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Karin Litzmann: Why Polanski?

Karin Litzmann
The Speakeasy Movie Theatre

So, why show a Roman Polanski movie at The Speakeasy Movie Theatre?

It’s a question I’ve been fielding from folks around town as we promote this week’s movie – even from some attending and thoroughly enjoying Polanski’s latest masterfully crafted thriller “The Ghost Writers.”

Let’s start with the long answer: A long time ago I was attending film school and my professor showed a clip from the classic 1968 horror film “Rosemary’s Baby.” “Bet you’re wondering why I showed THAT,” he says. Well, yeah, we were all expecting Fellini, Truffaut or at the very least Scorsese – so why? “I’m standing in the back of the screening room and do you know what every single one of you did during that clip? You all leaned slightly to your left – to try to see around the door frame placed where it partially blocks the view of the action in the next room.” It was an “a-ha” moment; we’d been manipulated by a visual master and taught that we could create more tension by NOT revealing something too soon.

Roman Polanski is a major talent who creates extraordinary films that can change their very genre and the way we view it: “Chinatown,” “The Pianist,” “Tess,” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” just to name some highlights – and I’ll bet you can’t name another horror film that won two Oscars. “Chinatown” was a huge success, nominated for 11 Academy Awards and without a doubt the best modern-day (some think all-time) film noir ever made. This dude’s got skills, and they are on view in his latest thriller about political, sexual and moral betrayal – “The Ghost Writer.” It would be a shame to dismiss his talent.

This is in no way an apology for Polanski’s criminal acts 32 years ago, when he raped a 13-year-old girl. A fascinating documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” describes what happened in 1977 and the “astonishing record of misconduct on the part of the judge” which is at the heart of Polanski’s appeal. The victim, now 45, has publicly and repeatedly argued that the case should be dismissed, even petitioning the court that Polanski be allowed to collect his Oscar for “The Pianist” in 2002. Interestingly, Polanski was offered a deal: Turn yourself in to authorities in LA, go before a court, and your sentence will officially be reduced to “time served.” He could have put this all behind him, but he had one request: keep cameras out of the court proceeding. For reasons of his own, the DA refused to ban cameras from the courtroom. Instead, a 76-year-old Polanski was arrested on his way to receive a lifetime achievement award in Zurich. Did we mention the DA is running neck and neck in a very tight race for a state wide political office and is using this situation in his campaign? Politics, sex, scandal, corruption – why, “it’s Chinatown!”

All of Polanski’s great films are available on DVD and if you’ve never seen them, you are in for a real treat. “The Ghost Writer” is at The Speakeasy through tonight. The short answer: it may be hard sometimes, many of our great artists are not nice human beings – but I think you have to learn to separate the art from the artist.


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