This has been a helluva week for me. Two of my very favorite artists of all time were at the forefront of the news, not because of the incredible films or beautiful music they made, but because of sex crimes they committed: rape and incest. Both happened long ago, during a hedonistic drug-fueled era and permissive celebrity culture. Roman Polanski is one of my favorite filmmakers, and John Phillips one of my favorite songwriters. I had the honor to meet each of these men, and was almost giddy to be blessed with the chance to tell each artist what his work meant has to me. In Phillips' case I even wrote his obit for the LA Weekly.
But, you will probably be surprised that unlike most every other fan and fellow artist, I absolutely support the arrest and extradition of Roman Polanski, every bit as much as I believe that Mackenzie Phillips is probably telling the truth, and has every right to do so as publicly as she feels the need.
Let's first of all get the word 'consent' out of the discussion: 13 year olds in the United States do not have the right to consent to sex with adults. That was the law in 1977 and is still the law. And while Mackenzie Phillips has said she had 'consensual incest' with her father, many have argued that incest is never consensual regardless of the age of the child (she was 18) because the parent always holds the power in the relationship. I understand what she's trying to say -- which is that she was not forced or threatened or bullied into the incest. However, her father had already crossed the line and blurred boundaries by giving her drugs as a kid, shooting her with cocaine by his own admission, and she was in a blackout during the first rape by her father. (Coincidentally also in 1977).
While most everyone was rallying the cry of outrage over Polanski's arrest, some people have recently written in their blogs the details of the case against Polanski, a crime to which he plead guilty. I strongly urge people to get familiar with the details of the crime -- with the many times this child said 'No' to every crime committed against her will, and her absolute powerlessness in a violating situation orchestrated by one of the world's greatest filmmakers -- before you go jumping on the 'Free Roman' bandwagon.
It doesn't matter to me if the victim's mother was a pushy stage mom, she did not send her daughter out with Polanski to Jack Nicholson's house to be drugged and sodomized. It doesn't matter to me that the victim has forgiven him and wants it all dropped -- once charged, it becomes a crime against all of us as a society and it's no longer just about the victim, but about all of us. It doesn't matter to me if there was misconduct with the original judge in the case, because Polanski, as a result of Marina's incredible documentary, was given a recent opportunity to return to the US so a new judge could review the case with an open mind, and would give him the sentence he never stuck around to receive in 1978. But he had to return to LA. Polanski refused. (And the former DA who suggested the misconduct has now claimed he was lying, so who knows what the story was, we just know Polanski flew the coop.)
And as sensitive as I may be to the loss and pain and tragedy which has colored most of Polanski's life, it doesn't ultimately matter to me either. Both of these men had terrible traumatic childhoods. Polanski's life has been so harrowing that it long ago entered the realm of mythology. Phillips came from a terribly abusive alcoholic home ruled by a remote sadistic military father. But there is not one perpetrator out there who couldn't cry me a fucking river. Trauma creates one of four types of people: victims, rescuers, or perps -- and if you're really lucky and really strong and very willing and brave, survivors.
Art should never be held above our decency to each other. And when an artist commits a crime, especially a sex crime and especially against a child, we do art no favor by giving artists a break we would never give to anyone else.
Lucky for me, I can still listen to the beauty of John Phillips songs, he truly wrote some of the world's most achingly gorgeous ballads. My favorites "Look Through My Window" and "Like An Old Time Movie" live inside of me without one tainted wince. And I wish they will always remain this close to my heart.
Likewise, Roman Polanski's Tess (made after he and his 17 year old star had already "broken up" -- he started sleeping with her when she was 15), The Tenant, Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby and my god Chinatown are films my life is better for having known, with some of the greatest female characters ever created for the screen. My work is better, maybe all filmmakers are better, for Polanski's imprint on cinema. He created language for all of us to use, there is no question about that.
But to deny these men the karma they deserve through truth and justice, is to negate the very art they created. Let the hubris crack and let's see what's underneath. I know exactly what's there...and it's bleak. And the only cure for that is redemption. And the only path to redemption is responsibility for your actions.
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