Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuesday Is Recycling Day

Anyone who's read this site long enough knows that there are scant few occasions when I think that any argument I make is bulletproof. In fact, over the years, I've revised, adjusted, refined, downright changed -- whatever you want to call it -- my views on quite of the few of the subjects I've written about in the past.

Not so with the case of Roman Polanski.

The reason, of course, is that the question of whether Polanski should return to the United States to face his 1977 conviction for unlawful sex with a minor has always been a matter of black and white -- one of the few you're likely to come across these days. Despite the entreaties of those who would bring all kinds of unnecessary points and arguments into the picture, it always comes down to this -- always: No matter what you think of the state of California's 30-year-old case against Roman Polanski, whether it was righteous or ridiculous, Polanski ran from an outcome he didn't like simply because he had the resources to and felt he was entitled to. He never faced the same justice that you, me, anybody else would almost certainly have to face.

I bring this up because now that the Swiss government has decided that it's not going to cooperate with the justice system of the United States and will not be extraditing Polanski -- a move, by the way, which violates that country's extradition policy, since it dictates that the details of a case aren't to be taken into account, only the fact that a wanted man is a wanted man -- I've gotten a couple of e-mails wondering if I'm going to have something to say about it. The truth is, no -- I have nothing new to say about it. I have nothing to say that hasn't already been said here and at the Huffington Post -- because the facts in this case haven't changed one bit. Repeating myself in a new piece would be completely redundant -- and any new arguments I might bring up would be what so many others' are in in this absurd saga: thoroughly irrelevant.

"The Fall of Roman" (Originally Published, 9.29.09)

I'll try to make this quick.

Roman Polanski needs to come back to the United States and face his conviction for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Period.

Why? Because he intentionally ran out on the justice system in the country where he committed his crime and has never been held accountable for what he did by standards that weren't his own. Simple as that.

Now, does he deserve prison time? Does he deserve mercy? These are questions for others to debate so I'm not going to bother getting into them, but one byproduct of the admittedly surprising arrest of Polanski in Switzerland really is worth exploring, because it's something that should leave a bad taste in the mouth of just about everyone, yet strangely doesn't. I'm talking about the idea that Roman Polanski should somehow be considered above the law because he's a talented artist.

It took all of a few hours after Polanski's arrest in Zurich for the notoriously pompous European artist community to rush to his defense, claiming outrage and indignation at the notion that Polanski could be (mon dieu!) so impolitely busted while visiting Switzerland to receive a lifetime achievement award for his filmography. They're calling it a "provocation." The implication is crystal clear: There is often an unnavigable gulf between the artist and his work and, dammit, that's okay; you can honor the man's abilities without letting your paean be tarnished by any of the nastier realities of who he is or what he's done. If this kind of nonsense sounds familiar, it's because we all just lived through weeks of it when Michael Jackson died. Although it's never wise to willfully trample on someone's grave, you can't simply pay tribute to an artist's talents without recognizing that there's a very real person who may be guilty of very real crimes at the center of your love-fest.

And yet Europe's artistic community -- specifically French, Swiss and Polish filmmakers and cultural trendsetters -- seem to truly believe that Roman Polanski's abilities should amount to a Get Out of Jail Free card. That it's okay if the stereotypically tortured artist broke a few eggs along the way as long as the omelet came out looking like The Pianist. That in the end, the greater good was served by having Polanski free to make movies.

Just some of the reaction to the arrest: "(Polanski was) thrown to the lions," says says French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand, melodramatically. "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face."

"(He has) atoned for the sins of his young years. He has paid for it by not being able to enter the U.S. and in his professional life he has paid for it by not being able to make films in Hollywood," says Jacek Bromski, head of the Polish Filmmakers Association.

You're kidding, right? Roman Polanski has paid for raping a kid by not being able to live in Hollywood and being forced to make his movies -- and his vast fortunes -- in France? A comment like that is just shocking in its detachment from the reality you and I call home.

It's true we let talented people -- from musicians, to actors, to athletes -- get away with quite a bit more than the Average Joe in our society. As Chris Rock famously said, if OJ Simpson had been simply "Orenthal the Bus Driving Murderer," he would've been in jail twelve years ago. But there's a difference between admitting that we can occasionally be starstruck blind and literally making excuses for someone's criminal behavior because they happen to entertain us with their music, movies, etc. Once again, I'm not arguing whether or not Roman Polanski belongs in prison; I'm saying that he shouldn't be able to avoid prison just because he's Roman Polanski.

