gets settled in such a way that's fair.


I think papa zita hit it on the head when he noted the fact that Polanksi was foreign. It would seem that he took the fall for lots of extremely seedy behavior that plenty of natural-born Americans were just as guilty of - the outcry for justice being a way of sanitizing our own version of history, yet again.

As for the Texas debacle - to me, it's primarily another glaring example of the insanity of capital punishment.


Ryan: I don't know that it's overly "moralistic" in and of itself to be against statutory rape. "If SHE isn't upset about it, what right does anyone else have to be?" Consent isn't an issue in such cases, by definition. She was too young to consent.

The Polanski case is always a tough one for those of us who treasure his work. Prior to the legal trouble, he had an awful life with which it's impossible not to sympathize. And the judge "shafted" him, as tc said. But he did what he did, and to be honest I'm not sure my love for KNIFE IN THE WATER and CHINATOWN would trump my outrage if the girl were my daughter.

But, no, I certainly don't feel like puffing my chest up about his arrest. It's just a sad situation all around.


BTW, obviously the "Ryan" I addressed in my post is Ryan Kelly.

Ryan Kelly

Did I saw I was for statutory rape? But there are people I know who simply refuse to watch a Polanski movie because of this situation. To me, that's just insanity, and yes, moralistic in every sense of the word. It's a terrible, ugly, thing he but it's still not enough to judge his work by, is all I mean.

Yes, I'd feel differently if it were my child too, as we all would. But, on that note, would you have allowed your daughter to pose scantily clad for an issue of Vogue? I wouldn't, least of all leaving her alone, mostly naked, in a room with an older man.


Ryan: I'm sure you're NOT for statutory rape, which is why I found the wording of your original post unfortunate. You say if the victim isn't upset, why should anyone else be? Um, well, because we have this law. But again, I'm not coming down on the side of the "humongously righteous," as Glenn calls them. I only mean to say that a certain amount of outrage over Polanski's actions isn't uncalled for, just as we should feel outrage over the judge's misconduct.

And no, if I had a daughter, I'd like to think I wouldn't be as irresponsible as the mother in this case. But it wouldn't absolve anyone who took advantage of my stupidity at my daughter's expense. Just as the judge's misconduct isn't justified by his desire to see justice served. I guess that's my main point -- justice is not served by ignoring or minimizing the actions of either man, so I don't understand choosing sides on the issue in some black-and-white way. I'm not sure if that means I have no dog in this fight, or two. Oof, it's uncomfortable up here on this fence.

I do agree that an artist's work should be considered apart from his or her personal life, but I also understand why that can be difficult for some people (maybe I should stop before Griffith, Reifenstahl and Kazan start getting pulled into this).


Maybe Polanski could hire Mackenzie Phillips for his next film?

Tom Carson

Since I was the first to take issue with Ryan Kelly, may I say I also know what he's getting at in his most recent comment. Junking an artist's work out of disgust with his or her personal morality would lay waste to something like half of my DVDs, not to mention CDs. Lou Reed, Mick Jagger? Yeesh. I guess it's just lucky I like Bach OK, but a diet of nothing but would get kind of samey.

I also doubt many people would argue that Polanski hasn't paid a steep price for his transgression. 30-plus years of working in exile has probably done more damage to the career he might have had than a few months in jail ever could. Even so, I could wish that just once he'd expressed some real (not defensive) remorse. So far as I know, he hasn't.


I responded to a friends' post about Polanski, that I find it completely illegal to arrest someone in a country in which they are not charged (again, unless you're Bin Laden-with an int'l warrant) -- and this woman wrote back "raping a 13yr old is illegal no matter where you are"...missing the point entirely.
This makes me so angry! (does this allude to the fact that I approve of child rape? Please...)

First - do we need to say say that celeb culture was never clean? Wtf was a 13yr old doing at Jack Nicholson's house in the 70s anyway? I was 13 once, I used to pretend to be 15 to get the 19 year olds (it uh, doesn't work, when you don't look the part)...but even after all this time and the girl (now woman) says "whatevs, we'll settle this, leave this alone"....it doesn't even matter.

Has Roman been a threat since? Yes -- of course, to other filmmakers because he's so damn good. But really now, I agree with your point "justice in america?", while health care is still being debated? Innocent people still being sent to jail...really Polanski is the big deal?

I do note the irony that I happen to like Polanski's work, which is why I find this all really disgusting...while I'm just waiting for Tom Cruise to eff up.

But still, the lesson is bigger than all of this. I just worry about civil liberties.


ps: Glenn -- your question is super interesting! What would've become of Polanski had he not fled? Part of me really thinks that we wouldn't have had THE PIANIST...


