2009-10-01

The Wagons Are Circling Around Roman Polanski

As an undergrad, I had an amazing English professor. He was one of those rare educators who manage to not only make the course syllabus come alive, but also enlighten in ways that reach far beyond the classroom. He was intense, demanding, insightful, ruthless, dramatic, and above all else, passionate.

Once in a while this Immortal of Immortals (as we called him) would step out of the small, upper-level Literature classes from which I knew him and teach to an auditorium that allowed non-English majors. The subject? The Films of Roman Polanski.

It was interesting to watch him in this different venue, speaking directly into a microphone instead of with a carefully staged whisper. Trading the squeak of leather shoes on worn wooden floors for gestures amplified for an audience of 250. Frankly, it was wildly entertaining for us ever-so-special English majors to see him devour unsuspecting Math/Paych/Bio/Art/whatever majors (who thought that this was going to be an easy A) with his calculated retorts to what they thought was an adequate comment. "Adequate" didn't compute with Immortal of Immortals.

Nothing set him into a tirade more than when someone tried to explain the actions of an antagonist with an offhanded, "He's crazy." Of course, Immortal of Immortals loved this...he'd set up his audience with the question, "What do you think motivated {insert antagonist's name here} to {insert whatever fucked up thing the character did}?"

Inevitably a newbie to Immortal would raise their hand and say the dreaded word, "crazy."

And off he'd go.

"Why would this author spend months, perhaps years of their lives crafting this work, this character, to have them be so readily dismissible as simply crazy? Do you NOT think the author was trying to convey a message with this creation? Why would they bother to conceive, construct, and manifest this character, this situation, this oeuvre if not to convey a message? I highly doubt the message is that the character is, quote, crazy." ***

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As you've likely heard, Roman Polanski has been in the news recently. Because of the aforementioned class, I've got more than a soft spot for him as an artist.

That being said.

In 1977 Roman Polanski (age 43) had in his care a 13 year-old girl. Her mother dropped her off at Polanski 's house as the the famous director was supposed to take photographs of the child for a Vogue session. As it happens, Roman Polanski fed her wine and quaaludes, then despite her protestations and begging him to stop, he raped and sodomized her repeatedly. He violated her in multiple ways.

Polanski skipped the country to avoid sentencing. He's been living in Paris for the past 30 years, continuing with his directing career and raising a family. Last week, however, he got nabbed by the Swiss and is sitting in jail, waiting to find out if he'll be extradited to the United States to face the music.

Astonishingly, there are plenty of people who are defending Polanski's actions, and who believe his actions shouldn't be considered criminal. Take Whoopi Goldberg, for example...she claimed on The View that the drugging, raping, and sodomizing wasn't rape rape. Really? Have you read the court transcripts of her account, Ms. Goldberg? Sounds like rape rape to me. I thought you were a woman's rights advocate. Huh.

Maybe she agrees with Joan Z. Shore's Huffington Post article, "But there is more to this story. The 13-year old model "seduced" by Polanski had been thrust onto him by her mother, who wanted her in the movies."

Ummmm...statutory rape isn't seduction. By definition. And Roman admitted that the girl was begging to be let go. Doesn't sound like any case can be made for "seduction." And so freaking what if the mother wanted her daughter in the movies. Ms. Shore's bio says she is a Co-Founder of Women Overseas for Equality (Belgium)...I'd laugh if I wasn't so disgusted by her.

Some make the case that Polanski should be granted leniency because his childhood in the Krakow ghettos ended with the loss of his mother at a Nazi concentration camp, and years later his happy marriage to Sharon Tate ended with her brutally murdered while pregnant at the hands of the Manson family. Unspeakable, unbearable horrors, for certain. But that doesn't mean he should get a pass at abusing others.

John Farr's defense of Polanski (also at the Huffington Post) even goes so far as to say, "And unless there's something we don't yet know -- for instance, that he actually wanted to be arrested to gain some sort of late-life expiation of his past sins -- then it's clear he thought he was safe going to Switzerland to accept that award."

So...because he wasn't anticipating being arrested, it's not fair that he was arrested? Seriously? By extension that means unless he turned himself in voluntarily, no arrest would ever be fair.

Sadly, according to this petition/press release, "Filmmakers, actors, producers and technicians - everyone involved in international filmmaking - want him to know that he has their support and friendship." Signatures include Woody Allen, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders, and hundreds of others. This press release also states, "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."

Yes. It just might take away his freedom. Jail's like that.

The greater point is, however, the first sentence. "Roman Polanski is a renown and international artist."

That's the crux of the issue, for each of Polanski's defenders, from the above mentioned to all of the others who are rallying behind Roman. He's famous. He's talented. He's one of us.

Their hypocrisy is deafening.

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If you've seen Rosemary's baby (1968), you remember the demonic rape scene in which Rosemary (played by Mia Farrow) realizes this "hallucination" isn't a dream, but it's really happening. It's hard for me to reconcile that the director who so accurately and sensitively portrayed the horror of being drugged and raped is the same man who did just that to a 13 year-old girl.

But maybe it shouldn't be. Art imitates life, and vice versa, no?

***While I heard variations of this speech many times, this is obviously not verbatim. In fact, I think I can safely say that if Immortal of Immortals read it, he'd be mortified that the quote was attributed to him. He was far more succinct and erudite...my best guess is he'd have given me an "A" for content, but a "D-" for execution.

5 comments:

  1. I don't know you but I agree. It is amazing. Fame is amazing. How is it society accepts behavior from celebrities that they would not accept from others? How can someone who raped a child be a hero? How can this person even be defended?

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  2. This is exactly what the average citizen is getting more and more tired of, hypocrisy within the famous, rich and powerful. No matter how you slice it, rape is rape.

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  3. I lost a lot of family in the camps and am well acquainted with many stories. I know a lot of survivors and to the best of my knowledge they never acted in this fashion.

    He deserves to face the consequences of his actions.

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  4. I have avoided reading anything about Polanski because it causes my eye to twitch uncontrollably which is surely a sign I'm about to convulse out of sheer anger.

    I can't even click on HuffPo links any more out of fear I'll see yet another post proclaiming that Polanski deserves leniency or giving some other pseudo-psycho-armchair-diagnosis that tries to justify his actions. I feel dirty and in need of a shower after reading that. I can only imagine how that 13 year old felt after having LIVED it!

    The Polanski Polka (what I'm calling the dance around him, including all the various petitions trying to stop the extradition) is yet another good example of one of the reasons I got out of the radio and music industry. There seems to be another set of ethics and morals for the celebrity glitterati that insinuates that because they are "artistes" they answer to a different sort of, perverted, justice. Makes me quite ill.

    Audrey at Barking Mad!

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  5. it's always an honor and pleasure to study with teachers that want and share more. that explore motivations and probe through the context and meaning of things past generalizations and the apparent.

    it bothers me how much some of my friends are technically advancing but are regressing in their comprehension and creativity. or at the very least, losing that very vital passion to explore and understand more about many things, about the world and life and people and the lovely chaos we're acting within.

    just thought i'd acknowledge the academic experience of this special teacher you had.

    really like your writing.

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Brilliant observations: