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September 27, 2009

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bill

I'm away from the internet for a couple of days, and I miss out on all this. Everything I might have wanted to say has already been said, and said better than I would have been capable of, by others, particularly the Siren (though I think that sentencing Polanski to picking up litter is perhaps going a little easier on him than I'd like to see).

The only thing I might add is that the focus on what "other" people in Hollywood may or may not have done that may or may not be similar to what we know Polanski did seems to me to be a completely false argument. If some other actor or director raped a 13 year old girl and got away with it, am I supposed to think that this should somehow change the punishment that Polanski receives? If not, then why bring it up at all? Some people have gotten away with murder, too, but that doesn't effect what we think, or what we think should happen, to murderers who actually get caught. And by the way, pointing out that others in film history have gotten away with crimes similar to Polanski doesn't help the other, and apparently connected, point that those who are, according to some, overzealous about wanting to bring Polanski justice are really on some sort of half-cocked anti-Hollywood-decadence crusade. Because if Polanski was one of a mob of such Hollywood rapists, then...

But that's not the point I want to make myself. The only things that matter in this case to me are Polanski's crime and the judicial misconduct, the latter of which, I think we can all agree, does not obliterate the former.

Also, I don't much like the idea that those who are "puffing themselves up" about Polanski's arrest don't, deep down, care about the victim. Some of them may not, but why single them out? Because the implication would be that those who would have Polanski remain free and clear somehow care MORE about the victim, and I can't quite twist my brain into an elaborate-enough pretzel to buy that.

bill

Also, @pap zita:

"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?)."

That's repulsive.

Glenn Kenny

Well, Bill, I'm not honestly sure just how much those who are puffing up CAN actually care about the victim. That's not to say that these people aren't "sincere," but there are practicable limits to compassion, empathy, and so on, and when I read things such as "we've all been waiting for justice here in America," I can only think, "what the hell?" I'm reminded somewhat of Yoko Ono after the murder of John Lennon; various and sundry folks would approach her and say "I know how you feel," and her reflexive response would be, "No, you don't."

In defense of Papa Zita, while the phrasing of his observations might have been somewhat ill-advised, I understand what he's getting at, and while I don't think it in any way justifies Polanski's actions (geez, maybe I should put that in all-caps), I don't think that the examination of the era's sexual mores in Marina Zenovich's film about Polanski was unwarranted either.

@Paul: I DO remember David Hamilton's photographs. I'd see the books at Womrath's in Hackensack when I was a kid. As I recall, most of them contained texts by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Tom Carson

If David Hamilton's arty crap isn't child porn, then I don't know what is. That his photos were ever legally available -- not only in book form, but as pictorials in "classy" skin magazines -- just proves how unhinged the 70s were. Honesty forces me to add that back then they only made me queasy, not outraged, but I was in high school and no philosopher. I do remember suspecting that their pretensions to art were a snow job, though, Alain Robbe-Grillet or no Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Saying it was a different era, which it was, isn't a legal argument or an alibi for Polanski. It's just a cultural truth. At the time, neither society at large nor his own circle's gaudy behavior were giving him much reason to think this was particularly taboo or that he'd be penalized for it. That left his own moral scruples as the only deterrent, and . . . well, we all know how that worked out.

bill

@Glenn - "Well, Bill, I'm not honestly sure just how much those who are puffing up CAN actually care about the victim. That's not to say that these people aren't "sincere," but there are practicable limits to compassion, empathy, and so on, and when I read things such as 'we've all been waiting for justice here in America,' I can only think, 'what the hell?' I'm reminded somewhat of Yoko Ono after the murder of John Lennon; various and sundry folks would approach her and say "I know how you feel," and her reflexive response would be, 'No, you don't.'"

Well, okay, but that isn't actually why you originally made the point, is it? Because reasonably, the above logic could just as easily be applied to your outrage about Willingham, couldn't it? Because you weren't executed for a crime you never committed, nor, I'm assuming, do you know anyone who has. In this sense, none of us has any room to get TOO outraged about any crime that wasn't committed against us or one of our loved ones.

Tom Carson

@bill: Re "the implication would be that those who would have Polanski remain free and clear somehow care MORE about the victim, and I can't quite twist my brain into an elaborate-enough pretzel to buy that." The fact is that Samantha Geiner -- whose good sense and courage are a wonder, if you've ever seen the HBO doc -- just wants this to be over and has for many years now. A new trial would force her to revisit the trauma and once again reduce the meaning of her life to the fact that she was "the girl in the Roman Polanski case." My guess is you're all for victims' rights when it comes to retribution, so I don't see how respecting her wishes is irrelevant just because she wants the book to be closed instead of thrown.

bill

@tc - But do you think that those who believe Polanski should be free and clear of all charges are made up largely of people who are supporting Geiner, or people who just really like "Chinatown"? Sure, I'm sure some of them are, as Glenn puts it, "sincere", but in my experience most of them talk the kind of forgiveness that has, as its core, a love for Polanski's art (which I share), but if we're going to be separating the art from the artist, that doesn't just apply to choosing to watch their films despite thinking they're personally not such great people.

