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The Auteurs Daily: The Polanski Debate

The Auteurs Daily

Roman Polanski

Yesterday someone quipped on Twitter something to the effect that it was hard to believe Roman Polanski had fallen for the old Lifetime Achievement Award at the Zurich Film Festival trick. As you're likely aware, not all the news and commentary that has tumbled, tweeted and generally spewed forth online since the 76-year-old director was arrested on Saturday has been quite that light-hearted.

Over the weekend, it was difficult to piece together just what had happened exactly, but now that Monday's come and the news organizations have kicked into full gear, the story is developing rapidly - and basically on two fronts. The bare bones have been neatly laid out in a FAQ by the Guardian's Helen Pidd. In short, over three decades ago, Polanski, charged with having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl, left the US before he was sentenced and, while US authorities had issued an international search request in 2005, the Los Angeles county district attorney's office decided to make its move now. So Polanski's in Swiss custody and will fight extradition to the States.

Once we start trying to flesh out those bones, though - Why now? Why did Polanski flee in the first place? and so on - we begin moving into more contentious territory (not to mention mixing metaphors), and Carl Franzen has done a bang-up job mapping it for the Atlantic Wire. He divides the debate into two broad categories with subsets of varying arguments for each: "Let Him Go" vs "Lock Him Away." If you're at all interested in this case, Franzen's summary, doubling as a portal onto all the shouting, is most definitely the click of the day. I've also been gathering links to noteworthy stories and opinions, which you can pick up by following @theauteursdaily.

The cinephilic angle is not among the weightier ones, morally speaking, but that's what we're here for, so I do want to note that, as David Jolly and Michael Cieply are reporting in the New York Times, directors including Pedro Almodóvar, Wong Kar-Wai and Wim Wenders are among the nearly 100 signatories on a petition declaring, "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."

As for the critics, some, like Glenn Kenny, are wading in to the debate; others are backing away, like Kim Morgan at the Huffington Post: "I would rather discuss one of his greatest pictures, a brilliant portrait of female sadness, alienation, sexual neurosis turned to psychosis. A movie all women should watch is his masterpiece Repulsion."

At Film Studies for Free, Catherine Grant notes that "Zurich Film Festival president Debra Winger stood publicly in solidarity with Polanski: 'We stand by and wait for his release and his next masterwork,' she said. FSFF is proud to line up beside Winger and all those others who have spoken out for Polanski's release. Here, then, in honour of all of his work for the cinema, are some choice FSFF links to discussions of his first film."

That would be, of course, Knife in the Water. Watch the clips she's posted as an appetizer; then, if you're in the US or Canada, come back here to watch the film in full - and for free.

Via Filmkunst (many thanks!), a terrific idea for keeping up with Polanski-specific news coming via @theauteursdaily - click here.


