Thursday, October 01, 2009

Filmmaker Allison Anders on Polanski: Art Is Not Enough

My friend Allison Anders, Filmmaker, Music Nerd, Child Rape Survivor, has graciously agreed to share her post on the Polanski case. Anders' films include "Gas Food Lodging," "Mi Vida Loca," "Grace of My Heart" and "Things Behind the Sun." In 1995 Anders was awarded MacArthur Fellowship (or Genius Award). She is the Founder of the Don't Knock the Rock Film & Music Festival in Los Angeles.


Art Is Not Enough

By Allison Anders

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.

45 comments:

Wzzy said...

Fabulous. Couldn't agree more. This should be printed in every paper, re-posted or linked to on every news and culture site. Bravo.

carla_fern said...

Yesterday in Nova Scotia Canada, a Catholic Bishop who had so vehemently supported victims of abuse by members of the Catholic Church; even issuing a long denied admittance of guilt by the priests involved by issuing a public apology to all victims, was himself arrested at the Halifax airport, his laptop impounded.
The images of child pornography are apparently numerous and profoundly disturbing, the Bishop was in a position of trust and seems dumbfounded by his arrest. These people seem delusional when they become the focus of abhorrent behaviour, almost as if they can't believe their behaviour is being judged.
Thank you for posting words that make sense.

Miss Whistle said...

Absolutely. Thanks so much for your comment.

Miss W

mothership said...

Fantastic post. Absolutely agree, and beautifully written.

Liberty London Girl said...

I do hope this gets picked up and syndicated. Please can you thank Ms Anders for her thoughtful, measured and intelligent response? LLGxx

exromana said...

this is a really beautifully written post. very passionate and yet so measured, to use LLG's words.

Joseph Angier said...

Beautifully argued and beautifully written. One serious quibble: "Marina's incredible documentary" I'm sorry, "Wanted and Desired" was dishonest in the worst way. The filmmakers clearly had access to the child-victim's original deposition, and clearly chose to leave out the most damning sections. There was no excuse for that, other than to make the spurious case they were trying to make: namely, that Polanski was more sinned against than sinning.

one of 365 said...

What a powerful, flawlessly-written piece with an interesting point of view that is unexpected and beyond brilliant. I am amazed she is able to pull apart the man from his films. I know many Jews cannot separate Wagner from Hitler because of the Holocaust. I have very mixed feelings about this. I'm two-sided. Can you watch/listen to a man with a heart of rusting metal even if it creates beauty---knowing where it has come from? Or, do you just take things for what they are on the surface and not look any deeper? I like to connect with an author, an artist etc....so I don't think I COULD look past their hearts and minds.......but Ms. Anders really fascinates me for being able to do so. I am very curious to know what happens to Mr. Polanski and what her thoughts are then. xoxoxox--one of 365

justme said...

Excellent post. Just straightforward, and true.

Carla DeSantis said...

I love you, Allison!!! (And Arlene!!)

Thought you would be interested to know that I just started a non-profit organization with Robin Lane (of Robin Lane and the Chartbusters) to bring the songwriting/recording workshops she has facilited for trauma survivors since 2001 in Western Massachusetts to a national level.

www.songbirdsings.org

We would love your input and support. Thank you for your bravery in speaking up for all victims of such horrible crimes.

It is disgusting to me how so few perpetrators do time - and the victims are silenced by families, but society, by therapists.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. Time to break the silence that keeps the secrets.

Rosa said...

I agree with much of this post. Polanski should face the music. What I don't agree with is that I should support the art of a rapist. I will never give another dollar to any work done by this man--or to any artist/director/anyone who has signed a petition supporting him. I feel the same way about Woody Allen and I have never seen another film by him, nor will I ever.

As a childhood sexual abuse survivor, just looking at pictures of Polanski or Allen makes me sick and sad. No amount of artistry can make up for what they've done.

simon said...

Let us also ask ourselves to what end does punishment serve since it neither undoes the crime that was committed or create sufficient deterrent in the first place and more importantly it doesn't provide any compensation for the victim. I'm well aware that Polanski is guilty of a terrible crime, I just hope there is some degree of intelligence involved in deciding how best to punish him and how best to, if at all possible, compensate the victim.

Jackie Weissman said...

This is spot on. I couldn't agree with you more. So glad you said this publicly. I'm going to post it everywhere I can.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Allison, for your terrific comments, right-on commentary, and also for your courage. As a survivor (one of the four things we become), I very much appreciate your words. -- Tracy Baim, Chicago

Michele C. said...

