Embattled Polanski provides a model for troubled stars


He pled guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl more than 30 years ago and then spent three decades as a fugitive, but director Roman Polanski is still able to make a film and actually have people go see it.

Considering all the intense media scrutiny of Polanski’s September arrest in Switzerland for a 1978 statutory rape charge — and the ongoing debate surrounding whether or not the director should still face sentencing — it would seem almost impossible for him to continue making art. But Polanski did just that last weekend with the release of his latest film The Ghost Writer.

Although the film was only released in two U.S. cities — New York and Los Angeles — The Ghost Writer has still enjoyed substantial box office sales. According to Daily Variety, Polanski’s film grossed almost $222,000 since it opened Feb. 19.

That might not sound like all that much money when compared to the numbers that came in for Shutter Island, which came out the same day and has made almost $50 million in its first week. But unlike the Martin Scorsese picture, which was released in about 3,000 theaters nationwide, Polanski’s film was only released in four theaters. All things considered, $222,000 is a fair amount of revenue.

And this proves people are actually going out of their way to see this film knowing that the man who directed it has been arrested under charges of unlawful sex with a minor. This says a great deal about the separation between an artist and his work, especially when that artist’s troubles have been so greatly publicized.

If an artist produces a truly great piece of work, should that work be shunned simply because he has behaved inappropriately?

Polanski’s time as a fugitive has never slowed him down. His legal troubles are well known by everyone in Hollywood and Europe, but he still won an Academy Award for best birector for his 2002 film The Pianist. And as box office numbers have illustrated with The Ghost Writer, audiences are still willing to give Polanski the benefit of the doubt.

Hollywood celebrities have always been involved in sticky situations, and not all of them have been as lucky as Polanski to emerge from scandals with their popularity intact. There are a notable few whose careers were almost ruined because of legal troubles.

On the run · Polanski’s most recent film, The Ghost Writer, was created primarily while the director was evading arrest for a statutory rape charge. His situation is not without precedent in Hollywood. - Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment

A similar statutory rape case spawned the catch phrase “In like Flynn” in the early 1940s when popular screen actor Errol Flynn was accused of having sex with two underage girls. With an already established reputation as a womanizer, Flynn’s trial started in 1943, and many believed the actor’s career hung in the balance.

Conversely, Flynn’s trial did nothing but help his career. After being cleared of the charges, the ordeal only further solidified his reputation and immense popularity. He was able to survive all of the accusations and turmoil, and as a result Errol Flynn is still regarded as one of the superstars of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Though his physical relationships never instigated legal action, Charlie Chaplin’s love affairs also involved scandalous and, what many would consider, inappropriate behavior. Chaplin, one of Hollywood’s first stars to have several underage lovers, is nevertheless still highly regarded . It is his filmography and his incredibly unique on-screen character that are remembered, not his potentially suspect love affairs.

But what will come of Polanski?

He still has the talent, and audiences can still recognize it, but, with his legal troubles far from being over, the director’s future is still uncertain.

Audience members must now look to his art as the only accurate example of what Polanski can still offer us. The Ghost Writer will eventually see a wider distribution, and more people will be able to see it, but it is still not clear how many will actually want to watch a film by Polanski, considering the identity of the man behind the art.

Christopher Byars is a senior majoring in English (creative writing). His column, “Cinerama,” runs Fridays.

  • Marshal

    Strange that some rape survivors actually say so in their own blogs – but I guess you haven’t read them. I could point you to some if need be. Then you could unload your hatred at them.

    • Joe

      Wait a minute, you’re the guy excusing, no, *supporting* Roman Polanski, monstrous repeat child rapist, and you’re accusing me of “hatred” of rape victims? Kid, moral relativism is a philosophical dead end. Try reading what you’ve written two or three times and really think about the implications of it.

      • Marshal

        Joe, ‘pal’ – who says Polanski is a ‘repeat rapist’, hm? As far as Geimer’s concerned he didn’t even ‘rape’ her. Besides, my comment was meant for all, in reference to that you all think no rape victim supports him, and not that you hate rape victims, but that you could unload this hatred you show for Polanski at those who support him, not me pointing you to them. Maybe YOU should read my posts better, and I might link you to some rape survivors who do support him. But I guess you’d think they’re all loopy or not ‘real victims’ in contrast.

