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.


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)

The comments to this entry are closed.

If it is an economic burden to California, why not let all pediphiles go? Honestly, anyone who has ever participated in, or viewed a Polanski film after his escape should be charged with aiding and abetting. A standing ovation for him at the academy awards...makes you wonder aoubt the message Hollywood is sending. Gotta question the judgement. I don't see who wrote this article anywhere, but they ought to be ashamed.

Costs too much? Costs TOO MUCH?

What can you possibly be thinking? Are you thinking at all?

Shouldn't the state of California be using its limited resources to find abducted children? The ones who aren't killed can wait, I guess, like that 11-year-old South Lake Tahoe girl did: living in the backyard of a convicted sexual offender who should have been in prison for violating parole, giving birth to his children, while a parole officer visited the home regularly. He had to walk into a police station to get caught.

What b.s., Goldstein! Using your rationale, let Manson walk for not actually killing Sharon Tate and the others. What is with your love affairs for Polanski and Kazan? Good filmmakers, bad people. I guess your next article will be an open letter to the N.A.A.C.P. to give their lifetime achievement award to D.W. Griffith. You can do better. I expect more common sense from someone from Chicago.

Law officers pursuing criminals is now considered by the LA Times to be "hounding" them?

"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."

Equating being a fugitive as a child due to the Nazis to being a fugitive for anally raping a 13 year old is lower than one expects even from Hollywood.

So I suppose you would agree to NOT bring to justice any 80+ years old Nazi's hiding out in say; Brazil or Eastern Europe. Under your reasoning, since the crimes were committed more than 60 years ago, lets forget about it.

Can you tell the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish human rights group which has brought hundreds of Nazi war criminals to justice since the end of the Second World War, to forget about it please. These Nazi's have suffered enough since they haven't been able to travel to Israel, the USA even Germany for the last 60+ years.

I love your standards.... or should we say, double standards!

For the Patrick Goldsteins of the world, the drugging and anal rape of 13 year old girls by wealthy and influential media members is simply not worth pursuing, financially speaking. It is not clear from Goldstein's tortured liberal-nitwit column which of the various factors trigger this threshhold. Is it:

- he's too rich?
- he's too famous?
- he's too liberal?
- the case is too old?
- the girl wasn't young enough? / What's "too young to drug and anally rape?
- he's too far away?
- oral would have been worse?
- they were "good drugs"?

Giving Goldstein the benefit of every doubt is difficult, but let's at least make the assumption that if this was his 13 year old daughter, he would wish to pursue the rapist, no matter if he was in Switzerland or Compton.

But please confirm that for us, Patrick. You clown.

How ironic, those under 13 are not allowed to participate on the message board. Happily I am closer to Mr. Polanski's age.

Mr. Goldstein, I think your column tells us more about you than it does about justice.

What is wrong with you?


Writing about the "expense" of justice?

How about Nazi war criminal? Were they too expensive too?

You make me want to throw up.

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