As for Geiner's forgiveness -- it's wonderful that she's able to do that, and your point is well taken. But let's be practical: should a victim's forgiveness and wish to move on always trump legal retribution? If not, than why should it in this case?

And about that "shifting the goalpost" argument: the plea agreement that was settled on was bullshit. This doesn't mean the judge didn't act improperly, and there would be no legal recourse had Polanski actually served it, but 90 days psych treatment for what Polanski did? Does no one else think that this sentence is, on its face, pretty outrageous?

Tom Carson

@bill: First off, sorry -- it's Geimer, not Geiner. I don't want you to be stuck perpetuating my mistake.

Otherwise, I obviously don't have insight into everyone else's motives. I'm sure they run the gamut from attitudes I'd have no problem agreeing with to some I can't stand. I also by no means believe a victim's wishes should "always" trump legal retribution -- or legal restraint, for that matter.

In this case, though, I think Geimer's wishes count for a lot. If she were on TV saying she still wants the little creep behind bars for what he did to her -- and lord knows she'd have a right -- then I don't think the "Polanski has paid enough of a price" or "But he's a great artist" camps would have a leg to stand on.

bill

But WHY? If forgiveness doesn't always trump legal retribution, why do you think it should in this particular case? That's what I don't get.

papa zita

Saying it was a different era, which it was, isn't a legal argument or an alibi for Polanski. It's just a cultural truth.

TC again makes clear what I didn't. I don't excuse Polanski's actions, just that what was going on then was part of the culture, especially in LA. I considered it odious at the time (besides, all the hot girls my age were going for college guys or married men). Being a young shutterbug, I had an older friend 30 years ago pay me $10 to go buy a David Hamilton book for him at the local bookshop when I was still a teenager (I was always buying photo books). I guess he didn't want to be known as a perv by the bookshop proprietors. When I looked at it, my thought was it was Playboy for horny 15 year olds, Robbe-Grillet or not Robbe-Grillet. Being a photographer, I'm not bothered by nude depictions of adolescents (their parents give permission, you know), but Hamilton gave me a real porn vibe, unlike Sally Mann.

PaulJBis

An usual retort that one hears, when discussing subjects like the death penalty, is "well, what would you think if they had killed *your* daughter?"

Those who like to use that kind of retort, if they are consistent, would have to admit that in this case the victim's wishes should have more weight than their own wish for justice/revenge/whatever.

(Of course, I've always thought that the first argument was bullshit, or at least a really bad way to run a criminal justice system, so...)

Tom Carson

@bill: It's a subjective call, that's all. Geimer is the only injured party that we know of; while I wouldn't be a bit surprised if there were other 1970s 13-year-olds who could tell the same story, they haven't come forward. And she really, really doesn't want this to go on defining her life 32 years after the fact. I can't help sympathizing with that.

So I don't much want to see Polanski back on trial. But if some kind of deal does get made and the charges are dropped, I would hope it was on terms that made his guilt clear and that couldn't be taken as vindicating him. If any of his supporters treated it as proof he shouldn't have been prosecuted in the first place, I'd throw up.

bill

@papa zita - My objection had less to do with your "cultural landscape" argument as it did with your "why did she go to a party at Jack Nicholson's house in the first place?"* argument, which has a highly uncomfortable "then why did she go up to the hotel room with him?" vibe.


*The answer to that question, by the way, is that she was 13 and her mom brought her there.

PS - "their parents give permission, you know"

So?

joel_gordon

I don't think that Geiner is going to have to re-live this horror any more than she had to re-live it while media were doing publicity for the doc last year. The rape case will likely be dismissed or Polanski will get off with time served, and I don't think the victim will have to be in court. Retribution seems to be the only reason to throw him in prison on the rape charge--and, in the world's busiest court system, where judges now take off two unpaid furloughed days a month, I don't think this case will get as much of a hearing in downtown LA as it has on Some Came Running. However, I do think that there is a very good reason to punish someone for evading US law for 30+ years, regardless of the crime. The only way to fight this charge is for Polanski to show up. He could have done so last year when lawyers tried to get his case dismissed due to judicial misconduct. Or he could have not travelled to countries that extradite fugitives to the US. (And Glenn: my blood pressure is steady, my chest un-puffed, and I feel little emotion regarding this case. However, my Crim Law teacher's appearance as pundit on a variety of news outlets piqued my interest).

