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Monthly Archives: November 2017

Movie Crash Course: Storm Over Asia

Well, now, this wasn’t bad at all.

Produced in 1928, Storm Over Asia is ostensibly a Soviet Propaganda film – but in this case the propaganda actually takes more of a back seat to a genuinely affecting story and some surprisingly sensitive depictions of nomadic Siberian culture.  Our hero is a young Mongolian hunter and herdsman, the son of a renowned but ailing trapper who’s caught himself a beautiful silver fox skin. Dad is too ill to take it to the trade post himself, so he sends Junior to sell it in his stead – charging him not to take any less than 500 “silvers” for it.  “Enough for food for five months!” the family crows again and again.  Just as he’s about to ride off, his mother calls him back and gives him a protective amulet, one that’s just dropped out of the pocket of a visting monk.  ….Sure, she could have given it back to the monk, and did try to, but the monk actually tried to steal the fox pelt first before being chased out in disgrace, so screw him.

The young hunter heads off to the trading post expecting a thoroughly routine transaction at the colonial trading post. However, the trader overseeing things is a bit of a difficult character (or, more accurately, a greedy bigoted jerk) and pays our hero a mere pittance for the pelt.

Our hero understandably does not like this one bit, and objects.  The trader refuses to deal further. Our hero protests further. And things get so out of hand that blood is spilled.  Our hero’s friends help him slip away unnoticed just as the Cossack soldiers are riding in to keep peace, and they send him away into the mountains, urging him to stay safe.

The rest of the tale for our hero unfolds as a series of blind chance. He stumbles upon a firefight between Soviet snipers fighting Allied troops during the Soviet Civil War, saves a sniper’s life and is adopted into the Soviet cause. He falls into the hands of the Allies, who sentence him to execution because the only word in English he understands is “Moscow”.  He is then rescued when a soldier idly examines the amulet he’d gotten from his mother, and discovers it’s an ancient scroll claiming that he’s a descendant of Genghis Khan. The Allied soldiers decide to turn that to their advantage, treating his wounds (the rescue sadly came after he was shot) and making him a figurehead leader of the Mongols, using him to persuade the people to do their will.

Our hero – whose name we never learn – is a perfectly wide-eyed naif through most of the film, bumbling into events and acting purely on what he feels is right. He knows nothing of the Russian Revolution; he only saved the Soviet sniper because he was about to be pushed off a cliff.  Most of the time when others speak to him, he just looks back at them with a mild, uncomprehending smile.  But the film has the sensitivity never to treat him as a fool – simply as someone who is in a completely foreign world, and at the mercy of those who are out to exploit him.

Even better, the film went out of its way to treat his world fairly. There’s a fascinating sequence about midway through, when the Allied commandant in charge of the region pays a diplomatic visit to the palace of a nearby lama on a Buddhist feast day. After a pointed sequence showing both the commandant and his wife dressing in their finery intercut with shots of the Buddhist monks doing the same, the commandant’s entourage arrives at the lama’s compound, are welcomed with great and reverent pomp, and are ushered into the presence of the lama – who looks a little different than he did the last time they saw him.

The lama has recently transferred to his next body, his advisor drily informs the comandant.  And while he can’t talk, “he still sees all, hears all, and knows all.”

A lesser movie would have shown the commandant scoffing at this, or his own entourage snickering. But instead, the commandant salutes the child lama with all the dignity befitting the occasion.  “We regret to hear of your recent passing,” he says, with a bow, “and welcome with joy your new rebirth!”

To be fair, the scene is most likely meant to play up the folly of both religion and colonial politics, since while the whole scene is playing out, the Mongol peasants are trying to defend themselves against a cattle raid conducted by the commandant’s men. But I was so struck by the depiction of a colonizing Western man treating an Eastern religion seriously instead of just brushing it off.  It makes the commandant’s decision to turn our hero into a puppet ruler even more mean-spirited.

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Movie Crash Course: Steamboat Bill Jr.

Now this is what I needed after Un Chien Andalou – Buster Keaton!

