“People have a right to their own opinions about what happened, but they don’t have a right to their own facts.”
This is something Roman Polanski’s lawyer, Douglas Dalton, says early in the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. It’s a perfectly stated quote about how people tend to forget that opinions and facts are indeed separate things. The fact is, only two people really know what happened on the afternoon of March 11, 1977 in Jack Nicholson’s Beverly Hills home. It was in that home, on that day, that famed director Roman Polanski was photographing 13-year-old Samantha Geimer for French Vogue magazine (Nicholson was out of town). From there, a shared fact ceases to exist. Polanski says the two eventually drank champagne, took a Quaalude and had consensual sex. But, according to Geimer, the drugs and sex were both forced on her.
Wanted and Desired presents facts and many opinions from every angle of the case. Polanski doesn’t participate in the film, so his side of the story is told via archive press conferences as well as present day interviews with his friends, collaborators and lawyers. Geimer is present for filming (with her lawyer by her side) and her interviews are honest, impassive and direct. You get the sense very early on that she wants all of this to be behind her. She has publicly forgiven Polanski and has said, multiple times, that the charges against him should be dropped.
Most of the interviews play out as a complicated game of He Said-She Said. Rarely do Polanski’s lawyer, Geimer’s lawyer, and the Los Angeles District Attorney, Roger Gunson, fully agree on any one point. But what they do concur on is how badly and illegally Judge Laurence J. Rittenband handled the case.
Judge Rittenband, who died in 1993, is presented as a maniacal blowhard; a star fucker who actively fought to preside over celebrity cases, including ones involving Cary Grant, Elvis Presley, and Marlon Brando. Unlike most judges, Rittenband loved publicity, and gave frequent media interviews. Hell, he even kept a detailed scrapbook of all his appearances in the press, which he would regularly flaunt to his staff.
|Judge Rittenband giving a press conference|
The proceedings of the Polanski case are long, complicated and, frankly, best discovered in Zenovich’s film. A Cliff’s Notes version is that Polanski agreed to admit guilt to one of the six charges against him, unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. He then underwent a probation report, which ultimately recommended that Polanski be sentenced to probation. Rittenband saw things differently. After taking advice from the media (yes, really) on what to do with the case, Rittenband sentenced Polanski to a 90 day study in Chino State Prison. But, in private, he told Polanski’s lawyer that the director could avoid, or “stay,” the study in three month intervals, until Polanski finished his most recent film. During one of these stays, Rittenband changed his mind and ordered Polanski to Chino immediately. Polanski served 42 days and was legally cut loose. Rittenband thought 42 days was too light a sought to sentence Polanski for additional time. Exhausted with the judge’s unpredictable behavior, Polanski fled to Europe, and hasn’t been back to the United States since.
Soon after Polanski’s departure, Rittenband held a press conference to discuss the pending case, something Dalton says was “totally unheard of.” Even District Attorney Gunson tells Zenovich that, under those circumstances, he’s not surprised that Polanski left.
|Polanski during the trial|
Wanted and Desired is a great example of a topic outweighing the film. When I’ve talked about this movie with friends, the pacing or look of the film has never been brought up. And, as far as documentaries go, this is a very good thing. The movie blends into the case so seamlessly, that we forget we’re watching a movie. One that took literal years to research, film interviews for, and edit. And as a documentary, the film is close to perfect. But whether or not you appreciate Wanted and Desired will be based largely on your personal thoughts regarding the case. I think this case is fascinating, but I’ve seen plenty of poorly constructed documentaries about subjects I’m intrigued by. Which is a great way to bring up Odd Man Out, Zenovich’s 2012 follow-up to Wanted and Desired.
Odd Man Out fails in every way Wanted and Desired succeeds. Whether or not you agree with Zenovich’s stance on Polanski’s case (she’s clearly Team Polanski, even though she does her damndest to mask it), there’s no denying that Wanted and Desired is a meticulously well researched film; compelling for every one of its 99 minutes. Odd Man Out is the exact opposite. It’s literally as if Zenovich got her camera, flew to the Zurich Film Festival in Switzerland (Polanski was arrested at the Zurich Airport in 2009, en route to the festival) and decided to start filming everything, in hopes of getting a film out of it. The result is a rushed and unstructured documentary, desperate to fill its 88 minutes.
Odd Man Out is essentially about the effect Wanted and Desired had on the Polanski case. About how the film riled up the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, and forced their hand into having Polanski detained in Switzerland, despite the fact that he has frequented the country several times since fleeing the United States. He even owns property there, which is where he is eventually ordered to stay under house arrest.
|Polanski in his Swiss home|
Unlike Wanted and Desired, Odd Man Out is narrated by Zenovich herself, whose melodramatic cadence and self-congratulatory word choice are immediately off-putting. She constantly remarks about the impact and importance of Wanted and Desired, while cutting between countless exterior shots of Polanski’s Swiss home and interviews with (mostly) inconsequential people who weren’t even involved in the case. (Sorry, but I don’t give two shits what a biased writer from TheWrap thinks about a case that began when he was a child.)
Every person interviewed for Wanted and Desired offers valuable and exclusive insight into the case. Most of the interviews in Odd Man Out act as filler so the movie can reach a feature length running time. The one saving grace of Odd Man Out is that it spends a significant amount of time with the Geimer family in Hawaii. There’s a touching scene with Samantha’s husband, David, who tears up while watching a news report of Polanski’s recent arrest. “It’s not about us, it’s about him,” David says. “We don’t have any feelings about what he’s doing. We’re bumming that he’s sitting in jail. He’s in old man – this is 30 years plus. This shit’s gotta come to an end.”
But even those family interviews dry up after a while. Samantha, while still remaining kind and congenial, has nothing to add to what she said in Wanted and Desired, and Samantha’s mother, Susan, does herself slightly more harm than good, coming off as wide-eyed and oddly jovial, as if she’s a little too excited to be in front of the camera.
|A young man with big opinions in Odd Man Out|
In short, Odd Man Out is a wildly unnecessary film, one that could have been worthy had Zenovich invested as much thought and consideration into the project as she did with Wanted and Desired. For example, early in Odd Man Out, as Zenovich captures footage of the Zurich Film Festival, she conducts a brief yet startling interview with a young man sitting in an outdoor restaurant.
“He’s a child molester,” the man says of Polanski. “So, put him to jail, maybe he’ll find his old buddy Charles Manson again.” It’s the film’s most honest and haunting moment. Here’s a guy wishing that Polanski meet the man who organized the brutal murder of Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, in 1969. Some of you may find this man’s comments insignificant, or, perhaps, appropriate. I disagree. Tate was eight and a half months pregnant when she was stabbed 16 times by four members of the Manson Family. If Werner Herzog made Odd Man Out, he would’ve kept the camera rolling on this guy, minutes after he made this remark. The lens would’ve stood its ground, and we would’ve been privy to further examination of one young man’s controversial opinion of Polanski. Instead, Zenovich cuts away from the guy the instant he finishes his sentence. It’s a missed opportunity among many in Odd Man Out. An opinion, however insignificant, that I would actually love to hear more of.
Wanted and Desired: A-
Odd Man Out: D+