I know I shouldn’t say anything, but… Polański (age: 44, a big boy) gave a 13-year old girl — mid-sentence exercise: girl is a boy, Polański’s a priest, does Almodovar still sign a petition? — booze and sedatives so that he could have sex with her. She [woozily] said “No”; he continued: orally, vaginally, anally. Charles Manson, the Holocaust are tragedies, but they shouldn’t buy sympathy for an unrelated rape. Somewhere along the way, in 2002(?), it even became “bad taste” to mention Polański’s past “indiscretions”… Bah! I like Polański’s films, so I wonder: does the fact (mmhmm) that he’s a good director, that he directs art films make its way into our opinion of what he did? If he sucked, if he directed sleaze, would we look at him differently? If Michael Bay rapes a little girl in the woods and everyone’s around to see and hear it, does he make a sound [before we converge on him with clubs and axes]? I dunno. But I do feel Repulsion. ( If Mr. Polański had used his Pianist in beloved Poland rather than the USA, he’d soon-get a pair chemically-shriveled-up Cul-de-Sacs. ) Yet, for some reason, I also feel like I’ve just found someone’s severed ear inside my apartment wall: strange, hesitant to condemn a grown man for planning and executing the rape of a child (of course, I mis-euphemism: having “unlawful sex with a minor”, engaging in “naughty playtime* with a non-adult”, or just “hey she wanted it and now she doesn’t even wanna press charges!”). I’ll fade-out my ramble by being confused about what the forgiveness and / or wishes of the victim have to do with a criminal trial… Pianist screenwriter Ronald Harwood (in the NYT piece, link above) summed it up best, saying, “It’s really disgraceful.” Too bad he either flubbed the “It” or forgot to attached an un- or -sur to his “really”. :\
Before Swiss law not everybody is equally: in Geneva Gadaffi’s son has been arrested because of holding people like slaves which is forbidden in Switzerland. Then Swiss governement went to Libya to kneel down in front of Gadaffi to excuse that in Switzerland everybody is equal before the law. Mr Polanski got prisoned because of the US-law which is ok. But: why now? Mr Polanski lives a great part of the year in Switzerland. Now we have trouble because of the UBS bank and all of a sudden Mr Polanski shall be a raper??? As we need oil (…) we kneel in front of Libya. As we need to get on better terms with the US we kneel in front of the USA. Switzerland has lost their backbones completely. We know only to kneel… Shame, such a shame. Sorry Roman Polanski. I am ill when I think of this unjustice of the Swiss governement. I do appologize, thats all I can do.
The history of art and artists is contentious, to say the least, but at the end of the day it serves us best to dissociate the work from the man/woman behind the work. After all, it is the work of art that survives the test of time, may the artist rest in peace or burn in the fires of hell. Elia Kazan, Pasolini, de Sade, Riefenstahl… come on, the list is endless! Polanski is one of the greats and to haul him up in this fashion smacks of a political witch-hunt. His lifestyle was indeed questionable as was what happened, but the doubts raised regarding the role played by the LAPD and Judge at the time he was convicted, are equally dire. Apparently, he was editing THE GHOST in Switzerland and had visited the country on innumerable occasions during this time period. So why now, we ask? The Swiss authorities have exploited an international cultural event, where the great filmmaker was being feted for a lifetime of work, to suck up to American authorities – not a conspiracy theory I assure you? Dare anyone question the countless Swiss banks where dishonest citizens of the world have stashed away millions of ill—gotten dollars for safekeeping. Thus, the moral of the story is that ill-gotten money is given safe-haven in this scenic country but a master filmmaker is incarcerated, thirty years after the fact, in a land where he did not even commit the crime, where he had been a frequent guest and it’s all good simply because the US of A has an extradition treaty with the Swiss Authorities. Where was that treaty all this while? If Polanski committed a crime and fled the scene of the crime, as it were, then why did the American Government not prevent him from availing of top dollar to make Oscar-winning films, or bar his films from receiving US distribution? No, he continued to get Hollywood finance and support and now, after all this time, he is suddenly picked up in this fashion. This is no way in which to treat an artist who has affected countless people with his cinema. It just goes to show how America loves to create stars and then sadistically pulls them down by weighing down on other countries to do their dirty deeds for them…
Mr Polanski must be treated like every other person who did the same thing. All men are equal.
I only care if Mr Polanski goes to prison they will let him continue to make films, so i can be entertained
I do know that there is this a great controversy about Roman. I know that at the time he escaped from U.S., he had already served two years in prison.I have mixed feelings about him because he shouldn`t have done what he did.There are a bunch of people that want him in the jail like Bill Mahler .And also collegues like Scorsese,Allen and Stone that deffend him.I read his autobiography “Roman by Polanski”.He appears in the Sene River at the cover.I think that the man had already gone through too many horrors and that he is an extraordinary gifted filmmaker.The woman said that she wants to put the event behind. I wish they`d leave him alone.It won`t do any good for neither, Roman or that woman.
The only thing I have to write is that if you know you that there is a chance that you will be arrested if you leave France then you shouldnt leave France.
oh god won’t they let him alone! people are dying of boredom, and want money. that’s what it all comes down to.
Comments on Roman fall in two main classes: 1.Admiring his art. Chapeau bas, but it does not seem crucial under the circumstances. 2.CRIME! -with calls to punish most harshly the vicious pedophile, -or with recommendations to mercy, invoking his genius, his past sufferings or hypocrisy of law, by virtue of which one Kennedy got away unscathed with having bedded a 14 years old girl and another – with having allegedly killed his girlfriend. As for me, I find it insulting to recommend mercy for somebody whose life has been moulded on the lines of a Greek Tragedy. I’ll rather have a closer look at the “crime”. Whatever the letter of law may say, a 13 years old girl is usually sexually and often mentally mature. The historic example of Pierrette Paulze springs to the mind. She married Lavoisier at age of 13 and from the first day became his full-fledged partner as well in love as in science, so that the rare cognoscenti who heard about her call them “Father and Mother of modern Chemistry”. She pushed her precocious maturity to completing Newton by conceiving the kinetic energy lacking in his mechanics. Without being Lavoisier, when I was about thirteen, most of my peer girls tried to seduce me, some rather romantically, some with spectacular nymphomaniac tricks which had to be seen to be believed. And let’s not forget the magic of the silver screen. I wrote a biographic short story “H…” relating the murder of my first, 12 years old love in occupied Warsaw. When it was for a moment considered for picturizing, fabulous swarms of Lolitas converged towards my bed in hope to be recommended for the role. Now, back to the righteous partizans of the harsh punishment of the vicious criminal, their requests clearly express noxious envy. Envy of failures in face of the vertiginous artistic success. Envy of mediocrity sentenced to live with ugly shrews and dreaming of Lolitas, who never came their way. Envy of hags who dream, but fail to be raped. So, I won’t insult Roman by offering him pity or mercy. If I could, I’d do my best to help him to leg it to France, even risking a stretch in cooler in his place. And I thank in advance for all insults I’ll get in replies. Georges.
being sexually mature does not necessarily mean be willing to be raped by a 45 years old one-meter-something-tall talented director. I know, because i was a thirteen years old girl not too long ago.
being sexually mature does not necessarily mean be willing to be raped by a 45 years old one-meter-something-tall talented director. I know, because i was a thirteen years old girl not too long ago.
They could capture him a many years ago – for example when he had visited Gstaad for a first time. It was not a justice but only a stupid vengeance. Switzerland made Polanski free man again and also gave me and many people a hope that wisdom could overcome stupidity.
I’m against girl abuse of by any rule but its seems to me he’s paid his debit in spades, If the catholic Church isn’t called to book by its own Swiss Guard what are Swiss doing with doing with Roman Polanski.
Polanski has not served sufficient time for his crime.People have been imprisoned for crimes they did not commit sometimes who were classified as mentally subnormal ie.the murder of Gill Dando,broadcaster.This is flagrant injustice.Showbiz legal injustice has to stop.I also think his films contain an element of sickness of a sexually predatory nature.His being a sophist does not make him a nice man.Or a good film director.Just a user.
Thank you for presenting this guide to relevant articles, it gives me some informational sequential reading to do.
Don’t have much idea of what’s been going on to Roman Pollanski, all I personally know that he is the greatest creative film directors of all time and if there is a conspiracy to bring him down somehow , it would be a very unfair reward for someone who has given so much to the world. If it is a trap and a plot to destroy him then we should “conquer evil by good” and use our own intelligence to analyse the situation.

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