Daniel

She wasn't at a party. It was a photoshoot. With Roman Polanski. She was a model. Poor judgement on her mother's part, but that's it, poor judgement.

By her own admission, if any of you discussing ACTUALLY BOTHERED TO READ THE SMOKING GUN TRANSCRIPT OF WHAT SHE SAID, she had had sex once before, so no, she wasn't a virgin. She was drugged by Roman Polanski. She said no repeteadly. She anally raped her. He even asked her if she 1) had had her FIRST PERIOD already, which obviously proves he knew very well she was a teen who's recently been through puberty and 2) when was the last time she had her period, since he didn't want to get her pregnant, because he was SUCH A GENTLEMAN. The deed was done, she cried and he took her home.

Now just shut up and stop defending him. Be angry if he's the scapegoat of all rapists, but do not go blaming a 13-year-old girl who said "no repeatedly" until she finallly let him have his way with her because she was ALONE WITH A MUCH OLDER MAN IN A HOUSE and because SHE WAS AFRAID. Just read the fucking transcript

The Siren

@Bill-- "by the way, pointing out that others in film history have gotten away with crimes similar to Polanski doesn't help the other, and apparently connected, point that those who are, according to some, overzealous about wanting to bring Polanski justice are really on some sort of half-cocked anti-Hollywood-decadence crusade. Because if Polanski was one of a mob of such Hollywood rapists, then..."

No, not some half-cooked anti-Hollywood decadence crusade -- I had in mind the "everything wrong with Hollywood and this country began in the 1960s" crusade. The Polanski case has always drawn that out of certain culture warriors and is why I was careful to refer to his generation.

Tom Sutpen

If Roman Polanski had been hauled in on a statch rape complaint, made bail and then fled the country . . . which, from news reports in the last 36 hours, seems to be what everyone thinks actually happened here . . . then I'd be all for his extradition; though I would question (as I do now) the zeal with which LA Country has apparently revisited this matter after three decades. The fact that Samantha Geimer is urging that Polanski be left alone is important for gauging the severity of her trauma (or lack thereof) after all these years, but as a purely legal matter it's irrelevant. Statutory Rape is on the books as an offense against the People. The law is unambiguous: consent means nothing; the goodwill of the victim means nothing. What people are forgetting here is Why Polanski Fled.

There was a plea deal; agreed to by all parties in the case *including* that eminent jurist, Laurence J. Rittenband: The court would order that Polanski be sent to Chino for a Psychiatric evaluation; the judge would then follow its recommendation at sentencing. Fine. They send him out there, the shrinks determine that he's not a rape-o, not a pedophile, not a danger to the community; they write a report reflecting said determination; recommending a sentence of Time Served and sending him home. He's out of Chino in 42 days (*not* an easy stretch, regardless of how long he was there).

Long story short, Rittenband suddenly backs out of the deal just before sentencing, and on the most dubious grounds imaginable (an extremely prosaic newspaper photograph of Polanski at that year's Oktoberfest); deciding that he's going to unilaterally void the agreement, toss the Psych evaluation and send Polanski up for the maximum penalty under the statute. At the very last minute (according to Polanski's lawyer *and* the Assistant DA on the case) Rittenband presumably realizes that his About Face would look even worse in the papers than the supposed leniency of the plea deal, so he concocts this baroque, jaw-dropping piece of Judicial Theater whereby he would hand Polanski the maximum in open court, then have everybody come back that evening for a hearing in chambers where he would commute the sentence to Time Served, just like the shrinks at Chino said he should.

Roman Polanski, then, had a choice: He could trust an incompetent, borderline-senile glory-hound of a jurist . . . one who had repeatedly demonstrated during that case just how out-of-control a Judge could be . . . and risk ending up on C-block, waiting for the appellate courts to crawl to his rescue while every badass in the joint reminded him what they do to baby-rapers . . . OR . . . he could run.

He ran. And I don't fault him for one second.

joel_gordon

While I may not quite agree with your "solution" to judicial misconduct--jumping bail because you fear that a judge might give you the maximum sentence--I think that was a fairly lucid explanation for what inspired Polanski's exile. Mostly, though, I am tickled by the idea of Thomas Sutpen weighing in on a case of statutory rape. When will Humbert Humbert chime in?

Tom Sutpen

I wasn't detailing it as a solution to anything. My point is that Polanski had a reason for fleeing the country that was not wholly unreasonable.

People in 2009 seem to have the impression that Polanski made bail, then made a beeline for the airport the minute he hit the street; that he was, in other words, like every other bail jumping felon in creation. In point of fact, he plead guilty and did the time he was ordered to do under the terms of an agreement *all* parties had signed-off on. He went through the process in good faith (one can argue that the plea deal was insufficient, and that justice was not served by it; that's another matter entirely). I don't think this context can be emphasized enough.

