Can You Hate the Artist and Still Love the Art?

Take the Money and Run

The residents of the film world and beyond are currently shouting at one another in an indignant tone as lines are drawn and actors, pundits, and the general public decide to side either with Woody Allen or his estranged daughter Dylan Farrow over allegations that the former sexually assaulted the latter when she was seven. For a sampling of both sides of the argument I invite you to read Farrow’s open letter and Robert Weide’s defence of Allen. The situation has reached fever pitch and online discussions have reached the point where not having an opinion is seen as just as harmful as taking the wrong side.

I am not going to even attempt to touch on choosing a side in this matter. What I am going to talk about will probably seem trivial in the circumstances but after all this is an arts blog and not a place to debate who is or isn’t guilty of a crime. I hope that discussing this does not come across as ignoring the real issue at stake or seem offensive to anyone. The whole situation is a distressing one and certainly doesn’t need me weighing in and wielding an uninformed opinion. What I want to focus on is the very first sentence of Dylan Farrow’s open letter:

What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?

Farrow poses the question at the start and end of her letter in the hope that we will reconsider whether you can indeed have a favourite film if the director is indeed a sex offender. Frankly… I don’t know. What you are reading is not an opinion piece about separating a person from their work nor a passionate essay about the intrinsic link between and artist and their output. Instead I am genuinely asking what has been running through my head the past few days; can you hate an artist and still love their art?

If you read any number of comment threads tearing the reputation of Woody Allen apart then the answer is a simple “no”. For those who believe that Woody Allen sexually assaulted his infant daughter the very concept of a favourite Allen film is invalid and his entire body of work is never to be seen again. In reality Hollywood in particular has a long history of sidestepping an individual’s indecencies when their artistic merit is seen as substantially worthwhile.

Roman Polanski was a well-respected director in the 1960s and 70s and received Oscar nominations for the Mia Farrow starring Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 and Chinatown in 1974. In February 1978 Polanski was to be found fleeing America having plead guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl. Surely his career was over at this point? A scandal of this magnitude and moral repulsiveness is not the sort of thing someone can come back from.

Three years later and Roman Polanski was nominated for his third Oscar for Best Director and since fleeing the US he has made a total of twelve films, won an Oscar, and worked with top draw actors such as Kate Winslet as little as three years ago. While Polanski is unable to ever work in Hollywood or risk inevitable arrest he continues his career as an acclaimed director. For the most part the world seems to be able to separate the man from his work and celebrate his undeniable skill as a director far apart from any acts committed in his past.

Roman Polanski is not alone in this category of artists who are vilified and celebrated in the same breath. Alfred Hitchcock is one of cinema’s most applauded auteurs but only last year we were treated to two dramas about the directing giant. The first was the TV movie The Girl in which Hitchcock was portrayed as a predatory, vindictive, and downright abusive figure who we were encouraged to revile as much as we used to revere him. Mere months later, in the more light-hearted and fluffy cinematic release Hitchcock, Alfred is shown as a more loveable figure; one whose perversions are little more than some jolly voyeurism and nothing to get too upset about. Alfred Hitchcock films remain amongst the greatest films ever made. If he truly were a monster would this change a thing?

The Oscars are Hollywood’s biggest platform for celebrating the achievements of the English-speaking film community and it is at this ceremony that Woody Allen’s latest film Blue Jasmine could potentially win three awards next month. But if you cast your gaze further down the list of nominees you will notice that he is not the only celebrated artist with allegations sitting against their name. We have the actor questioned by police after allegedly assaulting his mother and sister, a director who was accused of groping his teenage transgender niece, and a second actor constantly surrounded by rumours of domestic assault. It doesn’t seem to matter what you are accused of, when the films you make are good enough then all is forgiven.

I myself am no different. When debating recently the various merits of Blue is the Warmest Colour the topic of the alleged mistreatment of actresses Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux at the hands of the tyrannical director Abdellatif Kechiche arose and I found myself saying that no matter how cruelly the cast and crew were treated it didn’t take away from how beautiful the resulting film was. But was I right to say that?

Much as I want to separate the alleged actions of a film-maker from the films he makes, should I be doing this? When an artist makes a work of art in any medium they are putting a piece of themselves in it. The art is inherently linked to the artist so can you really praise one and prosecute the other? I have a confession to make: I have a great love for the films of Woody Allen but in light of the ongoing allegations I don’t know if that is OK any more.

I need answers, can you hate the artist and still love the art?

Psycho Nacirema at Pace London

Psycho Nacirema

Image from Psycho Nacirema © 2013, James Franco, courtesy Pace Gallery

James Franco is not your usual Hollywood actor. Not content with starring in blockbuster films, including Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, Franco is also studying for PhD, has taught at four different universities, and took on a recurring role in US soap General Hospital as a form of performance art. At the age of 35 James Franco has an intimidating academic and artistic scope.

