Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

"Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" (Marina Zenovich, 2008) A few weeks ago, a friend professed a love for the film "Powder," and I told him, "You and I should talk." He's a big believer in holding folks accountable for their actions and not seeking out the work of those he finds abhorrent. So, I told him about "Powder's" director (for Disney!) being convicted of child molestation, and that "Powder" was something of a personal apologia for the director being "different." This creeped my friend out and I felt bad, and tempered my argument by saying that "I like a lot of Roman Polanski's films and he's a child rapist."

Not...technically—that is, legally on the record—true.
Polanski was convicted in 1978 of liquoring up and having sex with a 13 year old girl that he was photographing for some European magazine. He was marely convicted of "unlawful intercourse." Before then, he had had an affair with 15 year old Nastassja Kinski (who subsequently starred in his film "Tess")—the only difference being that he had carried on that affair in Europe.

Now, along comes this film that prods into Polanski's private life—his parents died in concentration camps, his dark sensibilities (which he claims developed from seeing Disney's "
Snow White," which I can believe), his doomed marriage to Sharon Tate and her subsequent murder by the Manson Family and the lurid fascination and idle (and unsubstantiated) speculation of the Press (not just the Hollywood Press) of the Polanski's supposed complicity in what was a series of random murders (The Fifth Estate loves a good conspiracy theory—on the West Coast, but, sadly, not so much on the East).

Polanski's arrest and trial was another chance for the Press to whack at scabbed-over wounds, and right out of the gate,
they descended like locusts.

Both the prosecutor of the case and Polanski's defense attorney have argued that he was railroaded by a publicity-seeking judge (also with an eye toward the young ladies), and the victim successfully sued Polanski in civil court and has come out publicly (and in this documentary) saying that it was a chance she took for publicity and an acting career in the twisted morass of Hollywood. She has publicly forgiven Polanski. She's grown up and one gets the sense from her world-weary tone that she wishes the rest of the World would, too.

So, Polanski can come back at any time (the only thorn in the proceedings is that the judge now handling the case wants it televised, which is a deal-breaker for the director. Given the evidence of the paparazzi feeding frenzy that constantly dominates the documentary, one sees why (that, and I'm sure Polanski wants to be able to direct that last act). The documentary makes no bones about Polanski's actions, it doesn't argue that Polanski did it, nor does it condemn him for it. It's agenda is to examine whether,
given the evidential footage of the media circus that the proceedings became, and the interviews of court officials and the obvious culpability of a compromised judge who enjoyed the limelight, Polanski's sentencing phase would have been fair and impartial, as Polanski's doubts about it led to his fleeing the country. It would be nice if the judge being accused were alive to defend himself, but he died in 1994.

For all the questions that the documentary brings up, the one that is never asked reveals the filmmaker's bias towards Hollywood's (as well as America's) unquestioning feeling of superiority—the question isn't why doesn't he come back.

The question is why would he ever want to.

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