Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Let My People Go

I wasn't planning to stick my nose into this whole Roman Polanski fiasco, as it seems to be bringing out heated emotions from everyone in all corners of the internet. This is all a little surprising to me, because I don't seem to remember anyone really caring about Polanski on September 25, when he was still a 'fugitive from justice' --- presumably when people would be most outraged about his crime, while he was still living free and in the lap of luxury. Coming to this situation as something of an outsider, as Polanski has always been the fugitive rapist director in my lifetime, I can't help but be a little puzzled by the moralizing it's bringing out for those against him, and the righteous indignation and bleeding-heart sympathy it's bringing out for those in support of him. As usual, I'm just kind of sitting on the sidelines wondering exactly what the problem is; he committed a crime, plead guilty to said crime, skipped out of the country, moved to a country that wouldn't extradite him to the United States (smart), then traveled to a country that does extradite criminals to the United States (not smart), and then the United States had their request for extradition granted, and thus he was arrested. What exactly is the problem?

But with the arrest comes petitions, and this is what has floored me the most about Polanski's arrest. Not that there are those who can't help but feel bad for the guy --- he's had a life filled with tragedy that would probably seriously mess anyone up, and dare I say it would be almost inhuman to not feel at least a little sorry for a man who lost his parents his mother in the Holocaust, and had his pregnant wife murdered by cultists who took The White Album as some kind of Apocalyptic manifesto. It doesn't excuse his criminal act, but surely it casts this dastardly predator into a different light.

Now, I'm in no way part of the Polanski lynch-mob, but these Hollywood petitions are down-right crazy. Some real house-of-cards shit. Ignoring the fact that they really have no legal or moral standing to speak of, they're filled with shaky arguments and logical fallacies that wouldn't fly on a High School debate team. This petition, drafted by writer-philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, and signed by the likes of Steven Soderbergh, Neil Jordan, Sam Mendes, Taylor Hackdord, and Mike Nichols, makes some rather incredible claims:

"Apprehended like a common terrorist Saturday evening, September 26, as he came to receive a prize for his entire body of work, Roman Polanski now sleeps in prison."
Oh, the humanity! It's of course un-clear exactly what Lévy means by 'apprehended like a common terrorist' (as opposed to, what, an uncommon terrorist?) --- does Mssr. Lévy mean he was subject to waterboarding and other 'enhanced interrogation' methods? Is he implying that he was arrested without formal charges (a blatant distortion)? It's un-clear exactly what Mssr. Lévy means by this phrase, except for the fact that he means to guilt you into sympathizing with a rapist by using non-sequiturs (what one may call a 'strawman' argument). If an officer of the law can take a citizen of this country away in hand-cuffs just because the individual game them lip (doesn't that count as being treated like a terrorist, too?), then I don't really find the handling of Polanski's case to be un-just in any way. Surely this country is filled to the brim with un-just arrests every year, from simple drug possession to, um, being black in the vicinity of a police officer, so getting worked up over the arresting of an admitted child rapist strikes me as a bit... odd.

Moving on:

"He risks extradition to the United States for an episode that happened years ago and whose principal plaintiff repeatedly and emphatically declares she has put it behind her and abandoned any wish for legal proceedings."
Right, 'cept if we acquiesced to the victims wishes in every case, we would have a revenge system as opposed to a justice system. I suppose if Ms. Geimer were crying for Polanski to be put in front of the firing squad, Mssr. Lévy wouldn't take her opinion into consideration while attempting to exonerate Polanski.

"Seventy-six years old, a survivor of Nazism and of Stalinist persecutions in Poland, Roman Polanski risks spending the rest of his life in jail for deeds which would be beyond the statute-of-limitations in Europe."
Then he should have raped the girl in Europe. What a putz!

"We ask the Swiss courts to free him immediately and not to turn this ingenious filmmaker into a martyr of a politico-legal imbroglio that is unworthy of two democracies like Switzerland and the United States. Good sense, as well as honor, require it."
At this point, Lévy is just trying to confuse you with a load of gibberish. Don't ask me what the phrase "martyr of a politico-legal imbroglio" means, and certainly don't ask Lévy. And I'm not sure how arresting a fugitive is somehow "unworthy" of the United States, or any other sovereign nation. But such concerns are trifle, no?

But that other petition, this one drafted by France’s Société des Auteurs, is so full of holes it makes Lévy's case seem air-tight. This petition has been graced with the presence of such signatories as Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Pedro Almodóvar, Wes Anderson, Wong Kar Wai, among many more, and while it's not as outwardly batshit crazy as the Lévy petition it's just as fundamentally illogical.

"We have learned the astonishing news of Roman Polanski’s arrest by the Swiss police on September 26th, upon arrival in Zurich (Switzerland) while on his way to a film festival where he was due to receive an award for his career in filmmaking.

His arrest follows an American arrest warrant dating from 1978 against the filmmaker, in a case of morals.

Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision. It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him."