  • Marshal

    Joe, you’re obviously blind not to see that there was no sodomy. What she said then has no meaning in the face of hard medical evidence discrediting it flat-out. She also said that Huston had interrupted them, which means she was perfectly aware to call on her help, only to let him return and sodomise her again? I don’t think so. Polanski said she didn’t interrupt them and anal intercourse requires lubricant not to hurt or cause damage in case you don’t realise that, let alone ‘dry double sodomy’ she implies, and I doubt he had a handy pot ready. Quaaludes in the small amount she took doesn’t make you ‘pliant’, it makes you euphoric and horny. Taken as whole pill it makes you relaxed, not sedate. What other ‘writings’ say to the effect of his ‘screwing adolescent girls’ is as meaningless as any other to discredit him. To me only the fact that it wasn’t forcible rape/sodomy is relevant, regardless of her age. End of story.

    • what the hell

      I pity the future girlfriend/wife/sister/daughter/granddaughter/female friends/anyone else with a vagina that has the displeasure of encountering you in real life, Marshal.

      It is people like you that remind me of why I will, sadly, always have a job. And why working as a rape crisis counselor/advocate is so essential in this society.

      • Joe

        You said it! My recommendation for Marshal is to take the “sunshine test”: read the sentence you just wrote, aloud, in a mixed crowd of adults, and see how they respond. If you can’t explain the sodomy/lube/Quaalude/pre-teen issue in the light of day, that’s a hint that you might need to re-think it..

        • what the hell

          haha, Joe that is fantastic.

          I read Marshal’s “On the contrary, many rape survivors support him because they do know what real rape is…” statement out loud to a roomful of people. The general reaction was “Oh my God…did he REALLY just say that?”

          As someone who works day in and day out with and/or for sexual assault survivors, I can say with full confidence that I do not know of a single survivor who *supports* Polanski. I know plenty of survivors who no longer hate their attackers, nor wish them ill, and have found healing–but none of them would “support” a rapist. Much less a child rapist like Polanski.

      • Joe

        Paragraph, I mean, not sentence.

  • Marshal

    I’m not going to engage ‘what the hell’s’ shortsighted assumption that any Polanski defender doesn’t know what rape is. And here’s proof that it wasn’t forcible rape and sodomy first of all.

    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2008/1203081roman11.html

    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2008/1203081roman12.html

    On the contrary, many rape survivors support him because they do know what real rape is, and to her own words, this was not. The public have no right to ignore her own stand these days to the events of then. What she told the grand jury differs greatly from what she had said over the last decades, and any article citing the old testimony has no validity of being factual, as long as these claims have not been proven in any court. They never have.

    And Joe, he never admitted to any of what you said, and he pled to unlawful sex and the other counts were therefore dropped. The case never went to trial on the pressure of the mother because they had no case of rape or sodomy, no one wanted him incarcerated, and the other counts as a result are to this day mere allegations. Just like her never impugned original statement in fact. The legal side and flight reason was explained already, and if you all want to continue believing in the unproven rape/sodomy details of this case, instead of finding real rapists and paedophiles, that is your problem entirely.

    • Joe

      Marshal, when an adult sodomizes a 13-year-old, it’s rape. Just because the drugs made her *pliant* doesn’t mean she *consented*. (And even if she had consented, she was still *13 years old*). In other interviews and writings he has admitted to screwing at least two other adolescent girls… this was in the news a few months ago when he was arrested by the Swiss.

  • Joe

    This article is disgusting. Look at this quote, one of many: “…not all of them have been as lucky as Polanski to emerge from scandals with their popularity intact. There are a notable few whose careers were almost ruined because of legal troubles.” The student who wrote this article is trying to create the sense that a “scandal” just HAPPENED to Polanski. Poor unlucky Roman Polanski. Could have happened to anyone. What a tragedy.

    As has been pointed out, Roman Polanski admitted to drugging, forcibly raping, and sodomizing a 13-year-old against her protestations. From his own comments he is known to have raped at least a couple other young girls in cases that were never brought to trial.

