June 19, 2008

2 documentaries seen in the last 24 hours: "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" and "Standard Operating Procedure."

I would not have chosen to watch these 2 films so close together, even though they are thematically related enough to belong as a double feature, but I happened to watch the first one on HBO On Demand last night, and the second one is something I'd been meaning to see and learned would be gone after today.

"Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired." This is Marina Zenovich's nicely put together documentary about Roman Polanski's immense legal problem. Watching this was a very weird experience, because it's quite apparent that child rape was just not taken very seriously back in the 1970s. I was ready to cut Polanski a lot of slack because he survived the Holocaust and his wife and unborn son were slaughtered by the Manson family, but he has admitted to drugging a 13-year-old and having sexual intercourse with her. And he never really seemed to think he did much of anything wrong — as if he shouldn't have had to serve any prison time.

Much is made of the "media circus" surrounding the legal proceedings. We see footage of lots of guys with cameras crowding around trying to photograph him when he's trying to get in and out of the courtroom. (I thought: Big deal. Quit complaining.) And the main target of contempt is the judge, who's dead now and not able to respond to the charge that he sought the spotlight, played to the cameras, and abused his power. But there are interviews with the victim and the prosecutor (as well as the defense attorney), and neither of them is calling for Polanski's blood.

So it's a rather subtle inquiry into the legal process — and into the soul of a man who did something evil but is also a great artist and suffered beyond comprehension in his life. The vintage footage of him with the spectacularly beautiful Sharon Tate and crazed with pain after her death is heartrending. And the clips from "Chinatown," "Rosemary's Baby," and other films are very cleverly used to illustrate aspects of Polanski's legal struggles.

"Standard Operating Procedure." This is the Errol Morris documentary about the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. I adore Errol Morris and have watched some of his documentaries multiple times, but this is not Morris at his best. The movie forces you to stare for many long minutes at giant talking heads, a technique used brilliantly in some of his very best movies: "Mr. Death," "Fog of War," and (one of my favorite movies of all time) "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control." The difference with "Standard Operating Procedure" is that the individuals are not at all fascinating people. They are dull and empty — with revoltingly flat affect.

But they have a story to tell. That is, they are witnesses. But they have been convicted of crimes, so they have the motive to lie, slant, and self-justify. It's like a close up on the direct examination of witnesses at trial — and no cross-examination! I wanted cross-examination. I had the impression that Morris wanted us to see that they were made to take the fall after the infamous photographs became public, but I found them repellent and unbelievable.

There is a lot of good material about how photographs tell an incomplete story. (And you see many, many uncensored Abu Ghraib photographs.) So perhaps Morris also meant to say: And the eyewitnesses also tell an incomplete story. Too damned bad if you are unsatisfied, because, like a photographer framing a shot, the government blocked our view of the whole story.

Morris teaches his lesson, and the viewer is subjected to a truly ugly ordeal. (There are occasional touches of beauty in the short, vivid recreations.) But if you were circumspect enough to attend this movie in the first place, you will probably feel that you have no right to complain about it, given the suffering depicted in the movie. That may be why the movie is leaving town — leaving Madison, Wisconsin — after a short run and why I was one of only 3 people in the audience.


ricpic said...

All men like 'em young. Roman got caught. End of story.

rhhardin said...

because it's quite apparent that child rape was just not taken very seriously back in the 1970s.

That's what Ian Hacking wrote in the 90s. Child abuse as a phenomenon was discovered in the 60s meaning beatings, and it became child sexual abuse in the 70s.

(Any university library has the Critical Inquiry issue in question.)

Host with the Most said...

Thank God Polanski isn't pro-life, for then he'd be crucified by this filmmaker and the rest of Hollywood for being really evil.

rhhardin said...

All men like 'em young.

I don't think that's true.

Half your age plus seven years is supposed to be the rule for what gets your eye, and seems about right, at least if you're old enough so that seven isn't a big part of your age.

Smilin' Jack said...

All men like 'em young.

I don't think that's true

It is if they're made in the image of God--Mary is believed to have been about 13-15 when Jesus was born.

it's quite apparent that child rape was just not taken very seriously back in the 1970s.