We can let our entertainers get away with being assholes -- but not rapists. In a case like this, you can't separate Polanski the man from Polanski the artist. And it's reprehensible to even try.

"The Fall of Roman: I Rest My Case" (Originally Published, 9.29.09)

The piece I wrote just a few hours ago on the arrest and potential extradition of Roman Polanski is now up at the Huffington Post. As is common, posted at the bottom of it are several links to related stories, one of which is a public appeal from French writer and philosopher (the latter being an amusing redundancy) Bernard-Henri Lévy.

Titled "Artist Rally Behind Roman Polanski," the open petition is so far signed by over a dozen mostly European actors, filmmakers, authors and designers.

I think it's important that I reprint Lévy's demand (because that's really what it is) in its entirety so that you can appreciate how thoroughly full of crap the whole endeavor is.

"My journal, 'La Règle du jeu,' is working in support of Roman Polanski and mobilizing writers and artists through the following petition:

'Apprehended like a common terrorist Saturday evening, September 26, as he came to receive a prize for his entire body of work, Roman Polanski now sleeps in prison.

He risks extradition to the United States for an episode that happened years ago and whose principal plaintiff repeatedly and emphatically declares she has put it behind her and abandoned any wish for legal proceedings.

Seventy-six years old, a survivor of Nazism and of Stalinist persecutions in Poland, Roman Polanski risks spending the rest of his life in jail for deeds which would be beyond the statute-of-limitations in Europe.

We ask the Swiss courts to free him immediately and not to turn this ingenious filmmaker into a martyr of a politico-legal imbroglio that is unworthy of two democracies like Switzerland and the United States. Good sense, as well as honor, require it.

Bernard-Henri Lévy, Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, Pascal Bruckner, Neil Jordan, Isabelle Adjani, Arielle Dombasle, Isabelle Huppert, William Shawcross, Yamina Benguigui, Mike Nichols, Danièle Thompson, Diane von Furstenberg, Claude Lanzmann, Paul Auster'"

Where to begin.

First, the gargantuan arrogance on display in this thing -- Lévy's piously condescending tone -- is staggering even for a self-described French philosopher. The idea that he sees himself, his fellow artists and the region of the world in which they all live as somehow more socially and culturally advanced than the rest of us is obvious. He doesn't care that a girl was raped. He doesn't care that the act was committed in the United States. He cavalierly offers as a defense the notion that in Europe, where the civilized people are, the statute of limitations would've run out on this silly little offense years ago.

Except that there's no statute of limitations at play here because Polanski's not facing charges. He was convicted. He fled. He's still wanted because he copped to the crime three decades ago but never faced sentencing.

I'd really like not to draw a distinction between Europe -- particularly the easily assailable French -- and the United States in this matter, because the reality is that it should come down to only one thing: right and wrong. Where someone happens to live or what his or her cultural mindset might be should have no bearing on it whatsoever. That said, there's simply no way to ignore the likely predisposition of a French philosopher and artist to unleash some particularly virulent strain of moral relativism in a case like this -- to utilize his superior intellect to hem and haw over what exactly constituted a pursuable offense and whether Polanski had contributed enough to society through his films to bring his Karmic tab even.

Once again, I don't care if the man lived inside a human skin suit made to look like Orson Welles and was the one who, in reality, directed Citizen Kane. I don't care if Polanski's entire career since 1977 could in fact be directly attributed to his desire to atone for having raped a 13 year old girl. He never took responsibility for what he did on terms that weren't completely his own, and he has to now. Period.

Wrong is wrong.

I don't care how brilliant the man is. He's not above the law.

And defending him simply because he's an artist isn't just sickening -- it's sociopathic.

The Fall of Roman: Art Attack (Originally Published, 9.30.09)

Someone mentioned this yesterday afternoon, but I was so busy ridiculing Bernard-Henri Lévy and Europe's Olympic Intelligentsia Team that I didn't feel like diluting the pool with anyone else.

