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David Poland

By David Poland

The “Nazi” & The “Victim”

I’m pretty sure than Manohla Dargis and I come down around the same place on Von Trier’s Cannes “Nazi incident” and Polanski.

So I have avoided writing about her piece on the issues of both men. As she writes in the piece and is certainly true, trying to have a rational, respectful conversation on the subject of either man can be treacherous. I also don’t think that by writing about them in the same piece, she is equating their alleged crimes… though there are those who would hold Von Trier lower for using the phrase “I’m a Nazi,” than they would hold the admitted child anal rapist. I don’t get that… but that’s why it’s a slippery conversation to try to have.

As the piece keeps on getting sent to me, I decided to write something.

The real issue of the piece is not Manohla’s position on either man, but the odd balancing act of the art and the artist. My position is that they are separate issues. No one was more supportive of The Pianist as a movie than I. But I was also completely aware, especially when talking to talent connected to the film, that the man who brilliantly directed the film was not only a fugitive from the US Government, but showed a clear lack of inclination to take any responsibility for the act he had committed here in Los Angeles.

That is my personal beef with Polanski. That is why I tend to use the modifier “child anal rapist” at least once when I bring up his name. Because that is what he is. That is what he’s done. He is also a victim of the Jewish Holocaust and of one of the ugliest spree killings in US history. He has been through more than I am likely to ever go through (touch wood) and more than most Americans, including me, can ever really conceive of living through.

For me, that makes the smugness around the rape of Samantha Geimer all the worse. He, of all people, should know better.

And then, when it comes to his apologists, I have no patience. Some of my best friends are Roman Polanski rape apologists. But I find the answer to be right in my Jewish training from childhood. Never forget. And I will never forget this about the man.

But finding forgiveness for him is not impossible. It’s not even a huge reach. It’s simply a matter of him being contrite about his actions. Just a bit. Something other than blaming everyone else, from the judge to the media and turning his bad act into a whining lie about his victimization.

We live in a world in which people really are victimized by the criminal system. Happens often, though almost never to the wealthy and powerful. Just look at the Memphis Three, who served decades in jail for crimes they didn’t commit. And they got out! The guy in Georgia who seemed to have a lot of exculpatory evidence and still got the lethal injection… barbaric. So for me, Mr. Polanski fleeing the country because the judge shot his mouth off about sentencing, even though Polanski had a high-priced legal team that was unlikely to allow any change in the plea agreement to stick for very long, is, to me, a mockery of people who are truly vulnerable in the legal system.

And what the apologists always seem to forget is that Polanski’s very brief pleaded sentence was a travesty in and of itself. 90 days for drugging and anal rape of a 13-year-old? If the worst case scenario had come true and Polanski had gone to prison for 8 – 10 years… would that really be a breach of our standards for child rape in this country? Does anyone really believe that if he hadn’t been a wealthy studio director that he would be getting anything less than 5 years in jail for what he admits to having done?

All that said, it has been a long time. The victim does seem to have moved on and has said as much. He did settle with her without a civil case. Most of the excuses are reasonable.

My problem is the arrogance. My problem is that the conversation often crosses the line into blaming the victim. My problem is that people choose to forget when they want to forgive.

But as Manohla points out, I think it is ridiculous to accuse someone who appreciates his work of somehow being supportive of child anal rape. I loved The Pianist. I liked The Ghost Writer. And my only concern about Carnage is that I think he may be a bit ham-fisted with comedy and the comedy of this piece was, on stage, very subtle and smart. But I hope to love the film.

There is some buzz on a hagiography of Polanski playing at the festival in Switzerland in which, apparently, Polanski shows some guilt for his victimization of Samantha Geimer… though word is that he equates it with the media victimizing her as well. BZZT! Wrong. Just admit you did wrong and stop pointing at the consequences of your actions as your cross to bear.

As for Lars von Trier…

Here is the videotape…

I completely get the Von Trier oversell. “Child Anal Rapist” is not too far from him calling himself a Nazi.

