Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired

Illustration for article titled Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired
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Illustration for article titled Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired

Premieres tonight on HBO, 9 p.m. ET

I saw Marina Zenovich's documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired at this year's Sundance, where it was such a hot ticket that I had to stand in line for about 90 minutes in order to be one of the last people admitted to the midnight public screening. I sat in the front row, watching the movie scrunched down so low in my seat that I was practically on my back. In that context, such a solidly constructed documentary–no matter how crafty and entertaining and even fairly illuminating–couldn't possibly wow me, though I imagine HBO subscribers will get a lot more out of it when it airs tonight. At the least, you'll be able to watch it at the proper angle.

In addition to providing a brief-but-stirring bio of Polanski–a director I was kind of obsessed with about five years ago, when all his movies started coming out on DVD–Zenovich covers the details of Polanski's rape conviction and subsequent self-imposed exile from America. The movie never denies that Polanski gave champagne and Quaaludes to a 13-year-old girl before having sex with her, though many of the interview subjects try to explain the crime away as just part of Polanki's debauched response to the murder of his wife Sharon Tate by The Manson Family. Polanski was being constantly scrutinized by the American and European press in the wake of the Manson murders, as reporters gauged the appropriateness of his mourning. Painted as a bad boy by some, Polanski started to live down to his reputation.

But Wanted And Desired, while not excusing Polanski's behavior, does attempt to put his fleeing the country in a new light, by pointing out that his lawyers and the state's lawyers had hammered out a plea agreement, and that Polanski had returned to court time and again when asked (and had even served some time in jail already) but that the judge on the case had proved to be a bit of a showboat in front of the TV cameras, and neither the defense team or the prosecutors were sure that he'd hand down a sentence that accorded with what they'd all agreed on. Over the years, most of these details about the case have been forgotten, and people have come to assume that Polanski fled justice. In truth, Polanski was willing to submit to the California DA office's version of justice, but not to the whims of one unreliable judge.

The main stumbling block to Wanted And Desired being a great film is that it lacks a certain ambition: It's not about the entitlements of powerful men, or the gray area between consent and rape, or even the end of '70s Hollywood decadence. It's just about the tortured life of a brilliant director, and the circus he brought to town.

But then, that's why God invented TV, for spectacles such as these.

Grade: B+