As it turns out, though, there is actually a larger petition circulating in support of Roman Polanski -- and almost unbelievably, it's even more arrogant in its tone that Lévy's.

It reads as follows:

"We have learned the astonishing news of Roman Polanski's arrest by the Swiss police on September 26th, upon arrival in Zurich (Switzerland) while on his way to a film festival where he was due to receive an award for his career in filmmaking.

His arrest follows an American arrest warrant dating from 1978 against the filmmaker, in a case of morals.

Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision. It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him.

By their extraterritorial nature, film festivals the world over have always permitted works to be shown and for filmmakers to present them freely and safely, even when certain States opposed this.

The arrest of Roman Polanski in a neutral country, where he assumed he could travel without hindrance, undermines this tradition: it opens the way for actions of which no-one can know the effects.

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.

On September 16th, 2009, Mr. Charles Rivkin, the US Ambassador to France, received French artists and intellectuals at the embassy. He presented to them the new Minister Counselor for Public Affairs at the embassy, Ms Judith Baroody. In perfect French she lauded the Franco-American friendship and recommended the development of cultural relations between our two countries.

If only in the name of this friendship between our two countries, we demand the immediate release of Roman Polanski."

My favorite line: "A case of morals."

Because drugging and sodomizing a 13-year-old girl amounts to a trifling little disagreement over one person or country's morality versus another's.

Oh, and of course the final threatening coup de grace: "We demand the immediate release of Roman Polanski."

I love that. Yes, otherwise we'll immediately impose sanctions and cut off the United States' supply of critically acclaimed films that twelve people outside of the film festival circuit actually see. Do what we say or we will bring East Village coffee house conversation to its knees!

Look, I realize I'm being harsh here, but the truth is that I'm a huge movie geek -- appreciating everything from the tiniest independent film to the biggest-budget blockbuster. This is probably why it disappoints me in ways I could never properly put into words that so many of my favorite filmmakers have jumped on board and signed this laughable petition.

A partial list:

"Woody Allen, Darren Aronofsky, Sam Mendes, Alfonso Cuaron, Terry Gilliam, Jonathan Demme, Wong Kar Wai, David Lynch, Tom Tykwer, Martin Scorsese, Alexander Payne, Michael Mann, Julian Schnabel, John Landis, Wim Wenders"

Now I get that some of these were givens: Woody Allen has no choice but to forgive sex with a little girl, Julian Schnabel is clinically insane, and John Landis is thinking, "Polanski's an amateur -- at least the kid survived her encounter with him."

Also on the list, inexplicably, is Buck Henry.

That bears repeating because it's so damn weird: Buck Henry.

The bottom line here -- the only possible rationale I can come up with as to why a large group of otherwise lucid human beings with working hearts and brains are on board with this travesty -- would seem to be best related by way of a little story: Back in 1999, you might remember, Shakespeare In Love beat Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. To this day, this is a decision that makes zero sense and it actually has gone on to become one of the most controversial (and regrettable) choices the academy's ever made. After the Oscar was announced, I remember a few academy members and various Hollywood heavies speaking out about the decision, saying with a completely straight face that they got behind Shakespeare because they saw it as a love letter to actors. (Those were William H. Macy's words exactly, in fact.)

So if you follow that logic, it goes something like this: Honoring actors is a more noble and important statement to make than honoring the guys who helped save the world.

I realize that I'm simplifying things quite a bit, but the point I'm trying to make is that the arguments so many level at the artistic elite -- that they live in a fantasy universe revolving solely around them, that they've been told "yes" for so long that they believe the rules no longer apply to them -- these have a certain amount of validity. Is there a better explanation as to why so many intelligent people would come together with one voice and proclaim loudly that one of their own is above the law?

I really hope that's it, because if not I'm going to have no choice but to assume that the people behind my favorite movies are all crazy, despicable fucking monsters.


Anonymous said...

It hurts me to see some of those names on that fucking bastard of a list.

Great article.

brite said...