In closing . . . I abjure all responsibility for the sordid past of my literary namesake.

Diane Rainey

Yes what Polanski did was wrong and there should indeed be some legal ramifications for his actions. However, to see the usual cast of characters sail out against him is so predictable. I call it the "Glenn Beck-ing" of modern day America. It's getting tiresome.

The Siren

BTW Glenn, if I may bring up an actual film -- thanks for repeating the Tess shout-out. That one is long overdue for a reassessment.

djw

Glenn, I can see how and why you find Big Hollywood crowd's moralistic handwringing pretty annoying and quite silly. Where we differ, I think, is when I read things like papa zita's rape-minimizing nonsense, I'm 100 times more put off than anything in the first category. That kind of garbage has been flowing far too freely from people who really should know better, and it frankly makes me want to join arms and march with Rod Dreher.

Tom Carson

@Mr. Sutpen: I can understand you wanting to disavow the whole business with Wash Jones and so on, but please don't shatter my illusions by telling me that Tom Sutpen is actually the name you were born with. It's my favorite Internet handle of all time, and I was happy giving you and Wm. Faulkner -- not your parents -- the credit for it.

Terry McCarty

Re Diane Rainey's comment:
It can't completely be called "Glenn Beck-ing" since people on the Left (including recent fires-of-Hell-be-upon-Polanski op-eds on Salon.com and Jezebel.com) are weighing in with the same kind of hanging-judge severity.

Vidor

****What's always interested me is the vehemence of those who would bring Polanski to "justice,"****

Well, I guess people tend to feel strongly about those who drug and rape children, and then skip the country to avoid punishment.

Vidor

****Nor am I excusing his actions.****

Well, yes, yes you are. Saying that the state of California should make no effort to arrest him is excusing his actions. (And the bit about California being broke is a total red herring, since to date the amount of money spent on apprehending Polanski was probably no more than a phone call to Switzerland). Comparing Polanski to a completely irrelevant case involving a man unjustly executed both implies that he is innocent (he isn't) and that actually asking a man who entered a guilty plea to stand in a court and take his punishment is some miscarriage of justice.

Look, this isn't complicated. Polanski drugged and raped a child. He entered a guilty plea. He is a fugitive from justice. He will, with luck, soon serve the prison sentence that he should have served thirty years ago.

PaulJBis

Vidor: I have written above that I consider Polanski a rapist (not "statutory" or anything), so I have no problem with him being brought to justice. The problem others are pointing out, I believe, is one of double standards: why so much effort in one case and so little in others? Why so much vitriol in one case and barely a shrug in others?

If justice is what we care about, certainly an innocent man being executed is as serious (or more) than an indicted man being on the run for 30 years, and yet... well, ask some of the virtual-pitchfork wielding crowd how they feel about that dude in Texas. One can't help but wonder whether so much anger directed in this case has something to do with its culture war aspects. Which is, you know, perfectly compatible with Polanski actually being guilty.

Vidor

How much effort are we talking about here? A phone call to Switzerland? Maybe a fax? A few one-way air tickets from Zurich to Los Angeles?

Justice is served in a million different court rooms every day. It's served when the innocent are acquitted, when guilty murderers are convicted, when people who confess to statutory rape are sentenced, and when I got a ticket for going 84 in a 65 mph zone. I dispute the notion that there is a finite amount of justice and the fact that Roman Polanski is going to be extradited means that somewhere an innocent man will be executed. Frankly, talk of the man in Texas is irrelevant to this topic, unless one talks about that incident in order to minimize what Polanski did.

You can make all kinds of guesses why people care about this case more than others. The obsession with celebrities. The extreme sensitivity to child sexuality in American culture. Resentment at a wealthy and talented man being able to zip off to Europe and escape punishment when all the folks who aren't best friends with Debra Winger actually have to serve prison terms after pleading guilty to rape charges. I don't know. What I do know is that people who plead guilty to crimes do not get to dictate the terms of their punishment. A Los Angeles judge will decided what Polanski's punishment will be. Polanski, for his part, will use all his oodles of money to pay for the very best lawyers in order to minimize that punishment. That's the way the system is supposed to work.

John M

I think Vidor's last paragraph there is a perfect summation.

r woods

I think Vidor's right. Celebrity and power are why people care about Polanski and not about the Texas case. One can bemoan this, but I think it's pretty well-established that people love getting "humoungously righteous" about celebrities, whether the transgression is large or small. I don't think this is going to change anytime soon.

The flipside of this is that Polanski's attention-drawing celebrity/money/power gives him access to presumably excellent legal resources and, evidently, the support of a bevy of film world giants and French government officials.

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