I know that the vitcim has publicly forgiven him, and the judge was sketchy but... He gave drugs to, and then fucked an underage girl, both of which are illegal. He then fled the country to avoid prosecution, which makes him a fugitive. Obviously an innoccent man being executed is awful, but what does that have to do with this case? Because of what happened in Texas we should let rape slide? What if it wasn't Roman Polanski The Director, but Roman Polanski The Plumber? Would you feel differently?

Glenn Kenny

@ Colin: Well, that's part of the whole point, isn't it? How you, or I or the next person "feel" about the case. And my point in bringing up the Cameron Todd Willingham execution is that how we "feel" about a case has in large part to do with what we know, or more to the point, have been told about a case. Again...Jesus, I feel like such a tool for falling for this...yes. What Polanski did in 1977 was disgusting, awful, morally reprehensible, and very truly ILLEGAL. And, as the arguably too-worshipful/deferential documentary entitled "Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired" chronicled, his case was an awful clusterfuck.

I'm not positing Polanski as a folk hero. Nor am I excusing his actions. Yes, I had a nice conversation with him in the lobby of Cannes' Hotel Martinez and shared an elevator (a small one) with him shortly thereafter back in...2008? Yes. If that is sufficient ground for deeming me corrupted, go for it. For my (taxpaying) money, doggedly pursuing his extradition seems...well, hell, if the District Attorney's office of the worse-than-bankrupt state of California believes it's worth it, who am I to gainsay it?...

Tom Carson

@Colin: good comment. Polanski the Famous Movie Director vs. Polanski the imaginary plumber is one basic issue here, always has been.

But for the record, he didn't flee the country "to avoid prosecution." He showed up in court and pleaded guilty to a reduced (but still serious) charge. He only ran like hell for Europe once the judge started changing his mind about the right sentence.

The Siren

Glenn, with all the very great respect I have for you as a critic and a writer, I have to say that my indignation over that Texas case and a good many others does not lessen my feeling that it is high time Polanski face the music. In fact, it increases it. It sticks in my craw, as a diehard liberal, that while poor people in this country may die for crimes they didn't commit, a man can use his money and prestige to evade the legal system for so long. I don't think it serves the people of California all that well to send him to Soledad or wherever for an extended period. My personal choice would be have him allocute at long last, fine the shit out of him, at most have him clean toilets or pick up highway litter for a couple of weeks and send him back to Paris and Emmanuelle. For what it is worth, I assure you my chest is not puffed out when I say that bringing him back to face a sentence, whatever that sentence may be, is worthwhile because no one is above the law. Not Polanski the plumber and not even Polanski the genius.

Steven Santos

There's no doubt what Polanski did was wrong and illegal, but, as Glenn is pointing out, it brings out a lot of people who use this opportunity to take a rather self-promoting moral stand on a highly publicized case involving a movie director while remaining apathetic about tragedies that do not involve famous people.

Certain members of the moral police foam at the mouth when a public outrage happens just so they can chime in with perhaps a little bit of self-deification in the process. While some of us do actually remember that those that make the loudest moral accusations in society have often been people with dubious morals themselves.

Ultimately, this is a legal matter now. And whatever happens to him will happen, but a lot of this self-satisfied "We Got 'Em Now!" rhetoric while readying the noose reeks of self-aggrandizement for taking down another Hollywood figure rather than any genuine concern for the victim.

Glenn Kenny

And this, finally, is what drives me so goddamn crazy about this whole thing: my sympathy for the Siren's beautifully articulated position, and my strong leaning towards Steven Santos' equally beautifully articulated argument. As Charlie Brown says, "Aaaargh!" Or "Auuuggh!"

The Siren

@Glenn and Stephen -- I will also say that I have not gone over to Big Hollywood because I don't want to see the hoedown over there; I know I'll find it distasteful to say the least. Please, this isn't Ira Einhorn we're talking about. Haul him into court, sentence him and then let's all STFU. But maybe a better comparison than Polanski the Plumber would be Polanski the Chief Executive Officer of GreedCorp Inc. If this were a guy who made his money and fame in leveraged buyouts or bioengineered seeds, would anyone on our side of the aisle spare him a second thought?

Glenn Kenny

@ The Siren: You ask "if this were a guy who made his money and fame in leveraged buyouts or bioengineering seeds, would anyone on our side of the aisle spare him a second thought?" Well, it's an interesting question. In terms of the railroading...I would like to think I WOULD care, in a disinterested-concern-for-justice-abstract kind of way. But...well, I'll be blunt. Unlike most leveraged buyout or bioengineering seeds guys, Polanski is an individual who has had, in various ways, a profound effect on my perspectives, my dreams, my funny bone, my fears, and a lot more. He's had that effect as an artist, not as a person, but nevertheless. So, yes, that's part of why I care, I suppose. And that doesn't explain to me why some of the chest-puffers care as they do.

