SPOILED GENIUS: Does controversy around Woody Allen affect his art?

Photo by Jessica Miglio © 2013 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Despite the controversy surrounding its director, Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine is a film worthy of an Oscar (Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics/Mongrel Media)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I enjoyed Woody Allen’s latest film, Blue Jasmine—and I feel guilty about it. It’s not because the film was a so-called guilty pleasure, like Legally Blonde or Zoolander, and it’s certainly not the quality of the film that has left me conflicted; the film is a cleverly executed study into the slow disintegration of a woman’s mind that is lent a tour de force performance by the magnificent Cate Blanchett.

No, what has left me mulling over matters of morality is the issue of who directed this film: Woody Allen.

Now, I’m a movie viewer who doesn’t like to know the personal details of the stars’ lives, namely because I find that it detracts from the enjoyment of watching films. And I always took this stance in regards to Woody Allen. Sure, I knew he had had a weird relationship with his underage stepdaughter whom he eventually married, but I really didn’t care. It didn’t affect the way I viewed his movies.

But this all changed when I watched this year’s Golden Globe Awards, where Woody Allen was honoured with the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement. Allen’s estranged son, Ronan Farrow, commented on the award by posting the following tweet:

 

That’s when I learned the full extent of the allegations against Allen, which arose during Allen’s and Mia Farrow’s custody battle over their three children, and included the accusation that he molested his daughter Malone, who was seven years old at the time.

Allen was never found guilty, and we still live in a society where the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” is a constitutional right.

He wasn’t found guilty, so can’t I still enjoy his films?

I’ve always felt that it is possible to separate the art from the artist, namely because there are so many examples of glorious artistic achievements that have come from individuals with seriously questionable morals. The composer Richard Wagner was an anti-Semite; legendary jazz musician Miles Davis physically abused his wives; and the painter Paul Gauguin kept a thirteen-year-old mistress, just to name a few.

I don’t think it can be debated that these individuals produced great art—regardless of what sort of men they were.

I believe the same goes for Allen. He’s produced a lot of duds over the years, but he’s also produced some truly good films. Yes, it unnerves me to think that I’ve viewed and enjoyed films that may or may not be creations of a child molester. But ultimately, it doesn’t change the fact that his latest work, Blue Jasmine, is a very good film.

The ongoing debate over Woody Allen also raises some interesting questions: how can people who do (or are accused of doing, as in Allen’s case) terrible things be capable of creating beautiful art? Why do most people (audiences and Hollywood alike) seem to care so little about such heavy accusations? All of Hollywood seems to line up to work with not only Woody Allen, but also Roman Polanski, who was famously charged for drugging, raping and sodomizing a thirteen-year-old girl before fleeing the United States. It hasn’t stopped actors like Ben Kingsley, Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet from working with him (considering both Depp and Winslet have young daughters).

I don’t have the answer to these questions. But nevertheless, Blue Jasmine remains a good film. And like all art, it will probably live on long after its creator has died. In that regard, art is inherently separate from its artist. The rest is a personal judgement call.