The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Roman Polanski still being hounded by L.A. County prosecutors

With the state Legislature forced to make dramatic cuts in the prison budget and a three-judge federal panel having recently ordered California lawmakers to release as many as 40,000 inmates in response to the scandalous overcrowding of the California state prison system, it seems like an especially inauspicious time for the L.A. County district attorney's office to be spending some of our few remaining tax dollars seeing if it can finally, after all these years, put Roman Polanski behind bars.

Polanski

As you've probably heard, the French-born filmmaker, who won a best director Oscar in absentia for the 2002 film "The Pianist," was arrested by Swiss police late Saturday as he arrived to accept an award at the Zurich Film Festival. At the request of the L.A. County district attorney's office, Polanski has been placed in custody -- the official term is "provisional detention for extradition'' -- awaiting a U.S. decision to make a formal extradition request.

Polanski has been living in France for the past three decades, directing films and raising a family with actress Emanuelle Seigner. He has been a fugitive from justice in the U.S. since 1978, when he fled the country rather than stand charges of having unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl. The case has been a cause celebre for years, with charges and counter-charges rocketing back and forth, many involving the controversial efforts of the original presiding judge to put Polanski safely away behind bars. It added another dramatic chapter to a life of tragedy for the filmmaker, who fled the Krakow ghetto during the Nazi occupation not long after his mother was sent to the gas chambers. In 1969, his wife, Sharon Tate, then pregnant with Polanski's child, was murdered by the Charles Manson family at a hillside home in Los Angeles. 

Meanwhile, Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer, long ago announced that she had forgiven the filmmaker for his transgressions and supported various efforts to have the case against him dismissed. I don't think that you'd find many people who would approve of Polanski's behavior, which was disgusting -- he drugged his victim with champagne and Quaaludes before raping her during a 1977 photo session at Jack Nicholson's house.

But at a time when California is shredding the safety net that protects the poor and the unemployed, not to mention the budget of the public school system, you'd hope that L.A. County prosecutors had better things to do than cause an international furor by hounding a film director for a 32-year-old sex crime, especially one that Polanski's victim wants to put behind her. As Marina Zenovich's 2008 documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," ably chronicled, the original prosecution of Polanski was marred by all sorts of embarrassing missteps and strange behavior, largely by Laurence Rittenband, the original presiding judge. 

Still, actions have consequences, and Polanski's sins have not been forgotten. He has been barred from returning to the U.S. and prevented from traveling to other countries, including England, because of extradition issues. His career has clearly suffered from his inability to work in Hollywood, where he made such celebrated films as "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby." He has been embraced by many -- having won a number of awards over the years -- but also shunned by a number of detractors. As he put it in his autobiography: "I am widely regarded, I know, as an evil, profligate dwarf."

But he also has his stout defenders, notably French Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand, who said over the weekend that he was "dumbfounded" by Polanski's arrest in Switzerland, adding that he "strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them."

In the coming weeks, the Polanski affair will no doubt become a tabloid sensation, with op-ed moralists, excitable bloggers and the Glenn Becks of the world noisily weighing in on the propriety of his possible prosecution. Some will say Polanski is a predator whose punishment is long overdue. Others will argue that it's the height of  folly to be stalking a 76-year-old man who has admitted his guilt and was long ago forgiven by his victim.

We live in an age that is so thoroughly post-modern that you can find an obvious literary antecedent for nearly every seamy media storyline. The same goes for the Polanski case, which is full of echoes of "Les Miserables," the classic Victor Hugo novel about Jean Valjean, an ex-con trying to turn his life around who is being obsessively tracked and hunted down by the Parisian police inspector Javert.

Hugo's story is a tragedy, as is the life story of Polanski, who was a fugitive as a boy and is now a fugitive as an old man. Whether the L.A. County district attorney office has its way or not, it is not a story that can have a happy ending. I think Polanski has already paid a horrible, soul-wrenching price for the infamy surrounding his actions. The real tragedy is that he will always, till his death, be snubbed and stalked and confronted by people who think the price he has already paid isn't enough.

Video: Roman Polanski in "Chinatown."


Photo of Roman Polanski by Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images.
 