He is a passionate, brilliant artist. He is also a giant child with serious mommy issues.

But I completely get the broad, cartoonish use of both “Jew” and “Nazi” in his ramble. Most people from the Middle East don’t love when I say that we beige-skinned people are all – including myself – sand monkeys. My point, when I throw that one out, is not to diminish anyone… but to point out that those of us with blood originating in that region share something greater than borders. This is also why I make fun on my Persian friends being so angry about being called Arabs. Jewish, Muslin, Christian… whatever. We may not share culture in full, but we share that sandy birth.

And I would argue (or is it “rationalize?”) that the exclamation of “I am a Nazi” is 3 steps ahead of the media in front of him, as he must have been certain that anything he said that wasn’t 100% politically correct and involved Germans would eventually come out as him being painted as a Nazi sympathizer.

The Susanne Bier jokes were the kind of lines you only use in a small circle of friends, which could include Susanne. She’s not got the greatest sense of humor about herself, but it’s not hard to imagine Lars saying exactly what he said about liking being a Jew until he met Susanne to her face… and her being bothered for herself, but not for Jews in general.

The whole thing was, in my opinion, a tempest in a tea pot. Even the Albert Speer thing… doesn’t anyone remember the Speer-sympathetic TV movie of Inside The Third Reich, in which Speer was a wide-eyed young architect who just went along with Hitler in order to see his architectural dreams come true, only to realize at some point that he’d fallen into the horrors of Nazi Germany? He was a less complex version of Alec Guinness in River Kwai, but with a German accent in that movie. I believe that LvT, at that point trying to edit himself, was basically saying that he liked Speer’s work… and makes clear that he has no love of Nazis.

Seriously… do you think that LvT doesn’t admire the grandeur of the Nazi regime And seriously… does anyone really think he has anything positive in his heart or mind when it comes to the Ultimate Solution? You really have to want to take him out of context.

I would add now that I have long felt that the Von Tier as misogynist trope was wildly overstated. As he matures and we see his women in the last two films, his issues with his mother have become much clearer, and his vision of women as being more powerful than men is obvious. He clearly fears that power. But hate it? Nah.

We did a Melancholia DP/30 at Toronto… first of 3 or 4, I hope. And we didn’t get to talk about Lars’ mother issues much on camera. But afterwards, we were shooting the excrement and it seems that if you get Lars talking about his mom, it’s a good 2 or 3 hour conversation at the bar. That shows in the film. Rampling and her daughters Dunst & Gainsbourg are remarkably rendered.

And with that… let the argument rage on… since opinions will vary… and no one is an idiot for having one… even if it doesn’t concur with mine. (smiley face emoticon)

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18 Responses to “The “Nazi” & The “Victim””

  1. Supposedly in the new doc unveiled in Zurich, Polanski apologizes to Geimer and at the same time sticks it to the media for what they did to her.

    Just curious whether that changes your opinion about Polanski at all.

    I’m in the camp that keeps an artist separate from his art, but in many ways I find the debate about the Polanski case more interesting than the case itself.

  2. LexG says:

    Von Trier’s line about being a proud Jew until he met Susanne Bier is a TOP-NOTCH joke.

  3. David Poland says:

    “There is some buzz on a hagiography of Polanski playing at the festival in Switzerland in which, apparently, Polanski shows some guilt for his victimization of Samantha Geimer… though word is that he equates it with the media victimizing her as well. BZZT! Wrong. Just admit you did wrong and stop pointing at the consequences of your actions as your cross to bear.”

  4. sammy says:

    who is the last person you can trace to having been born there in your family dp?

  5. David Poland says:

    I am adopted, Sammy, but from what I know, I am a Sephardic/Italian mix.

  6. Even as I typed, I felt like I probably just missed you saying that.

    For what it’s worth, I was also disappointed he had to add the part about the media in. Even if he hadn’t though, I’m not sure it changes much for anyone, regardless of how they feel.

