Even if you vilify Polanski for personal acts, his work is superb

Roman Polanski is a polarizing figure, regarded as either a world-class filmmaker or a no-class sexual predator. It's tough to say which title will ultimately be his legacy. Polanski, 76, is currently under house arrest in Switzerland on charges stemming from his 1977 arrest for allegedly drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles. Polanski pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of statutory rape but fled before his sentencing to France, where his citizenship prevents extradition.

Polanski was arrested in 2009 while attending a Zurich film festival to accept a career achievement award. Extradition to the United States is possible after all the lawyers have their say.

Despite his unsavory actions, Polanski is still revered in the industry as a masterful filmmaker. A petition of support signed by Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and nearly 100 other celebrities outraged people already convinced of Hollywood's immorality. For them, Polanski is a pervert whose resume doesn't matter.

Their damning evidence is available in court records. Polanski's supporters point to the screen, to certified film classics like these.

Steve Persall, Times film critic

Knife in the Water (1962) Polanski's feature-length debut depicts a married couple picking up a hitchhiker and inviting him on a sailing trip. The ensuing erotic cat-and-mouse game was nominated for the best foreign film Oscar.

Repulsion (1965) Catherine Deneuve delivers a startling performance as a sexually repressed shut-in losing her mind. Polanski shares with viewers her frightening hallucinations — a rapist at the door, arms groping her through walls — before insanity yields murderous results.

Rosemary's Baby (1968) Polanski's English-language debut is still one of the scariest movies ever, in which an urban wife (Mia Farrow) slowly realizes that her neighbors are devil worshipers, and her husband (John Cassavetes) is selling out her womb for Satan's child. Ruth Gordon won a best supporting actress Oscar as the malevolent midwife.

Chinatown (1974) Simply the finest neo-noir ever, with Jack Nicholson as an L.A. gumshoe combing through a complex case of murder, political corruption and — in the bond between Faye Dunaway and John Huston — shocking immorality. Polanski's cameo as an enforcer slicing Nicholson's nose is unforgettable.

The Pianist (2002) Polanski's most personal film, because his mother died in a concentration camp. Adrien Brody won the best actor Oscar as a Polish musician who escapes a labor camp and hides alone in Warsaw ghetto ruins until the uprising. Polanski won best director but, of course, didn't attend the ceremony.

Even if you vilify Polanski for personal acts, his work is superb 03/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 3:30am]

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