Heavy Shades Of Grey
Opinion/Editorial By The Colonel
On a hot July morning in 1969, a pickup truck approaches the Spahn Ranch in the Chatsworth area of Los Angeles, home of the Manson family. Its passengers, Robert Kasabian and one of his friends tend to find out why Linda, Robert’s wife, fled home with their young daughter Tanya to join the Manson family. Furthermore, they’ve come to retrieve the cash that Linda stole from Robert’s friend’s trailer and gave to Charles Manson, the head of the Manson family. They’re being led to a room to meet Manson and resolve the issue. Robert snaps and start screaming at Manson and threatening him. Manson, while maintaining his eerie calm, pulls a knife out of his pocket and asks Robert to take it. Staring into Robert’s eyes, Manson whispers: ‘If you feel so strongly, then take this knife and bury it in my chest. Kill me, but understand that if I’m giving you the right to kill me, then I have the right to kill you, too. So kill me now or be killed or leave here and never return.’ Robert and his friend walk out of the room, get in the truck and drive away.
One month later on August 8, 1969, Manson sends Linda Kasabian along with Tex Watson, Leslie Van Houten, Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins to a house at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, Los Angeles. He instructs them to ‘totally destroy everyone in the house, as gruesome as you can.’ Tex Watson and the girls follow the instructions carefully, and slaughter Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Steven Parent and Sharon Tate, the eight and a half months pregnant wife of the Polish director Roman Polanski; first they put a rope around her nick and then stab her 16 times.
At the time of that horrible tragedy, Polanski was working on a project in Europe. Debra Tate, Sharon’s sister had to deliver the news to Polanski on the phone. Later in an interview she described Polanski’s reaction: ‘Roman is a tough man. He survived the World War II, he survived Poland’s communist dictatorship, and he survived many horrors. But when I told him what happened to Sharon, I could feel how he shattered on the other end of the line. It was so painful.’
Polanski’s life was never the same after that tragedy. It was as if the darkness embraced him and he embraced the darkness. In the years following Sharon Tate’s murder, he made some of the most bizarre, cynical and violent movies of his career: the Tragedy of Macbeth, Chinatown and the Tenant to name a few. He had lost his faith in humanity, and indeed who could blame him? He indulged himself in a life of debauchery and excess, and inevitably in 1977, the Samantha Gailey scandal happened, the 13 year old girl whom he had sex with. There are different stories suggesting different circumstances which led to that incident: Polanski says the whole thing was orchestrated by Gailey’s mother in order to blackmail him, Gailey’s mother insists her daughter was seduced, etc. Nevertheless, that incident was the birth of the modern day tabloid trash and America’s seemingly endless obsession with everything celebrities and scandals.
First, Polanski was charged with rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14, and furnishing a controlled substance (methaqualone) to a minor. These charges were dismissed under the terms of his plea bargain, and he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, the court ordered Polanski to report to a state prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation, but granted a stay of 90 days to allow him to complete his current project. Under the terms set by the court, he was permitted to travel abroad. Polanski returned to California and reported to Chino State Prison for the evaluation period, and was released after 42 days. All parties expected Polanski to get only probation at the subsequent sentencing hearing, but after an alleged conversation with LA Deputy District Attorney David Wells, judge Laurence J. Rittenband suggested to Polanski’s attorneys that he would send the director to prison and order him deported .As many journalists and historians suggest, this sudden, unexpected and unexplainable decision which was against all previous agreements, was judge Rittenband’s attempt to maintain his accidental celebrity status, extend his 15 minutes of fame and showcase his power over Hollywood celebrities. In response to the threat of imprisonment, Polanski fled the United States. Eventually he obtained French citizenship, married with French singer and actress Emmanuelle Seigner, rebuilt his life and made some of the best movies of the past 3 decades including Tess, Bitter Moon, Death and the Maiden, the Ninth Gate and the academy award winner the Pianist.
Roman Polanski’s recent arrest in Zürich, Swiss 3 decades after Samantha Gailey incident seems irrelevant. This incident could have been resolved back then if America’s tabloid trash culture and a judge’s desperate attempt at being an overnight celebrity wouldn’t have gotten in the way. In today’s crumbling America, where Jaycee Lee Dugard is being abducted and raped for 18 years by a registered sex offender on parole who gets caught only after he walks into the police office on his own will, I believe the law enforcement and the justice system of this country have more vital concerns and priorities other than arresting a 76 year old internationally acclaimed filmmaker over some tabloid controversy that occurred more than 30 years ago. The worst case scenario for Polanski would be that he’ll pay a fine, spend some months in prison and will be deported from the United States, the country that he abandoned it himself. But in reality, what does it say about us to the world? It says we’re a nation of overly confused, politically correct, tabloid trash obsessed morons with an inflated sense of righteousness that smacks us in the face time and again and yet we refuse to learn our lessons and determine our priorities, or in other words, put our shit together. Our heavy shades of grey won’t fade away easily.