  7. David Poland says:

    Honestly, if he came out and told his apologists to stop blaming everyone else… even if he didn’t realize how wrong it was because of a cultural difference, but he did take advantage of a young woman and he should not have given her alcohol or drugs, he should have been more aware of her avoidance efforts, and should not done what he did… I would be forgiving. He doesn’t have to self-flagellate and wear a big R on his chest for me to move on.

    But I get zero sense that he thinks he did anything wrong but to get caught and to get a judge who was media sensitive (though that’s also why he got such an easy plea).

  8. anghus says:

    “But I get zero sense that he thinks he did anything wrong but to get caught and to get a judge who was media sensitive (though that’s also why he got such an easy plea)”

    It’s funny how true this is. The act itself is heinous. And the guy has all this baggage that would make even the most cynical person say “yeah, the guy has had some fucked up shit happen to him”, which buys him a little bit of moral leverage.

    But he never seemed to be sorry. He never wanted to atone. He continues to address the consequences and the aftermath of what he did more so than the violent act he committed. And that’s just sad.

    The media had nothing to do with the act itself.

  9. Nom De Guerre says:

    what Polankski did was unthinkably reprehensible…pointing out that the mom all but pimped he daughter out doesn’t negate the horrors.

    Polanski was taken in by the judicial system and worked out a punishment that he was okay with and that the judge and prosecutor was okay with. It is NOT for anyone here to have an opinion on the severity or leniency- meaning it is irrelevant. IT WAS AGREED UPON. In the doc it appears that the Geimers agreed with it too.

    Then the attention seeking jurist announced he was going to violate the agreement illegally and Polanski decided he would not get a fair deal and left town.

    The act- abominable. The punishment- not ours to judge. The judge’s act- criminal. Polanski’s flight- priceless.


    (this comment is awaiting moderation until David Poland decides he can handle the free discourse of ideas.)

  10. David Poland says:

    The notion that we can have no opinion about the plea agreement is as absurd as the idea that we should judge completely the possibility that the judge MIGHT have chosen another option (as opposed to just letting off steam), our insight based exclusively on an advocacy doc.

    I agree that no matter how ridiculous the plea was, it should have been upheld by the judge unless Polanski violated the terms in a serious fashion.

    But taking the law into his own hands is the same act and fleeing is the same in any step of the process. Polanski created the jeopardy he was in, not the judge.

    And again, what allegedly pissed off the judge was Polanski’s arrogance. It’s not unlike Lindsay Lohan going out partying every night when the judge gives her a break on sentencing. As long as you are in jeopardy of your own creation, don’t act like an asshole. This rule doesn’t usually apply for the most powerful of us… just for real people whose bad behavior doesn’t get defended because one is an artist.

  11. Nom De Guerre says:

    Agree with what you say about the arrogance and we shall hopefully accept that we have different views about opinions. You Americans always say ” I have a right to an opinion” and you really don’t. What you mean to say is you can say anything you want to about anything. I could express an opinion about the American Medical Association but since I know nothing my opinion is just blather.

    It is equivalent to everyone having an opinion that Casey Anthony did it. They weren’t on the Jury and the jury actually said they thought she might have done it but there was no evidence the kid was even murdered.

    I guess one can say whatever they want and express their opinion but then one should expect to be mostly ignored.

    In my opinion 43 days in Chino was a slap on the wrist. But what I think doesn’t matter, no, sadly, does what any of us think.

    (this comment is awaiting moderation until David Poland decides he can handle the free discourse of ideas.)

  12. palmtree says:

    Can a judge’s ruling be considered illegal?

    By definition, isn’t the judge the one deciding the legality. I mean, a decision can be overturned or appealed, but to be considered illegal? How does that work?

  13. Nom De Guerre says:

    The judge had the authority to reject the brokered please agreement. He accepted it. Polanski did as agreed. THEN the judge said he was going to change it. THAT is illegal.

  14. Foamy Squirrel says:

    The actions taken are separate from the verdict.