Don't feel too superior. In 50 years they'll say the same about us, since by then the age of consent will have been raised to about 35.

knoxwhirled said...

ricpic, I guess you have no daughters? I certainly hope you have no daughters.

Cedarford said...

Watching this was a very weird experience, because it's quite apparent that child rape was just not taken very seriously back in the 1970s. I was ready to cut Polanski a lot of slack because he survived the Holocaust and his wife and unborn son were slaughtered by the Manson familybut he has admitted to drugging a 13-year-old and having sexual intercourse with her.

The problems with this is we still don't take underaged sex seriously, unless a particularly unfortunate local or celebrity is targeted by the girl's family or a vengeful prosecutor to allow society to "showcase" their huffy moral outrage.
Half of inner city girls 13 are no longer virgins and a significant fraction of white and Hispanic girls aged 13 to 16 have had sex - just like Polanski's "conquest" was a sexually active young girl before he met her.

The point being that society doesn't care much for the millions of pederast incidents involving willing young teens and willing young teens and the home boy adults or hot athletes and film directors.
People can vent about the need to throw millions behind bars for tapping these willing young minks, but we really don't want to. For the family, for the courts - it is more trouble than it is worth. For the girls? Polanski's young tryster said it was the legal system and the threats made against her by prosecutors to compell testimony that nearly destroyed her - not the tryst with Polanski, one of many she had had at that point...

The truth is, society reserves - sensibly - it's heavy ammo and finite legal resources for Real Child molestors - namely those done on prepubescent children 12 and under and on REAL rape by violence or coercion of victim teens. We generally don't even go after the adult fathers of unwed teens - and that is one area we should focus on (because of the immense damage to society and fiscal cost to taxpayers of unwed teens and their children) before trying to send millions of statutory rape cases to trial.

As for Polanski himself, judging from his standing ovation at the Oscars and his early selection to the French Academy of Arts - the general belief is Polanski was wrecked after his wife was butchered, did a pile of reckless & self-destructive things...got in legal trouble for one of them. Then stood up and took American justice like a man, served 90 days in jail. And only when the court reneged on it's plea bargain because powerful religious and media elements wanted to burn Polanski as an example(by testimony of both his lawyers and the Prosecutor the judge was ready to betray the deal) - did he flee American justice.


Abu Ghraib? With the complete collapse of the "Haditha Atrocity" and several cases of individual soldiers hyped as "savge murderers" and the Scott Thomas Beauchamp fabrications - it is clear the American media opposed to the war served the cause of the enemy. By creating anti-American propaganda to help force an end to the war by inciting restistance to the military by both helping recruit Jihadis and turn the American public against the "stupid, sadistic louts from 'bitter' sections of the country, who were forced into uniform by poor economic prospects".

The 200 Front page articles on the "horrors" of the atrocities in the NYTimes and Abu Ghraib nightly on MSM news for 6 months were not based on newsworthiness - but media committing political atonement to the Left and the wealthy Owners - after initially being for the regime change since Clinton 1st argued it should be formal US policy. Atonement would be complete and honor restored if the NY Times and others contributed to the defeat the Left claimed Bush morally deserved. And the hundreds of US soldiers killed by radicals inflamed to a killing rage Jihad from all the publicity the US gave it was a small price to pay for that personal atonement in the media.

History will show that the US forces behaved better in Iraq than any army ever fielded facing an insurgency where enemy blends with civilians - many who support the killers. Abu Ghraib will then be objectively seen as an abherration - localized to one small unit of poorly trained reservists poorly monitored and supervised by 3 levels of half-assed officers in their command. Only made BIG because the liberal US media and the Hard Left used it as a global tool to slime the USA and it's soldiers collectively.

Dr. Eustace Chesser said...


"Krenwinkel repeatedly stabbed the dead Leno LaBianca and left a carving fork embedded in his abdomen and a small steak knife protruding from his neck. In an interview, Krenwinkel admitted to stabbing Mr. LaBianca with the fork and leaving it in his abdomen. Both utensils were taken from the LaBiancas' kitchen. Krenwinkel then wrote "DEATH TO PIGS" in blood on the wall, and "HeaLter SkeLTter" [sic] on the refrigerator. When later questioned, Krenwinkel claimed that the only thing going through her mind at the time was that "now he won't be sending any of his children off to war."


