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Still icky after all these years

The Roman Polanski vs. <i>Vanity Fair</i> libel lawsuit raised oft-forgotten questions about the fugitive director's misogynistic, violent past.
 
 
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Nobody really noticed the Roman Polanski vs. Vanity Fair libel trial, which ended on Friday after being hashed out in a London court room.

But I was intrigued, due to a morbid interest in all things crime-, justice- and punishment-related (hello, Law and Order: SVU addiction), as well as a longtime love/hate affair with the infamously short, talented, bullish and womanizing Monsieur Polanski.

The creepy fugitive director -- who skipped bail and fled from America to Paris after pleading guilty to raping a 13-year-old girl in 1978 -- won the £50,000 libel suit against Vanity Fair , even though he refused to travel to England to appear in the courtroom because he feared extradition (!!!!).

Polanski's suit was sparked by a 2002 VF article by A. E. Hotchner -- a portrait of ubiquitous Manhattan haute-spot Elaine's. In the piece, Harper's mag editor Lewis H. Lapham recalled watching Polanski hit on a Swedish model by grabbing her leg and offering this oh-so-classy come-on: "I could make you the next Sharon Tate." (The gorgeous Tate was Polanski's late wife -- 8 months pregnant when she was murdered by Charlie Manson's "Family" in the home she shared with Polanski).

The VF article also claimed that Polanski was, in fact, on the way to Tate's funeral at the time of his attempted grope-fest at Elaine's -- a disturbing twist that adds a fresh layer of "ick" to the mix.

Anyway, the trial's over; Polanski won. Good for him, I guess. The fact that Lapham claimed to fully remember one probably-drunken evening many moons ago does seem a tad suspicious.

But Roman Polanski -- the man, not the famous film star -- bothers me. It's always struck me, how relatively few cinephiles care to acknowledge his seriously-sordid past (the whole drugging and raping a child bit). He's a fugitive. America, Britain and, duh, France (where he's been living extradition-free since his purported crime) know where he lives. Why wasn't he ever busted? Dragged back to face the consequences of his actions? This lawsuit could have been a perfect opportunity for such. It makes zero sense to me that he was allowed to testify from his home in France -- instead of appearing in court to speak on his own behalf in a trial that HE brought about -- all because he feared extradition. Why are we protecting him? Why is his privacy, freedom and safety more significant than justice for his victim? Who protected the girl he raped?

His cinematic legacy seems to have negated the public memory of the pig he used to be. I'm not disparaging his work -- some of his films were amazing; personal favorites of mine -- but it's troubling how insignificant Polanski's lecherous past has become since arriving in Hollywood-heavyweight-hoopla-land.

I suppose this trial just serves to illustrate William Faulkner's assertion that "the past is never dead. It’s not even past." Just like Lapham, your friends (or enemies) might wind up talking smack about what you did one slosh-y night long ago -- in a foreign courtroom, 20 years from now. So don't go drugging and raping any 13-year-olds, or using your dead wife's name to bed Swedish models, ya hear?

Laura Barcella is an Associate Editor at AlterNet.