The astonishing news of Polanski's arrest. Yes, I too was astonished that Polanski, who more or less was going to get off scott-free for a very serious crime (one you or I would have no doubt been locked up without a moment's hesitation for), was dumb/arrogant/drunk enough to travel to a country that has extradition to the United States, because he just had to receive yet another award (remember when he didn't come to the Academy Awards for fear of being arrested? Going to Switzerland was every bit as dangerous). Many people use the fact that he fled the country as proof-positive of Polanski's scumbaggery, but I honestly have a hard time blaming him for his instincts of self-preservation. But, still, the dude was dumb enough to go to Switzerland, which has an extradition agreement with the United States, and expect to not be arrested (doesn't he ask his travel agent about these things?). Now, I understand that he had indeed gone back and forth over the years, but talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Hey now, wait a minute! Switzerland is a netural terriroty, man! That means they don't take sides:

"By their extraterritorial nature, film festivals the world over have always permitted works to be shown and for filmmakers to present them freely and safely, even when certain States opposed this.

The arrest of Roman Polanski in a neutral country, where he assumed he could travel without hindrance, undermines this tradition: it opens the way for actions of which no-one [sic] can know the effects."

So film festivals and their patrons are granted diplomatic immunity? News to me. And I love how the the Société des Auteurs makes it out like the United States government is in opposition to the film festival itself, instead of just arresting a criminal that they have been trying to arrest for 30 odd years.

But the real kicker is that the Société des Auteurs is using the fact that Switzerland is a neutral country as a defense of Polanski. Perhaps they don't realize that neutrality is a term that refers strictly to warfare, which really doesn't have anything to do with extradition, now does it?

"Roman Polanski is a French citizen, a renown [sic] and international artist now facing extradition. This extradition, if it takes place, will be heavy in consequences and will take away his freedom."

File this one under "DUH".

"Filmmakers, actors, producers and technicians everyone involved in international filmmaking want him to know that he has their support and friendship.

On September 16th, 2009, Mr. Charles Rivkin, the US Ambassador to France, received French artists and intellectuals at the embassy. He presented to them the new Minister Counselor for Public Affairs at the embassy, Ms Judith Baroody. In perfect French she lauded the Franco-American friendship and recommended the development of cultural relations between our two countries.
If only in the name of this friendship between our two countries, we demand the immediate release of Roman Polanski."

Read: Let Polanski go or it's war, muthafuckaz!

OK, maybe it's not quite that extreme --- but surely that last sentence is going for intimidation, which is just plain ridiculous. All I can say is that, if the Frenchies wants to make a mountain of this mole-hill, I say: have fun.

But more upsetting to me than these idiotic petitions is the artists, many of whom I have nothing but respect for (and some of whom taught me how to love movies in the first place), condoning such idiocy. I know, this is the part where I'm supposed to say, "And I'll never see another so-and-so movie as long as I live" and, no, that's not what I'm trying to say at all. Just as Polanski's hideous act doesn't prevent me from enjoying his work, neither does Scorsese, Anderson, Wong, Almodóvar, or Allen condoning said hideous act going to prevent me from enjoying their work (and, make no mistake, signing these petitions is nothing short of condoning). But I can only imagine what on earth compelled them to sign these petitions, and what exactly it is about rape that they don't have a problem with.


bill r. said...

Have you switched sides? Your comments at Glenn's blog a while back led me to believe you opposed Polanski's arrest, but now it sounds like you're for it.

Which means we agree again! Anyway, the whole thing is just absurd, the logic of the petitioners is obscene and frankly disgusting, and I'm done talking about it. The Swiss denied Polanski's bail (they must think he's a flight risk or something), so this thing is going to play out how it's going to play out.

Then he should have raped the girl in Europe...


Ryan Kelly said...

I wouldn't really say I was against or for it. I hate to play middle of the road but I honestly didn't care. What I was railing against at SCR was people like the one's Glenn was referring to, the people who claim to have been wringing their hands waiting for "justice" all this time. Again, I don't feel anyone has a real right to want revenge against Polanski if Geimer doesn't, but that's neither here nor there when referring to the justice system.

If he could have evaded arrest for the rest of his life and died a free man, more power to him. If he had simply stayed in France he would be a free man. But he was arrogant enough to go to a country with extradition to the United States, and he was arrested. I can't believe that anyone, much less artists I have deep admiration for, would argue that he deserves to go free. If they were even pleading for them to go easy on an old man, I'd understand. But to argue he shouldn't have been arrested all together is crazy. He only has himself to blame for being in jail, both for committing this crime in the first place and then behaving like he wasn't a fugitive.

Adam Zanzie said...
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Marlowe said...

Ryan Kelly, I know you weren't always playing this side of the field. I've spoken to you in the past and our conversation (if my mind has yet to turn into mush) had you defending this French Pollock.
You fail to mention that it was not just rape, but rather giving booze to , drugging and then finally fucking her up the ass. A 13 year old girl mind you.
All of this while she was crying and begging this guy to stop.

