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Polanski Redux: Who Lied?

by Anne Thompson
September 30, 2009 11:53 AM
19 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

As the Roman Polanski imbroglio continues to unfold in various quarters, I am fascinated by the swirling reactions to his legal situation.

It's murky to say the least.

One can see why Polanski avoided sentencing at the time by the judge in the case, as revealed by Marina Zenovich's documentary, Wanted and Desired. He had good reason not to trust the judge. Now the retired prosecutor Zenovich quoted in the doc is saying that he lied to her. UPDATE: Here is Zenovich's response:

“I am perplexed by the timing of David Wells’ statement to the press that he lied in his interview with me for the documentary ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED. Since June of 2008, the film has been quite visible on U.S. television via HBO, in theaters and on DVD, so it is odd that David Wells has not brought this issue to my attention before.

“For the record, on the day I filmed Mr. Wells at the Malibu Courthouse, February 11, 2005, he gave me a one-hour interview. He signed a release like all my other interviewees, giving me permission to use his interview in the documentary worldwide. At no time did I tell him that the film would not air in the United States.

“Mr. Wells was always friendly and open with me. At no point in the four years since our interview has he ever raised any issues about its content. In fact, in a July 2008 story in The New York Times, Mr. Wells corroborated the account of events that he gave in my film.

“I am astonished that he has now changed his story. It is a sad day for documentary filmmakers when something like this happens.”


And the motivations of the LA prosecutors over the years are obscure. Why didn't they pick him up years ago? Why now?

And yet Polanski's defenders overstate his innocence, acting as though he did absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. He behaved badly. He pled guilty. He skipped sentencing. He is not, as a rich and "humane" filmmaker, entirely above the law.

Just because the victim of his crime is seemingly unscathed and grown up doesn't mean Polanski should not be held liable, now that the wheels of justice are again turning, for what he did at the time. It's strange, because looking back from the perspective of 30 years, we see both the young man and the old man, the libertine and the gifted eminence grise with a best director Oscar. It's because of the strange time lag that it is difficult to parse the right and wrong in this case.

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More: Directors, Players, Media

19 Comments

  • justice | October 5, 2009 5:44 AMReply

    No one should be above the law. Whether you're famous or unknown, rich or poor, a talented director or a bus driver, young or old, all should be judged equally before the law. Looks like karma finally caught up with Mr Polanski.
    Bring him home to face justice, and let the courts decide.

    Justice must be applied to all equally.

  • ALF | October 5, 2009 5:16 AMReply

    Hans said: "There are civilized countries on this planet (Germany for instance) that have status of limitation 5 years."

    Hans, that would be the statute of limitations that you're referring to, which the U.S. does have, but which doesn't apply in this case. Statute of limitations is in place to ensure timeliness in charging a defendant with a crime. Polanski was charged well within that limit and he pled guilty. All that was left was his sentencing, which he skipped out on (thus committing another crime - fleeing from justice). And statutue of limitations still doesn't apply to the second crime because he's been out of the country. When he hits American soil, that's when the countdown for that starts - and if they're going to charge him as a fugitive of justice that will happen right away.

    As someone indicated above he didn't serve time. He was merely held for psychiatric evaluation during that period (the results of which are often taken into consideration when sentencing). As far as the plea bargain, it's the prosecuting and defense attorneys who hammer out that agreement. The judge has nothing to do with it. Once the attorneys agree on a plea and a recommended sentence they bring it before the judge, who is perfectly within his/her right to accept or reject the recommended sentence. Rejecting Polanski's plea and sentencing him more harshly in and of itself was not improper or irregular. Judges have the discretionary power to do that, which is why it's so important for them to be as fair and unbiased as possible.

    This judge was clearly corrupt and unethical, and in no way did Polanski get a fair shake because of those extenuating circumstances. Justice in this case was not served for anybody involved. But there were proper legal steps to take. I understand the man's reasons for being afraid and not trusting the system but it doesn't excuse him. Back then both the prosecuting and defense attorneys filed a motion to have that judge removed from the case due to his biased and unethical behavior, and it was granted. He was removed from the case. 30 some odd years ago. There is a very good chance that any sentence that he would have handed out would have been overturned. They likely could have gotten the case thrown out way back in 1978 and none of this would be happening.