Keaton’s plots are almost cliché by now – guy is sweet on girl, obstacles are thrown in his way, he overcomes them and gets the girl, hooray. But you don’t watch Buster Keaton for the plot twists – you watch them for his expertise in physical comedy and comic timing.

This time Keaton is the long-absent son of a grizzled steamship captain on the Mississippi. “Steamboat Bill” pilots the run-down paddlewheel boat “Stonewall Jackson”, accompanied only by an equally-grizzled first mate. Bill’s wife resides elsewhere, and Bill hasn’t seen his son since he was a baby – Bill Jr. first went to boarding school and then to college in Boston. But now, to dad’s delight, Bill Jr. is joining him to work on the boat.  And just in time too – for Bill’s rival, the entrepreneur John James King, has just rolled into town with his own much bigger and souped-up steamship, and Bill could use the help.  However – instead of the big strapping lad dad was expecting, Bill Jr. turns out to be a slight-bodied artiste wearing a beret and brandishing a ukulele.

And to add insult to injury – King’s daughter Kitty was also in school in Boston, and has also come home to Mississippi – and Bill Jr. and Kitty were college sweethearts.

Both fathers are appalled at their kids’ romance, and strive to keep them apart – King by posting members of his crew as Kitty’s chaperones, and Bill by putting an inept Junior to work on the ship.  But some serious bumbling from Junior nearly leads to a boat crash with King, making the situation worse.  Then Bill discovers Junior attempting an out-the-window escape to meet Kitty, and it’s the last straw – he buys Junior a one-way ticket back to Boston.

Junior also faces similar rejection from Kitty, who doesn’t know why he didn’t show up the previous night.  Resigned, he sets out for the train station.

But King has reached a last straw of his own – and has complained to the local police, declaring the “Stonewall Jackson” a public danger. Bill storms over to King’s office for a confrontation, and is instead himself arrested for disturbing the peace.  Junior happens to see the whole thing, and realizes it’s now up to him to save the family business (and win back Kitty, maybe).

Most of the big-ticket stunts come in an extended sequence towards the end, where a hurricane wreaks havoc on the town. Junior is inexplicably one of the only people who hasn’t made it into a storm cellar in time, and there’s ample shots of him dodging tree branches, fighting wind, and trying to take shelter in collapsing buildings.  There’s a stunt from this sequence you’ve probably seen – where an oblivious Junior is standing in front of a building, and the entire façade falls forward toward him, but an open window positioned right where he stands spares him from being crushed.  I’d always thought the window was well-sized – but it is tiny, just barely big enough to fit around him. Reportedly Keaton’s mark was a single nail driven into the ground at exactly the right spot.  If he had been even the slightest bit off, he would have been killed.

So…it kind of feels a little unsporting on my part to say that I thought this sequence went on a tiny bit long.  Keaton’s genius, and all of the stunts he does are astonishing, but…after five solid minutes of seeing him bumbling in and out of buildings and leaning into the wind and taking acrobatic tumbles I was wondering why he couldn’t find even one building that wasn’t going to collapse around him with hilarious results.

This is a minor quibble, though. The film still made me laugh out loud several times, just like Buster always does, and is proof of Buster’s comedic genius.  In fact, a couple of the loudest laughs I had came from delightfully snarky lines instead of stunts – there’s a moment when Bill and his first mate are watching Junior making total hash of a simple task, and the first mate turns to Bill, handing him a pistol.  “No jury would convict you,” he says to Bill, nodding towards Junior.

There’s also a clever tap on the fourth wall early on. When Bill first sees Junior, he takes one look and drags the lad off for a makeover, including a stop at a hat shop to replace the beret. Bill plops several hats on Junior’s head, and he rejects them all in turn.  But he seems to especially dislike the exact straw porkpie hat that had become Keaton’s trademark.

…Amusingly, he also rejects a Chaplin-esque bowler pretty quick.

Alas for Buster, Steamboat Bill Jr. got mixed reviews and was a financial flop, as was his previous film, The General. He made one more go with a film about an aspiring Hollywood cameraman (it’s not on this list) before signing up with MGM and entering the 1930’s Hollywood studio system. The studio gave him way less creative control, and also forbade him from doing his own stunts.  The fun went out of filmmaking for Buster, and he started drinking.  Fortunately he was able to shake it off after about ten years, and spent the next several years doing a series of television and theater appearances, only occasionally appearing in film; and when he did, it was usually as a simple cameo.