    For example, issuing a verdict of guilty would be fine. Issuing a verdict of guilty and ordering the defendant to steal a car as their sentence would be illegal. As would be accepting a bribe to deliver a guilty verdict, or many other violations that affect the (supposed) impartial nature of the verdict.

  15. David Poland says:

    A judge’s ruling can be overturned, if found to be legally incorrect.

    There are many legal people who feel that if the judge in the Polanski had tried to throw out the plea bargain – which is a theory based on hearsay that would never meet evidenciary standards to be testimony in an open court – that had been agreed to, it would have been a very strong basis for appeal. Going back on a plea agreement is very rare.

  16. sonko says:

    I have a question to David: did you bring this all up with Emmanuelle Seigner when you were interviewing her a few years ago? Remember that? It was at the time of ‘Le scaphandre et le papillon’ being released, and you had most of the main cast and the director Julian Schnabel gathered around the table, and you were chatting with all of them. I remember it well, because I loved it and I watched it several times (mainly to see Mathieu Amalric smoking a cigarette – so sexy!) Anyway, you were incredibly nice to Emmanuelle back then, praising her performance and all that. I wonder, how she would have reacted if she knew how you felt (and still feel) about her husband and father of her children? Did you say to her, ‘Hey, I think the man you love so much is total scum! He should be rotting in prison instead of living with you and raising your kids!’
    Really, I’m curious. Did you say anything to her, and if not, then why not?

  17. sonko says:

    Ok, one more thing, cause I just read your last comment (the one at 8.34 pm)
    You wrote: “a theory based on hearsay that would never meet evidenciary standards to be testimony in an open court”, about the judge being ready to throw out the plea bargain. Well, not exactly.
    2 people testified about this:
    – Douglas Dalton, Polanski’s attorney;
    – and DA Roger Gunson, the prosecutor in that case.
    They both made the same statements about this, both have the same recollection of what Judge Rittenband said. Are they both lying? I think if we dismissed their words as “hearsay” then we might just as well dismiss any testimonials from any witnesseses in any court case.

    Btw, I recommend renting the Marina Zenovitch film on DVD, and watching the additional materials – mainly the interviews with legal experts about the case – very interesting and informative.

  18. David Poland says:

    I completely get the question, sonko. I can see the urge to call “hypocrisy” on me… or to call me out for being too soft in interviews. But when someone sits down in front of a camera with me for a DP/30, I am a host. I am not there to “grill” them (anymore than the absurd interview series with that name is). When it goes well and there is something negative in the air, it will be addressed. But I am not there to nail the guest. (Insert LexG joke here) I am there to get the guest to open their flower, as it were, and show a small glimpse into who they really are. Some people are more willing. Others stick to the script. But all in all, I am very proud of what DP/30 has been and is still becoming.

    In specific, I was on the record about Polanski before that interview and wondered whether she knew how I felt, just because of the way she eyeballed me. Probably just my paranoia and her personal style.

    But no. There was no context whatsoever that would have called for me to harass an actress about her personal life. He hadn’t directed the film, it wasn’t a movie about sex, and it was a group interview.

    Moreover, I don’t know anything about how she feels about any of it… and it’s none of my business. If we had a conversation about it, for some reason, and she defended his choice, whether fleeing or raping, I’m sure I would speak my mind, but gently as any decent human being would be to another who is directly invested in something while it is a matter of principle to me. In that situation, it’s a bit like criticizing someone for their faith.

    If I had interviewed her and/or Marina Zenovich about the HBO doc, I would have felt that the issue was on the table and choosing to be interviewed about that film put it all on the table.

    I did have occasion to DP/30 Olivia Williams for The Ghost Writer and I walked gingerly there too. The fact is, she is an actress who took a role and chose to work with a great filmmaker. It’s not my role, in the context of that kind of interview, to force her to answer questions that are no-win for her. If she defended him, there are those who would hold that against her. And if she felt he was wrong, but chose to work with him anyway, some would call her a hypocrite for that position.