At the point of his arrest I had little interest, and would not have lost any sleep if he lived his life in Europe. But now that he is here I agree with Mr. Sharif that he should spend no less than 6 months

I believe you said something about him just staying in France. That is true but he also owns a home in Switzerland, a home that is not under an alias and one that he has been known to reside at from time to time. So I will not be the first to say this but there seems to be something curious there.

And he had plenty of time to get over his losses, there are hundreds of millions of people who lost people in the second world war. And studies show that 50% of people have their spouse die before they themselves... die.

EVIL CLOWN said...

Great piece Tony. Wait I mean Kevin. Wait, I mean Ryan. See, I can't get anyone right.

Anyway. This is a great piece. Like you, what has puzzled me is the artists who have come out of the woodwork on this. Scorsese? Anderson? Seriously, this is going to be your stand? Of all the things going on in the world, this is what you're going to weigh in on? Come on.

What Polanski did was wrong. All these years later doesn't make it right. But like you, it's not like I've been calling for his head all these years. So when it happened, I didn't take a big sigh of relief, I just oh, okay. And then when the petition came out, I couldn't believe it.

Marilyn said...

"An artists creates his own moral universe." Bullets Over Broadway

Woody (appropriatedly) said it for all of them, the bastards.

Ryan Kelly said...

Adam, that's the exact problem, they're not exactly helping their image as a bunch of inclusive bleeding hearts. I just can't imagine feeling so strongly about an injustice being committed against Polanski that I would put my name on a petition for his release.

I wouldn't mind seeing them go easy on him, either, but something tells me that in this Nancy Grace era he's really gonna get the book thrown at him. Which I won't exactly lose sleep over, either.

And thanks for the correction. Consider it fixed.

Ryan Kelly said...

Marlowe, I think with all the discourse his arrest has generated, we all know the lurid details. You say it's 'not just rape', but it is still rape. Even if he hadn't slipped her something, it would still be rape. The issue I was discussing wasn't the incident itself, but rather these insane petitions signed by some of the more noteworthy film artists walking the earth.

Anyway, my defense of the Polish Pollock (would that make him a Polack Pollock?) was more about the moral superiority that he tends to elicit than my thinking that he deserves to be pardoned for what he did.

I too have little interest in the arrest, but I'm amazed that so many people in Hollywood, like a kind of caricature version of themselves, would defend a child rapist just because he's one of them.

Ryan Kelly said...

Thank you for your praise Nice Clown. I mean, Misunderstood Clown. I mean EVIL Clown.

The petitions are the only thing I've found genuinely shocking about this whole thing, and the incredible support they've received from some great artists. I understand respecting the guy's body of work, and feeling sorry for his life of persecution, but how any one who signed that petition can honestly defend him is beyond me.

Ryan Kelly said...

Marilyn, we all know that Woody Allen typifies sexual mores in his own way, so HIS support of the petition isn't too terribly shocking to me. Though a lot of people seem to be equating his marrying Soon Yi Previn with Polanski's rape of the 13 year old girl, and that comparison strikes me as a little off base.

Marilyn said...

Ryan - It's not the equivalent, but it shows very poor judgment based on his position in her household when she was growing up, the age difference, and the general sleaziness of his treatment of Mia Farrow in this regard. That Woody's films keep harping on these February/November romances puts me right off my feed.

Mike Hammer said...

"I too have little interest in the arrest, but I'm amazed that so many people in Hollywood, like a kind of caricature version of themselves, would defend a child rapist just because he's one of them."

Your' amazement amazes me.


These people have been defending him for an eternity. Don't you remember the rumpus they made after he made his semi-autobiographical holocaust picture The Pianist?

MovieMan0283 said...

Great piece. One clarification, though: Polanski will most likely not be seeing any time in prison, nor, probably any time in court, as the original judge botched his sentencing (leading to the self-imposed exile in the first place). Interesting that none of the petititions seem to have mentioned this aspect of the case which is really the ONLY argument in Polanski's favor, though even it doesn't carry much water in terms of getting out of his arrest.

As for the Hollywood self-caricatures, how about the fact that they booed and hissed Elia Kazan (some applauded, some sat on their hands, but there was also vocal disapproval) when he received an honorary Oscar in 2000, but Polanski's Best Director win elicited nothing but cacophonous applause. I'm no fan of informing, but raping a child it ain't.

By the way, if anyone is interested, my own review of Roman Polanski: Wanted & Desired (along with thoughts on the auteur himself) went up a little while ago, immediately after this whole Swiss arrest thing went down:


Adam Zanzie said...
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Ryan Kelly said...

Marilyn, since there is a 43 year difference between my mother and father, I'm just gonna have to plea the fifth with respect to the February/November romance element of Allen's pictures.

Ryan Kelly said...

MovieMan, but the judge messing up his sentencing wouldn't be grounds for a mistrial, would it? Any lawyer will tell you that a plea deal is subject to change at any moment without notice. This case is such an anomaly that I've had trouble finding anything concrete about exactly what will happen to the man. Guess we'll have to wait and see.

Ryan Kelly said...

Adam, she didn't 'give in' to anything. She didn't really have much of a choice at all.