Why You Should Care About the Roman Polanski Culture War

From GI Joe to F-bombs, we've reported from the front lines of more than few cultural skirmishes. But none to date boast the impact of the firestorm surrounding Roman Polanski -- the renowned Oscar-winning filmmaker, idling in a detention cell in Zurich, battling his arrest and potential extradition based on his flight from sentencing in a sex-crime case three decades ago. The creative community has rallied in his support. The media ask why an artist should be above the law (and what the law even means in a case riven with judicial misconduct). The public demands blood, and they may get it: Considering the lengthy appeals process facing the 76-year-old, there is the very real possibility of Polanski dying in jail before justice -- however you define it -- is served. Amid all the disconnections and breakdowns, could this be any more of a disaster?

First, the news: Polanski today appealed against his arrest to the Swiss Federal Penal Court, which said it would announce a judgment in the "next few weeks." That's another "few weeks" that Polanski is locked up, signifying an unconscionable disgrace to those film-industry leaders already distressed that Swiss police (at the request of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office) rained on his Zurich Film Festival parade. Moreover, they write in a petition,

His arrest follows an American arrest warrant dating from 1978 against the filmmaker, in a case of morals. [...] Roman Polanski is a French citizen, a renown and international artist now facing extradition. This extradition, if it takes place, will be heavy in consequences and will take away his freedom. Filmmakers, actors, producers and technicians -- everyone involved in international filmmaking -- want him to know that he has their support and friendship. [...] If only in the name of this friendship between our two countries, we demand the immediate release of Roman Polanski.

The petition's signatories comprise a who's who of contemporary cinema: Martin Scorsese, Wong Kar-wai, Pedro Almodovar, Jonathan Demme, Tilda Swinton, Julian Schnabel, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, and nearly 100 more luminaries (and counting). They're supplemented by Harvey Weinstein, who mines Polanski's tragic past in today's Independent: "How do you go from the Holocaust to the Manson family with any sort of dignity? In those circumstances, most people could not contribute to art and make the kind of beautiful movies he continues to make." Weinstein concludes with the Polanski defenders' standard coup de grâce, arguing that the director fled sentencing after his 1978 guilty plea for unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old because the judge, Laurence Rittenband, was expected to renege on the deal.

Marina Zenovich's documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired indeed lays out Rittenband's publicity-hungry strategy, which Weinstein and others have invoked as reason to dismiss Polanski's sentencing and the warrant for his arrest. But as Michael Wolff argues, the film instead motivated prosecutors to revenge. "The documentary reminded everybody that the L.A. prosecutor must be turning a blind eye to Polanski, wandering freely in Europe," Wolff adds, "hence the arrest now is the prosecutor covering his ass."

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  • castinghag says:

    Perhaps he'll luck out and get 5 years of house arrest like Debra LaFave did for raping the 14 year old boy in Florida. Of course, this is California so...

  • SunnydaZe says:

    I'll be sending you a thought today as I lie in the back of my stretch limo having sex with the teenager of my choice.
    And that thought will be:
    "Thank GOD I'm MEEEEEEE!"
    - Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) in "The Fisher King"

  • Lowbrow says:

    Fasten each of his limbs to a horse, creating a snow angel four-points compass position, and then pass around the popcorn as hilarity ensues.

  • HwoodHills says:

    Let's all just hug it out. (18+ please.)

  • Pinecones says:

    I think it's sort of an odd move for Wes Anderson to sign the pro-Polanski petition when he has a CHILDREN'S MOVIE coming out in a few weeks.

  • Steve says:

    I hope California spent a lot of money making this happen.

  • Louis says:

    Hi, Roman. How's jail?

  • Das Quirkster says:

    Right, so in one corner we have, "do you really believe this wasn't the first time he did this?", and in the other..."I have no proof...but yeah he did". Sorry guys, but you're all for screaching about the law being obeyed -- what about innocent until proven guilty, etc? (and in subsequent cases, I mean, not the case at hand).
    If the judge hadn't been such a crooked bastard and Polanski had served his ordered time this would be but a forgotten footnote in his biography. I don't condone statutory rape/sex with minors/kiddy fiddling/whatever the hell you want to call it, but this just has the hallmarks of idiotic bureaucracy written all over it.

  • Das Quirkster says:

    Oh, way to bring out the opinionated lurking crazies, btw, ST. If it's not M.J dying, it's this or an Oscar hosting post [and this is where I'd insert my rolling eyes emoticon].

  • sweetbiscuit says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. Just curious: when you became a police officer, they didn't do a background check for outstanding warrants?

