Sunday, March 23, 2014

the fugitive

      In 1977, 43-year-old Roman Polanski reputedly shared a bottle of champagne as well as half a quaalude with a 13-year old aspiring model (he chose to photograph for Vanity Fair at the home of friend Jack Nicholson) who he then had oral, vaginal and anal sex with against her protestations.

He faced his accusers in court, pleading not guilty, then eventually accepted a plea bargain in exchange for a lesser charge: engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse.

He was then ordered by the court to undergo a psychiatric evaluation in Chino State Prison and was released early after 42 days. The report was submitted to the court recommending probation: Polanski did not fit the profile of a clinical rapist and there was evidence the victim was both physically mature and willing.

The celebrity-seeking judge assigned to the case, Laurence J. Rittenband, mishandled the proceedings and engaged in unscrupulous and unethical behavior (including staging his rulings for the media), as attested to by the defense as well as the prosecuting attorney. He alone had the power to respect the official findings of the psych report and pardon Polanski as he said he would do, or deny them and sentence him to prison or deportation.

Prior to his time served in Chino, Polanski was allowed to leave the country to scout a proposed film project he had contractually agreed to do. While in Germany, he was persuaded to attend a beer hall celebration during Oktoberfest. While having a beer and a cigar at a public table, a smiling Polanski was photographed surrounded by young women. The innocuous Munich photograph eventually made its way to the judge who then told council in private that he would now effectively bury Polanski.

In February, 1978, hours before facing the judge again, Polanski left the country (after learning from his attorney what the judge had said) never to return again.


In 1988, the girl that Polanski raped, Samantha Gailey (now Geimer), sued him for assault and emotional distress. The case was settled out of court in 1993.

Geimer has since been interviewed numerous times and also written a book telling her side of the story. While her mother still hopes for Polanski's extradition and arrest one day, Geimer actually filed to have the charges against him dismissed from court in 2009. Another judge ruled that in order for that to happen, Polanski would have to first actually return to the country.

Despite the court acknowledging Rittenband's judicial misconduct, there is no statute of limitations governing the case because of Polanski's plea bargain and pleading guilty to the lesser charge in 1977.

In 2009, 76-year-old Polanski was detained for several months in Switzerland and faced being extradited to the United States. He was eventually let out on bail ($4.5 million) and ordered to remain under house arrest in his Alpine chalet.

In 2010, the Swiss court rejected the U.S. request of extradition stating that Judge Rittenband had indeed reneged on his original sentencing deal, and that according to it, Polanski had served all the time he was originally ordered to receive.

Polanski was released from Swiss house arrest and returned to France where he has predominantly resided since fleeing the United States. A 1978 U.S. arrest warrant is still outstanding.

The Los Angeles courts now claim that because Polanski fled before his sentencing, all six of the original charges against him (including rape, perversion and sodomy) are still pending.

In the past several years there have been two documentary films exploring every facet of the case, from all angles, including the numerous public officials who have purposefully kept the situation in the spotlight to springboard their own political careers.

Roman Polanski has been married to his third wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, for the past 25 years. They have two children. His second wife, Sharon Tate was murdered (along with four others) by members of the "Manson Family" in 1969. Tate was eight and a half months pregnant. Polanski was working in London at the time of the murders. Despite this obvious fact he was still treated as a possible suspect by the media as well as Los Angeles County detectives.

He dedicated his 1979 film Tess to wife Sharon Tate, who handed him a copy of the Thomas Hardy novel Tess of the d'Urbervilles (on which the film was based) the last time he saw her alive.

Polanski (a Polish Jew who survived the Kraków Ghetto when he was a boy; his mother died in a concentration camp) won the Academy Award for Best Director for The Pianist (2002). He was not at the ceremony but received a standing ovation from most everyone in attendance. Throughout it all, Polanski has continued to produce, direct, write, act and refine his craft. His films have always explored themes of abandonment, isolation, survival and above all else: the human condition. Reviled by some for good reasons, he is nevertheless one of the worlds most respected living filmmakers. He will turn 81 in August of 2014.

His most recent film was Venus in Fur (2013) in which he directed wife Seigner. His next film D is reportedly an adaptation of the infamous 19th Century Dreyfus Affair, in which a Jewish officer in the French Army was wrongly convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment at the penal colony on Devil's Island, French Guiana. He was finally acquitted twelve years later.


Polanski's masterworks include: Knife in the Water (1962); Repulsion (1965); Rosemary's Baby (1968); Chinatown (1974); The Tenant (1976); Tess (1979); and The Pianist (2002).


More essential Polanski: Cul-de-sac (1966); The Fearless Vampire Killers or: Pardon Me, Madame, but Your Teeth Are in My Neck (1967); Pirates (1986); The Ninth Gate (1999); and Oliver Twist (2005).

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