Comments () | Archives (131)

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Well all I can say if this man is guilty let justice serve and prevail. It does not matter how long ago it happened, and I should know i was a victim of this sort of crime go to http://www.mako.org.au/john_watts_2.html this is a Paedophile site in Australia, my case stated in 1981 and the man was court some 25 years later, the jury found him guilty and JUSTICE WAS SERVED as it should be. Although in my own heart I have forgiven this man, I still think that these people need to be accountable for their actions, if they only new how they devistate the lives of their victims for decades to come.
Regards Christine

"The real tragedy is that he will always, till his death, be snubbed and stalked and confronted by people who think the price he has already paid isn't enough. "

Really? For thirty years this man has managed to avoid incarceration in a US prison for his crimes, drugging and raping a child. We have all heard the stories about how child rapists are treated in the penal system.

All things considered I think he's gotten off incredibly lightly.

Fortunately, the US justice system doesn't allow people to avoid imprisonment and prosecution because of people's sentiments.

This man MUST be brought to trial for his crimes, not the least because we must show our children that we still believe in protecting them against charming sexual predators who groom their victims friends and family as well as their victims.

Pray tell, Mr. Goldstein, what price has he paid? He's lived in France for the last 30 years, married a French starlet 33 years his junior, made a lot of money, and won an Academy Award. I can think of worse things. Does this constitute punishment in your world?

And what does Glenn Beck have to do with any of this?

"I think Polanski has already paid a horrible, soul-wrenching price for the infamy surrounding his actions. "

I wasn't aware that winning an Oscar and living comfortably in Europe were particularly soul wrenching circumstances.

Mr. Polanski has only paid "price" for the "infamy" surrounding his actions. He hasn't at all paid for the actions themselves, which is the entire point. Those forty thousand inmates have been tried, convicted, and have paid their debt to society. They showed up to court. Mr. Polanski didn't.

Disgusting.

Polanski drugged and raped a 13-year old girl, and because his had means to flee the country and hide in France for 31 years, now it is "too expensive" to throw his butt in jail?

I am absolutely disgusted.

Polanski is not some noble thief who stole bread. He is an soulless, amoral bastard who rape. A. Thirteen. Year. Old. Girl.

No one with even a shred of decency could even start to make excuses for this man. He's enjoyed 31 years of freedom after pleading guilty to a vastly reduced charge. He deserves to rot now.

And damn you to hell for suggesting otherwise.

the man made huge mistakes. It is difficult if not impossible to forgive him. How many girls and what are their names? May we start with my name?

It amazing to me to see so many articles offering the least bit of sympathy for a fugitive sex offender. Look at the difference between how Roman Polanski is treated and how Roman Catholic priests are treated in the media. If you're Roman Polanski you are given sympathy for an old crime, while Roman Catholic priests are taken to the woodshed for crimes that also happened decades ago (and rightly so). I guess those who write the articles can't see the blatant double standard given to a celebrity. If Polanski had been a priest who fled to France, he'd be eviscerated in the media right now instead of being defended in any way, shape or form. DON'T SUPPORT CRIMINAL FUGITIVES OR SEX OFFENDERS!

The prisons are filled with people that have "already suffered enough" in their lives. Welcome Mr. Polanski. May you soon be made to truly understand the seriousness of drugging and raping a child.

As someone who was raped and tortured as a 5 year old child...I am astounded that others do not take into consideration the thoughts of the survivor of this rape. It takes us a long time to come to the conclusion that this horrifying event or events are behind us. When we finally come to that point. that it is safe to move on...support is what we need. Now, do not get me wrong, I am not saying that the rapist should not be punished. I am saying...each case is different...each survivor deals with it differently and that is what we should be "obsessed" with. How the survivor is doing...what they need in life....how we can be of service to her or him. Putting the survivor's needs and wants first should be our main concern. I'm just sayin.....

I feel like I'm beating a dead horse with this comment but I agree with ALL the comments thus far.
She was 13 period and her forgiving him is a victim trying to avoid a horrible memory to be brought back to her. By our system letting him go because it's been so long it says we don't care about our children plain and simple. That It's ok for older men to sexually abuse young girls and boys alike.
I grew up in foster care with a lot of these victims and the scars most of these kids suffer is an abomination if ever there was one.
The writer here clearly is dellusional and yes I think it's horrific that Mr. Polanski himself has the suffered tragedies he has. However this doesn't make it ok to touch a 13 year old when you are 44 PERIOD

 
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