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Piling on Polanski: Wanted, Desired, and Arrested

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Tuesday, Sep 29, 2009

If two wrongs don’t make a right, a few dozen more can’t hurt, correct? After all, the recent arrest of Roman Polanski while on a trip to Switzerland is only the latest lamebrained stunt in a series of mangled human miscarriages that run the gamut from statutory rape to judicial star f*cking. In her brilliant documentary, Wanted and Desired, Marina Zenovich argued that there were no winners in the original criminal case that found one of film’s greatest auteurs coping to a horrific act of sexual battery. Indeed Polanski may have argued consent, but it was clear that his victim, Samantha (Gailey) Geimer, was incapable of giving same - not legally or morally. Still, after decades of decisions in the court of public opinion, does this case really need to be dragged through the media mud once again? Somewhere in LA, a prosecutor is laughing into his potential political cache.


A few months back, Polanski tried to get a new hearing on this sticky situation, a legal conundrum that saw him cop to a plea, prepare for his sentence, and then get stabbed in the back by a judge who didn’t want some Hollywood hot shot making him look like a weakling. A few unprecedented backpedals and time served turned into the Mason County Line. So Polanski fled, finding solace and sovereign smugness in France. He maintained his creative arc, eventually earning praise - and a long delayed Oscar - for his Holocaust drama The Pianist. But with a warrant hanging over his head and the knowledge that any trip back to the States (or a country with a favorable extradition treaty with Uncle Sam) would mean instant access to a California prison, Polanski has kept his distance.


So it seems odd that a nation that had long since provided him with unfettered access would suddenly turn tale and play along with a still questionable judicial mandate. Make no mistake about it - Polanski is as guilty as original sin. Suggesting otherwise puts you in the same boat as the star struck judge who believed in dishing out his own brand of old West, old school tie justice. But at 76, the director of Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown is no longer a threat. Instead, he’s more valuable today as a pawn, a piece in a belated back and forth that sees lawyers battling each other to write the final chapter of this indecent display. One can readily imagine an episode of Dog the Bounty Hunter, the Born-Again bad ass and his hefty wife Beth spinning around Europe in a black SUV calling everyone “bra” as they hunt down the diminutive Polish pariah.


In many ways, Polanski made this particular botched bed. When Zenovich found original Prosecutor Roger Gunson and Defense Attorney Douglas Dalton and spoke with them on film about the decade’s old debacle, they were very clear in their consensus: the director got a raw deal. Not that he didn’t deserve punishment, but that the late Laurence J. Rittenband screwed him out of same. The now dead magistrate is painted as a series of concerning contradictions, a man obsessed with high profile celebrity crimes who himself aspired to similar notoriety as the arbiter of same. He purposely asked to be on the Polanski case, and used it as the basis for his own surreal courtroom drama. Seeing an out - what highly paid mouthpieces do best - his new legal team demanded a Mulligan. What it got instead was a series of defeats and a decision by a formerly friendly neutral nation to put one of their most infamous visitors in the stocks.


All of which begs the question - where do we go from here? If sent to the US, Polanski will find himself lost in a TMZ maelstrom the likes of which he could only dream of back in the ‘70s - and this was the man whose wife (Sharon Tate) and unborn child was killed by the Manson Family. His victim has been gracious in her desire to forgive, making the prerelease publicity rounds before Zenovich’s film premiered on HBO. And there are facts people always forget in the instant condemnation of this man who, supposedly, “beat” the system. As part of his plea, Polanski was promised probation. The judge felt such a stance would get him in hot water with the media. As a compromise, all decided on a 90 day stay at the State Prison at Chino. While it would technically be up for further discretionary review, it was farcical formality. Once released, Polanski would be more or less free. And the director actually did go to jail. He served 42 days in isolation, administrators afraid of what the prison population would do to a convicted child molester.


Oh course, what many in the mythology don’t acknowledge - and in turn, avoid today as being far outside the current social stigma - is that Polanski’s case was always going to be probation. He was a foreigner, easily deportable, and rich enough to fight any attempt at long term incarceration. The victim’s reluctance to testify also factored in to the supposed resolution. The reason Polanski serves any time whatsoever is that Rittenband wanted to look tough on crimes of this nature. He wasn’t going to let stardom alter his perceived course of punishment. Naturally, this has all led to a shortcut buzzword conclusion in the press - Polanski ran to France (and continues to curry the country’s favor) to avoid his guilt. No discussion of the facts. No disclosure about what the filmmaker really went through during his trials.


Instead, the standard bravado and bullshit applies. Sides are taken and ‘get tough’ stances are worn like medals of honor. As the situation continues to be played out in the California Court of Appeals, many in the artistic and political community are rallying around Polanski and condemning the actions of an overeager US. In many ways, it’s a no win situation. If he is dragged back to American soil, thrown in a cell and adjudicated all over again, he turns into a martyr, a victim of a vindictive and spiteful society that doesn’t like to leave legal messes mucking up their supposed superpowers. Of course, the fact that he will more than likely revolving door his way out of any jail sentence (his age, time served, victim support) won’t stop the Red White and Blue from setting up the Big Top for one more mandatory media circus.


And if he doesn’t return, if he’s successful in fighting the extradition, he will be viewed as a hero everywhere else except the land of the free and the home of the brave. He will be seen, as he is today, as the unlucky recipient of US Puritanism and piling on. Again, no one is excusing his forcible act. He raped a young woman - even pled to such a status - and in a world were we defiantly demonize his retreat, Polanski has rightfully earned his own unique Scarlet Letter. Time has not necessarily lessened the import of his actions, but it has allowed for clarity when it comes to putting it into perspective. It seems awfully late in the game to pull this kind of stunt-like switcheroo. Here’s hoping the individuals behind these events get what they need. One thing’s for certain - if it’s justice, there is none to be found anymore. Not for Ms. Geimer. Not for what happened to her all those years ago. And definitely not for Polanski. In fact, there never was any to begin with.

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