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Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
Image / ThinkFilm / HBO Documentary Films
2008 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic widescreen / 100 min. / Street Date January 27, 2009 /27.98
Cinematography Tanja Koop
Film Editor Joe Bini
Original Music Mark De Gli Antoni
Written by Marina Zenovich, Joe Bini, P. G. Morgan
Produced by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Lila Yocoub, Marina Zenovich
Directed by Marina Zenovich

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Director Marina Zenovich worked five years to make Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, a docu given a release that coincides with a new effort by the Polish-French filmmaker to clear his name in the United States. Readers of biographies on Roman Polanski already know many of the facts that led to his flight from the Los Angeles court system. Zenovich's fascinating film puts them in a different light -- we almost feel like we're there, experiencing the events as they occur.

Using film clips and a great many rare bits of news and publicity film, Zenovich and her writer/editor Joe Bini tell two stories. The crime is covered in full detail and with a fair degree of impartiality. Interviews with both the prosecuting attorney and Polanski's lawyer are present, as well as direct testimony by court officials, lawmen and even reporters who remember the media circus generated by Polanski's court appearances. Never-before-shown news film footage demonstrates all too clearly how the press demonized Polanski as, in one reporter's words, "a malignant dwarf".

The biographical sections explain why Polanski was both resented and distrusted. As a child he'd survived the ghetto but lost his mother to a Nazi concentration camp. During the 1950s he became a film student and actor in Poland, eventually directing the international hit Knife in the Water. That permitted him to travel to the West, where he made movies in France and England and became a part of the swingin' London scene. Polanski met Sharon Tate, the love of his life; the two of them came to California where he directed a big hit, Rosemary's Baby.

This dream success story turned into a nightmare when Tate became a victim in the horrifying Manson murders. With no suspects identified and needing sensational angles for their stories, the world press seized upon Polanski. As one reporter says, he was a perfect target -- an accented foreigner and the maker of "weird" movies that included a controversial hit about a Satanic cult. Early conjecture theorized that the Manson killings were some kind of demonic blood ritual. The director found himself presumed guilty of the crime in the papers.

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired has the prime photos and the key interviews to give a balanced accounting of Polanski's crime. Crime? In the public opinion Polanski has always been considered guilty, although no trial occurred. The bare facts are damning: he took a 13 year-old girl to Jack Nicholson's house for a photo session and had sex with her. Several potential charges were leveled, but Polanski and his lawyer were willing to admit to "unlawful sexual Intercourse with a minor" as part of a plea bargain. The docu presents the whole picture, not to excuse or exonerate Polanski but to show how outrageously unfairly he was treated. The "victim" admitted to having sex with adults previously. Her mother, an actress who knew of Polanski's reputation as a womanizer, allowed her daughter to go with the director alone for a photo shoot. It was already well established that Polanski had engaged in a relationship with Nastassja Kinski, a minor; Polanski's photos had launched Kinski as a movie star.

The better part of Wanted and Desired shows the circus atmosphere of Polanski's preliminary court proceedings. Right or wrong, a first offense for Polanski's crime rarely resulted in heavy punishment or prison time and more often was resolved as some sort of plea bargain. The director cooperates with reporters but finds there's no way to get in and out of court with any kind of dignity.

Judge Laurence Rittenband (now deceased) was obsessed with show business and requested the case; he frequently bragged at parties and to associates that he wanted to "sock it to" Polanski. Rittenband reneged on more than a few agreements, and entreated both attorneys to "fake" public hearings that would make him look good for the reporters. The defense agreed to let Polanski submit to a 90-day psychiatric evaluation at Chino State Prison, in exchange for a plea bargain that would limit his sentence to time served. When the psychiatrists let Roman go after only 43 days, the press again hyped the issue.

The press precipitated more anxiety for Polanski. Released by Rittenband for to prep a movie in Germany, the director attended Oktoberfest and was photographed sitting next to a pretty girl. The press publicized Polanski as a "sex fiend free to prowl again", and Rittenband took the photo as a personal insult. The Judge backed off his agreement and boasted to associates that he would nail Polanski with a long jail sentence. The prosecuting attorney, a Mormon, eventually came around to the thinking that the pre-trial process was a sham. Accustomed to dealing with corrupt courts and abuses of power in his native country, Polanski's patience came to an end. When his lawyer told him that Rittenband couldn't be trusted, he flew to Paris, never to return (so far) to the United States.

The docu's coverage of all this couldn't be bettered; director Zenovich has seemingly located every piece of film footage of Polanski from 1966 forward, and every aspect of his life under the media lights is represented. The character of Judge Rittenband is established by testimony from his associates as well as his two girlfriends. Rittenband broke rules left and right. He discussed the case with inappropriate people, even asking a reporter for advice on how to punish Polanski. He held a press conference to publicize his handling of a pending case. Rittenband tried to work illegal requirements into the plea bargain deal -- that Polanski consent to be deported, etc..

Zenovich uses clips from Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Tenant to illustrate Polanski's "diabolical" screen image. Publicity clips show the fast crowd Polanski moved with -- Joan Collins, Faye Dunaway, Michael Caine, Hugh Hefner, Barbara Parkins, Jay Sebring. He's prominent in discotheque footage from the legendary short film Tonight Let's All Make Love In London and is shown on the dance floor with Sharon Tate. While the press goes ballistic with headlines about guests "walking around naked" at "wild parties" at Sharon's place, we see photos of Ms. Tate happily knitting for the baby she expects. Polanski tearfully defends his wife's reputation against a press that insists on blaming her for her own murder. And eight years later, Polanski once again becomes a victim of his own undeserved notoriety.

The film ends with a ceremony in which Polanski receives a high honor from a French society of artists. He has continued to make movies, and even won an Oscar for Best Director with The Pianist. But much of his post-flight career has been spent just outside of the mainstream.

The most compelling part of Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired are two interviews. Samantha Geimer, the "victim" is now a married mother and completely forgives Polanski. The prosecuting attorney is convinced that Judge Rittenband's treatment of Polanski was unforgivable, a persecution far worse than the director's original offense.

Image and ThinkFilm's DVD of Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired is a top-quality enhanced encoding of this smartly organized and smoothly edited documentary. All of the film sources are of excellent quality, and the audio is clear. Mark de Gli Antoni's music score is present, along with several cues by Krystof Komeda, the composer of several Polanski movies. Director Marina Zenovich and her editor Joe Bini provide the commentary. She starts by saying that she usually makes funnier films; he goes into the complex choices they made to give the film an entertaining flow. A number of deleted scenes are included, along with over two hours of Interview excerpts.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Commentary, deleted Scenes, unused interviews.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 11, 2009

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2009 Glenn Erickson

See more exclusive reviews on the Savant Main Page.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics. Also, don't forget the 2009 Savant Wish List. T'was Ever Thus.

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