Christopher Sandford

Until he won an Oscar for The Pianist, finally earning the respect he craved, Roman Polanski was known more for the scandals of his personal life. Also the director of Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, and, ahem, Pirates, how should the 75-year-old fugitive from American justice be viewed today? That’s the task biographer Christopher Sandford sets for himself in Polanski (Palgrave, $29.95). The author, an erstwhile SW contributor who’s previously profiled Kurt Cobain and other rock stars, follows close on the heels of the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which played at SIFF Cinema in July. At the same time, Polanski’s career seems to be winding down—recently doing a cameo in Rush Hour 3 for his buddy Brett Ratner. Sandford even-handedly explores the life of this Holocaust survivor whose starlet wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 by followers of Charles Manson, and who later fled to Europe to avoid incarceration for statutory rape. If Polanski—who started out as a child actor in Poland—casts himself as media martyr, and if the American press mostly treats him as a pariah, the British-born Sandford finds in him an apt symbol of ’60s-into-’70s excess. Not that “the midget”—as Jack Nicholson calls him in Chinatown—was inherently vile. Rather, Polanski’s self-absorbed hedonism made him an icon for a selfish age. That he never chose to apologize for his series of jailbait girlfriends and wives, that he essentially embraced his tabloid image, ultimately made him into a rather pitiful self-caricature and exile. The Pianist has its merits, but nothing Polanski filmed after the ’70s can dispel the odor of curdled talent. University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 634-3400, www.bookstore.washington.edu. Free. 7 p.m. BRIAN MILLER

Mon., Sept. 8, 7 p.m., 2008

 
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