  • Jennab | October 3, 2009 3:13 AMReply

    Thank you, AI! You've got it right. Anne, come on. Would you be conflicted if the eminense grise DRUGGED AND RAPED your daughter? Orally, vaginally and anally? The prosecution represents not only the victim, but ALSO the State of California. He did NOT serve jail time, he served time in a psych ward, he was repeatedly told that a plea had been reached but that the judge could sentence him as he saw fit and he FLED. How in the world can he face his own children?

    As for forgiveness, it doesn't appear that he has asked for it. Only absolution.

  • She | October 1, 2009 10:33 AMReply

    NG,

    She was scarred for life. You have got to be kidding.

    Regardless, it doesn't matter if the victim somehow recovers emotionally. You commit a crime, you do the time. That's the law. Polanski committed many.

  • Al | October 1, 2009 9:54 AMReply

    Moreover it's truly impressive that the victim has figured out how to forgive her rapist. However, it is not the job of the justice system to forgive criminals (in fact quite the opposite).

  • Al | October 1, 2009 9:46 AMReply

    This is complete bullshit, people.

    1. She was THIRTEEN. No matter how developed was, she was inexperienced with life. Adults should be her protectors, her mentors. She was brought up to look to adults to guide here. Adults still hold great psychological and physical power over children (a power he abused horrifically). Brains don't finish developing until we are 22. My god. While some people claim otherwise, she was under the age of consent and WAY under the age of consent for a 45 year old man (there are laws that protect people within a year or two of age)

    With this information alone (disregarding the drugs or resistance) we understand this act to be RAPE, by common sense and by the law. It is child abuse.

    2. She was DRUGGED. BY HIM. WIth not just alcohol, but quaaludes. For those that don't understand, alcohol can obviously be used as a date rape drug, and quaaludes ARE a date rape drug. It is an extreme sedative, associated with sleepiness, memory loss, inhibition, decreased anxiety and passing out. Combined with alcohol, and all of these side effects are intensely AMPLIFIED, and bring risk of serious illness and DEATH. Polanski drugged this child, risking her life, in order to facilitate rape.

    With this information alone (disregarding her age or resistance) we clearly understand this act to be RAPE, by common sense and by the law. This is in addition to supplying a minor with drugs and alcohol.

    3. She said no. She said NO, people. She repeatedly said no and asked to be taken home, during the entire course of the rape ( This is clearly a child's response! Polanski was responsible for driving her home. She felt helpless and scared. An adult would never be in this position, physically or psychologically). He continued to rape her while she said no.

    With this information alone (disregarding her age or the drugs) we clearly understand this act to be rape, by common sense and by the law. This is not a case of age gap love- this is a horrifying case of child abuse.

    Let's get this clear.

    Polanski drugged a child with alcohol and date rape drugs, risking her death, in order to facilitate rape. He proceeded to violate this child vaginally and anally while she said no.

    4.
    Polanski did not serve any time. He was being held for psychological examining. WHEN he was convicted, the amount of days he spent would be subtracted from his sentence. This is how the law works. There was no miscarriage of justice there.

    Moreover, are people truly suggesting 45 days in jail is adequate punishment for the above? Ridiculous!

    The miscarriage of justice was Polanski committing another crime and fleeing! He has sent the message that he is above the law, that his heinous child abuse doesn't matter, that his victim doesn't matter, that she doesn't deserve justice, that she will have to endure repeated publicizing of the details of the harm he inflicted on her, that he should be celebrated despite boldly breaking the law and disregarding our justice system.

    5.
    While the victim certainly matters, protecting society from child rapists also matters, and sending the message that if you are brilliant enough you can flee justice is a terrible, irresponsible message, which devalues our children.

