Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass
reminds us what Angelica Huston saw
that night in 1977, and why Hollywood's
pleas for mercy ring hollow now.
As some of you out there already know,
I've always been a tremendous fan of
actress Debra Winger, and have even
dragged myself to small films of hers
that only got middling reviews but
where she was personally amazing.
But her recent statements of late
supportinve of Polanski have been
so creepy and dis-connected from reality
that I just can't fathom her saying them,
nor can I imagine being willing to make
as much effort to seek out and pay
to see her on the big screen in the future.
But if you read the comments here from
you'll see that there are a lot of other people
who think like Winger, and who can't just
accept the unpleasant facts as they are and
want to imagine that there is something else
in play here, because then they can trot out
their old standby canards and pat explanations
for why the world is the way it is.
Any why Polanski was finally arrested in
Unlike 99% of those of you who'll actually
see these words, I've actually seen many
of Polanski's pre-Chinatown films.
I mention that only because so many
of the TV and newspaper reporters who
have been reporting on the current story
seem to completely forget -or don't know-
how he got to be who he was in Hollywood's
firmament in the first place, starting with
the attention he got with his films like
Knife in the Water (Nóz w wodzie)
among others, and instead, always start
their stories with the Manson Family
murder of his wife Sharon Tate,
one of the most beautiful and beguiling
women of the era.
In that respect, it's just like the
South Florida media's usual coverage
of local news: no context or perspective
and far too often, leaving out the
most important elements because
the reporters aren't smart enough
to realize why they're important
in the first place.
So you wind- up with a muddled mess
masquerading as news coverage when
it's really just gruel by any other name.
Hollywood's pleas for mercy ring hollow
October 15, 2009
Hollywood stars, producers and directors often pride themselves on their moral compass and their compassion for the victims of outrage.
They insist upon speaking of it, even if nobody asks, on those TV talk shows while plugging their latest movie. Sometimes, to prove it, they'll run out and adopt a child from an impoverished Third World nation. The child always has big eyes, innocent, hurting, in need.
And now, in another fit of compassion, Hollywood royals are signing petitions, issuing statements, in the hope of saving one of their own:
Polanski, the noted film director, is having trouble finishing his new thriller, "The Ghost," because he's being held in a jail cell in Zurich.
"It's a nightmare looming that the director might be in jail at the time," Polanski's film collaborator, Richard Harris, was quoted as saying Wednesday. "But we will just have to cope with this. ... I'm sure he would want the film to go ahead, having worked on it for two years."
A movie in limbo is terrible. Almost as bad as justice in limbo.
As many of you know, Polanski is otherwise indisposed because he's being held as a fugitive convicted of having sex with a minor, and is awaiting extradition to the U.S.
In 1977, when he was 44, Polanski took 13-year-old model Samantha Gailey into the home of actor Jack Nicholson, gave her a quaalude and some champagne, and then forced himself on her as she repeatedly begged to go home, according to her grand jury testimony. Polanski pleaded guilty to sex with the child, then fled to Europe when he became afraid of doing time in prison.
Polanski's great champion, Miramax studio boss Harvey Weinstein -- dismissing the outrage against a child as "the so-called crime" -- is pushing a petition for Polanski's release on moral grounds.
"Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion," Weinstein said recently. "We were the people who did the fundraising telethon for the victims of 9/11. We were there for the victims of Katrina and any world catastrophe."
Anjelica Huston, Nicholson's former girlfriend, was in the home when the crime occurred. According to a probation report in Polanski's case, Huston knocked on a bedroom door and Polanski opened it, naked, and told her everything was all right. Then he closed the door and continued with the girl.
Huston said Samantha looked older than 13. Another woman in the home said Samantha seemed like one of those young women who wanted to get into the movies.
"She seemed sullen, which I thought was a little rude," Huston told investigators. Years later, Huston would direct an acclaimed movie titled "Bastard Out of Carolina," about a girl, sometimes sullen, who was repeatedly raped by her stepfather.
In Carolina, not in Hollywood.
Hollywood is the place where director Woody Allen is honored as a great talent. He once made me laugh. But then he ran off with Soon-Yi, the adopted daughter of his longtime girlfriend, Mia Farrow.
When Allen first met Soon-Yi, she was a child, young enough for bedtime stories. And I couldn't help but wonder whether Woody ever read "Winnie the Pooh" to the girl, about Piglet and the Heffalump. That killed my Woody Allen laugh buzz.
When she was little, she probably had big eyes, too. Like the eyes of the other children adopted by the stars. Like all our eyes, when we were children.
Like the eyes I remember staring at me in a movie theater years ago. The little girl was about 4 years old, her head facing away from the screen, on the seat in front of me and my wife.
Up on the screen, there was violence, physical violence, psychological violence, and then sex and more violence. It was an action movie, but action movies should really be called Kill Movies, because human beings are killed in them, but not before they have sex.
I forget the movie, but I can't forget that girl, staring. Maybe her parents couldn't get a sitter. Most likely they were morons. The little girl winced as an actor up on the screen began to scream.
Americans have a gut feeling about Hollywood. We desperately love the movies, though we don't fully understand the bargain we've made: We're thoroughly entertained, yet constantly assaulted, and the payment for the escapism is that we grow increasingly numb.
The industry has a well-documented history of exploiting young girls, their bodies in real life, their images up on the screen, to be sold as sexual objects, the age of the females ever younger and younger, just as the Kill Movies grow more graphic and gory with each passing year. It's called being "edgy."
"(The Polanski arrest) is based on a three-decades-old case that is dead but for minor technicalities," said actress Debra Winger. "We stand by him and await his release and his next masterpiece."
But isn't his masterpiece already here?
It's the story of the defense of the director who had sex with a child, as told by compassionate Hollywood royals. It says everything we need to know about what they think of themselves -- and of us.