AJ Lynch said...

I remember when I was open-minded and would go to see a documentary believeing it would be balanced and accurate.

Now I feel like Karnac cause I can guess beforehand what it will portray.

gophermomeh said...

AJ - my husband's been doing that for years - at times we treat it like a parlor game.

Anonymous said...

"Morris teaches his lesson..."

That seems to have become the raison d'ĂȘtre of most so-called documentaries, though "propaganda points" might be more accurate than "lesson" judging by the products of scum such as Michael Moore.

I'm glad the audience was tiny. The subject is tired and its significance was a product of liberal media hype. Good riddance.

holdfast said...

This may be the first time I've ever seen a Cedarford entry without the word "Jew", used in a perjorative sense. Anyway, his take on Abu Ghraib is pretty much correct - the media only "broke" the big story well after the Army had begun a proper investigation. There were certainly transgressions, but there was no official coverup or even an attempt at one.

The media was desperate to use Abu Ghraib as a weapon against Bush and Rummy, and to somehow connect it to Gitmo and torture. In pursuing that angle, they entered into an unholy alliance with the flag officer (that means an Admiral, or in this case a General) most responsible for the lapses and failed leadership that led to the problems, since the general in question was a woman and was willing to go along with the anti-Bush BS in an attempt to save her slimy skin and [reduced] pension.

George said...

Last year's documentary about the Apollo astronauts was outstanding— In the Shadow of the Moon. The filmmakers interviewed all the surviving men who went to the Moon, with the exception of Armstrong. All are in their 70s. They all look and sound exactly like retired guys you see waiting to get haircuts in barber shops anywhere.

"Harvest of Shame," the 1960 CBS Murrow documentary about migrant workers, will also unscrew your head, in a different way. Don't think it's available anywhere.

Fen said...

Abu Ghraib? With the complete collapse of the "Haditha Atrocity" and several cases of individual soldiers hyped as "savge murderers" and the Scott Thomas Beauchamp fabrications - it is clear the American media opposed to the war served the cause of the enemy

Either that, or they get off on Abu Ghraib porn. Perhaps both.

TitusisgoingtoPtown said...

I am watching the Roman Polanski documentary now.

I was born in 1970 so wasn't around in the 60's but when I look at Sharon Tate, who was absolutely stunningly beautiful, I think of the 60's image of the California woman.

TitusisgoingtoPtown said...

Interesting about the judge in the Polanski case. He loved the press and Hollywood.

The judge in the case was 54 and his first girlfriend was 20. Lawrence Rittenband-the judge.

AJ Lynch said...

Abu Graib was not organized torture no matter what the piece of crap idiotors at the Philadelphia Inquirer have claimed many many times.

It was a bit of ersatz fraternity rituals committed by young, bitter western Pennsylvanias who never went to college where they could have committed the same rituals with the approval of the entire world.

As we have learned only recently, this type of individual clings to their religion and guns. So they ended up in Iraq as Army reservists guarding a prison. Like the college students they envied, these reservists became binge drinkers and in some cases borderline alcoholics.

I am not making this up but you did not hear this from me. Gotta go I think I hear a black helicopter hovering over my house.

Anonymous said...


NASA is a bureaucratic, directionless, moribund organization that spends a fortune on generating PR and supporting others (moviemakers and such) who provide it for them. Launches from the Cape, each of which costs a small fortune using obsolete technology (Seen any documentaries on the costs generated by NASA lately?) serve little purpose but continue to get headline coverage.

Like I said, propaganda. Maybe you can tell I'm not exactly a fan.

Synova said...

Oh, black helicopters... that was sarcasm. Had me going for a moment.

Synova said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Synova said...

We don't care too much about young teens having sex because we realize that a sexually mature person is a sexually mature person.

Oh, parents might care (or not) but usually sensible people realize that the "child" involved was responsible for her actions. (Drugging or getting someone drunk is another issue I think!)

