Sharon's Muse.... Let's chat over coffee while I ponder some things
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TOOL & BAD BOYS Short, Short Ebooks
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TOOL & BAD BOYS
Short, Short Ebooks
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Does art trump the artist?
In other words, should art blind us to the sins of our idols?
Within weeks of each other a video is posted at YouTube revealing the disturbing eruption by David O. Russell castigating Lily Tomlin on the set of his 2004 movie I Heart Huckabees and an audio is leaked to the press offering up a very caustic Alec Baldwin pilloring his 11-year-old daughter with terms that are less than endearing. Both media set the entertainment world abuzz as fans were left shaking their heads in wonderment.
In her article "When good actors do bad things," Salon.com columnist Stephanie Zacharek tackles the issue, debating whether an artist's personality can be separated from his talent, especially when he's revealed to be a hotheaded bully. In the case of Baldwin, Zacharek falls on the side of ignoring his trespasses as long as he keeps entertaining her. She sets her bright line at something more heinous, something akin to murder, before she will turn her back on him. A father mercilessly railing against a young daughter isn't enough to warrant her personal boycott. Which is why she laments Baldwin's decision to leave his present role on "30 Rock" to try to work out his issues with his daughter.
Here she states: "But while I'm sorry that Baldwin said those hotheaded things to his daughter (and I'm sorry that his daughter will probably suffer more from the fallout than any other player here), I'm much sorrier to hear that he doesn't want to act anymore. Sure, maybe I'd feel "better" about Baldwin if I could believe that he's a perfect dad. But if I'm suffering through a crap movie -- like "Running With Scissors," or "Along Came Polly," or "Ghosts of Mississippi," to name three of many -- and Alec Baldwin shows up, I don't really care what kind of a dad he is. I'm just glad to see him. He's doing his job, and I, as a moviegoer (or, in the case of "30 Rock," TV viewer), am doing mine."
So what is the bright line for a fan, a moviegoer, a television viewer, who has to decide whether to continue patronizing the talent of someone whose mask has been peeled away, revealing an ogre, monster or something equally heinous, beneath? What is the one sin that is unforgiveable where we as the entertainees can no longer be entertained? The bright lines vary. As does my own.
Personally, I'm skeptical about Baldwin's decision. I feel it is more a PR move than that of a repentent father's true lament. Yes, he may feel sorry about what he said to his daughter (although rumors abound about other Baldwin tantrums); but I have a suspicion that he is sorrier that he was actually caught saying it.
Will I ever enjoy Baldwin again? Well, to be honest, I wasn't a big fan, anyway so it's no skin off my nose.
I've read and heard comments following the controversial blowups by Michael Richards, Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson, wherein erstwhile fans state they can no longer enjoy the actors' works because the actors' true personalities would now color the enjoyment the fans once got from watching their movies or shows. There are a few singers I no longer listen to given some criminal acts on their part.
In the case of David O. Russell, director of Spanking the Monkey, Flirting with Disaster and Three Kings, Slate offers up the scanned page of an interview George Clooney gave to Playboy substantiating rumors about Russell's abuse of his crew on the set of Three Kings. Clooney reveals that at one point, the abuse became physical as the temperamental and frustrated Russell grabbed a male crew member around the throat, and when Clooney came to the man's rescue, Russell tried to goad Clooney into a fight (with some success until other crew members pulled Clooney back). On the Huckabees set, Lily Tomlin took most of the abuse, which was mostly verbal. In subsequent interviews, though, she has said she would gladly work with Russell again; Clooney says he will never work with Russell again (even though it was Clooney who originally campaigned to work on the movie and was not Russell's first choice). Different experiences, different bright lines.
So will Russell's fans be able to separate the meglomaniac from the visionary genius who was the first to institute 3-dimensional graphics illustrating the devastation of an internal wound - a procedure now popularized by the CSI shows? I suspect for some, Russell's antics are par for the course. With genius comes a measure of madness.
At times, it appears art does trump the artist, even when the sin is unpardonable. And Hollywood is one of the most forgiving when it comes to its own. Thus, the 2002 award for Best Director is given to child-rapist Roman Polanski (in absentia) for The Pianist. In this case, it seems moviegoers were also forgiving as the film's revenues weren't hurt by Polanski's despicable past. Maybe outrage ebbs with time.
In 1999, the Academy awarded late director Elia Kazan a Lifetime Achievement Award for his works, even though in the 1950s, Kazan named eight of his friends to the infamous House Committee of Un-American Activities overseen by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Some of the people Kazan named never worked again; at least one committed suicide. Still, there were those in the audience who applauded when Kazan accepted his award decades later.
Hollywood turns a blind eye to dubious works if they show even an inkling of ingenuity or genius. Thus the racist epic Birth of a Nation is lauded as one of the most important films ever made. And Nabokov's Lolita, almost a treatise on pedophilia, is lauded as great literature because the prose is lovely even as it depicts a 40-something man screwing a 12-year-old girl. Hollywood translated the book into film, not once, but twice.
Sometimes, though, forgiving the artist his demons takes a tragic turn. When author Norman Mailer saw promise in the letters sent to him by convicted murderer Jack Abbott, he firmly supported Abbott's parole from prison. The letters were subsequently compiled into a book entitled Into the Belly of the Beast. Mailer wrote in the preface: "came an intellectual, a radical, a potential leader, a man obsessed with a vision of more elevated human relations in a better world that revolution could forge." Abbott was released from prison and received many accolades by the literati, despite the protests of his original victim's family. Several weeks after the publication of his book, though, Abbott murdered a young writer during a quarrel. He used a knife he just happened to have on him. He was returned to prison where twenty years later, he hung himself.
So, should art trump the artist? Or a better question would be: should basic morality trump the art? In some cases, it definitely should. In other cases, the issue remains a matter of individual bright lines. And those bright lines vary.
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