  • sweetbiscuit says:

    Actually, many of these posts are from regularly-contributing, "opinionated crazies," myself included. And this can't be considered equivalent to an M.J. death post until Rajan.VS weighs in, with his insight into the floaty heaven and the rainbows and the laughing with the thing and the other thing that was all pink and smiley.

  • adam says:

    sad post.
    your "who benefits" approach is ridiculous.
    who benefits from tracking down Nazis 50 years later? Why not just let them be? They are old. Leave them alone.
    The plaintiff is not the victim. The plaintiff is the people of California.
    this is not a culture war. go look at the comments on the NYT. they are 99% for extradition. go poll the man on the street in France. they support his extradition.
    as for California wasting resources: a) they are "wasted" on prosecuting a fugitive who anally raped a girl and b) they wouldn't have had to waste all this time if Polanski had showed up for his hearings.

  • DarkKnightShyamalan says:

    While we're at it, can we let Manson go too? Who really remembers what the guy did at this point, and a lot of those so-called "murder victims" were probably really weird and thought it would be cool to die. The point is that he's an incredible poet and songwriter and the closed-minded world secretly wants to punish him for his talent.

  • Joscel says:

    Movie line should stick to movies.
    This article is just as biased toward Polanski as the crazy yahoos who believe that he is above the law. Because of Polanski's very unfortunate early life, and the Hollywood life that he created for himself, the public thinks he's untouchable-a god. They think he deserves all the positive that he can handle because of all of the negative he had been dealt.
    If you have negitively impacted someone's life, as Polanski did, you should be held responsible for that. Imagine YOURSELF at thirteen years old with this man. You can imagine exactly what it would have been like if you have enough imagination and sense.
    He's going to die whilst incarcerated. I'm just sorry he was so late in obtaining the lease for his new digs.

  • Christina says:

    First, after the incident in question, Polanski went on to have a relationship with a 15 year old Natasha Kinski. One would assume this was consensual, but it does show that his rape of this 13 year old wasn't the only time he had sex with an underage girl and may point to a trend in his taste.
    Second, plea agreements are made between the defense and the prosecution, judges are not required to accept them. This wasn't the first time a plea agreement was not accepted, nor was it the last. Most people just don't have the funds to buy houses in other countries or the connections to have world famous stars and heads of state stand up for them. Polanski doesn't even know if his plea would have been accepted or not because he ran before he could be sentenced when it looked like things weren't going his way.
    Third, he spent some of the better years of his life on the lam, which was his own choice, and now, as an elderly man, he might have to go to jail. This is his own fault. Hiding out until you're 76 and "could die in jail" does not make a rapist deserving of sympathy. Anyone, at any age, could die in jail or not.
    Fourth, statutory rape does NOT imply consent, it means that one person was unable to legally give consent.

  • SunnydaZe says:

    I can't believe people still think it's seven colors when it is obviously NINE! Rajan VS weeps for us all...

  • SunnydaZe says:

    Statutory rape differs from forcible rape in that overt force or threat need not be present. The moment Polanski gave a 13 year old girl alcohol and a Quaalude and continued to have intercourse after she said "no" several times, it became "forced rape" and would have been even if she WASN'T a minor. Statutory Rape is when both parties want to have sex with each other (consensual), but one is either a minor or mentally disabled and unable to give LEGAL consent.

  • cictrubie says:

    The grand jury transcript makes is incontrovertibly clear: Roman Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl through the use of deceit, alcohol, drugs and force.
    I also find it especially evil that Polanski and his supporters point to his history as a Holocaust survivor as a mitigating excuse for his behavior. This stains other quietly noble survivors -- like my son's grandparents -- who never used the horrors of their personal history in any way to advance themselves -- or shield themselves from personal responsibility.
    If Polanski dies in prison -- here or in Switzerland -- he has no one to blame but himself.
    Justice, whether legal or existential, inevitably has its way with all of us. . . . . Just ask O.J. Simpson.

  • Chaim Paddaman says:

    The old Hollywood and Liberal ploy was always to smear the victim to defend their own brotherhood. Hollywood and the world Liberals want us to believe that the behaviour of Polanski, Charlie Sheen and French Liberal elite humanist and champagne socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn are within normal acceptable social norms and values. The world is not that morally debased yet. However, with the influence of the celebrity culture on our children and the sheer might and power of the Hollywood propaganda machine. They will achieve this goal. Hollywood and the world Liberals have always practiced selective morality. Get my drift, Mr Harvey Weinstein. Alas, Porky Weistein is a mishugener..........