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Polanski's 'Chinatown' moment

Her name is Samantha Geimer. It was Samantha Gailey in 1977, when it happened to her at the age of 13. There isn't a decent news organization in the world that would have outed her as the young victim of Roman Polanski's statutory rape. Geimer has not only identified herself but, in 2003, wrote a piece doing so in the Los Angeles Times that recommended that Polanski win an Oscar for directing "The Pianist" (he did). She even went on "The View."

She has repeatedly endorsed Polanski's bid to have his conviction overturned for the simplest and most understandable of reasons: as long as the case remains open, she and her family are subject to media invasion of their privacy. And she has written, in no uncertain terms, that compared with the trauma of the publicity about the crime, the actual event "seems to pale in comparison."

And crime it was. Even the most ardent and doctrinaire sexual liberationist in the world would be disgusted by her account of what Polanski did to her when she was 13 years old. Under the guise of a photo shoot, he gave her champagne and part of a Quaalude and, against her repeated protestations until she was numb to it all, had his way with her (to use a Victorian euphemism that's probably comic now).

What Polanski did was indefensible. That's why a civil case was settled out of court with a payment. What may seem baffling in 2009, though, is that Swiss authorities could now arrest the 76-year-old film director on his way to the Zurich Film Festival when the 32-year-old crime has long since been mitigated by time in almost every possible way. (Not only has Geimer actively sought an end to her public victimization and the dropping of charges, but the HBO documentary on the case "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," outlined what seems clear-cut prosecutorial and judicial misconduct in the late judge's reneging on his agreement to abide by Polanski's initial guilty plea.)

The crime itself took place in the home of Jack Nicholson, the star of Polanski's greatest American film, "Chinatown." Nicholson wasn't home at the time.

That Polanski is a very great film director has always been obvious. That his life -- beginning as Holocaust survivor and including the Manson family's slaughter of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate -- has been full of horror is undeniable. Just as undeniable, though, is his contempt for sexual "respectability."

Nor is Polanski the only famous violator to have suddenly emerged from the muck of the past to trouble people everywhere in a kind of real world film noir. Courtesy of Mackenzie Phillips' new book, "High on Arrival," the late Mamas and Papas founder John Phillips has now been branded for eternity as a kind of Noah Cross monster from Polanski's "Chinatown," a violator of his own daughter. Because incest is the oldest human taboo, the whole thing has been greeted with widespread disgust, even though a good argument could be made that it was far more vile of him (if less sensational) to introduce her to potentially lethal hard drugs. (Nothing quite like Daddy teaching you how to tie off your arm.)

Some believe Phillips (I do). Some don't. One half-sister, Chynna, has said she does. Another, Bijou, has been reported not to. My God, what a mess.

Whatever happens to John Phillips' reputation (frankly I couldn't care less), I'm fine with his daughter, at long last, getting something out of her ordeal with such a rotten parent.

What happens to Polanski, though, doesn't quite look like justice to many. It looks like L.A. law enforcement finding the longest possible arm to cross the Atlantic and punish a legendary scofflaw and fugitive after an HBO documentary exposed them to humiliation.

Heaven help me, it looks, just a little, like "Chinatown."

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