Sole Focus

News, Views, Rantings & Ramblings by Carey Parrish

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Location: Georgia, United States

Monday, November 30, 2009

Polanski's Position

The saga of Roman Polanski has been playing out for forty years. The Oscar winning director of such classic films as Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and The Pianist has led a life that is filled with equal amounts of tragedy and triumph. His story is as jaded and as dramatic as any movie he ever made. His life is the stuff of legend and fodder for Hollywood screenwriters… except that it’s true.

A few weeks ago, Polanski was arrested in Switzerland on a 31 year old fugitive warrant here in the US. Prosecutors in Los Angeles got wind that Polanski would be traveling to Switzerland to receive a lifetime achievement award for his work and they requested Swiss authorities detain him for possible extradition on the warrant. A stalemate soon followed, with Polanski’s attorney immediately filing for bail for the 76 year old director while California officials requested he be returned to L.A. Not surprisingly, Polanski and his attorney began a vigorous fight against this as well. Neither side has given an inch but it seems the defendant is gaining ground in his fight to remain free.

Last week a Swiss court granted Polanski a release from prison on four and a half million dollars bail, on the conditions that he surrender his passport and be fitted with an ankle monitor, before he’s transferred to his chalet in Gstaad to await the outcome of the legal skirmishes between his attorneys and the United States. It is said that his vacation home in the Swiss village has a stunning view of the Alps.

So what’s the big deal, you may ask.

Polanski plead guilty back in 1977 to having sex with a then thirteen year old girl. In exchange for his guilty plea he was to be committed for ninety days to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation and treatment, but the hospital released him after only forty-two days of the sentence and the judge in the case planned to send him to prison to serve out the remainder of the time. Polanski then skipped town and fled to France, where he is a citizen, because the French government does not extradite its own, and that is where he has lived for the past three decades.

Roman Polanski’s story is indeed a classic tragedy if ever there was one. In 1969, while married to actress Sharon Tate, the couple was expecting their first child. Polanski was out of the country at the time, on location, when members of the infamous Manson family murdered Tate and three others at the Polanski’s Benedict Canyon home. Following this tragedy, he returned to his career, which had been effectively made in 1968 when his film Rosemary’s Baby became a box office blockbuster, making superstars out of Mia Farrow and John Cassevettes, and earning Ruth Gordon an Oscar.

In the early seventies, Polanski again hit movie gold when he directed the Jack Nicholson film Chinatown. Other projects came and went, all the while he continued to increase his value in Hollywood, until 1977 when, at the height of his career, he was charged with sex with a minor and the whole episode began, continuing until today.

Following his flight to France, Polanski continued making movies on the European front. His best known films of the past two decades include the Johnny Depp occult hit The Ninth Gate, and of course The Pianist, for which he won the Oscar for Best Director. He had to accept the award in absentia, due to the fact that if he had returned to Hollywood to collect it in person he would have been arrested on the 1978 fugitive warrant.

Now 76, the married father of two finds himself in Swiss custody as he continues fighting for his freedom. He has always claimed that the reason he left the country when he did back in 1978 was because the judge in the original case, now deceased, was effectively reneging on the plea agreement he reached with prosecutors, and that he felt he shouldn’t have been sent to jail for something which he’d already completed his commitment; it wasn’t his fault the psychiatric facility where he was sent released him early. This is Polanski’s position on the matter.

Over the course of the past thirty-one years, lawyers for the acclaimed director have filed motions to have the original case against him dismissed but no judge has yet heard these appeals because since Polanski cannot appear in person in a Los Angeles court with his lawyer, he is considered absent from the very proceedings he requested and therefore ineligible for his case to be entertained. Protests have rang out loud and clear each time his motions have been dismissed. Even the girl who he pled guilty to having sex with way back when, now in her forties and living in Hawaii, has requested that the whole thing be dropped. The reason it hasn’t is because of the fugitive warrant. Roman Polanski’s flight from justice and his refusal to return to Los Angeles for a hearing on the subject, for fear of being arrested as soon as he steps off the plane, stand in the way of any further action on the matter in the eyes of the law.

Along with minions of others watching this unfold, I have to wonder what the outcome should be. After so many years of leading a life that has included no further arrests and which establishes him as a respectable citizen of France, part of me thinks the Los Angeles D.A.’s office should just request that the fugitive warrant be dismissed and let a judge rule on whether his forty- two days in treatment three decades ago is sufficient to satisfy his debt to society. The feelings of the girl involved in the original case would then be taken into consideration and most likely Polanski would be cleared of anything beyond his 1978 plea bargain. And he is 76 years old, after all.

Then there’s another part of me that feels this man broke the law not once but twice, and at some point in his life he should be held accountable for it. After all, if he’d just stayed to face the judge back in ’78 the whole matter would now be thirty years in the past. Ancient history. Instead, he’s lived in luxury all this time in a French mansion, continued his career in film, and even enjoyed the accolades of his success with an Oscar win. What kind of an example does that set?

Personally I’m torn on the subject. I’m also glad it’s not up to me to decide what should be done in this situation. I can’t make up my own mind as a mere bystander. Imagine how California judges are feeling about it in the event that he is returned to L.A. on the extradition request. Most probably this is one everyone involved in would rather not have to deal with at all. Including Roman Polanski himself.

For now he’s awaiting transfer to his Gstaad chalet where he’ll remain under house arrest while his legal representatives wrangle with American and Swiss officials over what to do with him next.

A Swiss chalet with every mod con imaginable and a breathtaking view of the Alps? I could endure house arrest there. Couldn’t you?

And this is my sole focus for now.