30 July 2008

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

A really well-made, very interesting movie. The focus is not so much the details of Roman Polanski's infamous encounter with a 13 year old girl as the events surrounding it - his life more generally, and more importantly, the legal proceedings. I was expecting a movie that focused on the way Hollywood and mainstream culture sexualizes young women, but instead, I got a movie about the intersection of celebrity and the legal system, and it was fascinating. The main villain of the film is the judge who presided over the case, and this, as my friend Ruchama pointed out, is kind of a cheap move, given that the guy is dead. It's easy to heap all the blame on the dead guy. That said, I left the movie fully convinced that the man should never have been made a judge, I mean, my god. It was scandalous, what he did. What the movie shows you is how pride steps in, the way a judge behaves differently when he's in the public eye, and more importantly, when the person accused is in the public eye. 

Some other fascinating things about the movie (I'm feeling lazy today, and I've been devoting a lot of organization-of-argument energy to my dissertation, so it's bullet points from here. Sorry.):

1. The culture divide. I'd like to take this moment to point out to the Santa Monica law officers involved that sex with a minor is most certainly NOT legal in Poland. So take your "well I don't know how these things work in Mr Polanski's country [aka, the barbaric outposts of civilization], but in AMERICA..." and shove it. In the meantime, take a good long look at society and mass culture in your country, then look up hypocrisy in the dictionary, and report back with your general impressions. Even the judge had a 20something year old girl on the side for goddsakes. As Polanski says, "Yes, I like young women. Doesn't every man?"

2. Which is not to say that I approve of Polanski cavorting with underage girls. This is one of those strange emotion-trumps-logic issues for me. Because personally, I've never felt inclined to blame Polanski at all, even before I saw this movie. At the same time, I suspect that if this same case hit the newsstands now, I'd be appalled. But it seems fairly clear to me that he was moving in a crowd where this kind of thing was fairly normal (does this make me a hypocrite, re: point 1? oh dear.). Maybe a bit risque, but still, free-wheeling 70s, sex and drugs, celebrity, etc etc.

3. The way the movie subtly indexes the shift from the 60s to the 80s, depicting the 70s as a moment of transition between the hippy dippy 60s and the more decadent and pessimistic 80s. 

4. A point that the victim makes, that none of the people involved in the case really seemed to care about her and whatever suffering she might be undergoing. Instead, the police seem to take a rather prurient interest in the details - a description of the defense team dissecting her stained underwear is exemplary in this regard. Another example, for me, about how moral outrage tends to emerge more from puritanical self-righteousness than any actual concern for others.

5. As he's preparing his initial case, the prosecuting attorney goes to the movies and watches Polanski's films, and finds all kinds of convenient parallels between the case and the films, and uses this to make his case. My reaction is "Bullshit! That's totally ridiculous and unfair! You can't assume that a man's art maps so transparently onto his life!" The film seems to support this view. But then, throughout the movie, there are clips from the films that elegantly map onto the events. And this, I have no problem with, in fact, it actually seems clever and poetic. Errr... I guess there's a difference to me between appreciating it aesthetically and putting a man's life on the line over it.

6. The clear smug glee that the French feel about the fact that THEY appreciate Polanski, unlike zee prude americains. Heh heh. 

7. A point made by Polanski's psychiatrist - he's undergone some truly horrific stuff in his life, stuff that would leave your average person a neurotic nutcase curled in the fetal position, and yet, he's managed to rise above. What's interesting to me about this is that every time I say it, I want to say "a normal person" instead of "average person". Which makes me think about psychiatry and normativity. Kind of intriguing.

Anyhow, great movie, much recommended. 

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