    I got the impression from Ms Williams that she would have either shut down entirely if I went down that road or she would have engaged the discussion with vigor. Either way, I am doing her no favors. And she was my guest.

    This is not Vietnam… it’s movies. But even there, I feel like I have learned a bit from watching Errol Morris, whose interviews tend to avoid judgement while the conversation is happening, creating some degree of relaxation is trust. The judgement can wait for later.

    “How can you work with an unrepentant child rapist?” is what I would call a conversation killer. And though no publicist ever mentioned it as an issue, I don’t feel that asking others to either answer for Polanski or to be in that awkward position of defending their own relationships with him is what I seek to do with DP/30.

    All this is true in less harsh contexts as well. I don’t do interviews with directors whose work I didn’t admire and start the interview with “You really can’t direct your way out of a fucking box, can you? Don’t you feel like you are getting away with murder?” Likewise, I don’t harass talent based on how I feel about their employers. Does everyone who works with Woody Allen need to offer a public opinion about his personal life?

    You know, there is private stuff floating around all of these interviews. I am not there to talk about people’s sex lives or their drug habits or their worst moments… unless they bring them up or open the door. The example I always think of is Antoine Fuqua, who to my shock, was very open about failed films in his past (and proud of his best work). I am now a fan of the guy. Likewise, Lee Daniels had to know I wasn’t his film’s biggest fan, but we did 3 interviews and he was great each time and very nice.

    I could do an interview with Sean Levy or Don Murphy or Hugh Jackman tomorrow about Real Steel (if I had seen the movie) and be perfectly happy talking about the work and not ever bringing up the drama on this blog and in e-mails with Don. I don’t need to bring that up in a DP/30. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change what’s on the screen. I might talk to Levy about the pressure of a big film and whether Museum 2 was frustrating or whether he just did his best and moved on. I might ask Murphy about being less involved with each of the Transformers films than his credit might suggest and whether it feels different to be hands on a movie this big (and Don would answer with honesty and humor, I would guess, based on his attitude about it over the years). I would surely as Jackman whether he feels like he is wasting his time blowing shit up on film.

    That’s why it never occurred to me to edit or not run the Todd Phillips interview for Hangover 2. He was bringing our private conversations into a public forum. I would never do the same to a guest. But okay… fine. It tells you so much about Todd that it was gold. And the media people who obsessed on me being berated… collateral damage… boring. But Todd gave me, as an interviewer, more than I would have ever asked of him.

    The only time I have asked anyone for something that raw on camera is when I asked Carnahan about Nikki Finke. But she had gone after him just a little while before and I know Joe well enough to know that he’d be happy to get it off his chest. And if he had chosen not to, there wouldn’t have been a second question about it.

    The Diving Bell/Butterfly interview you mentioned had a number of craters one could walk into, but I was there to make all that talent feel comfortable and safe enough to offer insight into their work on the film. I was there to bring out their thoughts, not to indulge myself. That’s what I have a blog for.

    All that said… I don’t think Polanski is a total scum and should be rotting away in jail. It is 40 years later and given the worst possible sentence, he’d have been a free man decades ago. And there is very little chance he would have ever served more than a few months more, if that.

    What I do believe is that he should have faced the justice system without fleeing 40 years ago, that he should still come back to America and face a system that is unlikely to make him serve more than a few months, if that, and that he should be contrite about what he did. He has been terribly victimized in his life, but in this case, he is not a victim in any way.

    I will see Carnage soon and will review it based on my sense of the film, not the filmmaker (aside from the specific context in which that is relevant). And I will also feel compelled, no doubt, to mention his crime every time I feel like they are being forgotten.

    If I wanted to be a hard ass interviewer, I would be doing that. But what interests me is the work. I am proud of most of the interviews that I have done and feel good about my ability to engage talent in the closest thing to a real conversation about the work that I know of out there. Elvis Mitchell works similar turf, but I think we approach it, in specific, very differently.

    So there you go… long answer.

    And thanks for the kind words… as well as the challenging ones.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
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“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon