Thursday, October 1, 2009

The movie scene I think of every time I hear the "brilliant filmmaker" defense of Roman Polanski

A memorable conversation from Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 movie Rope:

Rupert Cadell: After all, murder is — or should be — an art. . . . And, as such, the privilege of committing it should be reserved for those few who are really superior individuals.

Brandon Shaw: And the victims: inferior beings whose lives are unimportant anyway.

Rupert Cadell: Obviously. Now, mind you, I don't hold with the extremists who feel that there should be open season for murder all year round. No, personally, I would prefer to have . . . "Cut a Throat Week" . . . or, uh, "Strangulation Day". . . [transcript from IMDB]
I've seen many defenses of Polanski (see my previous post on two high-profile petitions for his release), and they typically argue that his greatness as a movie director makes it somehow wrong to imprison him upon his conviction for child rape.

Maybe they're right: Roman Polanski is a superior individual. Maybe his victim just didn't matter as much as he does.

Well, I really don't think so. But wait a minute — I could be wrong. After all, you and I might both be among the inferior beings. Maybe we should defer to those with more refined moral faculties.

Actually, I shouldn't even refer to what's "moral." It's a lowly concept, as you might remember from Brandon's speech in Rope:
The few who are privileged to commit murder . . . are those men of such intellectual and cultural superiority that they're above the traditional "moral" concepts. Good and evil, right and wrong, were invented for the ordinary, average man — the inferior man, because he needs them.
Likewise, the petition signed by over 70 movie-industry figures (including Martin Scorsese and David Lynch) doesn't dwell on unimportant details like what Polanski actually did to the 13-year-old girl; it doesn't even refer to a victim at all. It tells you only what you need to know:
His arrest follows an American arrest warrant dating from 1978 against the filmmaker, in a case of morals.
That's it — that's all the petition says about the nature of the allegations. Surely a mere case of morals doesn't provide a sufficient justification to punish a great man, does it?


Jason (the commenter) said...

His arrest follows an American arrest warrant dating from 1978 against the filmmaker, in a case of morals.

The word "morals" probably kicked off a Pavlovian response in many liberals, who didn't bother to become familiar with the facts.

I love this controversy though, so often people ask celebrities for their opinions and now we have more evidence than ever that celebrities are famous but not at all wise, if anything they are more sheltered and stupid than the average person.

And that whole Pavlovian response on the part of some liberals didn't exactly make them look brain surgeons.

How humiliating this episode has been for many people who like calling themselves progressive.

paul a'barge said...

Boom, right on the NetFlix queue. Thanks!

John Althouse Cohen said...

paul: Yes, I should have added that I highly recommend this movie. My girlfriend Danielle and I watched it recently -- we've both seen it many times. It has plenty of flaws: it's not Hitchcock's best (he referred to it as an "experiment that didn't work out"); it has a lot of corny, half-hearted humor; and the acting, aside from Jimmy Stewart's, is stilted and stagey. But I still love it. The whole movie consists of about 8 shots. The performance by Jimmy Stewart at the end is magnificent and chilling.

Kylos said...

JAC, I really enjoyed Rope as well. As you say, it's got its faults, but it does have some very fascinating dialogue that exposes the falseness of some people's views of morality. Interestingly, it doesn't discuss the foundations of morality, but addresses the fallacy that "superiority" trumps morality.

Unknown said...

One of my favorite movies.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, pretty effective piece of writing.
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