Morality vs. Legality...and There was No Choice, really...
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By B.J. Thompson -
Well, I finally pried the $6 out of my wallet and rented the HBO documentary, "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired".
It took some doing on my part. I hummed and hawed and remembered all the posters on different Manson NGs saying how ridiculous this video was and how contrived the release date was and how one-sided the case was, against this evil pedophile wanted fugitive.
I thought, do I need to watch his version? Will it taint me forever, being such a fan of his 60s European films, especially "Repulsion" with Catherine Deneuve? Did I want to know stuff about this guy that would transform him in my eyes from a genius film director and Manson victim, to a lewd and lascivious prowler of unsuspecting young girls?
Well, my kitty curiosity got the better of me and I plunked the DVD into my Sony Surround System, sat back on my bed scattered with photos and files from those times, the court transcript of that rape hearing clutched tightly in my hands and I braced myself for the unravelling of my fondness for the man.
The facts were displayed on BOTH sides, thankfully, and for once, I discovered that Roman HAD done time behind bars, albeit only 42 days, and that he'd returned willingly to the U.S. on orders given by Judge Rittenbrand. He and his lawyers had TRIED to abide by the laws of the land. So far so good.
But BOTH sides - the Judge's and Roman's - behaviour during the case was really appalling. And NEITHER side cared a flying fig about that 13 year-old girl. Her welfare seemed to take a back seat to the Judge's media fixation and Roman's need to be free to work on films.
To Roman's credit, he had undergone a psych assessment and was never considered a sexual offender. And to the Judge's credit, Rittenbrand realized that this was NOT a true rape case and promised to accept the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse and a future sentence with probation. But that is where cooler heads stopped prevailing and behaviour by both Roman and Judge Rittenbrand became morally and legally reprehensible.
Roman flew off to Europe to start work on Dino de Laurentis' film remake of "Hurricane" (Roman would NEVER have touched this film had it not been for his mounting legal bills) and the reckless arrogant soul that he was, he saw no need to curtail his social life while this case was pending before the courts. Instead, in his haste to once again taste the good life and having little regard for the seriousness of his offense, Roman attended Oktoberfest in Munich with friends, was caught on camera with young German beauties, the photo careening around the world and back to Judge Rittenbrand's desk, where he summarily ordered Roman back to the States to serve his 90 day psychological assessment at Chino State Prison.
Artists, beyond the realm of their art, are REALLY STUPID PEOPLE! They NEVER think that their actions will be counter-intuitive to their fate. Roman was an idiot for being seen once more with under-age women, albeit a completely innocent occurrence, and he paid the price with the Judge's wrath.
The Judge, on the other hand, in his refusal to "lose face" in front of the media, pounced too heavily on that Oktoberfest photo and its perceived meaning. He let his ego run his courtroom and refused to admit that that photo was a non-starter. Rittenbrand should have let his prior ruling stand - to allow Roman to complete "Hurricane" and then surrender to that 90 day assessment afterwards.
When Rittenbrand, in his wrath over that photo, broke his promise to the lawyers on both sides and threatened Roman with a prison and deportment sentence over the 90 day psych assessment and probation sentence, utterly contrary to the psychiatrists' recommendations, he pushed Roman into a no-win corner and forced him to make a Charlie Chaplin move and flee the country. Roman's fate was damned whether he stayed or whether he left; and he knew it.
Rittenbrand was finally ousted from the case, and rightfully so, for his illegal tampering, but the die had been cast by then and Roman knew he'd have to appeal his case from prison. The fight could take many years if not decades and even if he finally won, he'd be summarily deported on the next plane. What was the use of trying?
He was not proud of his decision. The US had become his home. It was the land where his dead wife and unborn son lay, a place, for the first time in his life, he had felt wanted and secure, now, only to be uprooted once again, as a fugitive from a case which should never have ended this way, BOTH sides agreed.
Whether YOU agree or not, Roman was never considered, by either side, to be a pedophile. He made a hideous, selfish, disgusting choice when he approached this young girl and he made the same bad choices with those school girls in Switzerland 6 months after Sharon's death. He can be accused of being a hedonististic cad but NOT a pedophile. The girl's Mother, also an aspiring actress, was blinded by the glamour of having her daughter photographed by a world reknown artist and was completely reckless with her daughter's welfare. There was no rape case here and Roman was no sexual offender. Roman and the Mother should have known better. Period.
But this was Hollywood - not Middle America - and Roman's actions were not unique. Roman did to that girl what had been done to so many would-be starlets over the decades, only this "casting couch" session was caught and had the glare of publicity shone on it and the world wasn't laughing. I'm sure that all "casting couch" sessions went underground after 1977 but I doubt they've stopped altogether.
"Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" shows the injustice of the L.A. court system and the lax attitude towards sex and stardom in Hollywood. The movie illustrates that one man cannot shoulder all the blame for Hollywood's hedonistic attitudes. This was never a rape case - both sides admit to that - and Roman is not now, nor has he ever been a pedophile - a selfish cad, yes, but NOT a pedophile. And although it is unlawful to flee an arrest warrant, he cannot be blamed for the illegal treatment his case received under the dictatorial hands of Judge Rittenbrand.
Roman should be granted a new, non-televised hearing, with a new Judge (Rittenbrand has since died), and be allowed to re-enter the US, to attend this hearing in person, without fear of arrest, so that he can stand trial, once and for all. The old case and Roman's flight from the injustice of it, should be promptly dismissed.
But past reputations would be at risk, the L.A. court system would be on trial and the glare of the media frenzy for Roman (now 74 with a Parisian wife of 15 years and two kids) and for the girl (now a Wife of 19 years and a Mother of three) would be as strong now as it was in '77. One wonders if it would be worth it.
What would be worth it, though, would be for Roman to be allowed to return, not just to clear his name and pay properly for his crime but to be able to view Sharon and Paul Richard's graves once more before his death, to put closure on some of the ghosts which undoubtedly haunt this diminutive man. It's time.