Friday, April 11, 2008

The Polanski Problem

As you know, this month we are playing our second Roman Polanski film. The Pianist is a great film and everyone was really excited about seeing Rosemary's Baby. I also think Chinatown would be a great film noir to show in the future as well. So there is no doubt that Polanski is a great director. Unfortunately, there is often an inner struggle on how much to like him.

Polanski's life is in itself a great story that should be made into a film. His father was Jewish and his mother was Catholic (both Polish). His young life could have been played out in The Pianist. He and his family were forced into the Krakow Ghetto by the Nazis. His mother was eventually sent to Auschwitz where she died and his father barely survied a concentration camp in Austria. Roman escaped the ghetto and ended up living in his grandfather's barn until the end of the war.

Fast forward to his early film career. His first big picture was Rosemary's Baby which was filmed in New York. Shortly after that was released he met Sharon Tate. They fell in love and got married. She got pregnant and they moved to a Hollywood Hills home that was formerly owned by Candice Bergen and Terry Melcher. Shortly after they moved in, Charles Manson ordered the break in at the home and the murders of everyone inside. That included the brutal murder of Sharon Tate and their unborn baby. It was more a case of mistaken identity because the target was Melcher.

To that point, his life seemed full of tragedies that always followed him. But in 1977, Polanski was photographing a 13 year old girl at Jack Nicholson's house and he she accused him of raping her. This is where the Polanski story gets complicated. He plead guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor but the judge threw out the plea bargain and convicted him of rape and several other charges including rape by use of drugs. Polanski fled the country so he would not have to serve time. Polanski claimed that the mother of the girl set the situation up for blackmail but his accuser stands by her story to this day. She does appear to want to put it behind her. He has not set foot on U.S. soil for 30 years.

Here is THE problem. Do you believe him? Was he innocent? Why not believe the accuser Samantha Geimer? If you do believe he is guilty, can you still enjoy his films? He is a convincted child rapist. Shouldn't we protest? Do we believe he is innocent because he couldn't have possibly committed this act becuase he is a great director? So if he where a mediocre or bad director or actor, he would be more likely to be guilty? Robert Blake? Nobody wants to see him again, let alone praise him for his work. I tried to think of other examples but he came to mind first. Hollywood is a bit hush-hush to the situation but the Oscar nominations for The Pianist did create some controversy.

So my conclusion is this. Roman Polanski has directed a few great films but I think he should either be fighting for himself or doing time.

I still watch his films but I believe that he could be doing more to clear his name. He certainly has the money to pay attorney's to work out another deal. He seems not to be too damaged by the fact that he can't return back to the U.S. It's like he's saying "Oh well." I don't like that about him. I consider the charge to be very serious. I guess the question comes up all the time with celebrities. Charlton Heston just died but the tributes were very light from Hollywood because of his NRA stance. So can you seperate the work from the personal side? The same goes for Mel Gibson and Michael Richards. Can you still enjoy their work? I ask more questions than I can answer. I am probably making it more complicated than it needs to be but it always burdens me when I hear the name Roman Polanski.


BlogFreeSpringfield said...

I guess the short answer is that you have to separate the artist from his art.

I can enjoy Polanski's work today, but perhaps it's because I wasn't aware of the rape charges as they were being brought and missed the initial uproar. If a director today, either an unkown or an up-and-comer, were accused of raping a thirteen year old, I'd probably boycott their work, but future generations maybe wouldn't feel as strongly since they'd be removed from it by the passage of time.

The more minor incidents involving Gibson and Michaels, et. al., don't bother me as much. Not to trivialize what they said, but pretty much everyone has said hateful things in their lives. If they're contrite, we should be willing to move on.

Will said...

I thought about showing Chinatown for Liberty Brew & View followed by a forum on Hunter Lake and water issues. But I thought that was stretching it.

I didn't know that about Polanski. Just the fact that he plead guilty to photographing and having sex with a 13 year old means I wouldn't invite him over for dinner even if it was consensual but I enjoy his films. Its one more caution against celebrity idolization and hero worship.