The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

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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.


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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His career has suffered? He's continued to make successful films even while he lived abroad.

He's been snubbed? Last time I checked, his films were still being nominated for Academy Awards and winning awards (The Pianist?).

But of course, this moral relativism shouldn't surprise me. I guess it doesn't matter how bad someone's crime is-- if he lays low long enough, all should be forgiven. I'm sorry that Mr. Polanski suffered at the hands of the Nazis, and the death of Sharon Tate was a great tragedy, but his life experiences don't justify or excuse his crimes against others.

And please don't compare this man to Jean Valjean; Polanski didn't steal a loaf of bread.

YES... He Raped a Child..... VERY Bad.... He's SORRY

SHE Wants to Let IT GO.

Eh... Not So Much... After all ....He's The "King of POOP"

FU LAPD and ALL You Vapid, Heartless Hardasses.

This is a DEAD Issue. DEAD as Sharon Tate......

Peace Out, KB

He was not barred from the U.S. He was a coward who could not bring himself back to the U.S. to face the charges.

What a pathetic article! Blame this on the judge who has died and could not defend himself?! How about show some respect to the rule of law?!

This case is not about the victim. It is about making a statement that it is not acceptable for an adult to ply a 13yo girl with alcohol and drugs and then rape her in a hot tub. And if you do, then you will serve a significant jail sentence. And this is the case even if you flee to a jurisdiction where they easily forgive criminals. And even if you have high-priced lawyers. And even if you go on to make lots of movies that win acclaim. And even if you have great sympathy from the LA Times, which thinks that 30 years of criticism is a sufficient sentence for the brutal rape of a child you have drugged. We need to do this not for the victim, but for the 13yo girls attending their first modeling shoots this week. We need them to know that the law is in their corner, even if the LA Times is not.

The Rule of Law, please.

Roman Polanski is a brilliant director. No question about his talent. But he admitted to DRUGGING and then having sex with a 13 YEAR OLD girl! He was in his 30's at the time. We are not talking about a 17 year old girl having sex with an 18 year old. There is no reason why a pedophile should be forgiven for his crime. Even if the victim does not want to press charges, POLANSKI ADMITTED TO DRUGGING AND HAVING SEXUAL INTERCOURSE WITH A 13 YEAR OLD!
How could anyone excuse that kind of behavior? I wonder how those who wish to forgive him would feel if their 13 year old daughter or sister were drugged and raped by a 30 something year old man? Would they be so willing to forgive and forget?

Really? REALLY? Goldstein... REALLY? "'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"

Goldstein, your attitude toward this baby rapist is EXACTLY why the vast majority of the people in America look at "people" like you with gut churning disgust. By the way, do you have any children? I wonder if child protective services needs to visit your house?

YES... He Raped a Child..... VERY Bad.... He's VERY SORRY
SHE Wants to LET IT GO. After all, it's been 36 YEARS.


Eh... Not So Much... After all ....He's The "King of POOP"

FU LAPD and ALL You Vapid, Heartless Hardasses.

This is a DEAD Issue. DEAD as Sharon Tate......
Peace Out, KB

The action taken by the sneaky Swiss authorities would not have anything to do with the recent bank scandal between USA-Switzerland, would it?
Kinda like, ok, here's a little token of appreciation for letting us of the hook?
It never ceases to amaze me that the two faced Swiss find a way to get out of
any potentially bad situation.

If Polanski was a normal Joe who would be his defenders. Nobody. Neither France, Poland or Hollywood would take any notice about it. Polanski should not be treated any different then an average everyday Pedophile. He knew very clearly when he started that photo shoot that the girl was underage. He committed a crime and now he should pay the time. I would hope most Americans and Europeans would agree that his wealth and fame do not entitle him to special rights to take advantage of under age girls.

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