The Art vs. the Artist

There’s been a lot of press lately regarding the sexual abuse allegations made against Woody Allen by Dylan Farrow. While I must admit I have not read enough about the 1992-1993 custody battle and molestation charges to claim any expert opinion on the subject, I’d like to give my two cents on one aspect of the matter.

It is my understanding that there is no physical evidence of the supposed attack on Dylan. That being said… I can’t claim to know who is telling the truth and who is not. As a moviegoer and aspiring professional critic, all I can claim knowledge of are the products of Woody Allen’s cinematic and literary output and my analysis of those things. When I was a young child in the late 1990s, my love for Play It Again, Sam (1972), Broadway Danny Rose (1984) and Radio Days (1987) was a pure kind of enjoyment; it was not sullied by any awareness of Woody Allen’s personal life. I only knew that the films were funny, well-written and filled with wonderful acting ensembles. At that age, I may not have even been aware of who Soon-Yi is.

The line between art and artist is a tenuous one. I freely admit that Roman Polanski is a master filmmaker. If I could direct anything close to the quality of Repulsion (1965), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Chinatown (1974) and The Pianist (2002), I would count myself blessed. That does not mean that I am OK with what Polanski was found guilty of in 1977. Obviously I don’t approve of Leni Riefenstahl’s disgusting collaboration with Nazis either, but there are numerous reasons why Triumph of the Will (1935) is an important film, not only because of historical context but also because of its technical achievements, particularly in the film’s cinematographic elements. Let’s also not forget that directors John Huston and John Singleton both killed innocent civilians with their cars, but I still champion The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and Boyz n the Hood (1991). (Howard Hughes is guilty of the same offense, but I haven’t yet seen the films that he directed.)

The ongoing Allen-Farrow arguments remind me of a 2003 op-ed piece from the Los Angeles Times, written by Samantha Geimer, the victim in Polanski’s rape trial:

“…I believe that Mr. Polanski and his film [The Pianist] should be honored according to the quality of the work. What he does for a living and how good he is at it have nothing to do with me or what he did to me. I don’t think it would be fair to take past events into consideration. I think that the academy members should vote for the movies they feel deserve it. Not for people they feel are popular.”

In a Slate essay published today, screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, who worked with Polanski on the film Death and the Maiden (1994), wrote about his conflicting feelings regarding working for a known rapist and struggling with his own personal history of having been sexually abused as a child. Ultimately, Yglesias concedes, “actors, writers, and producers are not cops, judges, or jurors. In the work they choose to do, writers, actors, producers, and directors can be held accountable solely for its quality and its ideas.” When Cate Blanchett wins her Best Actress Oscar for Blue Jasmine – as I am certain that that will indeed happen – the Academy will be rewarding her for what the voters deem the best performance among the five chosen nominees. (They reached that conclusion months ago, anyway.) They are saying that they love the work done by Cate Blanchett, not that they condone crimes of a horrific nature. Or at least that’s what I believe is the case. I hope that I can continue to appreciate his films and humor.

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2 thoughts on “The Art vs. the Artist

  1. In regards to there being no physical evidence of the molestation, yes this is true. But really what physical evidence would there be for child molestation? People are all too willing (and I am not saying this is what you are doing) to say that we will never know what happened that day. In reality, in this case of he said she said, you have to make a value judgement on who you believe. And I saying that we will never know, really lets Allen off the hook and more importantly tells Dylan Farrow that you don’t believe her story. I believe her. It’s worth noting that only around 3% of claims of sexual assault made by children are false accusations. But more than 3% of the hand wringing and saying we will never know what happen is geared toward absolving Allen.

    I think there is a very personal issue. For me, I don’t think that the artist and the art can entirely be separated. I for one will not be watching any more Woody Allen films. I don’t wish to honour someone who is (almost certainly) a child molester, who is now in a relationship with someone who was essentially his adopted daughter (a sickening betrayal of trust, that I have only just begun to really think about deeply) and who has made numerous jokes about sexual abuse and child molestation through his work. I also don’t want to put a dollar in someone’s pockets who has done all of those things.

    I hope none of this comes across as an attack on you or your position. I am just communicating my feelings on the matter. For too long I have let Allen off the hook for various things, by watching and appreciating his films. As a personal decision, I will no longer do that (I will watch his films that are part of the 1001, as that is something I committed to a long time ago and includes films by plenty of heinous people), but nothing that he will possible profit from.

    All this in the spirit of conversation.

    • It’s OK, I appreciate your stance. I know it’s a thorny subject and I don’t expect anyone to feel forced to change their mind on the matter. But in this particular case I feel that there is an element of ambiguity – of knowledge that will never be resolved – and so I don’t feel that I can concretely state that I know who is telling the truth and who is not. The accusations could very well be true, which would obviously be horrific, but then again, they may not be. I guess what I was trying to parse in my writing is that there are so many layers in the narratives told by both sides that it is by no means a black and white story.

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