Wednesday, May 18, 2011

DXM History Repeats: Roman Polanski

Given that Bernard-Henri Lévy has once again glided down from his tower atop Mount Olympus to grace us mere mortals with his enlightened view that European men are entitled to do whatever the hell they want, I figured I'd take the opportunity to bring back a popular series from the archives. In September of '09, I devoted quite a bit of copy to the arrest of Roman Polanski in Switzerland and the consequent losing-of-its-collective-shit by a certain percentage of the liberal artist intelligentsia, including Lévy. For the record, Lévy's record of not simply rushing to the defense of rapists and accused rapists but of blaming the accuser in pretty much each and every case should preclude anyone from ever taking his ridiculously pious proclamations seriously. Ever.

"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 impolitely busted while visiting Switzerland to receive (gasp!) 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, 1.29.09)

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.

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