Thursday, September 24, 2009

Drawing a Line: A Problem for Film Fans

(Note: the following is my musings on a topic of interest to myself and current reflections on a recent issue. My goal in this was twofold: get the issue off my chest and to hear the responses of other individuals on the issue)

Let's talk about Roman Polanski for a second. There is no question that the man is a talented filmmaker, and has produced some very important and influential films over his career. Chinatown is one of the best neo-noirs made, and Knife in the Water is a tense masterpiece. As for The Pianist, it is one the best films about World War II made in the past twenty years.

That said, I own none of his work on disc and do my best to avoid it when I can, because the fact is, the man not only committed rape, but refused to pay the price for his crime by fleeing the country.

Yes, I know there are some issues surrounding the victim and the trial that are brought up to defend Polanski, but none of those address the fact that Polanski did commit the crime, and as an adult, should have known better. As great a filmmaker as he was and is, what he has done as a person taints his cinematic legacy. If I need to study his films, fine, but I am certainly not going to go out of my way to watch his work.

But you may ask then, what about John Landis? Didn't a man and children die because of him? Do you not watch his films? From my own research into the topic, I was only able to come to the following answers to those questions: Vic Morrow and two children did died on Landis’ set. The circumstances surrounding that event are murky, with several individuals other than Landis possibly being at fault. Landis was tried along with several others, and found not guilty. Given all of this, I had to decide if I felt comfortable watching Landis’ work, and came to the conclusion that I was.

Considering these two cases, it lays out the problem that film fans can face: how does one draw the line on issues involving the filmmakers themselves, and the viewing of their work? Am I a hypocrite for watching while refusing to watch Polanski films?

At this point, one would perhaps note that the art is separate from the artist, and that the artist should not be taken into account when viewing the art. Perhaps, when considered in strictly artistic terms, this can be the case. The film itself is but a mere object, separate from its creator, and belonging to many more than just one individual, from actors and writers, financial backers and also the audience.

What of the financial considerations in watching a film though? Does the purchase of a ticket or DVD not support the artist through royalties and possible future work? But do those who work on a film that are not the figure of contention deserve to lose out financially because of one man? Perhaps one does blame John Landis for Vic Morrow’s death, but Dan Aykroyd was one of the creators and writers of The Blues Brothers. Is it his fault that Landis may have been the cause of a man’s death, and is it Aykroyd’s fault for working with the man after the fact, especially when Landis was cleared of charges?

The truth is, if one examined the lives of everyone involved in the production of a film and used that as the basis to watch anything at all, chances are no one would watch anything. For example, if one refused to watch anything with someone who used drugs worked on the film, just about every film in existence would be off limits. What if the grip on a film was a murderer? Would their serving or not serving a prison sentence make any difference to the decision one would make towards watching the film? Or does it only matter when it is key talent: the director, the actors, the writers, and the producers?

It is a choice we all have to make and one where there is no real right or wrong answer. The only way I can address it is to try and satisfy myself with what I feel I can live with, as well all do. No more, no less. What one of us may be able to feel comfortable with will not be the same as another. I know of people who refuse to watch John Landis films based on the death of Vic Morrow. Am I a monster in their eyes for watching and owning his work? Not that they have ever said.

The main instigator of this post has been the recent release of Alfonso Cuarón's video for Autism Speaks, a video which I WILL NOT link to. The video is, frankly, a disgusting piece of work that vilifies autistic individuals and supports a group which ignores the very group of people which it claims to represent. It is a work of pure, inaccurate propaganda, a video that, had it appeared in a Paul Verhoeven film would have been considered a parody on special interest group videos. Sadly, it is all too real and meant in all seriousness.

Alfonso Cuarón, like Polanski, is a gifted filmmaker. Children of Men is an amazing bit of cinema, both in terms of storytelling and sheer technical achievement. However, while what Cuaron has done is not illegal, it is something that has the ability to have dire consequences for the people it misrepresents. Thus, I am once again left with a choice: to watch, or not watch, his work, or even give consideration to his work.

Now, I am not autistic, and I am sure as heck not even going to try and claim that I speak those with autism. I am also not calling for a boycott of Cuaron’s work. I do, however, know autistic individuals and know their feelings on the matter. I also know what it would mean to given consideration/money/etc. for his work would mean for myself, personally.

Maybe in a few years something will change. Maybe Cuaron will regret this video and do his best to try and correct this error of judgement. Till such a time however, his work just won't exist for me.

That's his loss and mine.


  1. I think I'd still like to see Chinatown, mostly because of its reputation and the contributions that others made in the making of the film (particularly Jack Nicholson).

  2. If you are going to see one Polanski film, Chinatown is the one.

    From a historical perspective, one cannot ignore Polanski, much like one cannot really ignore the historical importance of a film like BIRTH OF A NATION. Thankfully, Polanski's work has never been that vile on screen. Too bad about his off screen behaviour.

  3. I'd like you to expand upon your discussion of Cuaron's video. I went searching for it myself and didn't find anything in the piece that vilified autistic people. I suppose if you stop watching it halfway through it might seem cynical, but it struck me ultimately positive, showing families that have been effected by autism refusing to let it control their lives.

  4. Hi Andrew, I'm an autistic who watched the Cuaron video all the way through and was thoroughly disgusted by it.

    Why am I disgusted? Because it vilifies autistic people. Yes, the part with the parents at the end is optimistic, but it's optimistic based upon the definition and representation of autism in the beginning part of the video.
    And throughout the entire video, and in previous videos that Autism Speaks has produced, not once has an autistic person has had a say in what it's like to be autistic.

    Never mind that thoroughout the entire history of Autism Speaks' existance, it has NEVER considered nor regarded anything that any autistic person has said. Autistic people are not allowed to join in the Board of Directors, are not allowed in any of the decision making process and are outright ignored. The only autistic words on the site are a few token pieces on an out-of-the-way page called "In Their Words" on the site.
    Now, as an organization who claims to speak for autistic people, how is this representing us or advocating in our best interests?

    I'll tell you; it's not. From the start, Autism Speaks has been about making sure autistic people are not born. Period. And they would rather we didn't exist at all.

    If you'd like to know more, here's a couple of links for you.

    Thomas C. Weiss' article on Disabled World, titled "Autism Speaks - Friend or Foe?"

    a list documenting many of the autistic responses to "I am Autism"

  5. Mr. Forbes, I never could have explained it as well as Corina has, or in as much detail. I hope this is helpful in understanding the response to the video!


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