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Judge 'The Pianist,' not Roman Polanski


Ah, the sweet smell of Oscar season in full bloom! Samantha Geimer, the woman who was sexually violated by "The Pianist" director Roman Polanski when she was a 13-year-old Valley Girl way, way back in 1977, recently popped up on ABC's "Good Morning America" and CNN's "Larry King Live," forgiving the director for his sins. She also penned an op-ed piece in this newspaper, gracefully saying, "No one needs to worry about me.... Mr. Polanski and his film should be honored according to the quality of the work. I think that the academy members should vote for the movies they feel deserve it. Not for people they feel are popular."

That was the last we saw of anything resembling goodwill. The reaction in hard-boiled Hollywood speaks volumes about why the Oscars have devolved from a classy night at the opera into a seamy murder mystery.

The question on everyone's lips: Who was behind Geimer's TV appearances? Was the leading suspect "Pianist" distributor Focus Films, betting that Geimer's forgiveness would cast Polanski in a more sympathetic light? Or was it Miramax's Harvey Weinstein, the dark prince of past Oscar campaigns, who somehow engineered the "Good Morning America" interview (after all, conspiracy theorists say, aren't ABC and Miramax both owned by Disney?) figuring the rehashing of Polanski's sordid escapade would nudge voters toward Miramax candidates "Chicago" and "Gangs of New York"?

Focus Films Co-President James Schamus says his company "unequivocally had no knowledge of her appearances" while Miramax spokeswoman Amanda Lundberg says her company had nothing to do "in any way" with any Geimer appearances. There seems to be no evidence driving the rumors except the cynical view that this is a contest no different from any hardball political campaign.

Now in her late 30s, Geimer comes off as a wholesome-looking suburban soccer mom. Asked why she hasn't seen "The Pianist," she explained: "I don't go for dramas. I'm more of an action-adventure or comedy [moviegoer]." She kept her poise, even when King walked her through her encounter with Polanski like a homicide detective, leeringly asking, "It was just straight sex -- nothing else? Did he ask you to do other things?" The most poignant moment came when Geimer tried to explain why her mother had allowed a 13-year-old girl to go alone for a photo session with the rakish film director. "We trusted him," she said. "We had no reason not to. He was a celebrity."

That's not to say that Geimer isn't media savvy. When King speculated that Polanski probably wouldn't even recognize her today, Geimer glanced around the TV studio and wryly replied, "He probably would now."

With "The Pianist" having emerged as a formidable best picture contender, especially after winning both film and director statuettes at the recent British and French awards ceremonies, Polanski's tangled life story has taken center stage again. But what has also taken center stage is an age-old debate over whether an artist's accomplishments should be judged against his misdeeds, a debate that has divided Hollywood many times over its history.

Always a fugitive

"The Pianist," which features Adrien Brody as noted Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, chronicles the lethal Nazi occupation of the Warsaw Jewish ghetto, something Polanski experienced first-hand as a child.

In many ways, he has always been a fugitive. During the war he escaped through a gap in the wall of the Krakow ghetto not long before his pregnant mother was sent to the gas chambers. In 1969, after Polanski's pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Charles Manson family, nasty insinuations by the media sent him fleeing back to Europe.

Even bastions of propriety like Time and Newsweek took relish in printing the grisly details of his wife's bloody demise, gossiping about her "shaky" marriage and describing the murders' similarity to nightmarish scenes in Polanski movies "Repulsion" and "Rosemary's Baby." After being viewed more with suspicion than sympathy in that dark hour, when Polanski got word that the judge in the Geimer case planned to throw the book at him, he opted for fugitive status again.

For anyone who's seen 1974's "Chinatown," Polanski and Robert Towne's masterful portrait of corruption in pre-war Los Angeles, revolving around an oily paterfamilias who rapes his daughter and lusts after his granddaughter, the back-room events surrounding the 1977 sex scandal have an eerie resonance. For that matter, if Polanski's case had gone to trial, the resulting media circus might've had many of the outlandish shenanigans that dominate "Chicago."

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