For his latest artistic endeavour Franco has teamed up with Scottish artist Douglas Gordon to produce an exhibition inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the 1920’s Arbuckle scandal entitled Psycho Nacirema and hosted at Pace London. The exhibition features a variety of multi-media installations which combine both the fictional drama and the real life tragedy. Aspects from the film such as the iconic neon sign and that shower scene are recreated and reinterpreted.

“Film is the medium that employs all art forms, but it is contained within the screen. We take this multi-form idea and pull it through the screen, so that the different forms are once again fully dimensional and a new nexus of interaction and significance is created. In this show, we go back to the original locations and images of Psycho and alter them so that once again the viewer’s relationship with the material changes. One becomes an actor when interacting with this work. Film becomes raw material and is sculpted into new work.” – James Franco, May 2013

As a fan of both James Franco and Psycho this exhibition intrigues me no end. Psycho Nacirema runs from 6th July 2013 until 3rd August 2013 and Pace London at 6-10 Lexington Street is open to the public from Monday to Saturday, from 10 AM to 6 PM:

Rebecca Sound Board – Hitchcock at the BFI

I am apparently completely powerless when it comes to trying to resist the draw of the Southbank and £5 tickets on a Tuesday to watch classic Hitchcock on one of the best screens in London: NFT1. The BFI’s Genius of Hitchcock season rolls on and last week I treated myself to Rebecca. The psychological noir thriller was Hitchcock’s first Hollywood film and received a total of 11 Oscar nominations.

I could go on about the dramatic acting, heavy-handed exposition, clever camera work, adorable dog, or the lesbian subtext that was so sub it passed me by, but instead I want to focus on how much we laughed. This is a film first released in 1940 and over the years the dialogue has aged somewhat. The characters are wonderfully curt with one another and what may have been seen as romantic 70 years ago comes across as slightly patronising now.

To celebrate the numerous lines we have been quoting since the screening I have put together Mild Concern‘s first sound board. Click on the various quotes below to hear lines of dialogue from Rebecca completely out of context. Rest assured, this is much more amusing for me than it is for you.

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One Might Call Marnie a Sex Mystery…

During all the Hitchcock fuss we’ve been having lately I stumbled across a real gem that had me giggling at my desk. Below is the trailer for Hitchcock’s 1964 film Marnie. The film may be a romantic thriller but Hitchcock has somehow managed to put together a trailer that is nothing short of hilarious. Allow yourself a few minutes distraction and let Alfred Hitchcock introduce you to Marnie in his own unique style:

I can’t decide what my favourite moment is; Hitchcock seeming slightly disapproving of the characters or him claiming to not understand what is happening in his own film.

Excuse me while I watch it one more time…

The 39 Steps and The Lodger – Hitchcock at the BFI

In case you’ve somehow failed to notice the BFI is currently running The Genius of Hitchcock season at its home on the Southbank. Every single Hitchcock film is being shown on the big screen over the next few months. The BFI were kind enough to invite us down to watch Hitchcock’s early silent film The Lodger, newly restored by the BFI, and I even paid (a whopping £5 on a Tuesday) to watch a previously unseen by me classic The 39 Steps. Now read on for a little gushing and a few attempts at sounding intelligent.

The 39 Steps
Having only ever seen the comedy stage play before (a fantastic show in its own right) I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to appreciate the film properly and take it as seriously as I might had I not seen it as a farce first. I have to confess that as the film began I was giggling at some scenes that may have been intended to be serious as my mind flickered back to their theatrical comedy counterparts but as the film rolled on I realised that it was OK, Hitchcock had intended the film to be funny.

When you are watching two people on the run from the police struggling to make it over a fence hampered by the fact that they are handcuffed together there is nothing to do but laugh. Hitchcock is a man with a sense of humour and any reverence for his body of work shouldn’t get in the way of that.

The 39 Steps is Hitchcock through and through. A man find himself on the run for a crime he doesn’t commit. There are train rides and sexual tension alongside what turned out to be moments of genuine comedy. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, all the better on the big screen, and only fell asleep briefly.

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog
One of the joys of The Genius of Hitchcock is seeing some of his earliest silent films restored and with a newly written score. The Lodger is Hitchcock’s third finished film, made way back in 1926, and is the story of a young man suspected of being The Avenger a Jack the Ripper style serial killer.

What is remarkable is how happy Hitchcock is to turn the serial killer into a MacGuffin. Rather than this being a story about the killings themselves it is about suspicion, persecution, and a woman choosing between the man her parents want her to be with and the new man in her life with whom she shares a genuine connection.