    These are not “troubles” which “befell” Roman Polanski. His sentence may be in dispute, but his guilt is not — he has admitted to these monstrous crimes, and openly admits that he is a fugitive only because he didn’t want to serve his sentence. Don’t kid yourself that you’re defending a “misunderstood” artist who “allegedly” did something “controversial”.

  • Dana T.

    I understand that you’re trying to make a case for evaluating Polanski’s art based solely on its merit, instead of allowing his crimes to influence our judgment of his work. But marginalizing the rape and tagging on a headline that suggests he be a role model (“Embattled Polanski provides a model for troubled stars”) isn’t just insensitive–it’s downright offensive.

    Just in case you’ve forgotten, here’s an article to remind you of exactly what he did 32 years ago, and pled guilty to:

    Reminder: Roman Polanski raped a child
    By Kate Harding
    http://www.salon.com/mwt/broadsheet/feature/2009/09/28/polanski_arrest/

    “Roman Polanski raped a child. Let’s just start right there, because that’s the detail that tends to get neglected… Let’s keep in mind that Roman Polanski gave a 13-year-old girl a Quaalude and champagne, then raped her… let’s take a moment to recall that according to the victim’s grand jury testimony, Roman Polanski instructed her to get into a jacuzzi naked, refused to take her home when she begged to go, began kissing her even though she said no and asked him to stop; performed cunnilingus on her as she said no and asked him to stop; put his penis in her vagina as she said no and asked him to stop; asked if he could penetrate her anally, to which she replied, “No,” then went ahead and did it anyway, until he had an orgasm.”

  • Marshal

    If the so called victim tells us over and over these days that it wasn’t ‘an atrocious act of sexual violence’, but ‘that he had sex with her’, ‘didn’t harm her’, ‘wasn’t mean or anything like that’ (her words), he’s neither a rapist or paedophile by findings already then, since ‘what the hell’ obviously has no clear idea about their meaning either. What she said three decades ago was never impugned in a trial and therefore still only allegations to this day. Medical evidence didn’t support her claims already then, and that’s why they struck a plea bargain on mom’s pressure with no jail time demand. The judge eventually reneged on their agreement to let Polanski go free on probation, to save his own face, and therefore was removed by both attorneys for multiple illegal transgressions which had triggered Polanski to flee, because he would have to appeal any sentence they had not agreed on and was threatened with illegal deportation the judge was not empowered to enforce on any defendant – that’s the factual short of it.

    There was no evidence of rape or sodomy, she took the bit of drug and champagne on her own accord, and she wasn’t out of her skull not to resist as she had claimed then. Her old story could not be corroborated by potential witnesses either, she more and more came to amend over time to in fact resemble more what he had said happened and that’s what he pled to, unlawful sex with a minor and the fact that she couldn’t consent, till she even outright pleaded for his release on several occasions even before a received settlement. I doubt any real rape victim would ever do that; they would call for his incarceration she never wanted then or now, not file petitions for his release since years now. But the courts did not only ignore him, but her calls to have the case dismissed to play with it some more by several other judges for their own reasons, nor sentenced him.

    The fact that so many support him and that he could continue his work proves that they know better and the case was/is much more complex on many levels than people realise. Today it has been blown out of all proportions and is being politically exploited by some ambitious DA, and another judge who just spins it out as it was since three decades now, despite plenty of chances to close it both parties had demanded. That’s why the Swiss didn’t extradite him and never will. Unless they courts can prove he was up for more than what he had sat out already, since they don’t extradite anyone who wasn’t subject to more than half a year sentence. The current judge too has refused to sentence him, since that would give Polanski the chance to appeal, and moreover automatically force the courts to deal with all the exposed backroom dealings and the judge’s misconduct from three decades ago they cannot just brush under legal carpet anymore. But obviously they want to leave their old dirty dealings kept out of sight, and are unable to prove he was to be sentenced for longer.

