For Art’s Sake?

By Jeffrey Page

America loves its celebrities. So in all likelihood, the late Larry Rivers will be remembered as a celebrated painter, film maker and pop art pioneer, and Roman Polanski will be recalled as a renowned movie director. By rights, they ought to go down in history as child abusers.

Thirty years ago, Rivers came up with the idea of making a film featuring his two young daughters. OK so far, right?

Except he filmed the girls nude, starting at age 11, because the focus of the movie was the development of their breasts. Still OK? Or maybe you’re getting a little slimed out.

Dani Shapiro, writing in The New York Times, noted that Rivers zoomed his lens to get close-ups of the girls’ breasts and genitalia. The vomitorium is to your right.

After Rivers’ death in 2002, the films became the property of the Larry Rivers Foundation, which has sold most of its holdings to New York University. NYU has said it doesn’t want the films. Rivers’ daughters do, and have moved to get possession of them, presumably to make sure they never again see the light of day and to maintain a modicum of personal modesty and dignity. Who’s going to take issue with that?

But The Times also reported a foundation spokesman saying a decision on whether to give the films to Rivers’ daughters had not yet been taken.

Shapiro noted that in the narration of the film, Rivers acknowledges his children were disinclined to be so photographed, leading one to believe that Daddy presumably used his Daddy power to make the movie.

Is anyone really going to argue that what Rivers did was art simply by virtue of the fact that he was an artist? Or impose the handy cliché that it’s unfair to judge until you’ve seen the movie? Or regurgitate the line about one of the purposes of art is to unsettle the everyday order of the universe, and thus anyone who complains about such “art” is a philistine?

More recent is the Swiss disposition in the case of Everyone In The Civilized World vs. Roman Polanski. Polanski is the celebrated director of such movies as “Chinatown,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Tess,” and “Repulsion” who pleaded guilty to raping a girl in 1977 when she was 13 and he was 43.

Fearful that the judge would come down with a sentence harsher than expected, Polanski fled to France and has been in exile ever since. Last year, he was arrested in Switzerland and held for extradition to the United States. But Switzerland has declined the American request. So Polanski pretty much beat the rap.

Though his friends bemoan his inability to return to America, Polanski’s life in exile hasn’t exactly been one of drudgery, privation or hard times. In 2003 he won the Academy Award for directing “The Pianist,” which also was nominated for best picture. In 1981, he was nominated for the Oscar for best director for “Tess.” He won scads of other awards during his years outside the U.S.

Still, his friends insisted, it just wasn’t right for a great artist like Roman Polanski to be forced to stay out of America. All because of something that happened so long ago, some say. Oh, by the way, what was it that happened 33 years ago? Polanski drugged the kid with a Quaalude and gave her some nice champagne to wash it down. She told a grand jury at the time that she asked to be taken home, which Polanski did after having vaginal and oral sex with her and urging her not to tell her mother or boyfriend about what happened. Once again; she was 13 years old.

So until his fawning claque gets active again, Polanski must avoid the United States and any country with which it had an extradition treaty.

But hey, Switzerland’s not so bad. Allow me to paraphrase Harry Lime in “The Third Man,” itself a great movie by Orson Wells: In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long, Roman.

Jeffrey can be reached at



One Response to “For Art’s Sake?”

  1. Edward Godwin Says:

    A fine critical assessment of the reality of the context and inherent nature of the films! Love your satiric touches.

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