Workers Vanguard No. 944
9 October 2009
Stop Vendetta Against Roman Polanski!
Free Him Now! No Extradition!
Suddenly reviving its 32-year-old vendetta against world-renowned film director Roman Polanski, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, backed by the Feds, orchestrated his arrest in Zurich on September 26. The 76-year-old Polanski, now in Swiss custody, awaits possible extradition to the U.S. to be sentenced for having had consensual sex with a precocious 13-year-old one day back in 1977.
Roman Polanski committed no crime. Facing a Hollywood show trial with multiple felony charges hanging over him, he pled guilty to “unlawful sexual intercourse” with a minor. Threatened with more prison time after having already served six weeks in state prison for “diagnostic testing,” Polanski, a French citizen, fled to Paris in 1978 to escape the puritan witchhunt. Despite the standing threat of extradition, Polanski has persevered in the face of the American judicial fatwa and managed to pursue his film career in Europe with artistic success, until now.
Many are asking the obvious question about Polanski’s sudden arrest: why now? The events occurred over three decades ago, Polanski is in his 70s and there is no “victim” to avenge. The woman involved, Samantha Geimer, now in her 40s with three children, has long opposed the continued prosecution of Polanski. And, until recently, the U.S. has not really turned the screws trying to extradite him.
But, as noted by author Robert Harris in a 30 September op-ed piece in the New York Times, that changed after the release of the 2008 documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. The documentary includes an interview with David Wells, who brags how he, as a then-deputy district attorney, coached Judge Laurence Rittenband (now deceased) on the case, in particular to ensure prison time for Polanski. Based on the film and other evidence, Polanski’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the case, which was denied in February by Los Angeles Superior Court judge Peter Espinoza. With perverse logic, Espinoza acknowledged that there was “substantial misconduct,” but refused to consider dismissal unless Polanski personally showed up in his court to face certain arrest.
With the frame-up story out—including in court—the prosecutors had nothing to lose in gunning for Polanski. Wells now ludicrously claims that he lied on camera and assumed the film would not be shown in the U.S. In response, Marina Zenovich, who made the documentary, noted that Wells had in fact “corroborated the account of events that he gave in my film” to the New York Times in an article printed on 17 July 2008.
The motives of the lying and vindictive American prosecutors and judges are clear enough, but the Swiss government’s sudden willingness to kowtow to U.S. authorities has raised some eyebrows. Polanski, after all, has for many years owned a home in Switzerland that he frequently visited. Rumors abound that throwing Polanski to the wolves is a bid for leniency in the IRS investigation of the Swiss banking giant UBS on charges of assisting American citizens in tax evasion. “The government is so traumatized by the IRS and whole UBS scandal,” commented former Swiss Socialist parliamentarian Jean Ziegler. “If any American authority asks for anything in Switzerland, they get it in 24 hours” (AP, 29 September).
Whatever machinations the government is employing against Polanski, we oppose this outrageous witchhunt, as we have from the outset. In the U.S., the morality police are howling for Polanski’s blood, including the New York Times in a 30 September editorial. In France, after officials in the French government objected to Polanski’s arrest, they were met by howls of indignation from other politicians demanding that Polanski face “justice” in the U.S.
At the same time, Polanski has received support from other filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, who himself was the target of an anti-sex witchhunt (see “Woody Allen Crucified on ‘Family Values’,” WV No. 558, 4 September 1992). But among those who defend him, many accept that Polanski committed a “crime” in 1977. And since that time, “sexual tolerance has shriveled,” as noted by Alexander Cockburn in CounterPunch (2-4 October), with increasing hysteria over “pedophilia” and the attendant mushrooming of reactionary laws.
We demand an end to reactionary “age of consent” and “statutory rape” laws, which falsely conflate consensual sex with violent crimes. We oppose all laws against “crimes without victims” (which also include gambling, prostitution, drug use and pornography). Government out of the bedroom! Free Roman Polanski!
At the time of Polanski’s original persecution, we were virtually alone on the left in defending him. We reprint below our article, “Stop the Puritan Witchhunt Against Roman Polanski!” which first appeared in WV No. 192, 10 February 1978. The political points in that piece are as relevant today as they were then, over three decades ago.
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Internationally acclaimed film director Roman Polanski has been driven out of the U.S. by a vicious and vindictive official witchhunt. His legal tribulations began last March 11 when he was arrested in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel by Los Angeles police, responding to a woman’s charge that he had screwed her 13-year-old daughter. Ever since, Polanski’s nightmarish persecution—which included 42 days in the Chino, California state prison for degrading “psychiatric observation”—has escalated.