    • what the hell

      “If the so called victim tells us over and over these days that it wasn’t ‘an atrocious act of sexual violence’, but ‘that he had sex with her’, ‘didn’t harm her’, ‘wasn’t mean or anything like that’ (her words), he’s neither a rapist or paedophile by findings already then, since ‘what the hell’ obviously has no clear idea about their meaning either.”

      No, my dear, you are the one that is terribly confused and uninformed. Polanski admitted himself that he IS indeed a rapist. Even if he “only” committed “statutory rape,” that is still RAPE and he is still a RAPIST. He pled guilty to the lesser charge of statutory rape in order to avoid jail time. That does not mean he was innocent of the more severe charges. The victim’s grand jury testimony was more than enough to get an indictment for all 5 of the original charges. As for you “factual short” of what happened, you have a very skewed definition of “factual.”

      As for Polanski being a pedophile, again, what exactly is YOUR definition? She was a 13 child–not a woman, not an adult. A child. Polanski took pleasure in raping her and performing sexual acts (all against her will) on her. Sounds like a pedophile to me…

      “There was no evidence of rape or sodomy, she took the bit of drug and champagne on her own accord, and she wasn’t out of her skull not to resist as she had claimed then.”

      Really? What exactly are your sources for that one, dear? We unfortunately didn’t have DNA evidence at the time, and our forensic pelvic exams were terribly ineffective (and in most cases non-existent) when he committed his crime. “Lucky” for him. And a 13 year old willing took a Quaalude? Are you kidding me? She was 13! HE supplied to alcohol AND the drugs. And if even *IF* she had consumed both willingly, that does not excuse his behavior. If anything, it makes his actions more even more horrific. Not only could she not legally consent because of her age, but the fact that she was drugged and intoxicated even further nullifies any argument for consent.

      “I doubt any real rape victim would ever do that”

      You clearly know absolutely nothing about rape. Or rape victims. Or the aftermath of sexual assault. A “real rape victim”? You are disgusting.

      Every survivor of rape or sexual assault is going to respond differently–everyone heals in their own way and comes to terms with their experiences through a very personal process. I am happy for the Polanski’s victim, that she feels she has been able to move on and heal from what happened. That is great. But that by no means minimizes what Polanski did. The survivors of the Rwandan genocide have also learned to forgive and move on, and many have called for the release of the genocide perpetrators there as well–but that does not change the horror of what happened there. Humans have an incredibly capacity to survive and overcome the past. But that doesn’t absolve the perpetrators of their guilt, nor take away from the suffering and pain the survivors had to go through in order to reach a place of healing.

      \”they would call for his incarceration she never wanted then or now, not file petitions for his release since years now. But the courts did not only ignore him, but her calls to have the case dismissed to play with it some more by several other judges for their own reasons, nor sentenced him.”

      Was there actually supposed to be a coherent sentence in there somewhere?

      You sound like an abysmal “human being”…and I use that term very loosely as well.

  • what the hell

    Are you kidding me?

    I just threw up reading this. Disgusting.

    He didn’t just have “unlawful sex” with a minor–HE RAPED HER. He plied her with alcohol, DRUGGED her, and RAPED her. A 34 year old pedophiliac, narcissistic “man” (and I use that term incredibly loosely) drugged and raped a protesting 13 year old child–and not only did he rape her, he sodomized her, and forced oral copulation, among other “lewd and lascivious acts.”

    I have officially lost all respect for the author of this article.

    The fact that Polanski managed to live peacefully and untroubled by the consequences of his disgusting and reprehensible behavior is not a sign of his “success”–it is a sign of the dismal state of our society. It is repulsive to see how quickly the public forgave a sexual predator. I don’t care how talented he is. He still committed an atrocious crime of sexual violence, and he absolutely needs to receive his long overdue punishment. Just because he ran away from his responsibilities 30 years ago does NOT give him a pass to continue living freely.

    This is just one more example of the incredible culture of impunity surrounding sexual assault and sexual violence in our society. i don’t care if the offender is potentially the person who will find the cure for cancer. That in no way, shape, or form absolves the offender of his guilt. It does not excuse the horrendous acts of sexual violence. And it should not, no matter what, give him a free pass.

    Screw Polanski. He deserves it.