By the way, I admire all the works of all these filmmakers, just as I have very much liked some of Polanski’s works, notably Chinatown.
But, my goodness, Polanski’s famous supporters are really bumping up against the Zeitgest, especially in the new post-Phillip Garrido world.
Of course, even before child kidnap and rape victim Jaycee Dugard was discovered in August, after being held captive for 18 years, allegedly by Garrido, attitudes about crimes against children had been evolving since 1977.
That’s the year when Polanski brought a 13-year-old girl to movie buddy Jack Nicholson’s house. Polanski fed the girl alcohol and a quaalude and raped her, vaginally and anally. Polanski didn’t contest the allegations, and in fact pled guilty, although not to the more serious charges of rape and sodomy. He was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sex with a minor. Can you imagine any prosecutor agreeing to such a deal these days. Polanski expected to be given a jail sentence that would give him credit for the time he served undergoing a psychiatric evaluation. When he heard that a judge—a notably publicity-seeking judge—didn’t want to abide by the terms of the plea agreement and throw him into prison for a very long time, Polanski left the United States and never came back.
He settled in Paris, where French officials long rejected U.S. requests to extradite him. He also traveled fairly widely around the world where he made films and showed up at film festivals and awards ceremonies. He also went back and forth to Switzerland, where he was finally arrested.
During the three decades since Polanski's crime, public awareness has grown exponentially about the devastating long-term consequences child sex abuse has for its victims. Certainly in the United States, we’ve been hit with some nasty, high-profile cases of child abduction, sexual assault and murder, and we’ve seen the creation of laws that create public databases of registered sex offenders.
Still, outrage against Polanski continued to be muted. A consensus was even growing that America should forgive him for what he did in 1977. The argument was: So much time has passed, and Polanski, in his personal life, had suffered so much, as a Holocaust survivor and the widower of Charles Manson victim, Sharon Tate.
When he won an Academy Award for Best Director for 2002’s The Pianist, Polanski, not present at the Oscar ceremonies, nonetheless received a standing ovation . Then in 2008, an Emmy-winning documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, reignited debate about his case by uncovering new information about possible misconduct by the sentencing judge. Polanski’s victim, now in her 40s, also stated that she forgives him and didn’t think he should be put in jail.
Who knows what would have happened if Polanski had returned to Los Angeles County to press his case that, because of judicial misconduct, his case should be dismissed? That is, if he returned before August, before Dugard was discovered in Contra Costa County.
The recovery of Dugard, now 29, as well as the imagined horrors she endured during those 18 years in Garrido's captivity, has been a top story, not just in the United States but around the world. What Dugard lived through reached, in my opinion, concentration camp-level atrocities.
Like us in Contra Costa County and in the United States, people in France and Switzerland, where Polanski long enjoyed a safe haven, also had the chance to learn about some of the most disturbing details of Dugard’s ordeal.
How she was kidnapped at 11 from her home in South Lake Tahoe, and allegedly raped by Phillip and Nancy Garrido. How she twice became pregnant by Garrido, the first time when she was a young teenager, around the age of Polanski’s victim.
After Polanski’s arrest last weekend, the French government initially stated its dismay over this turn of events. But, as the New York Times says, “the mood was shifting among French politicians Tuesday about whether the government should have rushed to rally around Polanski around the Oscar-winning director.
The mood among the French public is hostile to Polanski’s cause. “Of the 30,000 participants in an online poll by the French daily Le Figaro, more than 70 percent said Mr. Polanski should face justice. And in the magazine Le Point, more than 400 letter writers were almost universal in their disdain for Mr. Polanski.”
On Thursday, the French government backtracked on its support for Polanski, with spokesman Luc Chatel saying Polanski should face justice because he “is neither above nor beneath the law.” A backlash has also been growing against the free-Polanski petition being circulated by show business luminaries.
In the various articles I’ve read about the Polanski saga, I haven’t seen Phillip Garrido’s name mentioned. But I wonder if what Garrido allegedly did to Jaycee Lee Dugard is fresh in the minds of even the French public, whom we have always been given to believe were so laissez faire about Polanski’s indiscretions.
I wonder whether Phillip Garrido is the unnamed co-conspirator derailing the public relations effort to win the director sympathy, and whether this convicted rapist and registered sex offender will be the reason that Polanski will most certainly wind up back in the United States facing serious jail time.