As the news came out this week regarding Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow’s accusation towards her father, I wondered if this affects how I feel about Woody Allen the artist. Can I support a man, artistically, who has this terrible accusation rolling about?
Currently, Midnight in Paris sits waiting to be viewed at my house. I really do love this Woody Allen movie in which Owen Wilson is magically transported to the Roaring Twenties and the ex-pats era. He meets the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. Giants. Gods, really, in the literary world. To have Gertrude Stein edit your manuscript is a dream come true.
My head hurts as I think about this because I feel the same way about Roman Polanski. He is a brilliant film director, The Pianist was/is a masterpiece that made us understand the suffering of the Holocaust even more deeply. And yet, Polanski has not been in this country for over 30 years because he is accused of drugging and molesting a 13-year-old girl. Other girls/women have made similar claims against him. Even being a Holocaust survivor cannot gild that fact over.
Pedophiles. We scorn them, hate them and never want to believe their victims. Who could do such a thing to a young child?
Who wants to believe that a priest, a coach, a trusted friend, a parent could ever do such a wrong to a child?
We don’t so we give that person a pass. They move on to a different job, a different family, a different child.
What about Philip Seymour Hoffman? Does our image of him as an actor/artist change because now we know about his heroin addiction? We know on the morning he was supposed to be picking up his kids for a day of fun, he started it off with getting high. We can laugh about parents who need wine to deal with their kids. But really, did Phil need that high so badly? Was he a bad person because the fix was sooooo important to him – beyond kids, beyond personal relationships, beyond work?
It gives me flashbacks to Heath Ledger – so talented, so young, so driven. His were legal prescription drugs but still, too many are too many. Like Hoffman, Ledger and his companion, Michelle Williams, were on the outs because of his addictions. Knowing these people cannot function without their drugs, does that change my mind about their work, their artistry?
The same goes for Hemingway. I know his reputation – the boozing, the women, the multiple wives. But as I read A Movable Feast in which Hemingway examines his Paris years, I find myself liking him and enjoying his writing. I want to get to know him better, I want to know his opinion about other writers. While I dislike Hemingway personally, I see what draws people to him. He has style, he likes fun, and he is not afraid to get into a fight. When Hemingway writes about why a young boy should always carry a knife, it makes me realize his homophobia might have had some real basis to it.
Back to the original question – Does an artist’s personal life affect how we view their art?
As much as I want to say ‘yes,’ the truth may be more of a ‘no.’ I enjoy the work of Allen and Polanski, of Hoffman and Ledger. Their abilities have a certain pull, a certain truth about them. I would have never said I feel the same about Hemingway till I started reading this memoir.
When it comes to the person, I cannot say the same. Allen and Polanski have such allegations that are reprehensible. Hoffman, Ledger, and Hemingway fought against a different demon – one of addiction that most will tell you is a battle royale with addiction being the victor most of the time. The latter three I can excuse or make exceptions. But of the first two, I cannot.
I probably will watch movies by Allen or Polanski again but I will always think about their predatory behavior as well and wonder how this has affected the movie I am watching.
If that is the case, then the answer will always be yes. I might be able to make excuses for some. But knowing what I know, I will always look for clues of those unearthed secrets in their works. I will wonder if there weren’t signs of it before the accusation.
I will always wonder.