From the Sacramento Bee: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/story/2221697.html
Bruce Maiman: Pursue Polanski? It's hard to justify now
With all the national and international moral wrangling over what should be the fate of director Roman Polanski, has anyone considered the practical standpoint of a California taxpayer?
We talk a lot in this state about our "spending problem" as opposed to a "revenue problem" and I'm watching this unfolding story wondering whether this is money well spent.
The entire issue tests a much larger question we face on a regular basis but for which we have no regularized answer: What is justice?
In this country, a lot of people think it's revenge and punishment. To me, justice is about making reparations to victims and providing assurances to society that the criminal is no longer a threat to the people who live in it.
Prison is where we keep people who are a threat to society. Since most inmates eventually get out, you'd think it a place to ensure that those getting out are rehabilitated. We don't rehabilitate, which explains our high recidivism rate, but the reason we don't rehabilitate is because we've spent the past 30 years pursuing only punishment and revenge.
Polanski hasn't committed a crime since. He's not a threat to society. He's made reparations to the victim (albeit via a civil lawsuit) and the victim has already said she's not interested in testifying against him. It won't bode well for the prosecution if they force her on the stand to testify against her will.
Prosecutors prioritize every day. They put aside cases, they plea bargain, they distribute their resources in accordance with various parameters - public pressure, available finances, office manpower. I don't see Polanski as a priority.
The truth is, Polanski is just the flavor of the day and I'm sorry, but the people today who are so insistent he be locked up don't have much credibility with me because they were notoriously silent until his arrest. Where was their outrage last month, or last year? Did the gravity of his crime suddenly change because he suddenly made headlines? Where was the anger when he made headlines just a few years ago winning a best director Oscar for his film "The Pianist"? It was nowhere. Perhaps people were prioritizing. Perhaps we hadn't paid much attention because there was no reason to since he hadn't broken any laws in 30 years.
I'm not defending what Polanski did. I have a daughter. If he'd done that to my daughter, I'd be the one in jail because I'd have gone after him. But that's just revenge, not justice.
Justice, in the case of Polanski, would be to somehow undo what he did to his victim, Samantha Geimer. That's not possible. She sued Polanski and reached an undisclosed settlement. Did the settlement sway her opinion? Maybe. So in one sense, he's already paid for his crime. She sued for restitution and got it. What is it that we want today? If he had gone to jail and then she'd filed a civil suit, would some of us say she was just out for money?
Geimer, who long ago identified herself publicly*, has joined in Polanski's bid for dismissal, saying she wants the case to be over. As a matter of victim's right, is there any argument in favor of granting this request from the victim?
Incidentally, since this touches on the Charles Manson story, one of the Manson girls, Susan Atkins, just died. It was Atkins who murdered Sharon Tate in 1969 when Tate was eight months pregnant with Polanski's child. Before her death last month, Atkins' attorneys had been petitioning for her release. She had terminal brain cancer, was paralyzed from the neck down, and her left leg had been amputated. The argument in the final months of her life was that it did no good to keep her in jail, and we should let her go on compassionate grounds.* (see my note at bottom of article)
It cost a fortune to hospitalize her and a considerable amount of money was spent on guards at her hospital room - apparently, because a quadriplegic with one leg and terminal brain cancer just might make a break for it. Taxpayers paid for all of that. Did she get what she deserved, or did taxpayers get their money's worth?
That's really the bottom line here: Processing the Polanski matter will be on our dime. Is that money well spent? If it were 30 years ago, there'd be no question here. Today, considering how cash-strapped we are in California, I'm not interested in locking someone up in state prison at $47,000 a year to the taxpayer just to satisfy someone's taste for revenge or to quench the thirst of a possibly overzealous, headline-grabbing district attorney.
Now if the citizens who'd been in hibernation all these years and who suddenly have somewhere new to direct their faux outrage would like to pick up that tab, be my guest. We'll send you the bill. Me? I'd rather the district attorney spend taxpayer dollars going after more immediate threats to society in his jurisdiction, and in Los Angeles that's a buyer's market.
*I always thought it was the press who identified Geimer? She says it is them that have made her life a mess everytime they bring up this case. I think the only reason she did the documentary Wanted and Desired was to tell her side of things and to get some facts straight.
*The only thing that Maiman fails to realize is that we would have been paying for Atkins care anyway. And the bodyguard were there because she still had threats out on her life.
In addition, there was a very interesting article written by a woman about Polanski and how he understands women:
Roman Polanski Understands Women: Repulsion
I'm not going to go into my Roman Polanski defense. I've been doing this all morning, nearly ranting and raving over my views on the matter, and have grown frustrated and depressed. But in short, I'm not happy about his arrest. So, I would rather discuss one of his greatest pictures, a brilliant portrait of female sadness, alienation, sexual neurosis turned to psychosis. A movie all women should watch -- his masterpiece "Repulsion."
"I hate doing this to a beautiful woman."
