When Roman Polański was arrested this weekend, I immediately thought of this.
This is the genius of Dave Chappelle—that sentence could have been spoken in Polish, English or French, and “Nóż w wodzie”, “Chinatown” or “the Pianist” could fit in rather nicely in place of “Thriller” depending (of course) on one’s age and cultural demographic.
Now, I write about this not because I hold a particular grudge against Polański. In fact, considering the tragic turns that his life has taken, I find it rather difficult to pass judgment on the man, even if I remain genuinely revolted by his deeds.
Considering his complicated biography, which includes a number of obviously traumatic events, it is difficult to say with any certainty which way the cosmic scale would tip for someone like him. Like his biography, that uncertainty neither absolves him of his guilt nor does it automatically condemn him, although it must be pointed out that according to our earthly laws and customs, the morality and legality of what happened in 1977 should be reasonably clear.
But that is not why I write about him today—Polański’s worth as a human being is not for me to decide. I simply find the hypocrisy surrounding his case impossible to swallow.
Polański’s arrest in Switzerland brought out the usual sentiments from the defenders of this particular Man Of Genius Who May Have Erred In A Minor Way (But Anyway, He’s So Talented And It Was A Long Time Ago). That it is the Americans who are ultimately pursuing Polański makes it all the more ridiculous.
I am not certain that anyone in the Western world (save for members of Canada’s Conservative Party) admires or respects the reality (as opposed to the theory) of America’s justice system, but hearing the reaction to Polański’s arrest in Switzerland, one would think he had disappeared from the streets of Zurich in broad daylight (maybe to a secret Polish prison?) and that John Yoo himself tortured him for David Addington’s amusement.
French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand (speaking about Polański, not Yoo):
“I think this is awful and totally unjust.”
“Just as there is an America which is generous and which we like, so there is an America which is frightening, and that is the America which has just revealed its face.”*
* If the America that executes its judicial warrants through the proper channels is what frightens Mr Mitterrand, then he has not been reading his world news lately.
“This is a high-profile action designed to send out some sort of message to someone somewhere.”
“No one condones what happened in the 70s, but I think this is pretty appalling.”*
* For someone who has written a fictional account of Tony Blair’s and George Bush’s foray into the Middle East, the word “appalling” seems to come rather easily.
Director Andrzej Wajda heads a long list of Polish cultural luminaries who wrote to Poland’s president asking for diplomatic support.
“We feel that Roman Polański deserves a negative moral assessment for the events from 30 years ago. But we would also like to point out the fact by fleeing from the United States, Roman Polański escaped a judicial lynching.”
* So long as it’s a talented filmmaker, a negative moral assessment will obviously suffice. Unlike, say for others, who may face mandatory chemical castration, presently pushed by Poland’s parliament…
Responding to the pressure, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski has indicated to Polish reporters that he and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, may seek a presidential pardon from Barack Obama.*
* While he’s at it, maybe he can tell a couple more jokes…
In any case, why all the fuss about Polański?
This has nothing to do with guilt or innocence—once more, without getting into the particulars of the case, the focus and the indignation of the world’s cultural (and political) elite is woefully misplaced, and a number of people who really should know better look to make a martyr out of a man who, despite his immense talent, is hardly in a position to play the part.
But then again, the Americans are pretty scary.
And he made “Thriller.”