    We have to make something clear- when the victim testified, she wanted justice to be served, and it should have been served then. Since Polanski broke the law and fled, she has been through an exhausting, embarrassing, painful and endless media circus, in which she has had to relive the details of her rape over and over. She has been quoted directly as saying that THIS (the media circus, and the publicizing of her pain) is the reason she does not want to go through another trial. Well, there wouldn't BE another trial, and she wouldn't have had to live through years of additional pain and embarrassment, if Polanski hadn't fled in the first place!!! (Not to mention rape her). Polanski has disrespected his victim in every way, and my heart truly goes out to her.

    This is not a shades of grey case. Put this criminal in jail.

  • David C | October 1, 2009 8:39 AMReply

    Forget Uwe. What if this was predophile priest? Any talk then about a "status (sic) of limitations"?

  • Clay | October 1, 2009 7:50 AMReply

    Not difficult for me to parse at all. The pig-eyed little director got piggy with a young girl -never mind her exact age- quickly introducing her to all the fun this man enjoys in life. Fun for him maybe. Glad he had a fun life. Now go to jail, friend. I'm sure it will be a comfortable jail with opportunities to learn crafts.

  • Ginger Liu | October 1, 2009 7:48 AMReply

    N.G.

    You really disgust me. You are basically saying that this 13 year old asked to be raped and sodomized. God help your children if this ever happened to them. So many men and male judges blame the girl or woman. How many 13 year olds have you met that have the maturity of an adult women? I worry about children being anywhere around you.

  • N.G. | October 1, 2009 6:34 AMReply

    Altho baised this link is the girls testemony is not ! No need for filosophy after you read this !

    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/polanskib1.html

  • Joe Valdez | October 1, 2009 6:30 AMReply

    I will second Ryan and thank you for the even tempered coverage on this story, Anne.

    I'm not a proponent of televised litigation or locking people up who pose no threat to society. Polanski has suffered beyond his crime, but that said, it was a crime. Sorry, Hans, but this was not a case of consensual sex or some sexually inhibited American law that was skirted. It reads like date rape to me.

    That the victim is no longer upset says more about her than it does about what the law should do with Polanski. I'm glad I'm not the elected official who'll make that call.

  • Edward Copeland | October 1, 2009 5:39 AMReply

    What Polanski admitted to was a crime and the corruption and incompetence of the L.A. D.A.'s office gave him good reason to fear that he'd been lied to. Now the retired prosecutor said he lied in the movie because he thought it would never be shown in the U.S. and would make a better movie? I guess the idea that he was admitting to ex parte communications would never enter the question, retired or not. Still, I think this all comes down to the woman herself who was victimized if you read that 1977 transcript. She's moved on with her life and doesn't want to relive this horrific experience in court again. Now, if they do drag Polanski back and into court as a 76 year old, why not spare her any further trauma and simply charge him with the crime he is most definitely guilty of: Failure to appear. He might get three years, but no one is above the law, no matter how good the films they made are or how many tragedies they've endured in their own law. There also needs to be an investigation as to why L.A. sat on its hands for 30 years when he'd lived part time in Switzerland for the past 20 and could have been nabbed at any time. Could it be that a bankrupt city would welcome the influx of international press spending money in its city to help make up for all the added debt they accrued by funding the Michael Jackson memorial service?

  • N.G. | October 1, 2009 5:21 AMReply

    One can understand bothe sides of the moral delimma aside from the law.

    How a man might be attracted to a 13 year old girl tho taboo cannot be wholly dismissed as a folly afflicting only the most perverted. Many 13 year olds are quite developed and pass for adults in our society.

    Not to long ago ppl were getting maried before puberty and one might say that

    Its not like he entered the nursury removed a babes diaper and ....

    On the other hand the root of the moral issue is not the phisical age of the girl but the mental age.

    How does one measure mental age ?

    There is no way to quantify mental age so the law puts a standard no. on it and the book is closed if u get tricked into a lewd act after that point without saying no than sorry your out of luck learn from your mistakes.

    Is a child not concious of his actions when he kills a bullfrog ? or another child ? His actions maybe, the consequences maybe not and not talking about the law but the real life consequences of taking a life all the pain inflicted to the ppl in ones life his own and his victems.

    But the issue is not her mental age but his. One could meet a 16 year old who sounds 40 has the maturity brought by trail and tribulation and deep reflection. The opposite is true of 45 year olds who act and think like teenagers.