--Roman Polanski cameraman Gil Taylor
Roman Polanski knows women because he understands men. He knows both sexes because he understands the games both genders play, either consciously or instinctively. He understands the perversions formed from such relations and translates them into visions that are erotic, disturbing, humorous and, most important, allegorical in their potency. One should not (as so many did with his misunderstood Bitter Moon) take Polanski's films literally, for they are often heightened versions of what occurs naturally in our world: desire, perversion, repulsion.
Film writer Molly Haskell said that at the core of Polanski's work is the "image of the anesthetized woman, the beautiful, inarticulate, and possibly even murderous somnambulate." Her observation is astute, but it's followed by the tired criticism that in all of Polanski's films, including Repulsion, "the titillations of torture are stronger than the bonds of empathy." Of course. Polanski's removed morality is exactly why he is often brilliant: He is so empathetic to his characters that, like a trauma victim floating above the pain, he is personally impersonal. He insightfully scrutinizes what is so frightening about being human, yet he doesn't feel the need to be resolute or sentimental about his cognizance. He is also, consciously or subconsciously, aware of the darkness he explores, especially in his female characters, who could be seen as extensions of himself. 1965's Repulsion proves as much.
Starring ice goddess Catherine Deneuve, Repulsion is one of the most frightening studies of madness ever filmed. Deneuve plays Carol, a nervous young manicurist who shares an apartment with her sexually active sister (Yvonne Furneaux). At first Carol goes about her days in the salon, where she quietly tends to bossy old ladies' fleshy cuticles; walking outside, where she unsuccessfully avoids the leering glances and advances of men; and languishing about the apartment, where, with disgust, she listens to the noises of her sister's lovemaking and silently despises the men who visit. She exhibits a pathological shyness and repression that slowly spiral into madness after her sister leaves on holiday. Carol's dementia creates perplexing hallucinations: sexual acts with a greasy man whom she simultaneously loathes and lusts after; greedy hands poking through walls and kneading her soft flesh; and the moving and cracking of walls. Left alone, she is able to act out what she is so afraid of: the dark sludge of desire.
The obscure, slippery and decayed complexities of such desire are conveyed brilliantly in Repulsion. The diseased atmosphere of Carol's womb is meticulously created with Polanski's use of camera angles, sound effects and images of clutter. Though music is used effectively, Polanski relies more on amplifying the sounds of everyday life -- the ticking of a clock, the voices of nuns playing catch in the convent garden, the dripping of a faucet -- to convey the acute awareness Carol acquires in response to her fear. Polanski also dresses the film with pertinent details that further exemplify both Carol's madness and the aching passage of time: Potatoes sprout in the kitchen, meat (rabbit meat, no less) rots on a plate and eventually collects flies, various debris of blood, food and liquids form naturally around Carol. The film's inventive use of black-and-white film, wide-angle lenses and close-ups creates an unsparing vision of sickness, and Deneuve's performance is effectively mysterious. The viewer, however, is able to empathize with Carol, which is how she lures us into her web in the first place. As Polanski cameraman Gil Taylor muttered during filming, "I hate doing this to a beautiful woman."
And yet, one loves doing this to a beautiful woman, especially one like Deneuve. Deneuve's loveliness makes Carol's madness more palatable (her unfortunate suitor thinks she is odd, but he can't help but "love" this gorgeous woman), but eventually it becomes horrifying. Carol is not simply a Hitchcockian aberration of what lies beneath the "perfect woman," she is the reflection of what lies beneath repressed desire -- in men and women. Polanski has a knack for casting women who are nervously exciting (Faye Dunaway in Chinatown is a blinking, twitching mess), and therefore dangerous to desire. He makes one insecure about longing for them.
And Deneuve is certainly nerve-racking. She is so physically flawless that she often seems half human: An anemic girl, she can barely lift up her arm, yet at the same time she is highly sensual, an ample, heavily breathing woman with more than a glint of carnality in her dreamily vacant eyes. Deneuve makes one feel the confusion of a corrupted child: She is an arrested adolescent who, like an anorexic, cannot face her womanliness without visions of perverse opulence and violence. Carol is the personification of sexual mystery -- she is what lurks beneath the orgasms of pleasure and pain. What Polanski finds intriguing and revolting is perceptively female, making Repulsion a woman's picture more than women may want to know, or care to face.
Update: After a flurry of comments and emails regarding this post, ranging from appreciation of my essay, to articulate disagreement, to insane sexist supposedly anti-rape salvos, I've written my take on the Polanski case, at my site. I wrote this piece not to defend his original actions, I wrote this piece to explicate his art. Read here: http://sunsetgun.typepad.com/sunsetgun/2009/09/upon-hearing-the-news-of-roman-polanskis-arrest-sunday-and-after-arguing-discussing-and-thinking-about-the-horribly-misha.html
If you want to email Kim (hopefully, she will get some nice emails for a change?) you can do so at: email@example.com
Photo of the Week!
I know everyone has probably seen this photo but--you must admit--it is one the great ones!