Pop Rocks: With Friends Like These

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Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski remains under house arrest in Switzerland, awaiting possible extradition to the United States for fleeing sentencing after pleading guilty to "unlawful sex" with a 13-year old in 1977. His attorneys are, naturally, fighting this possibility, while a number of his fellow directors are petitioning the Swiss government to refuse the state of California's extradition request:

Bertrand Tavernier, Mathieu Amalric and Jean-Luc Godard -- all of whom have films at this year's Cannes Film Festival ("La Princesse de Montpensier," "Tournee" and "Socalisme," respectively) -- are among those who have signed a petition asking the Swiss government to refuse an extradition request from California, just a few days after a California judge denied Polanski's request to unseal testimony in the 33-year-old case.

The group wrote that it was aiming for "a gesture of solidarity accompanied by an appeal to Swiss justice" and was "signed by film makers, and only film makers, who have in common that, like Godard, their works have been named as Official Selections of this year's Cannes Film Festival." It seeks, the petition said, to free Polanski from "the Kafkaesque isolation that has been his lot for the past seven months."

They join an already lengthy list of Hollywood glitterati who publicly called for Polanski's release shortly after he was arrested last September, signing another petition which was widely mocked for presenting the argument that critically acclaimed filmmakers should apparently be given a pass for criminal behavior, because global art would suffer, or something.

The teeth gnashing and accusations from both sides subsided recently, eclipsed by a series of events (the Gulf of Mexico spill, Iceland's Eyjafjallajokulltheconqueror volcano) more suited to an Irwin Allen movie than a Polanski one. That is, until this Cannes Film Festival, when a very special friend of Polanski's decided to offer his support.

Considering the friend in question was Woody Allen, you can be forgiven for wondering just how grateful Polanski really is.

The basis of Allen's defense seems to follow the established trend, to wit:

"It's something that happened many years ago ... he has suffered, he has not been allowed to go to the United States. He was embarrassed by the whole thing," Allen, 74, said during an interview at the Cannes Film Festival, according to E! Online. "He has paid his dues, he has had a hard life. The girl involved doesn't want anything to happen to him."
"He's an artist, he's a nice person, he did something wrong and he paid for it. [The critics] are not happy unless he pays the rest of his life. They would be happy if they could execute him in a firing squad," Allen said.

One could point out that -- technically -- Polanski hasn't paid for it, having fled sentencing after serving 42 days of a court-ordered 90-day psychiatric evaluation, but we'll leave that alone for now.

In a way, you kind of have to admire the honesty of this approach. After all, while most Americans have a tacit understanding that wealth and/or fame often leads to better treatment at the hands of our justice system, these petitioners actually have the balls to articulate it.

I wasn't a math major, but the calculus they're using is pretty simple: a crime like the one Polanski committed is justified as long as you directed Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, and The Pianist (though I assume penalties were assessed for Pirates and The Ninth Gate).

Now it occurs to me that if -- according to the petitioners -- artistic greatness forgives heinous acts, then the converse must also be true. That is, if you're a hack director, you should expect to suffer certain abuses, rather than be allowed to visit them upon someone else.

This being the case, some of these guys need to watch their asses. Sure, you've got names like Godard and Scorsese and Almodovar on the list, but there are also a few directors there whose output has been a little more deserving of...sanction.

As for who'll be responsible for meting out this punishment, I guess we'll just leave it up to the Swiss courts.

Wes Anderson Positives: Local boy Anderson made good (initially) with the likes of the quirky Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. Negatives: His output has unfortunately gotten more and more grating and self-indulgent, leading to the lethargic The Life Aquatic and the pointless Darjeeling Limited. Appropriate Punishment: Buried in an avalanche of Steve Zissou hats while presenting the lifetime achievement Oscar to Bill Murray.

John Landis Positives: Here's where the "former greatness" argument really comes into play. Should the guy who gave us Animal House, An American Werewolf in London, and Trading Places be forgiven future cinematic transgressions? Negatives: Not when those transgressions include Beverly Hills Cop III, The Stupids, and Blues Brothers 2000, he shouldn't. Appropriate Punishment: Apprenticeship to Uwe Boll for a decade.

Woody Allen Forget it, I'm not even going there.

Harmony Korine Positives: Uh, some people liked Kids, for reasons that escape me. Negatives: On the other hand, almost nobody liked Gummo. Or Julien Donkey-Boy. Or Mister Lonely. Appropriate Punishment: A remake of Korine's Fight Harm, his unreleased movie in which he provoked random strangers to beat the shit out of him then surreptitiously filmed the proceedings. Only this time the "strangers" are Randy Couture and Bas Rutten.

Taylor Hackford Positives: The William H. Macy lookalike was the talent behind An Officer and a Gentleman and produced the excellent When We Were Kings. Negatives: Directed Proof Of Life, which was not only a terrible bore, but led to Russell Crowe stealing Meg Ryan away from beloved Houston native Dennis Quaid. Appropriate Punishment: Forced to listen to the entirety of the 30 Odd Foot of Grunts musical catalog while giving Ryan collagen injections.

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