Amen, Ms. Anders. Even the greatest of artists do not get a pass when it comes to violating others. Reagardless of the time that has passed and the victim's pleas for leniency (because she just wants the whole thing to go away), Polanski must take responsibility for this heinous crime.

Noelle Swan Gilbert said...

Incredible post. I wish his supporters would look in the mirror and ask themselves if they would want their own 13 year old daughters to live through what Polanski's victim did before leaping to his defense. Yes, he's a brilliant film maker. And he's a confessed rapist. He needs to face justice once and for all.

I am not Star Jones said...

Amen.

eric said...

Well said, Allison.

Jon Jost said...

It has been interesting to see mostly culturally "left" people come up with the argument that poor Mr Polanski should be let off his self-made hook. Oh, he's an artist, and he had a tough childhood, and...
And a similar argument could doubtless be made for some Chilean or Argentinian generals, a few much aged ex-SS Nazi's etc. They doubtless can in their own manner claim they gave a lot to society, etc. The same cluster supporting Roman now would choke with rage. Anyway, I agree with Allison on this. Let him face his music.

Jon Jost www.cinemaelectronica.wordpress.com

Yvonne said...

Thank you Allison Anders. Your column is beautifully written and everyone should have access to it.

Julie said...

Brilliant and cogent and perfectly said. Thank you.

Miss Whistle said...

Thank to everyone for these thoughtful comments on Allison Anders' post.

Miss W

LaneHat said...

@simon:
"Let us also ask ourselves to what end does punishment serve since it neither undoes the crime that was committed or create sufficient deterrent in the first place and more importantly it doesn't provide any compensation for the victim."

First, I'm not sure I understand what you mean that punishing Polanski doesn't create a sufficient deterrent. To me, this arrest could serve as a powerful deterrent. It says that no matter how long it takes, who your friends are, how famous or talented you might be, if you rape a child we will find and punish you. Honestly, what else do you want in an effective deterrent for child rape?
Second, compensation for the victim is not the issue in a criminal case. The viction here has already won financial compensation from Polanski in a separate civil action. With all due respect and sympathy to the victim (and she's due A LOT of sympathy, and respect for having moved on her life), a criminal case is not solely about the harm done to the victim; it's about the harm done to the people, to our community. Polanski has not paid for the harm he did to all of us, the harm of being a child rapist free to roam the world and live without punishment,to serve as an example of someone thumbing his nose at our justice system.

My response when I heard Polanski had been arrested was "It's about damn time!"

Sing Clementine said...

Thank you for writing this brave and lucid essay.

Blair said...

Thank you. Well said.

Allison Anders said...

Thank you all so much for your responses and to my dear Miss Whistle for publishing it. I have to tell you all that this was one time I was so clear about how I felt. There is such a balancing act also with the victim's wishes -- on the one hand I am sensitive to her further suffering by this all being dragged out again and no doubt her forgiveness and wishes to have it all dropped are something to consider. But inevitably -- as part of the healing process -- we hopefully arrive at forgiveness, but that doesn't mean it should be excused. And I worry that victim's are often putting the rest of us at risk by making deals and dropping charges. I know a victim of a powerful man who dropped rape charges and made a monetary settlement. While it made her feel a little better, I think in the end, everyone suffers when this happens. So I'm torn in how I feel about a victim's right to not bring charges -- I mean I guess yes they should have the right, but I wish they wouldn't use it so that perpetrators pay for their crime.

Anyway -- I thank you all very much for your responses. It's been wonderful to connect on a subject very important to me.

And much you to you Miss Whistle!
xo

AA

Yvonne said...

@LaneHat

Very well stated!

Jeanine said...

Dear Allison Anders,

I want to tell you that I have always admired your films. I want to say that they mean something to me, that they have made me cry with emotion, and that still years later I hold them very dear.

I want to thank you so much for this blog post. Reading this is a clear reminder of how the people in the media industry petitioning to free Polanski from extradition are sending a devastating message to survivors of sexual abuse.

I found a blog (http://notonhollywood.blogspot.com/2009/09/dear-pedro-almodovar.html) in which people are posting open letters to writers and directors who are publicly asking that Polanski not be held accountable for the rape of a 13 year old girl. Some of the letters are angry, some quite heartfelt, all feel very human to me.

I wrote my own comment to the blog. I want to share it with you, so you know how much I truly appreciate and hold on to your voice right now. Here: http://notonhollywood.blogspot.com/2009/09/dear-pedro-almodovar.html?showComment=1254519211408#c951858953656462600

Allison, I thank you very much for your thoughts, so beautifully written, and for your gorgeous soul.

