My essay "This Is Not a Safe World" will appear in the 2015 issue of the Southern California Review, which is the litmag for the University of Southern California. I've known this since January and have woken up remembering it on about half the days since I found out, because it still blows my mind that they wanted this essay, because nobody wanted this essay, it got more than a dozen completely perfunctory rejections. Sending it to SCR was an arrow into the air, and I continue to be astonished that it hit its target.
The news part of this news is that the release party for SCR is taking place on April 24th at The Last Bookstore - two weeks from tomorrow. I got an email a couple of weeks ago announcing this and asking all the contributors whether they wanted to read. I emailed back right away that I wanted to read - I have daydreamed over the idea of reading at The Last Bookstore, genuinely one of my favorite places of all the places I've been in my life - and I have not gotten a reply as of yet. So I don't know if I'll get to read, but maybe I will. Come anyway, on April 24th at 7 PM, to The Last Bookstore to mingle and browse and listen to everyone who does get to read.
I'm proud of the essay (otherwise I wouldn't have kept sending it out after getting no encouragement), but it is quite a personal personal essay. It reveals things about me that, if you know me in life, you may not be comfortable knowing. I hope, if you attain access to the 2015 SCR, or if my essay is chosen to be readable by the journal's website's proprietors, that you read it and enjoy it, or at least that it makes you think. But if you decide to steer clear because you'd prefer some elements of my history to remain unknown to you, I'm OK with that.
That's the news, so here's the writing. I composed this as an exercise about a year ago, and Matt made me think of it the other night, and I'm posting it in part because I have no real idea of its worth. It was an experiment in organized thought. See what you think.
Roman Polanski was born in Poland in 1933.
Though agnostic, his family was displaced into the ghetto by the Nazis and his mother was killed at Auschwitz.
(Injustice stalks us all.)
He witnessed horrible things as a child during the war and was evidently made sport of in the countryside by German soldiers with guns. His father survived the war and nurtured the boy's obsession with cinema. Polanski began work in films as an actor in the 1950s and soon became a director.
(A really damn good director.)
His second film
(only his second film!)
was Repulsion, a surreal masterpiece with Catherine Deneuve. He made films in Poland, France, and England in the early stages of his career.
1968 was a big year: he married Hollywood starlet Sharon Tate and his film Rosemary's Baby was released. This was Polanski's breakthrough film in the US.
In 1969, his wife, eight months pregnant, was murdered by the Manson family.
(First mother, now wife.)
In 1971, he made Macbeth.
(Macbeth is impossible to bring to film; even Orson Welles couldn't do it.)
In 1974, Polanski made Chinatown, one of a tiny handful of Great Noirs that's in color.
(Like, you can count them on one hand.)
It was nominated for eleven Oscars.
In 1977, he was arrested. The charge was statutory rape, and he pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, and then he fled the US. His guilt is not in question. He seduced a thirteen-year-old girl during a photo shoot.
(Bad choice [very bad choice], not bad luck -- but I would place bets that he was not the only fortysomething male in the film industry who screwed a thirteen-year-old in the 1970s. How many others were arrested? How many others are still unable to enter the country 37 years later?)
(Because here's the thing: I'm not saying we should forgive him for evil deeds just because he’s famous and talented. That would be grossly unfair to the victim. But the victim is done with all this. She's given interviews stating as much, and wrote a book [released in 2013] about how she felt the press had hurt her more than Polanski himself did. She thinks he should be allowed to reenter the US.)
(And he IS talented. Immensely so. This matters. He has made beautiful films, way-ahead-of-their-time films, and films that treat women as subjects of their own lives. There is an absurd lack of such films out there.)
(And what is up with that, anyway? If Polanski can be reduced to a victimizer of women, why would he make movie after movie where women are complex and interesting and even powerful?)
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he continued to make movies.
The next time he got big attention for a film was in 2002, for The Pianist
(a film that brought me emotionally to my knees, weeping uncontrollably in the theater)
, for which he won the Palme d'Or at Cannes; Césars, French Oscars, for best film and best director; and a Best Director Oscar. The audience at the Academy Awards gave him a standing ovation in absentia. Harrison Ford, whom he'd directed in Frantic
(a minor miracle of an action film, unjustly forgotten)
in 1988, accepted the award.
Polanski is eighty and still making films. The most recent film of his to see release in the US was Carnage, in 2011
(I wish I'd liked this movie more. It was adapted from a play and was a marvel of precision. But I did not like any of the characters and the scope was too small for love-to-hate to function properly on them.)
, with a quartet of some of the most talented Hollywood stars available today: Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly.
(So I say we should feel just a little sorry for him. Despite the terrible thing he did. Dude lost his mother in the Holocaust, his wife and unborn child to one of the most famous murderers of the 20th century, his reputation to a media circus. Could I live such a life without throwing myself off a bridge? Could I continue to make good art year after year? Could you?)