The film was a delight. Hitchcock was surprisingly playful in his direction experimenting with editing, camera angles and title cards. So often when I think of early cinema I expect it to be an unsophisticated mess, forgetting that these were the films that discovered the techniques defining cinema to this day.

The film is rightly said to set up many of Hitchcock’s themes and styles. Again we have a man accused of a crime and forced to prove his innocence whilst falling in love, we have Hitchcock’s first on-screen cameo, and there is the subtle frisson of sexuality Hitchcock is such a fan of. Hitchcock him self called The Lodger the first real Hitchcock film.

The original score is for the most part perfect. It fits the tone and era of the film, managing to switch between sinister and playful several times within a single scene. There are only two weak points when the scores segues into slightly folksy modern ballads. The sudden presence of contemporary music was completely jarring and really took me out of the film. Other than these two flaws the film has been expertly restored and I didn’t fall asleep once.

The 39 Steps runs at the BFI until 25th August, The Lodger until 23rd August, and The Genius of Hitchcock continues at the BFI until October.

BFI’s The Genius of Hitchcock

As we have briefly mentioned before the BFI is currently running a very exciting series of films down on the Southbank (in London, everyone else keep moving); The Genius of Hitchcock season.

Mirroring London’s theatres celebration of Shakespeare The Genius of Hitchcock season forms part of the London 2012 Festival and aims to celebrate one of Britain’s greatest artists. The justification being that with the Olympic Park situated in Stratford the BFI have chosen to focus on one of East London’s most notable residents (Hitchcock, pay attention). Whatever the reasoning may be the result is all of Hitchcock’s works being shown on the big screen so who are we to argue?

Take a peek at the BFI website and marvel at the array of Hitchcockian delights on offer. The season runs from August to October and tickets for all three months are on sale now.

Hitchcock is a true master and this season offers the opportunity to both see personal favourite (The Birds, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, etc.), catch those classic which have so far escaped you (The 39 Steps, Rope, Dial M for Murder, etc.), and even catch some of his earlier, silent work. Alongside the screening are talks for anyone wanting to truly get their film-geek in full flow for Hitchcock.

Go! Buy tickets! Hitchcock is a genius and whichever of his films you prefer, they are showing it. What more do you want? It’s the perfect way to join in with Olympic fever without ever watching any sport.

Hitchcock/Hopkins Face/Off

Following in the recent footsteps of Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, and… erm… Joseph Gordon-Levitt as kinda-sort-of Bruce Willis, People have our first look at Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock. You can barely recognise him under all those chins.

Hopkins will be playing Hitchcock in the film Hitchcock which follows the making of the classic Hitchcockian Hitchcock thriller Psycho as made more obvious in the original (slightly clunky) title of Alfred Hitchcock And The Making Of Psycho.

Hitchcock also stars the poor man’s Judi Dench Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel, Toni Colette and James D’Arcy. D’Arcy has a name that sounds familiar until you realise the only time you’ve seen him was in Secret Diary of a Call Girl falling in love with an escort so maybe he’s not the one you were thinking of after all.

Hitchcock started filming last week and will be in cinemas when it’s bloody well ready.

Hitchcock at the London 2012 Festival

rescue the hitchcock 9

Today the London 2012 people announced the programme for the cultural festival that will be accompanying all of the Olympics palavar.

Setting aside our concerns about how on earth anyone will be able to move in London come next summer, we’re excited to see that the film highlights include three of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent films, which will play as one-off events and accompanied by live performances of newly commissioned scores. Although less Rob da Bank, more full orchestra.

These screenings are the result of the BFI’s Rescue the Hitchcock 9 project, which is committed to restoring the master filmmaker’s surviving silent films. If you want to give them a hand, you can donate here.

Out Now – 2nd April 2010

We can move on from all the Kick Ass and How to Train Your Dragon release date confusion as today films come out for reals.

Clash of the Titans
All you really need to know has already been said; here is the pro and the con. I’m not seeing it because it’s 3D near me and I’m making a tiny little stand. Titans will clash, enough said.

Remember Me
Wooooo, it’s Edward from Twilight!!1! How dare Claire from Lost be kissing him, he’s Bella’s! This looks bad, saved possibly by the lovely Emilie De Ravin but I’m not going to risk it.

Psycho (limited release)
Psycho is a good film and is being re-released in some cinemas, though lord knows where. If it’s near you go and see it, it genuinely scared the crap out of me when I was far too young to be watching it.

Double Take (limited release)
I don’t remotely understand this film. It involves manipulated clips of Hitchcock along with footage from the era and a Hitchcock double to create a plot about a paranoid history professor. I want to see it just so I can understand it.

Samson & Delilah (limited release)
An Australian film following two young aboriginal teens who steal a car and go on a journey. Interesting.