Very Truly Yours,

Jeanine

barbara said...

another "thankyou" post, to both allison & misswhistle for hosting your words. . .

as a fan of your films, allison, and a huge fan of movies in general, it is so important to me that you have bucked the trend and spoken out. . . this week has been so dis-illusioning, as filmmakers and actors I have loved for decades turn up on polanski's support list. . .

I'm old enough to remember when this all went down in the 70's - and I've never watched anything he has had a hand in since, despite his reverence in the cinematic community. . . (same with woody allen, who I also admired prior to his latter choices). . .

for me, movies are a place to lose oneself in the magic of the story onscreen - and my mind won't allow me to feel lost anywhere that doesn't also feel "safe". . .

I'd also like to comment regarding the wishes of the woman who survived this rape as a child. . .given that she was never going to get "justice" and polanski's lawyers were on record as saying they intended to take her apart on the witness stand (as was the norm then, vicious character slandering - which would have no doubt involved her mother as well), it's hardly surprising that she doesn't want this continually dragged through the media, that she "forgives" him, or that she received a "settlement" as the only amends available to her. . . I too echo others who don't wish to cause her any more anguish. . .

however, it needs to be remembered that it was polanski's decades of AVOIDANCE that has maintained her limbo - the responsibility resides with HIM - HE was the one who the culture sided with THEN, while HER needs for justice were sacrificed to the "art" of a male director who was held as more important than a young girl. . .

and I sincerely hope that the voices raised in support for her NOW can begin to redress the silence she has had to endure these years. . .those of us who survive abuse know that finding the supportive community of others who SHARE your experiences can assist in a deeper healing of past trauma.

again, thanks to all the voices here who understand from the heart.

Errant Aesthete said...

This is a beautifully balanced piece and as a former rhetorician, I know a bit of what I speak. I applaud Ms. Anders' eloquence, logic, creativity and humanity in separating both men from their art, despite our own yearnings for genius and all it implies.

As another reader so poignantly noted, "I know many Jews cannot separate Wagner from Hitler because of the Holocaust."

We humans are frail creatures who will argue to the death in favor of the wrong so that we might forgive, forget and feel better about ourselves. It is difficult and wearying to fight for the greater good, but our own humanity demands as much. Thank you and Ms. Anders for some well needed enlightenment on this troublesome topic.

The Artist Within Us said...

Having been a victim of sexual, verbal, mental, and physical abuse, I promised that when my children were born, they would not experience what I had.

Twenty-one years later I am happy to say I have kept that promise and thereby broke the cycle of violence.

However there are still the scars I bear. I have been forever changed. I am 60 now and 25 years ago I realized for the first time that what happened all those years was not my fault.

It took several more years before I was able to let others in on my secrete. Once I did, I started on the road to recovery.

Thank you for your post.
Egmont

Debra Healy said...

Thank you for your clarity.

My 13 year old son is an actor, by his own choosing.
He is currently rehearsing for a small film. I see the absolute trust and surrender that is necessary for the process.
If a director has morality issues, I could see the opportunity for abuse given the trust involved, and the inexperience of youth. We live in Paris where we have seen Mr. Polanski out an about over the years.
I am in complete agreement with you. Thank you again.

Anonymous said...

Oh spare me all the self-righteousness. His further punishment helps no-one. And if you look at the details of the case, it is not that clear what happened, but it is clear that it was not violent. Let it go people, everyone else has.

Arti said...

Finally, a voice for the victim, not just Polanski's victim, but all who have gone through the nightmare and trauma of sex crimes. In this celebrity-driven, lobe-sided world, we should all the more be adamant that Justice be blindfolded, and her Scale should never be tipped by popularity, social power, or achievement, artistic or otherwise.

I come from the link at The Errant Aesthete... and I thank you most sincerely for this post.

Sarah said...

What a wonderful post . Thank you Allison Anders. I was appalled by Marinas documentary which suggested that the price we pay for Polanski's genius is to let him get away with raping a 13 year old. The world protests Polanski"s arrest while there is such outrage over Dave Letterman having an affair with a work colleague! What is wrong with this picture I ask myself?

Yvonne said...

To Anonymous: It is not clear what happened?
What happened, according to the transcripts and Polanski's own admission, is a man who was over forty asked a child if she wanted her picture in French Vogue (He was famous so he didn't have to resort to abduction, like Phillip Garrido). After baiting her, he then set about systematically to seduce her. These are the actions of a pedophile.
The success of his movies has nothing to do with the vile nature of his actions. To excuse him is to condone raping a child. But Roman Polanski is guilty of two heinous crimes... the second being fleeing justice.
How can anyone condone this man's actions? Had the world not known his movies would we really miss them?
Please reserve your sympathy for a young child who was a victim, pure and simple.
The entertainment business is ripe with this type of behavior from celebrities. It is time for sex crimes to be exposed and stopped.