We start to *care* when there is a disparity of ages and individual power... teacher and coaches... older men or women. The same things that make it wrong (illegal?) for a therapist or psychologist or various other professionals to have a sexual relationship with their clients or patients. We figure that a young teen isn't able to stand up to someone older, is likely to be particularly swayed by the idea that this adult person is interested in them in an adult way, and particularly vulnerable to the person who seeks out a very young person for sex... not because our biology is set to favor youth, but because they can control and dominate.

AJ Lynch said...


Except for the black copters, everything I wrote is true.

Those reservists were always drunk according to some folks I knew from western PA who had the scoop.

It was really not some Runsfeld/ Cheney plot from the White House no matter how much the NY Times wished it was.

Anonymous said...

I liked the Polanski documentary.

I think a lot of people suppose that a documentary should have a sense of fairness. I don't really buy that. Documentaries with a point of view are best. It's up to you to figure out if that point of view is legitimate or not.

Revenant said...

All men like 'em young. Roman got caught. End of story.

That's just dumb. Mid to late teens, after they've matured sexually? Sure, that's common as dirt. But 13? That's seventh grade. I didn't even think seventh grade girls were that hot when I was *in* seventh grade.

Anyway, too bad that the Morris film isn't very good. "Gates of Heaven" remains one of my favorite movies.

blake said...

I didn't bother with either of these. Morris was reaching for something that wasn't there--clear from the previews.

Polanski drugged and raped a 13-year-old (her prior behavior should not be an issue, nor any scheming by her mother, right?). I'm okay with that being a career ending move. And, let's face it, the bulk of his good work is over 30 years old.

Documentaries don't have to be neutral to be good, but they should be up-front about their biases.

A few thoughts on documentaries in general, and a few specific recent ones.

Summary of recent documentaries:

Refuseniks: Good material not well presented.

Young@Heart: Fun, surprisingly moving.

The Rape of Europa: A little repetitive but overall an interesting take on part of WWII you don't hear much about.

In The Shadow Of The Moon: Love NASA or hate it, the moon missions were just astounding, and it's still astounding to hear about, even if Neil Armstrong doesn't want to talk about it any more.

A Fistful of Quarters: The King of Kong: Excellent, compelling presentation of what is, essentially, very banal material.

Other noteworthy documentaries of the decade: The absolutely fabulous Muderball, Paper Clips, Sydney Pollack's sympathetic tribute to Frank Gehry, the highly personal Divan and Bukowski: Born Into This.

I'm not sure any of them qualify as neutral, but they all adopt viewpoints that I had no trouble relating to.

Verso said...

Speaking of Abu Ghraib, I found it fascinating that the US Army's retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba has now gone on the record stating his opinion that the Bush Administration committed, and should be prosecuted for, war crimes. Bush "authorized a systematic regime of torture," the US Army general stated, in "Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay," where "U.S. personnel tortured and abused detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, using beatings, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation and other cruel practices."

Maybe if we are lucky, we will someday see justice served on these criminals.

AJ Lynch said...

Verso- the "new" report was from a Physicans For Something (and probably financed by disgusting fucks like George Soros).

Many of the perps quoted in the report were convicted terrorists who naturally had an ax to grind.

I bet you the report twisted the General's words. Will you take that bet?

Revenant said...

So is Verso taking over AlphaLiberal's talking-point duties while the latter is away, or are they the same guy to begin with?

Freeman said...

I always wonder, when a retired general starts playing to anti-military interests and portraying his former troops as committers of war crimes, what he did while on active duty and pulling a paycheck to correct procedures?

I'm betting he did nothing at all.

Like Karpinski who toured the US after Abu Ghraib boldly exposing the abuses of the military... didn't do a thing while she was a General and had the power and the responsibility. Just waa- waa- waa- they're so mean to me and I'm so freaking helpless. And all this bad stuff was happening and no one did anything.

Well, *GENERAL*, that was your JOB!

Freeman said...

That was me.


Ann Althouse said...

Yeah, plus she was really hamming it up for the camera.