Polanski was recently released from Chino upon completion of the “psychiatric diagnosis,” which was reportedly “favorable.” However, Superior Court judge Rittenband immediately called the report a “whitewash” and informed the director’s lawyer that he intended to sentence Polanski to an additional 48 days in prison, to be followed by “voluntary deportation.” “He doesn’t belong in this country,” proclaimed this state-empowered guardian of the nation’s morals. Polanski, who holds French citizenship, fled to Paris on February 1, where he remains while the prosecution plans ways to extradite him.
Rittenband, known locally as a “hanging judge,” obviously intends to make Polanski into an example. Douglas Dalton, the defendant’s attorney, has pointed out that of the 44 people convicted in Los Angeles County on similar charges in 1976, none ever spent any time in jail. Former state attorney general Younger also sought to make political hay out of the case as part of his general “law-and-order” campaign.
The national press has covered the case with a mixture of pious outrage and amused contempt as another typical “Hollywood scandal.” Time (28 March 1977) sneeringly referred to the director’s “tawdry troubles,” while the New York Post (2 February) devoted a full-page spread to the “new Hollywood” and Polanski’s “rat pack” of sexually swinging friends, making him out to be some kind of exotic, neurotic freak. This is not the first time that the state, gleefully cheered on by the sensation-mongering press, has driven prominent figures out of Hollywood. Errol Flynn, by all accounts an amiable man who never hurt anyone, was endlessly being dragged through the courts on account of his well-known preference for young women.
Ingrid Bergman was even denounced in Congress at the height of the McCarthyite witchhunt for her nerve in defiling her saintly “Joan of Arc” screen image by bearing a child out of wedlock to the Italian filmmaker Roberto Rosselini. Charlie Chaplin too was driven out of the “land of opportunity”—largely for political reasons, of course, but with a good dose of nasty sexual innuendo thrown in. The news-starved press runs periodic “exposés” of glamorous Hollywood in order to simultaneously titillate the public—for the most part trapped in deadly dull, poor and restricted lives—and channel their resentment against the rich and famous into satisfying but empty moral outrage.
What is genuinely “tawdry” and sordid about the Polanski case is not the actual incident itself, but the vile official persecution and the hideous hypocrisy of it all. The national press has carefully “omitted” the real facts of the case. The director had pleaded guilty on August 8 to unlawful intercourse with a minor in return for dismissal of other sex and drug charges against him, including rape, child molestation, oral copulation, sodomy and providing drugs to a minor. However, statements at the trial make it clear that what happened was hardly a case of rape!
The 13-year-old whom Polanski was accused of raping was described in the Los Angeles Times (20 August 1977) as “an aspiring actress,” whose mother had known Polanski for over a year and given permission to photograph her daughter for the French edition of Vogue magazine. One of those photography sessions with the celebrated director turned into an evening of sipping champagne, nude bathing in a Jacuzzi whirlpool bath and consumption by the girl of part of a Quaalude (a fashionable sedative). Following this there was sexual intercourse (translated in the press as “drugging and raping”).
It came out in court, however, that the girl had been “experimenting” with Quaaludes since the age of 10 or 11, and had a 17-year-old boyfriend with whom she had had prior sexual intercourse. A police detective on the case described her as looking to be “between 16 and 18,” while the girl’s mother at one point described her daughter rather lamely as “precocious in the midst of growing up.” Even Judge Rittenband in his probation report was forced to admit the blatantly obvious sexual maturity of the girl: “the prosecutrix was a well-developed young girl, who looked older than her years, and regrettably not unschooled in sexual matters.”
The incident occurred in the home of movie star Jack Nicholson, and it was partially on the testimony of Nicholson’s current roommate Angelica Huston, who had returned home later that evening, that Polanski was charged. Of course, her eager cooperation with the police could have had something to do with the fact that detectives searching the place for “evidence” found a vial of cocaine in her room.
Sexual and social life in southern California, with its thriving drug culture and troupes of precocious and sexually active groupies hanging about the fringes of the entertainment industry, produces thousands of “aspiring actresses” (and young male would-be “rock stars”) like the one Polanski had the misfortune to run into. Regardless of what one thinks of the scene as a whole, its all-too-obvious reality makes absurd Rittenband’s attempts to force rigid morality of the Victorian era into L.A. freeways and bedrooms.
Official repression and enforced standards of sexual activity have brought oppression and pain throughout history, from the cruel feudal “right of the first night” through the Catholic church’s intensely detailed rules on various sexual sins to the Victorians’ complete denial of the sexuality of women and children and their artificial prolongation of childhood. The sexual “norms” which the American state upholds today reek with hypocrisy in a society where scientific research into human sexuality is only now beginning to be published on a mass basis; where scientific breakthroughs in contraception have removed the legitimate fear of pregnancy, which for ages stood as a barrier to sexual pleasure; and where rigid taboos based on ignorance have lost much of their force.