    So what do we do ? Do we leave the personal affairs of the ppl to the ppl where do we draw the line ? Do we treat this as an act between adults ? or between children ? Do we kno that she did not instigate a part of it and that he was not so foolish and drunk to take it further ? Was he a man child ? Was she beyond her years ? Who is to judge ? Judges or filosephers ?

    The law stands and a man regardless of other accomplishments when in society must respect it lest chaos ensue and we revert to barbarians.

    But when the law is corrupt and an example is to made to keep the rest in line based on personal subjectivity is the law still the law or one mans' power over another ?

    This issue reaches and puts into question all facets of law and morality and unless we wish to start over and right the books again let us look at the consequences of the act.

    Was she scarred for life ? No. Was he ? Well he left the country in fear and shame never to return.

    Who of us has not suffured some horrible trauma that we perseived as horrible. Noone i know and those who say no seem like they'd have a little more depth of thougfht and character if they did. Not to say its right and good to experience it but it is enlightening.

    This is an unjust world and if Mr Polanskis crime had been forgotten would the world have changed ? Will bringing it up 30 years after the fact detour others from acting in a similar fashiion ? ( which was a single incident not the lifestyle of a molestor ) How will this affect the victem ,who has put the incident in the past, her family as well ? The man is old can he even live long enough to sufficiently repay his debt thru incarceration ?
    Could he not fund a clinic to help other girls cope with life trauma ?

    Have we opened pandoras box ?

    How can some good come of this ?

    N.G.

  • Crow T Robot | October 1, 2009 4:44 AMReply

    There's the moral thing to do (forgive an old man his sins) and there's the just thing to do (paying the debt to society for your hideous act) and what's interesting in this case is how the two virtues seem to be in so much opposition.

    His family is Hollywood. And family should be expected to stand by their own, even beyond reason.

    The judgmental types are also totally within their right to demand the man settle his tab with the law.

    Like you said, no matter how it ends, it will be very sad.

  • Hans | October 1, 2009 4:24 AMReply

    American Justice System is a joke. They are not there for making just. This was proved many times. Get informed and read, you retards. Even if Mr R. Polanski would have been a simple man, even then, he should be freed. The victim forgave him, but you don't. Let the victim judge this, not you, retards.
    How would you like your father in his shoes ?. There are civilized countries on this planet (Germany for instance) that have status of limitation 5 years. But that's Europe, where civilization came from to US, not vice versa.

  • Ryan Sartor | October 1, 2009 3:35 AMReply

    I don't know Bradley. You say, "Just because the sentence wasn’t made official by the judge, that means he never paid for his actions?" I think that's exactly what it means. The prosecution and defense can make whatever kind of deals they want, but the judge has to approve of it all. That's the law. I don't know enough about the case to speak on it at length, but that's my opinion.

    Also, great coverage on this, Anne. It's the best I've seen.

  • Sergio | October 1, 2009 3:04 AMReply

    Yeah like I'm been thinking if it was Uwe Boll instead of Polanski, would Hollywood be rallying behind him?

  • bradley | October 1, 2009 2:43 AMReply

    I think the media have been distorting the story. They keep saying he skipped out on his sentence. But the sentence that both sides agreed to was time served and then leave the country. He served the time (hence time served) and then he left the country. How did he not serve his sentence? Yeah, he skipped out on the actual sentencing hearing, but he served the sentence that both sides agreed to. It was good enough for the prosecution and it was good enough for the victim. I don't see why this is such a big deal. It just seems like they got him on a technicality. Just because the sentence wasn't made official by the judge, that means he never paid for his actions? He did what they wanted him to do. Seems like that should be enough.

  • Joseph Angier | October 1, 2009 1:38 AMReply

    "It’s strange, because looking back from the perspective of 30 years, we see both the young man and the old man, the libertine and the gifted eminence grise with a best director Oscar."

    Not so strange - instead of thinking about the "genius" behind Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown, think about the numbnuts who directed "Fearless Vampire Killers" and "Pirates." That'll put a different spin on it.

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