The Siren

Oh, well, they care because somehow this is another 14-point stag-head to stick on the wall in the culture wars which is why, as I said, I am avoiding BH for the time being--I'll just wait for Edroso's summary. It's an odd position I am in. I want the man to stand in court and finally apologize publicly to that woman, but I don't want to have to sit around and hear about how this is somehow emblematic of Hollywood's general sociopathy since the 1960s. He's emblematic of nothing except his own twisted, but fascinating, psyche. If I hear too much of the "Polanski shows how decadent that generation was" I will be forced to step from behind the draperies and remind everyone of several Old Hollywood figures who got away with much worse than Polanski...

And let me be clear, I share your admiration for the man's work.

Tom Carson

@The Siren: yes, I think we *would* care, but for unpleasant reasons. That is, we'd be relishing the schadenfreude of seeing the scumbag get his comeuppance, a la Big Hollywood -- with no more real concern for the poor victim of the whole thing. It's a very troubling comparison, for which I'm grateful to you.

don r. lewis

I just wanna add that...
The lopsided doc about Polanski did pretty clearly show that, even though he was clearly guilty of his crime, the guy was getting shafted by the legal system. Maybe he fled due to cowardice or maybe he fled due to guilt. But the screw-job being handed to him made the decision pretttty clear in terms of bailing.


Yes, he's a great film director. I had the great good luck to see an immaculate print of "Repulsion" at a college. But if the rape victim were not forgiving, if the other underage girls in Polanski's life hadn't kept quiet, wouldn't this case more perfectly mirror those of J. D. Salinger and Joyce Maynard, of John Phillips and his daughter, of Victor Salva and that young boy? There's a strong tendency in the art communities not just to forgive the artist his sexual irregularities, even if they are forced on unwilling partners or sexual favors are won with false promise of marriage or by taking advantage of a child's trust of his father, but to expect the victim or the partner taken advantage of to keep quiet. This demand for silence and forgiveness varies exactly depending on how badly the other party was taken advantage of and how quiet he or she kept. Little condemnation of Salva's victim, moderate condemnation of Mackenzie Phillips, Maynard got it both barrels, though it's her life, dammit, and her story. Yes, I'm lumping together incest seduction and rape, but to those of us outside the film community the glaring common thread is the absolutely anything goes sexual ethic. At least it's the ethic of the rich and powerful; the people mourning Polanski's capture have gloated over the once-famous who fell. And he's old and he has a wife and kids who'll miss him, but he should have stood and taken care of this 30 years ago. If you can't trust a Hollywood court to go light, what court can you trust? And if he knew he was safe in France he could have stayed in France.


By the way, I've been reminded that the laws in Europe greatly confuse the term I used in my previous post, "underage." It seems to be perfectly legal to have an affair with a fifteen year old in France, and other European countries have lower ages of consent. I meant by American laws and standards.

papa zita

What tc recounts is what I remember of the case. Polanski did plead guilty and was going to "take his medicine" when the judge started shifting the goalposts. Other Hollywood stars were rumored doing pretty much the same crime, and every rockstar of the '70s had groupies who were incredibly young. Rodney Bingenheimer's club wasn't full of legal-age women back then, you know. But they sure knew how to give a good hummer. To call '70s LA libertine wasn't the half of it.

Polanski knew she was underage, but I also believe he considered her "experienced", which wasn't unreasonable (c'mon, why would she be at Nicholson's party to begin with?). It didn't make Polanski innocent, though. It also helps to consider the era when this was going on. I lived through it and remember how pop culture sexualized pubescent girls at the time. From ad copy to film to afterschool specials, it was everywhere. If you lived through it, you'd know it really was a different era culturally. Not an excuse, but an explanation of how Polanski thought he might not face stiff prosecution, and ran when he saw that he was going to be the sacrificial goat.


Regarding the "it was a different era" theme: let's remember David Hamilton's photographs. I seem to recall that a few years ago someone actually tried to ban them on grounds of them being child porn (not to mention the cover of that album by the Scorpions and the kerkuffle it caused on Wikipedia).

Which is not to excuse at all what Polanski did, etc. There are two truths that are perfectly compatible here:

1) Roman Polanski is a rapist (no "statutory" here: rapist, period).
2) Roman Polanski has ten times the talent that the people sneering at him will ever have.

Why is it so hard to understand?

The comments to this entry are closed.

Tip Jar

Tip Jar
Blog powered by Typepad