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)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Is religious sympathy coming into play here, Mr. Goldstein? Being in a getto does not mean that he can rape a child.

He is a RAPIST and should be locked up forever!

Mr. Goldstein:

Do you have a daughter? If this happened to her at age 13, would you make the same arguments? God help her if takes you longer than a nanosecond to say no.

How typical of the LA Times.

If a Christian Minister did what Polanski did would you have the same opinion?

In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean stole bread. Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13-year old girl. There is no real comparison here.
Also, in many states, statutes of limitation have been repealed in order to prosecute those who molested anyone under age 18, and the world cheers it on. I suppose, these same molesters would find sympathy from the same group if they made some really nice movies? Absolute double standard.... Either it's a serious crime or it's not.

"If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate"
--LA Times comment section

How ironic, the LA Times doesn't want you commenting in their paper if you are under 13--but apparently it is OK with them if you get raped by Roman Polanski

Mr. Goldstein, you must be joking. Just because Mr. Polanski successfully avoid serving jail time doesn't mean he should be let off the hook now. My fiddle is just not that big for a man who has been living in luxury and comfort with a wife 33 years his junior. And since he pleaded guilty to raping a 13-year old then fled, I can't really think of too many other crimes I'd want our government to spend its money and resources on.

Bob Westal -

It sounds like you don't believe statutory rape laws should even exist especially since you seem to believe that a 13 year old is capable of giving consent to a man more than 30+ years her age to have sex with her.

And even though you're tripping all over yourself by trying to come up with a way to excuse Polanski's behavior, even you admit Polanski is "certainly guilty of the crime he confessed to and possibly more" the excuses neither have any "actual bearing on the case legally" nor do they "mitigate his crime" so in the end, your comment just ends up sounding like one gigantic ad for the Zenovich documentary.

Patrick? She was 13-years-old. He drugged her. He raped her. She said no. He raped her anyway. HE PLED GUILTY TO THE CRIME! What kind of moron ARE you trying to justify child rape?

Roman Polanski raped and sodomized a child.

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