Volume 79, Number 22 | November 04 - 10, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Talking Point

The hounding of Polanski

By Jerry Tallmer

She’s my sister.
She’s my daughter.
She’s my sister.
She’s my sister
and my daughter.

I don’t know whether it was Robert Towne or Roman Polanski (or both) who wrote that memorable fragment of “Chinatown” (1974), but I do know that I once heard Polanski say, in answer to a television person’s numbskull suggestion that Faye Dunaway didn’t have to be killed off at the end, “Yes, but then we wouldn’t be sitting here, talking about it.”

The man knows drama in his blood and bones.

Polanski once, in his Europe-based, pre-Hollywood days, made a notable Catherine Deneuve movie called “Repulsion.” Well, repulsion and then some is what I feel about the Javert-like hounding of Roman Polanski for a crime — if it was a crime — more than 30 years ago.

If it was a crime. Sex with a 13-yer-old girl. Not just sex, but rape. Well, as Whoopi Goldberg says, rape can mean many things yet not be “rape rape,” which means by force. In any event, the girl in the case, now a woman in her 40s, has long since let Polanski off the hook. She wants the endless prosecution of him dropped.

Here and now, let he (or she) who is without sin cast the first stone. Which of us — male or female — has not fantasized some sort of sexual pleasure with one or another underage person male or female in our lifetime? If you fantasize it, you’ve earned that stone in your own direction.

But Polanski ran away, didn’t he? For 30 years. Until, at the request of the California D.A.’s Office, the Swiss — ah, those impeccably neutral Swiss — picked him up at the Geneva airport, on his way to a film festival (in the country where he owns a house and had frequently stayed) and clapped him in jail.

There was — is — a man named David Wells, not the rotund baseball player but a former prosecutor in California, who has just now recanted what he’d said on camera four years ago in a documentary film about Polanski — that he, Wells, had coached the judge in the original rape case against Polanski.

Now he says he didn’t. And the news of his recantation was, according to The New York Times, announced in a blog by another former prosecutor in California, Marcia Clark. Isn’t that the same Marcia Clark who pretty much f---ed up the O.J. Simpson case?

“Blog.” What a hideous word altogether.

What most astonishes me at this early date is that nobody, so far as I know — nobody — has had the wit or the memory to recall the case of Bertolt Brecht, who skipped town and took his talent with him after testifying to — making fools of— the honorables of HUAC.

More yet, and more sharply applicable, is the case of Charles Spencer Chaplin, who got with child a 16-year-old girl named Lita Grey, married her, later married the daughter of Eugene O’Neill, and later still was finally driven from this country, taking his talent — no, his genius — with him, because of their same kind of hounding, though much wider and more sustained by press, church and universal know-nothings. Oona O’Neill, by the way, stuck with him through thick and thin.

This is a strange country. Charles Manson, whose crazies disembowled eight-months-pregnant Sharon Tate, can be a hero (at least to other crazies), while Sharon Tate’s bereaved husband (whose pregnant mother had died at Auschwitz) becomes a villain to the Javerts of California’s wondrous judicial system.

As Lenny Bruce used to say: In the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls.

One of the astonishing things about Roman Polanski, I learn from the Internet Movie Data Base, is that in a 1989 French TV film of “En Attendant Godot” he played Pozzo’s roped and haltered slave, Lucky.

Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattman of a personal God quaquaquaqua… .

I once interviewed Roman Polanski. The interview took place in the house of a friend of his, here in New York — a very large onetime stable or factory or garage in the Murray Hill district.

On the no-less-large coffee table between us there lay some art books and a stainless-steel puzzle of interlocking branches. The object, it turned out, was to unlock them — a clearly impossible task.

Polanski picked the damn thing up as the interview began, and kept twisting and turning its various arms as the interview somewhat haltingly (on my part) progressed. As it was finished and I was standing up to go, Polanski opened his hands and threw the whole thing down on the table, each piece separate and discrete.

“See!” he said — and it was all he needed to say.

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