Chez...the Swiss have not in any way flouted the terms of the extradition treaty;because the US refused to provide documents to ensure that Polanski still had certain jail time to serve, the Swiss, (rightly so) refused to extradite him.
"Ce document devait permettre de confirmer que le juge avait bien assuré aux représentants des parties, lors d'une séance le 19 septembre 1977, que les 42 jours que Roman Polanski avait passés dans la division psychiatrique d'une prison californienne couvraient la totalité de la peine d'emprisonnement qu'il devait exécuter. Si ces faits sont avérés, la demande d'extradition est dénuée de fondement."
"This document was intended to confirm that the judge was well assured representatives of the parties at a meeting Sept. 19, 1977, the 42 days that Roman Polanski had spent in the psychiatric ward of a prison in California covering the entire sentence that would run. If these facts are proven, the extradition request is groundless."
""Dans ces conditions, on ne saurait exclure avec toute la certitude voulue que Roman Polanski ait déjà exécuté la peine prononcée autrefois à son encontre et que la demande d'extradition souffre d
"'un vice grave", a indiqué Mme Eveline Widmer Schlumpf. Vu ces incertitudes, la demande d'extradition doit être rejetée."
""In these circumstances it can not be ruled out with any certainty required that Roman Polanski had already executed the sentence against him once and that the extradition request is suffering from a serious defect," said Eveline Widmer Schlumpf. Given these uncertainties, the extradition request must be rejected."
Believe me,the Swiss are incredibly picky about following the 'rule of law'.
Quotes from 24 Heures, full articles can be read online at www.24heures.ch
Translation by Ubiquity

Mas Triste said...

If we failed to provide the information needed for the extradition, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.

If, however, this is some type of cosmic payback for single-handedly ruining the world's most secret banking industry, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Chez said...

There was almost certainly something going on behind the scenes -- which is a real shame. That said, there's just no excuse whatsoever for letting Polanski walk. It's infuriating not because any of us have some sort of personal stake in what happens with this case -- merely because it's such a miscarriage of justice.

Anonymous said...

I loved reading this article again, I have been disgusted by this case since it happened when I was a teenage girl myself. But I remember thinking that refusing to applaud for the lifetime achievement award of Elia Kazan (as many many famous people in the audience chose to do (um, or not do)), was such an unkind thing to do to an old man who had made so many great movies. But fearing Joe McCarthy so much that you named names is not the same as raping a little girl. Right? I mean there is a degree of "only human" leeway, right? I'm confused...

Benoît from Ottawa said...

Dear Chez,
regarding "There was almost certainly something going on behind the scenes -- which is a real shame. That said, there's just no excuse whatsoever for letting Polanski walk",

I say yes, I agree with your first statement, there certainly were many, um, the French call them 'tractactions', going on at many levels -- that happens all the time with wealthy and culturally-regarded people, and not only in Europe, but yes, especially in Europe.

As to your second, I disagree, there are no end of excuses. Oh, perhaps not "an excuse" in the root sense of the word -- something that actually excuses behaviour --, but excuses in the sense that it's mostly used.

I sure as hell knew you (ahem) wouldn't be happy (close ahem) with the outcome, damned sure.

Anonymous said...

Yes, agreed that this issue is as black-and-white as they come.

You really have to wonder about those who publicly express support for this little toad.

If drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl is okay, just where the FUCK do you people draw the line?

And the anonymous commenter above speaks the truth: it's painful to see some of the names attached to that petition. In particular, the presence of Terry Gilliam's name is jarring. With only his work to go by, I had always assumed that Gilliam was one of the most humanistic and compassionate filmmakers working today.

Such a disappointment.

Mas Triste said...

'Flub' freed Polanski - ASSOCIATED PRESS

LOS ANGELES — The Swiss government asked the U.S. Justice Department to release sealed transcripts in the Roman Polanski case just days before a Los Angeles judge was told that the Swiss did not request that information, according to a letter from Swiss officials that points to apparent miscommunication in the case.

The officials said that the denial of access to the information was the key factor in the refusal to extradite the film maker to the U.S., according to the letter to the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland.

A district attorney's spokeswoman said their office was never notified of the Swiss request and did not know that the Justice Department had turned it down.

The letter dated Monday was obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday night. It provided a time line of when the request was filed and when it was turned down.

The letter blamed the denial of extradition solidly on the refusal by the Justice Department to show transcripts of testimony by the film director's original prosecutor to Swiss officials.

Peter Lynn said...

Anyone who remembers the Uncle Roy sketches from Saturday Night Live won’t find it too weird that Buck Henry is standing behind a convicted sexual predator.