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The past plays on

Roman Polanski is letting 'The Pianist' speak for itself during Oscar campaign season, as Hollywood debates whether it should forgive his 1977 sex scandal.

February 02, 2003|Bob Baker | Times Staff Writer

"I answer a lot of these questions every year around Oscar time," said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, adding sardonically: "When the daffodils come up in the spring, so does Mr. Polanski."

Thom Mount, who produced three of Polanski's movies ("Pirates," "Frantic" and "Death and the Maiden," the latter two of which were shot in Paris), said authorities and Polanski's attorney were never able to compromise on an appropriate sentence that would have allowed him to return. Mount said the compromise became harder as Polanski grew older, married French actress Emmanuel Seigner and started a family.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 05, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 15 inches; 548 words Type of Material: Correction
Oscar winner -- An article in Sunday's Calendar on director Roman Polanski incorrectly stated that "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" won the best picture Oscar in 1967. The winner that year was "In the Heat of the Night."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 09, 2003 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 3 inches; 111 words Type of Material: Correction
Oscar winner -- An article last Sunday on director Roman Polanski incorrectly stated that "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" won the best picture Oscar for 1967. The winner that year was "In the Heat of the Night."

"The current facts of Roman's life, which are good news for him, and the current political environment -- a major move to the right, huge public scrutiny of every judicial or district attorney's decision and consequences that exceed the act -- suggest that a compromise is less likely," Mount said. "I don't think there is any expectation on his part that this could or would happen."

Prosecutor spokeswoman Gibbons said the district attorney is in no position to cut a deal with Polanski because he is a fugitive from the court, not part of an ongoing trial. "The court [still] has to sentence him" in some manner, she said, explaining that a judge would have to decide whether more jail time was warranted.

Three years ago, in an interview about his plans to make "The Pianist," Polanski said he could never return to America because "the media has taken over the judicial system of the United States.... I think it would be hell, not from the system itself but from the media. I don't want people hanging outside my door and antenna dishes in front of my window."

He has also been unable to travel to Canada or England because of fear those countries would extradite him to the U.S.

In exile, but not marginalized

Mount says the director "remains cheerful and upbeat and very much a fan of many things American.... We might be talking on the phone and he says, 'It's 12:30, so you're heading for Nate 'n Al's -- get a brisket sandwich for me.' "

It pains Mount that "the demonization of Roman Polanski in the public imagination has been successful. All I can say is, it's a shame. We lose -- we, the filmmaking community, and we, the people of the country who are interested in the work of great artists."

Polanski's agent for two decades, Jeff Berg, rejects the notion that his client's career has been marginalized by exile: "He's been able to make what he's wanted. He's enjoyed creative freedom and final cut. He has a diverse career." Berg says the success of "The Pianist" "has reawakened a lot of interest" in Polanski, but says it is premature to speculate on what a nomination, let alone an Oscar, might mean.

"It would be bittersweet" for Polanski to win in absentia, Berg says, "but I think Roman thinks he's won already based on what's happened so far, and anything beyond that would be a plus."

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