Roman Polanski In Los Angeles, circ. 1977 (Photo: LATimes)
Nicholson, Huston and Polanski, Shooting The Last Scene Of The Film Chinatown,
In Downtown Los Angeles (1973)
Chinatown is one of the classic American films; it's almost perfect: Robert Towne's script; the casting, cinematography and set design; to Jerry Goldsmith's film score, which he completed in less than two weeks before the film's premiere on June 20, 1974. John Huston (Full Disclosure: He's a relative), the incestuous pederast Heavy in the film, thought Polanski was "exceptionally gifted" as a director, and fairly intense as person. But in the world of cinema as an art form, Polanski is clearly a director and artist of perception.
Polanski and Nicholson Shooting The Scenes In The Orange Groves
For Chinatown (1973)
Roman Polanski was born Rajmund Roman Leibling in 1933, in Paris, to Polish parents who in 1937 returned to Poland and settled in Krakow. His father was Jewish, his mother a Roman Catholic but whose father was also Jewish. As far as the nazis were concerned, anyone with Jewish lineage had a target painted on them. After the German invasion in 1939, the Lieblings were forced into the ghetto of Krakow; by 1943, Roman's mother had been sent to Auschwitz and murdered there; his father was sent to Mauthausen, but survived.
Krakow Ghetto, 1942; Polanski Was Nine.
Nine-year-old Roman was smuggled out of the ghetto and sent to live with several Catholic families in the Polish countryside for more than a year. During that twelve-plus months, Roman wandered into local cinemas, showing mostly German propaganda films; but, a fascination with movies, the idea of film -- as image, as art; as refuge -- stayed with him.
Catherine Deneuve In Repulsion, Polanski's European
Breakout Film (Photo: The Immaculate DVD Beaver)
After the war, Roman was reunited with his father, who wanted him to pursue any standard career, but Roman went on to the Polish Film School. He directed a number of short films, left Poland in 1961 for Paris, where he shot his film, Repulsion (starring Catherine Deneuve as a caretaker of rich, elderly women whose job prompts her descent into sexual obsession and madness); then, on to England, and finally America.
Polish Beauty Competition, 1960. The Crowd Of Men Watching
Didn't Have Much Chance To See Girls. Anywhere. (Photo: Magnum)
He was young, gifted (director of Rosemary's Baby), and eventually married a beautiful actress, Sharon Tate. He seemed to have escaped his past, the cultural prison of Poland, and for the first time in his life, happy. In 1969, he and his wife were expecting a baby.
One Of New Hollywood's Favorite Couples
(Modern Screen Magazine; May, 1968)
Almost everyone knows what happened next: Tate, her unborn child, and three others were butchered by Charles Manson's puppet assassins. To have his wife killed, in an almost casual act of brutal violence, must have reached down and shaken that layer of childhood memory just when he began to feel more rooted, and safe, in the world.
However, the facts of what followed eight years later are: Roman Polanski had met a 13-year-old-girl, Samantha Gailey (now Geimer), and suggested to her mother that she should have her photos taken for the Paris edition of Vogue magazine, which he was guest-editing. There was a daytime photo session, but when Polanski asked Gailey to change clothing in front of him, she became uncomfortable and left.
Polanski's Good Friend. John Huston's Future Son-In-Law.
Polanski contacted the mother again (whom some have suggested was willing to turn a blind eye to couch casting) and offered a second photo session -- this time at night, and at the Mulholland Drive home of Polanski's Chinatown star and party buddy, Jack Nicholson. Gailey's mother delivered her there. Polanski offered Gailey champagne, some Quaaludes, and according to Gailey, had sex with her in every obvious way a male can with a female (or, in this case, even another male), despite the fact that she repeatedly told him to stop.
Samantha Gailey, 1977; At The Time Polanski Happened To Her.
Polanski was initially charged with "rape by use of drugs... sodomy; lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14" and "furnishing a controlled substance (Methaqualone) to a minor" -- four separate, Class-A felonies under the California Penal Code.
Polanski took a plea bargain. As a former investigator, I can say that to plead out in a criminal case with charges like this means either (A) The accused is poor; has prior convictions; no information to bargain with; was assigned a public defender who 'plead out', because that's how it is in the NFL; or (B) Has money and connections; can afford experienced criminal legal counsel; and is guilty as charged. You get to guess which of these Roman Rajmund Polanski was.
And, because he was the Roman Polanski (and because that's how it is in the NFL), the Los Angeles County District Attorney accepted his plea of guilty -- to one felony count of PC Sec. 261.5: "engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor". Not even rape; wow. His attorney earned his fee that day.
Polanski Arriving In Superior Court, L.A.'s Hall Of Justice
Polanski could have received a maximum sentence of 50 years under the 'indeterminate sentencing' of California State law at that time. He was never formally sentenced, allowed free on bail (which allowed him to leave the United States), but reported to Chino State Prison for standard evaluation prior to sentencing. After that taste of the joint, Polanski fled to Paris. I've been Inside (for professional, not personal, reasons), and can't say I blame the guy for bolting.
Let me just cut to the chase: Polanski, 76, is now locked in a Swiss jail 23 out of 24 hours per day, having been arrested at the Zurich airport on an international warrant thirty-one years old. He is, in fact, a cinematic genius who has created masterpieces that are studied in film schools all over the planet, an artist, married with two children.
In fact, he raped a 13-year-old girl. Apparently, repeatedly. While he might now like to say there was prosecutorial and judicial misconduct surrounding his case in Los Angeles (and there is evidence to support that), he admitted to committing a crime, and pled guilty, for a reason: He did it. Not even Samantha Geimer, now 45 and who believes Polanski has "suffered enough", disputes that he drugged and raped her.
Many important Europeans are publicly claiming that Polanski's arrest is a miscarriage of justice; that Polanski is a genius, and does not deserve this treatment; that the American system of justice is hypocritical and moralizing, monstrously naive, "sinister", and... well, just so uneuropäisch. They believe that extradition to the United States should be resisted, the charges should be dropped, and that America should be more tolerant of... well, something.
If I had the opportunity to ask Polanski a question, it would be this: What would your life had been like, I wonder, if your parents had emigrated to England, say, rather than Poland, in 1937? Because, like many others who survived ghettos and brutality and war, Polanski suffered a series of traumas which eventually were woven into a complex pattern of memory and pain. What would you have been like, Roman, if you hadn't had to deal with all of that?
And there's a second, similar question I would ask him: What would Samantha Geimer's life had been like if she hadn't been raped? She'll never know that. And like the childhood Polanski had taken from him, so he took hers. But caring about that is...monstrously naive, I suppose.
A Comfortable Life; Friends and Family, Honors, Work.
He's lived a very comfortable and successful life; today, Samantha Geimer said she would demand the L.A. County District Attorney remove her 31-year-old complaint against Polanski. Does he deserve to go to jail, now? I can't say. However, I doubt seriously that he could answer the two questions I've just posed; and I don't believe that artistic ability, being a "sacred monster" (as the French like to say), gives any artist a free pass on taking responsibility for their actions.