Ruby Friedman said...

Bravissima! You give vocabulary to Truth. Thank you for the social re-direct, Allison. xo Ruby

Andy said...

Great post!! I really cant se why people think he shouldnt face his crimes. Because he is an old man now? A child is always a child!

Jonathan said...

Anonymous of October 4, 2009 at 6:53 PM: It is clear that it WAS violent.

Ms. Anders, and misswhistle: Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Allison Anders,

Thank you for your post. I have found the support of Polanski to be horrifying - both as a parent of a young girl and as a former young girl myself (and that is what a 13 year-old is). What kind of people can support the rapist of a child? My god, the man has a daughter - how would he feel if some forty-three year old raped her?

Shame on the people who support him. And sadly, I do feel the need to boycott all of their future work as I do not want any of my money to go to them.

(PS-I love your movies!)

J.

colin said...

I saw this on the recommendation of a reader at my site Salut! after I had posted my own thoughts as journalist, father (of daughters) and believer in natural justice:

http://www.francesalut.com/2009/10/on-not-getting-close-to-polanski.html

There is little I would disagree with. It is expressed with clarity and restraint, and makes the essential point that great art is no reason to overlook the wrongdoings of the great artist.

But I am not, if I am honest, a great admirer of the more vicious - I would say tabloid - tendencies of the US justice system. I would say to the Swiss "go ahead and extradite him" but only if satisfied he will not be treated in a more draconian fashion than if facing a court in Zurich or Lausanne. Tell me you'll lock him up and throw away the key, and I part company with all those clamouring (otherwise rightly) for him to be brought to justice.

Anonymous said...

The charge was not rape. The transcript at one point says she did not remember what happened, and at another point says she said no. She has later said that he did not intend any harm. All along he has said it was consensual. There were people in the house during the event, and she even called her mother. Does this tell us what happened? NO. But it certainly isn't clear that he raped her, and it is very telling that people insist THEY know what happened, insisted she was raped, and believe her (one version, anyway) in a he-said she-said situation. (Yet, they don't even want to follow what the victim herself wants.) The crime we do know about is unlawful intercourse with a minor, and he did fulfill the plea bargain agreement for that crime. All I can say is that I hope none of these commenters ever get picked for jury duty, or get accused of rape. Anders is a holier-than-thou egomaniac and people are eating it up. People want blood to prove how moral they are, but morality doesn't come from blood, it comes from reason.

Yvonne said...

It is never alright to have sex with a 13 year old child, or a 15 year old child as reportedly the age of his next victim, whom he actually helped become a star. Call it what you will... rape, sex, downpayment on a film career... it is NOT alright.
A child can never give consent for a person in power to have sex with her. That is a given! If you think otherwise, take a good hard look in the mirror. Allison Anders is spot on in her article. It is about time someone stopped this nonsense of old men believing they deserve sex with young children.
It is madness!

Anonymous said...

Today I saw an amazing movie by Allison Anders,(Grace of My Heart) and wanted to contact her to tell her that it was fabulous and it should be made into a Broadway play.
While looking for a way to contact her, I came upon this website. Of all the horros in this world, there is nothing more vile and inhuman than pedophilia. Three of my closest friends were victims of this disgusting act all by members of their own family. Abuses of every kind break a soul down and it takes years or a lifetime to gain a sense of who you are, to find some kind of peace inside yourself. The acts of abuse and the damage it causes are incomprihensible, and apparently impossible to stop.
Allson Anders has lifted herself above the heartache and found her blessing in the beautiful films she has created.
Thank you so much Allison....may you have great happiness and peace now and always.

Anonymous said...

i agree consent needs to removed from talks about this crime and most crimes where a person 16 or under is involved. i also wish the statute of limitations would extended. some times victims of these types of crimes don't see that a crime was done to them. as in my case. i always saw rape as being an offensive crime but last month came under stand that it often is a passive, when it is happening to a child. i was raped when i was really young. i can't even nail down the year. and looking back now at age 39. i see that i was raped many times during my whole child hood. where till the last month. i would not have called those crimes a crime. because i was was passive while they took place or at time i was enjoying it. but as a kid, kids can't make that choice. but only now do i know that. and only now do i see how what happened lead to me hurting others.