Separating the Art from the Artist or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Films

I’m not saying this to be controversial and I’ll try my best not to come across as pretentious or stray too far off-topic, but this whole Ian Watkins thing has got me thinking. In case you didn’t know, Ian Watkins, former lead singer of Welsh band Lostprophets has been sentenced to at least 29 years in prison after pleading guilty to numerous child abuse offenses. It’s some dark, upsetting shit. So- why is this important or even necessary to talk about on a knockabout, sweary film blog? Have I lost my goddamn mind? Well,  I think it illustrates my point rather well. Y’see, there’s been an understandable backlash with now former fans of the band destroying merchandise and vowing to never listen to their music again. The band’s hometown of Pontypridd have even removed a paving stone featuring their lyrics in response to the news and pressure from local politicians. A quick Twitter search of “Lostprophets” will throw up hundreds of results, all echoing similar sentiments. Ignoring the fact that there are other innocent members of the band who are being tarred with the same brush, I think this particular kind of reaction is understandable, but still over the top and knee-jerky. I’ve heard similar reactions and promises of massive cleansing purges when other celebrity/ artists’ names are dragged through the mud. I think it’s a damn shame to throw away something that means something to you.

I don’t claim to be anything approaching knowledgeable on the subject of art. It’s such a broad topic that I would be foolish to even attempt to start postulating on what art is and what it ultimately all means. I simply don’t have the brain power, quite honestly. However, like most people, I know what it means to me. I feel that once art is in the public domain, it belongs to the public, not in terms of legality and copyright, but in terms of the significance people impress upon it. Speaking specifically about films, this is why a lot of people are still up in arms about the changes George Lucas made to the Star Wars films. He may own the rights, but people grew up knowing every line, re-enacting every lightsaber fight and making up their own stories with the action figures. They lived it and made it theirs. It means a surprising amount to people and to change that and instigate various “fixes” could be seen as invalidating peoples’ childhood love for the series. A lot of people still give Tom Cruise a hard time for being a Scientologist. The way I see it, his personal life has nothing to do with the people he portrays on screen. Plus, no matter how you feel about it, that is the way he’s chosen to live his life. You may not see it as a legitimate religion or a creed worth following, but there’s still no reason for that to change how you react to any character he’s playing. Saying something like “Tiny L.Ron enthusiast Tom Cruise is back with another Mission Impossible flick”, as I’ve seen on various review sites, is just as bad as calling a Christian actor a “Bible basher”. It shouldn’t factor into the equation. I don’t “get” Scientology at all, but it doesn’t colour my view of Ethan Hunt, Jack Reacher or Les Grossman. It really shouldn’t be an issue, but unfortunately it is for a lot of people.

It’s tough because a lot of the time, celebrities create an off-screen persona for themselves which usually ties into their performance roles for the purposes of promotion and advertising. Being the current James Bond, people expect Daniel Craig to always be dapper when out and about and is often dressed for public appearances by whichever suitmaker is sponsoring the Bond films. Scarlett Johansson is seen as glamorous and often plays sultry characters, so she’s fronted lots of perfume and make-up campaigns. These companies are selling you a lifestyle and will use stunt-casting to get that point across. It’s all artifice though. This may all seem eye-rollingly obvious to you, but I think it bears repeating. How many times have you heard of a soap opera actor being booed in the street or hit with handbags because their character is involved in a storyline where they’re cheating on their partner or something similar?

Sean Penn once got apocalyptically drunk, tied up Madonna and beat the shit out of her repeatedly for 9 hours. Did that inform my opinion of him in things like Milk and Mystic River? No. Does it inform my view of him as a person? Definitely. Should I retroactively take back the laughs I got from Sleeper and Annie Hall because Woody Allen is a weirdo who has done some fucked up things in his personal life? No, even if that was possible. Once you’ve watched/listened to/otherwise interacted with art, if you end up connecting with it, that’s all that matters as far as I’m concerned. Your personal reaction to a piece of art, regardless of the originating artist’s intent or way of thinking, is just as valid. I think Morrissey is an outspoken bellend, but that doesn’t mean I have to hate his solo work or any output by The Smiths. I can separate the art from the artist, but it’s something I had to learn. You may find your view of the product tainted and that’s fine. That’s your prerogative.

I have fond memories of the film Halloween, because the first time I watched it at a party, it was just after my first proper kiss. I spent the entire film barely able to concentrate on Michael Myers’ impressive knifework because my heart was in my throat and I had a massive smile on my face as I cuddled up to the poor deluded girl next to me. I remember watching Jurassic Park on VHS at 6 am at my grandmother’s house and instantly connecting with Tim, the dinosaur-obsessed kid who won’t shut up, because he mirrored how I was at the time. I also remember revelling in the fact that I was watching a proper “grown-up” film, despite it scaring the living shit out of me. Pixar’s Ratatouille will always have a special significance to me because after a long time of being depressed and unable to enjoy anything I previously found pleasurable, it was the first film that I managed to enjoy in spite of everything. It gave me hope for the future and another reason to fight to get better. These are all things the filmmakers couldn’t have possibly intended, but they’re undeniably part of the films for me. Even if all the actors/directors/whoever responsible for the films mentioned above were convicted of terrible crimes, they still can’t take those things away from me. Thank Christ too.

Anyway, that’s it. S’all I got to say. I just felt like I needed to vent and possibly have something to point to next time a loved actor/director/musician/whatever does something reprehensible and people insist on throwing the baby out with the bathwater. No easy answers or wry sign-offs. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

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