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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