I watch about a documentary a day. It’s my job. Most of this viewing is done at the office where I have access to an endless supply. When I get home, usually I try to avoid docs if I’m going to watch anything. This is because docs often demand concentration and I can’t help but analyze, which tires the brain. At home I chose fiction. It’s easier – throw it at me and distract me.
So I surprised myself when I chose a documentary from the plethora of selection offered by Rogers On Demand, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” an HBO doc and Sundance ’08 selection. I had an idea that I would probably watch a few minutes of it as I ate my dinner, thinking “I know this story.” And yes, largely I am familiar with Polanski, his films, the tragic murder of his wife Sharon Tate, his criminal liaison with a 13 year-old girl and his subsequent fleeing to Paris.
What kept me watching was the director Marina Zenovich’s determination to tease out the legal drama behind his rape charges. Her quest was not to get down to what happened between Roman and the girl, Samantha Geimer, but what happened with the case. Geimer and her lawyer appeared on the Larry King show and the lawyer said “the day Roman Polanski fled was a sad day for the American judicial system.” That the lawyer would say such a baffeling thing got Zenovich going. She managed to interview every person involved in the case except for the judge (Roman knew the film was being made and Zenovich spoke with him, but she decided for story reasons he didn’t need to say anything he hasn’t already said.)
The doc is well-constructed, contains a balance of interviews and archival footage and moves at a steady pace. It also has a memorable score – I think it’s an clarinet – but you tell me. Not only is this a biography, but a look into how the legal system twists and bends under the pressure of the celebrity and media crush.