Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
By all standards, maverick
director Roman Polanski has led a tragic, heartbreaking life. When he
was just a child, his mother was killed by the Nazis and his father was also
sent away to the concentration camps. The first woman that he truly,
unquestioningly loved, actress Sharon Tate, was brutally murdered with
several of the couple's friends by the Manson family in their home - a mass
murder which later seemed to be a case of mistaken identity in which the
cult may have been looking for a former resident of the house. Over
the past decade he has lived in exile from his adapted home of the United
States - at great professional and financial disadvantage - for fear that if
he leaves his home of France he will be arrested.
However, unlike the others,
this tragedy was due to Polanski's own actions. While doing a photo
shoot of young girls for the magazine Vogue Homme, Polanski took a
young model of only thirteen back to his friend Jack Nicholson's home
(Nicholson himself was out of the country), got her drunk and high and had sex
with the girl.
This intriguing film,
though, shows how Polanski's exile was not so much due to an unwillingness
to face the consequences of his crime. Instead, it shows that much of
the final outcome was due to Laurence Rittenband, a publicity-mad judge who got caught up in the
media circus of the trial to the point where he became unstable and
Thirty years of skewed
memories have people believing that Polanski ran off just because he was a
dirty old man who would not put up the idea of spending his life in jail.
In some ways that is even partially true - however Wanted and Desired
brings to light how hard he was trying to do make restitution for his
crimes, but he kept getting the rug pulled out from under him by the
overzealous judge. Even Roger Gunson, the prosecutor who was
responsible for bringing Polanski to justice, now acknowledges that he is
not surprised that the filmmaker fled the country, given the circumstances
of the trial.
In fact, the victim, now
grown up to be a pretty, well-adjusted forty-ish mother, also acknowledges here
that Polanski was given a raw deal in the trial, which has to give you an idea of
how out of control the whole process got.
The film also shows this to
be one of the very first of the media feeding frenzies - even showing the
cultural split of European television showing him to be a heroic artiste
being pilloried by the puritanical establishment while the US press painted
him as a sleazy perv, possibly a Satanist, who was looking to prey on the
innocence of women and children.
The real truth seems to be
somewhere far in the middle of those two extremes, of course.
Wanted and Desired
does a fine job of chronicling Polanski's life and career leading up to the
scandal - his mother's death, his unexpected discovery of true love with
Tate and then the horrible loss that comes at the end, his ever escalating
film career which exploded with the likes of Rosemary's Baby and
It also finds quite a few fawning old friends - such as
Rosemary's Baby star Mia Farrow - to give glowing character
references for Polanski.
Somewhat more questionable
is the fact that the documentary sometimes tried to haze over the fact that
he did indeed commit the crime. It is sometimes tried to be explained away.
He's European, they have different standards than we do here. They
remind us of his earlier relationship with 15-year-old budding actress
Nastassja Kinski - which not only did not cause either problems but ended up
making her a star. (Though the timeline is made a little fuzzy,
because she had her breakout role in Polanski's Tess a year after the
California scandal.) The filmmakers delve
into the heartbreak of his earlier life and pondering how it effected his
relationships with women. All are legitimate
considerations, none totally absolves him from his actions.
Naturally, the most
intriguing passages revolve around the media onslaught and hype of the case.
The original defense attorney and DA agree to be interviewed extensively and
they both agree that the judge created a dog and pony show, regularly went
back on agreements he made and made judicial decrees that veered from the
unethical to illegal - all in an attempt to hog the spotlight.
The film suffers because
Polanski himself does not participate in the documentary with any new
reminiscences, though the film is peppered with little snippets of an
earlier interview where the director is extremely forthcoming about the
experience. Word is after the film was finished, Polanski did agree to
meet with the director - but only off-camera.
Judge Rittenband, who died
in 1994, is also not there to defend his own actions. If he is going
to get most of the blame here - and he undoubtedly deserves it - it seems
only fair to hear his explanation. Of course with his death that is
impossible, but that does make the whole thing seem a tiny bit one-sided.
His son, Elliot, is given a little screen time to discuss his father, but
doesn't have too much of relevance to impart. A couple of his old
girlfriends discuss the judge as well, but their purpose seems to be
illustrating Rittenband's fascination with show business types.
That said, for the most
part this film is able to explain and perhaps even restore the reputation of
a tortured genius. Maybe it will even partially clear his name.
Sadly years later, the circus still goes on. According to the film as
recently as 1997, a California judge agreed to officially drop all remaining
charges on Polanski in California - allowing him the freedom to return to
the US - but only if the director would appear and allow the whole thing to
be captured on television. Not surprisingly, Polanski declined.
(Note: Despite the fact that this is listed in
the "Available at Your Video Store" section, at the time of this posting the
movie is only available as a documentary running on HBO. It is almost
inevitable that it will be released on DVD, but there is no official release
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: May 31, 2008.