Saturday, October 3, 2009

Catching up with a scoundrel

By Don Klein

What would you think of a man in his forties who plied with alcohol your 13-year-old daughter or granddaughter, then drugged her and finally took advantage of her impairment to have sex with her in numerous ways, including what many would consider to be unconventional?

Would he be candidate for Man of the Year? Or would he be a villain who you would hope the authorities would hunt down and send to jail?

Now let’s assume the rapist was not some back alley trash but an artistic genius, who was known near and far as the director of a collection great films in the US and around the world. Would his high esthetic achievements make him a figure of sympathy and admiration who deserves to be excused for his misbehavior and the recipient of your open support?

Sounds familiar? Yes we are talking about Roman Polanski, the peripatetic filmmaker who finally was arrested recently in Switzerland on a warrant from the United States in favor of the Los Angeles district attorney. He will soon appear in a Swiss court to fight extradition as a fugitive from American justice.

The announcement of his detention surprised many people, including myself, who concluded he had successfully alluded justice before sentencing on his admission of guilt in this 31-year-old case. Worse, it traumatize many of his admiring fellow creative artists. What was more shocking was the reaction of the Hollywood community and some preposterous European sophisticates who instantaneously came to the rapist’s defense.

British novelist Robert Harris, author of "The Ghost," which Polansky is making into a movie, said the news of Polansky’s arrest in Zurich on an outstanding international warrant made him "feel almost physically sick."

The news of his arrest made him sick? Not the crime to which Polansky pleaded guilty? What kind of man is Harris? "Mr. Polansky has become a good friend," Harris wrote in an op-ed piece in The New York Times. "Our families have spent time together. His daughter and mine keep in regular touch. His past did not bother me..."

Hollywood luminaries have expressed their support for Polansky, now 76. Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Michael Mann, Harvey Weinstein and 100 others are circulating a petition demanding Polansky’s immediate release.

Fortunately not all Hollywood is on this ridiculous bandwagon. Alison Arngrim, an actress known for "Little House on the Prairie," who had spoken out in the past about being molested as a child, said pointedly, "If Roman Polansky was a Catholic priest or a Republican senator, would these people feel the same way?"

Weinstein wrote a column in a London daily supporting Polansky and tried to whitewash the case. Apparently if the crime is more than three decades old it is no longer a crime in his eyes. "Whatever you think about the so-called crime, Polansky has served his time," he said.

Weinstein has got to be delusional. How could he define "served his time" if Polansky has been living in posh exile in France and traveling freely all over Europe pursuing his film career and basically thumbing his nose at the US judicial system? Is Weinstein saying that if you are a renown artist you have a right to flaunt the law that everyone else has to live up to?

Besides, as The Times reported, "there is nothing ‘so-called’ about the crime. The passage of years does not alter the allegations in the indictment, which included rape, furnishing a controlled substance to a minor, committing lewd and lascivious act upon a child and sodomy." Polansky pleaded guilty to the single charge of unlawful sexual intercourse. In other words, statutory rape.

The child victim, now in her forties and having received in the past a handsome settlement from Polansky, is no longer willing to prosecute. But when rape is committed it is a crime against society, not just a violation of one’s personal and protected rights. Besides Polansky already pleaded guilty and fled before sentencing.

I can’t help but wonder whether the writer Harris who noted that Polansky’s past as a rapist of a child did not bother him would be comfortable to leave his daughter, when she was 13, alone with the errant director. I would ask the same of Scorsese, Weinstein and the others who feel Polansky should not be extradited.

I look at this situation on two levels, neither one of which is favorable for
Polansky. Of course the first is the rape of a child. No one should ever get a free pass on that crime, but Polansky with his money and connections was able to flee and remain to ramble wherever he could as long as the long arm of the law did not reach out to nab him. I think he should have been collared years ago when he first fled justice and am not sure why he was not.

But later is better than never in this case.

The other unforgivable crime is his calculated brushing off of the judicial system of the country that made him a multi-millionaire. He thumbed his nose at every law-abiding American during the 30 years of making films outside the reach of the courts. And we Americans foolishly went to his movies in droves and made him richer during his self-imposed deportation.

Hopefully his flight will have finally come to an end and the scoundrel will pay for his crime by spending the rest of his sordid life in prison.