A Superior Court judge in LA told Roman Polanski yesterday he could challenge his original sentencing judge’s behaviorâ€”if he surrendered first. Salon just published a piece of mine on the ruling here.
The LAT runs a typically unquestioning laudatory piece about the director of Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired; the star-struck documentarian, who ignored many facts in her largely smoke-blowing film, can speak with some authority.
I watched the movie again recently and was struck by how detached Zenovich stays from the victim, and how it undermines her in subtle ways.
The tone is set early on, when a friend of Polanski’s tells of being woken up and informed that the director had been arrested. It’s played for laughs, with interspersed shots of Mia Farrow on the phone from Rosemary’s Baby.
That film is about a scared and abused woman, but the scene isn’t about the girl Polanski assaulted; it’s about poor Roman. It’s an odd juxtaposition when you think about it.
Then, the friend is allowed to say something to the effect of, “Rape? Roman would never rape anyone!” Here, Zenovich is playing with the fungible definition of rape; I doubt Roman Polanski would “rape” anyone in the sense of the word the friend was using, meaning he didn’t follow a woman down the street and grab her in an alley.
If Zenovich wasn’t tipping the scales in Polanski’s favor, she could have asked the guy, “Well, what about statutory rape? Could you imagine him doing that?”
Previously in Hitsville:
The NYT story on Roman Polanski’s absurd ongoing legal attempt to get his child-sex conviction overturned continues many papers’ Polanski-centric view of the case.
The story is interesting for two reasons. One, while superficially making clear that Polanski is a fugitive and had been convicted, it’s told throughout as if something strange is afoot.
Although this is happening long after Mr. Polanski admitted guilt in the original incident, the effort has raised uncomfortable questions about how justice operates in a legal system that has never quite come to terms with Hollywood, despite this cityâ€™s long, and growing, list of famous malefactors.
Emphasis added. As we have seen myriad times, the chief “uncomfortable question” raised by such cases is how rich and famous people manage to get off most of the time. Here, Polanski didn’t, so he skipped town, and hasn’t exactly been living off the land since. The legal issues Polanski has been trying to raise are largely invented, and even if they weren’t Polanski had the money to pursue an appeal. But he didn’t appeal; he left town.
Yet Mr. Polanskiâ€™s case has only become more troubling over the years. That happened as tawdry details of his behavior â€” some of them described in grand jury testimony that was made public only in 2002 â€” were matched by accounts of official wrongdoing that occasionally seemed to mirror the tone, if not quite the magnitude, of dealings portrayed in Mr. Polanskiâ€™s Los Angeles noir classic, â€œChinatown.â€
Note how this “uncomfortable” case has become “troubling.” We’ll get back to the tawdry details in a minute, but let’s take a look at the Chinatown-like wrongdoing. Since Chinatown involved murder, massive fraud, suborning of governmental processes, and one rococo scene of nostril-splitting, even something not quite of that magnitude seems promising. “Among other things,” the Times tells us,
… Mr. Wells [a prosecutor], in an interview in the film, said he prodded Judge Rittenband with a photograph of Mr. Polanski in the company of two girls, taken in Germany before the sentencing. â€œâ€˜Judge,â€™ I said, â€˜Look here. Heâ€™s flipping you off,â€™Â â€ Mr. Wells recalled.
Mr. Wells has also recalled that the remark was routine and that he said it in open court, but the Times story doesn’t say that. Not very Chinatown-esque. The risibly one-sided HBO film, incidentally, spends a lot of time trying to explain away the photo of what seemed to be Polanksi having a very gay time in a German beer hall. The film fell off my tivo so I don’t have it available right now, but I’m not sure that the Times’ use of the word “girls” in that passage is correct, unless the paper is using it in a Polanskian, continental sort of way.
(Incidentally, while the HBO film tried to portray the judge as something of a buffoon, it didn’t tell viewers that he was smart enough to have entered Harvard Law at 15 years of age.)
