Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Roman’s twist

Roman Polanski has won a libel case against the magazine Vanity Fair after it published an article claiming that he tried to seduce a woman on the way to his murdered wife’s funeral, in 1969. All in a normal day’s work, then, for the weirdest individual ever to have grown up in Krakow, southern Poland.

Now, just in case Mr. Polanski (or his lawyers) are reading this then I would like to make clear that the inclusion of the word ‘weird’ in that last sentence has no malice intended to it whatsoever. Honest.

Mr. Polanski, your reputation as a film director is without peer and I sincerely congratulate on your work to date – especially the Oscar you picked up in 2003 for that fantastic film, The Pianist, based on the autobiography by Wladyslaw Szpilman. And I just loved Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown.

But I am sure that even Roman Polanski would not disagree that his personal life and biography can accurately and fairly – and without fear of litigation – be described as WEIRD.

Polanski, who is now a grand old man of 71, sued Conde Nast Publication Inc after it published an article in 2002 alleging that Polanski, after chatting up a girl in a restaurant in New York in 1969, said that he would, ‘make another Sharon Tate of her.’

The article in Vanity Fair suggested, wrongly, as it turns out, that this strange chat up line was made before Sharon Tate – who was murdered by Charles Manson’s psycho friends in Polanski’s Hollywood home in 1969 - was even buried. It turns out that, in fact, the remark, if true at all, was made sometime after the funeral.

A jury in London, where the case was heard, found that the article was defamatory and ordered the publishers to pay 50.000 pounds in damages and costs to the diminutive film director.

Polanski could not be in court to watch the proceeding, however, as Britain has an extradition arrangement with the United States; so if he had stepped foot on British soil then he could of found himself shipped off to the States to complete a prison sentence as part of his conviction for having sex with a 13 year old girl, in 1977.

Because he could not risk being there in person, Polanski gave evidence from Paris where he lives, via a video link. From his virtual witness box he recounted, not just those bloody, awful days in 1969, but also of the days growing up under Nazi occupation in Krakow during WWII.

But it was Polanski’s predilection and reputation for what could be described as his casual attitude to matters of the flesh that was central to the libel case.

Naughty old Roman admitted to having got between the sheets with loads of woman before, during and after his marriage to Sharon Tate. But Mia Farrow, no less, turned up in court to say that Polanski was far too distressed about the murder to have propositioned the girl in the New York restaurant so soon after the murder.

And the jury agreed with him. And I am sure they were right to do so.

But why, I hear you ask, did Polanski choose London as the venue for the court case – a country that he can’t even set foot in - if he lived in Paris, and the alleged incident occurred, and the libelous article was published, in the United States?

The answer is that Polanski picked a good place for a libel trial. Legal people, and especially libel lawyers, call London, ‘A town call sue’. England has some of the strangest libel laws in the world. In usual trials the defendant is deemed to be innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof is on the prosecution. Not so in a libel trial in London, where the burden of proof was on Vanity Fair, who had to prove that Polanski’s reputation had not been damaged.

Vanity Fair's lawyers tried to argue that, due to Polanski’s well-known and often reported murky past, he had no reputation left to defame. But the jury disagreed.

But what next for the Polish-born director? Well, September this year sees the release of Polanski’s new movie, a remake of Charles Dickens’s, Oliver Twist. You know the story: how a young impressionable child is lured into criminal acts by an exploitative, older man.

Sounds like it’s going to be another Polanski classic.

This is a version of an article originally published on the Radio Polonia web site

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