All those laws which define “sex crimes” in America today are fundamentally aimed at glorifying and propping up the obscene and repressive prison of the family, for centuries the main institution for the oppression of women and children. The reactionary sentiment whipped up by the persecution of “sex deviants” is fueled also by recognition that the family is the individual’s shelter in a hostile world. Only a broader social vision of the eventual replacement of the family as part of the transition to a classless society can defuse these fears that lumpenization and social collapse are the only alternative to bourgeois morality.
The media’s exploitation of the Polanski case is more than mere sensationalism. His prosecution, like the furor over “kiddie porn,” feeds into the sanctimonious “Save Our Children” crusade epitomized by Anita Bryant’s anti-homosexual witchhunt—a reactionary offensive which hides behind the “innocence” of children to enforce bourgeois morality through the vindictive persecution of “deviants.”
The victimization of those held to threaten the prevailing norms of family life often takes the most extreme forms. In November a 23-year-old princess and her commoner husband were executed in Saudi Arabia as “sex criminals.” By the traditions of her tribe, which is simultaneously the Saudi ruling class, shooting her and hacking off her husband’s head by sword in the public market of Jidda were socially quite “moral.” Judge Rittenband was not able to have Polanski beheaded in order to protect the “American Way of Life,” but the principle that the state has the right to enforce a “norm” on private sexual activity is equally held by the U.S. bourgeoisie and the Bedouin sheiks. Their methods simply vary a bit.
There are indeed very real and pervasive sex crimes committed in America today, but they are not only nor necessarily the ones splashed across the pages of the tabloid press. Fear, guilt and repression are loaded on the very young for even having sexual thoughts. Adolescent youth are inhumanly and artificially segregated from one another in schools and colleges. The religious strictures of the Catholic church and other religious sects, including orthodox Judaism, keep thousands of women trapped in an endless cycle of poverty, pregnancy and ever more mouths to feed. The aged are locked into grim and tiny rooms to die as their wardens debate “Should sex be allowed in old age homes?”
In ignorance and shame thousands of poor young women are forced into dangerous abortions without Medicaid, while the wealthy manage as they always have. The more unfortunate must either bear their unwanted children or else be sterilized permanently in government hospitals while great debate rages as to whether the young should be “exposed” to contraceptives and birth control information. There is also the hideous frustration and sexual tension built up within the family itself, with attendant beatings and brutalization of children, including their sexual mistreatment. Rape and these other very real crimes, along with the prostitution which is the eternal companion of enforced monogamy, are the sordid reality behind “public morality.”
Polanski has been made the latest public target in the state’s vindictive attempts to uphold the puritan myth and hide this reality. Even his brilliant and often powerful films, like “Cul de Sac,” “Knife in the Water,” “Repulsion,” and more recently “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Chinatown,” have been used against him. As one Columbia Pictures executive moaned, “Roman’s got such a bad reputation for being a pervert film maker, he’s going to be judged guilty by his work” (Time, 28 March 1977).
What emerges from the director’s life, however, is a pattern of successful creative achievement in the face of a pattern of violence and tragedy. As a young boy Polanski saw his parents ripped away (to disappear permanently in the concentration camps) by Nazi stormtroopers. At 15 he was beaten almost to death with an iron bar by a maniac. After achieving a reputation as a talented filmmaker in Stalinist Poland, he emigrated to the West—where his pregnant wife, the actress Sharon Tate, was hideously slaughtered at home along with the couple’s friends by the crazed Manson family. And now Polanski has had the humiliation and torture of spending over a month in prison for “psychiatric observation.” (If this had occurred in the Soviet Union, where dissidents are barbarously locked up in mental hospitals, the director would already be high on the list of Jimmy Carter’s “human rights” campaign.)
Yet to the state of California Polanski is a “sex criminal” and it threatens more prison. It is no wonder why the victim chose to leave America. As he rightly observed, “They spent 42 days trying to drive me bizarre, but thank god I’m smart and rich...” (New York Post, 7 February). He went on:
“In America, California, I lose my wife, my baby, my friends, perhaps my sanity and almost my freedom. No, I say, no! The Nazis couldn’t take it away from me, nor could the grief of my losses. And this little whore and the California laws won’t either. I have given much and they have taken too much from me.”
Good for him. We are cheered to see that this ordeal of puritanical witchhunting has not broken Roman Polanski’s spirit.
The Polanski case has stirred up the poisonous fears and vicious repression which underlies bourgeois morality. As communists we oppose attempts to fit human sexuality into legislated or decreed “norms.” The guiding principle for sexual relations between people should be that of effective consent—that is, nothing more than mutual agreement and understanding as opposed to coercion. We hold that any and all consensual relations between individuals are purely their own concern, and the state has no business interfering in human sexual activity.
Drop the charges against Roman Polanski! No extradition! Stop the puritanical witchhunt!