The other matters in the case seem small as well, as Polanski’s lawyers have seized upon this or that word in email messages from the court in an effort to divert attention to the main issue in the case, which are that he’s a fugitive and that fugitives don’t get to dictate terms when they finally get hauled back before a judge.
Finally, those “tawdry details”: The story ends with these grafs, the first time I think that a major U.S. paper details exactly what Polanski was accused of, emphasis added.
If anything, the case may have become more difficult to resolve over time. The sexual abuse of minors has become a more potent concern, and the recently released details of Mr. Polanskiâ€™s relationship with Ms. Geimer cast a particularly sordid light on the incident. By her account before grand jurors at the time, Ms. Geimer was plied with alcohol and Quaaludes, and objected repeatedly as she was subjected to vaginal and anal sex.
The details were not “recently released,” incidentally, and the story doesn’t mention that the documentary didn’t detail these charges either.Â And note how the writer lets Polanski’s attorney get the last word:
For the elder Mr. Dalton, who urged Mr. Polanski to pursue redress after reviewing the documentary, however, the issue turned from the original crime to questions about the way authorities here handled it.
â€œThis case before the court is not about him,â€ Mr. Dalton said. â€œIt is about the criminal justice system in Los Angeles County.â€
Dalton was given a lot of time in the documentary to spin wildly for Polanski, so it’s not surprising that he managed to convince himself that he was correct after seeing it.
And again, the issue is framed in a way that’s kind to the director. A more detached account might go, “Polanski’s attorneys, in the HBO documentary and in the time since, have been trying to keep the focus off the crimes the director was accused of and on whatever challenges they were making at the time to the proceedings.”
Previously in Hitsville:
The fugitive director is continuing to use the HBO documentary that comically distorted the facts of his case as grounds that his child-sex conviction be set aside. A new motion was filed in LA yesterday.Â I don’t care about Polanski personally, but the media coverage of the case continues to gloss over what exactly the director did and the crazy stuff in the documentary.
The LAT says he was accused of “unlawful sex with a minor”; the NYT says it was “statutory rape.” That’s the impression you get if you watch Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, the HBO doc. In reality, Polanski doped the girl with liquor and a Quaalude, had sex with her, and then anally raped her.
The girl, as the papers describe in detail, has forgiven Polanski, and again I personally don’t care what happens to him. But the affair remains a case study in how the bad journalism of that documentary begets more bad journalism.
The LAT is particularly credulous with Polanksi’s attorneys’ claims:
The request to dismiss the charge, which took court officials and prosecutors by surprise, is based on revelations in a documentary broadcast in June on HBO. The film, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” portrayed the legal proceeding as hopelessly tainted by backroom dealings between a vindictive judge and a deputy district attorney meddling in his colleagues’ case.
Actually, the film tried to smear the judge with extralegal issues and raised one or two actual, if minor, legal points, one notably involving interactions between the original judge in the case and one of the prosecutors. The prosecutor, David Wells, has said the communications were routine. In any case, it’s hard to see how they “hopelessly tainted” a case that featured a 13-year-old girl telling police, “He stuck his penis in my butt.”
Further, the LAT story presents the issue of whether Polanski needed to appear in court (and thus be taken into custody) this way, emphasis added:
Whether Polanski must appear in court to ask for the dismissal appeared to be in dispute. As a fugitive, he would be arrested upon arriving on U.S. soil. A court spokesman said that in past attempts to settle the case — including the failed 1997 negotiation — Polanski’s presence in Los Angeles was required.
“It has been the court’s position consistently for several years that in order to pursue dismissal, or sentencing, Mr. Polanski must personally appear,” court spokesman Allan Parachini said in an e-mail.
The district attorney’s office agreed. “We believe that if he is a party to the action, he should be here,” Gibbons said.
But Polanski’s lawyers suggested in court papers that the judge could toss the charge on his own initiative without ever hearing from Polanski.
“In dispute” doesn’t seem to me to be the bon mot for a situation in which both a court and a prosecutor’s office have taken a position. The Polanski attorneys can wish that a judge will change that position, but that doesn’t make the matter “in dispute.”
Previously in Hitsville: