Friday, January 18, 2008

Roman and the Rape


Getting to the bottom of the Polanski case
Why did Roman Polanski flee the country? A dogged filmmaker attempts to find out.
By Kenneth Turan
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

January 17, 2008

IT all came together for Marina Zenovich, director of "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," during one of numerous conversations with Polanski's agent Jeff Berg about the filmmaker's possible participation in her documentary. "Berg said, 'Why are you making this film, everyone knows this story.' And I said, 'No, you know this story, but everyone doesn't know it.' "

Polanski ended up not participating, but Zenovich turned out to be right. Her compelling, smartly told film, debuting Friday night in Sundance's documentary competition, takes the seemingly familiar story of the circumstances surrounding Polanski's fleeing the country after pleading guilty to having sex with a minor and tells it with such intelligence, dispassion and detail that it's like we've never heard it before. Which is exactly the point.

"Everyone thinks Polanski fled because he was afraid of going to jail, but people don't know the real story," the engaging, articulate Zenovich says. "That can only be told by the people who experienced it." She quotes David Dalton, Polanski's attorney, who says, "Only three people know the story and one of them is dead."

The dead man is the judge in the case, Laurence J. Rittenband, who died in 1993. As described by both Dalton, who has never before spoken publicly about this, and his opposite number, prosecutor Roger Gunson, Rittenband engaged in actions that would have turned Perry Mason's hair gray. "I remain astounded," is how Dalton puts it. "This case will never leave me."

Astounded or not, Dalton was quite reluctant to participate in Zenovich's film, as was almost everyone else. "This was a very long process, nobody wanted to talk about this," Zenovich says wearily of the literal years of importuning it took to get everyone on camera. Not only were people like Dalton and close Polanski friend Andrew Braunsberg difficult to convince, they refused to sign releases for their interview footage until they saw the finished film.

Zenovich, whose previous docs include "Independent's Day" and "Who Is Bernard Tapie?," succeeded because "you can see that I'm disarming, genuine and I have good intentions. It can be endearing that you're trying so hard. I never give up."

Zenovich's interest in Polanski was piqued by a 2003 Los Angeles Times piece that talked about "the 30 years of limbo" the case had caused for the director. Then she saw Lawrence Silver, who represented the girl in the case, say on TV that " 'the day Polanski fled the country was a sad day for the American judicial system.' That didn't make sense to me, I wanted to understand why he said it."

Gradually, Zenovich became consumed by the lives of the story's characters, including 54-year-old Judge Rittenband, who loved celebrity cases and turned out to have a 20-year-old mistress. But she was especially struck by Polanski, just a few years past the murder of his wife Sharon Tate, and the girl in question, Samantha Geimer, who is interviewed on camera about the case. "They've been prisoners of this story," she says, "but the facts are wrong."

What is most interesting about "Wanted and Desired" is that prosecutor Gunson and defense attorney Dalton, as well as Geimer's attorney Silver, all agree that Judge Rittenband acted improperly, attempting to stage-manage events in a way that was out of legal bounds.

"Despite what he did, Polanski was screwed over by the judge, he fled because the judge pulled the rug out from under him," Zenovich says. "It was like Polanski was caught in one of his movies, this kind of stuff isn't supposed to happen, everyone was shocked that a judge would behave like this." As Polanski himself puts it in an archival clip, "I was a mouse made sport of by an abominable cat."

With its spotlight clearly on the judicial aftermath, "Wanted and Desired" does not focus on what happened between Polanski and the girl past putting both their statements to the police on the screen as type. That sex took place is not in dispute, and Zenovich, who says "if it was a violent rape I wouldn't have made this film," calls it "a tragedy for all involved. It's not for me to judge."

After literally years of trying, Zenovich did finally meet Polanski for an off-camera lunch in Paris near the end of filming. "He said it would look like self-promotion to be in the film," the director says, but the event was hardly a waste. "After having someone in your head and in archival footage for over three years, that meeting was satisfying, to say the least."

22 comments:

Heaven said...

Even if he's a well established film director and a great one at that, a 35 y/o man drugging and raping a 13 year old girl is just plain wrong...


No matter how ya slice it...


=)

Pristash said...

Yes indeed it is wrong. But has justice been better served by Polanski's 30 year exile as opposed to having had him pay his debt to society in some reasonable way in California?

What is with the judges out in California? This guy, then Ito?

augusteigth1969 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
augusteigth1969 said...

If Larry Melton is a pervert and a molester what does that make Polanski?

Marliese said...

I agree, no matter how you slice it, it was wrong....but there were a lot of wrongs. It was wrong for a thirtysomething year old mother to hand her 13 year old daughter over to a 35 year old man to be "photographed" under those circumstances....and no, I'm not blaming the victim, but the mother had dollar signs in her eyes and should have made responsible choices and formal arrangements, if she thought her daughter had talent.

As well, after Polanski pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful intercourse, I think it was wrong for the judge to indicate he was going to renege on the deal. Obviously, it wouldn't have happened if Polanski hadn't drugged and had sex with a 13 year old, but he was locked up in prison for six weeks for a psych analysis and the dx was that he was not a pedophile. Was that not what the judge wanted to hear?

I think he was guilty of the lesser charge of unlawful sex with a minor, which he did plead to, and maybe he should have conducted himself with more humility to the court at the outset of the proceedings.

Jean Harlow said...

Is Dalton still practicing law? or has he retired? That could be one reason why he didn't want to comment on the legal community if he was still working in it...

FrankM said...

If Larry Melton is a pervert and a molester what does that make Polanski?

Interesting comment ..

Looks like once again we mix legal, moral and emotional considerations ...

Polanski and Melton apart, as Heaven points out, we can't (or at least shouldn’t) have one law for the Good and Glorious and another for ratbag scum. If both have transgressed against the same laws then they should be treated in the same manner, unless there are extenuating or premitigating circumstances. If they have transgressed against the same laws.

Which is why, I suppose, we have lawyers and courts so that trained advocates can argue the finer points of these cases. Except that lawyers can’t always be trusted, and in the US of A at least the size of the attorney’s fee is often the single most important contributory factor towards a successful prosecution or defense.

And if we can’t trust the lawyers, where does that leave us. Given that the general public is as often as not deprived of access to the real facts of many cases it/they resort(s) to unfounded and unconfirmed reports, picking up gossamer threads of hearsay, from Blog A, Wiki B, Coffee House C and Hotel Bar D and interweaving these with notions of morality inherited from badly remembered exposure to religious dogma; acquiring knowledge by poorly informed consensus and on this basis crucifying the defendant on the wheel of tittle-tattle.

What I hear of Polanski is not that good, but it is curious that (or so it is said) the girl he allegedly raped has spoken in his defense. Ask the girl whose battered and bloody body Melton (or so it is said) left in a bathtub if she will pronounce approving words in his favor?

Legal, moral and emotional considerations ... but all I fear leading to an inconclusive evaluation.

Frank

FrankM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A.C. Fisher Aldag said...

Okay, somebody just crossed the line. Twice.

FrankM said...

My delete - apologies - seem to have posted twice

A.C. Fisher Aldag said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A.C. Fisher Aldag said...

Frank M.: Just where did you get that particular information about White Rabbitt? Thank you.

FrankM said...

AC:

Assuming you are referring to my last post, let's just say I go back and know a few people. You can safely assume that Frank is not really my name, and I doubt you would expect me to reveal my real identity any more than that of other people I know.

That's part of the problem on blogs - unlike you (apparently) most people don't expose themselves too much. Who knows, maybe even on this blog there are people posting whose nearest and dearest have no idea that they're getting their rocks off on TLB.

Your blog says you are 45, and I have no reason to disbelieve you, so I guess you weren't around California or anywhere else all that much in the 60s/70s. I was. Is that good enough for you?

Hope this hasn't come across as discourteous - certainly not my intention.

Frank

A.C. Fisher Aldag said...

Please e-mail me off list, Frank.

FrankM said...

Please e-mail me off list, Frank.

I don't do that

Frank

A.C. Fisher Aldag said...

"Ask the girl whose battered and bloody body Melton (or so it is said) left in a bathtub" wrote Frank.

I would sure like to know where you heard this rumor.

FrankM said...

AC:

I admire your forensic persistence but as I told you earlier, out of respect to the person involved (no respect to Melton though) I'm not going to go into details, however much you ask.

I will concede that this was hearsay (I didn't see it happen, hence my disclaimer - I have no wish to see this blog embroiled in litigation) and is not a matter of public record, although as I choose to believe the source I don't characterize it as a rumor.

Sorry, but I think we'd better leave it there.

Frank.

Pristash said...

It's a slow time at Sundance, but HBO has picked up the Polanski documentary....

A.C. Fisher Aldag said...

Fair 'nough, Frank. Just please remember that those alledged victim(s) might have loving friends and family members who aren't aware of said rumor, nor all its gory details, and / or menfolk who might catch a case if they just happened to read the heretofore unpublished and unsubstantiated rumors as posted in a public forum.

As for using my real name, my security is provided by Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson.

FrankM said...

AC

I have done my best to be discreet in this, and it has been more of a case of you trying to get me to reveal things rather than of me wanting to.

Rest assured that I shall respect the name of people involved in this. As I said before it is not in the public domain. I mentioned it out of anger at Joseph Gallagher (as I once knew him).

Peace. sister.

Frank

agnostic monk said...

A.C. Fisher Aldag said...
>>>>my security is provided by Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson.

LOL!

: )

FrankM said...

A.C. Fisher Aldag said...

my security is provided by Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson

That's why I don't email people off line and why I protect my identity LOL

Frank