But then a new generation of critics discovered his work and gave him a bit of a renaissance in the 1960s. He’s the star of a Twilight Zone episode, specially written to take advantage of his comedic skill and featuring a “silent film” sequence.

A few years later, he and Lucille Ball did a wordless sketch together during a TV variety special.

He returned to film in 1965, appearing alongside Zero Mostel and Phil Silvers in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. Despite simultaneously fighting lung cancer (which he thought was only bronchitis!), Keaton insisted on doing his own stunts in Forum – to the amazement of the rest of the cast.

I confess that this review is not only clip-heavy to show off – it’s also because this is Buster’s last appearance in the Movie Crash Course. And we have to bid him farewell – with thanks.

Movie Crash Course: Un Chien Andalou

So there’s something you all should know about me.

For as long as I can remember, my biggest body-horror trigger is anything having to do with eyes. I’m not even sure why – I’ve never had any kind of traumatic eye injury, nor has anyone in my family. I’ve got 20/20 vision, and one eye was even tested at 20/10 once. My brother had amblyopia as a very young child, but that was fixed through the strategic use of eyepatches for a couple years; no surgery. Still – any time I see or hear about anything that involves poking, cutting, piercing, or even just touching eyes, I get a full-body shudder and can even start flailing like I’m trying to drive away bats.  I can’t even watch someone put in contact lenses.

Which brings us to our next film, the surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou. I came very, very close to skipping over it; my hardcover copy of the 1001 Movies list book has a note I wrote next to its entry, in large block capitals – “NO WAY IN HELL.”  And that is because, in the film’s most famous sequence, a man comes up behind a woman and he

(Kim’s shoulders tense, she stops writing)

 (five minutes later)

 comes up behind a woman and he

(stops writing again, closes laptop)

 (twenty minutes elapse)

 behind a woman and he

(closes laptop again)

 (takes deep breath)

 (reopens laptop)

 and he uses a razor to slice open a woman’s eyeball.

(squeals, slams laptop shut and flees to bedroom, grabs childhood-favorite Snoopy doll on bookshelf, and hides under covers with it)

 (one hour elapses)

 ….So I had my trepidations.

But the film is short, it’s free on Youtube, and the….offending scene is early.  And, it would be cheating if I skipped it.  So I gave myself permission to cover my eyes at that bit, since it was just a few seconds and would be over soon.  Even so, as it got up to that part my hand almost instinctively shot out and hit the “pause” button on my screen so I could brace myself first. It’s said that there’s an edit just before the actual razor slice, where you can tell that they’ve swapped in a cow’s eye; I couldn’t tell you if this is true, because my hands were over my eyes and that is the only way I was ever going to be able to get through this film and that scene so you’re just going to have to deal with it, okay?

Anyway.

The rest of it…wasn’t bad, but it was baffling. Un Chien Andalou was a collaboration between the surrealist artists Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel, both of whom intended that the film not make sense. Instead, it’s a series of unconnected images which Buñuel and Dali lifted from their own dreams – a man wearing a nun’s wimple rides a bike, an androgynous woman idly pokes at a dismembered hand on a sidewalk, a man’s mouth disappears and he replaces it with a woman’s armpit hair.  Buñuel and Dali selected their sequences with the intent of not making sense or providing a narrative structure – they wanted audiences to bring their own interpretation to the scenes. Viewers over the years have tried reading a narrative structure into it, largely because most of the action is performed by a single couple stuck in a room together; however, that wasn’t the intent.  It’s just sort of a stream of….stuff.
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Also, this being Europe between the wars and Buñuel and Dali being surrealists, they wanted to shock audiences. So there’s a handful of violent actions (as we know), and some sexualized moments when a man gropes a woman’s bare breasts and butt.  This was shocking for audiences at the time, to be sure – on top of them also being uneasy about not knowing what in the bleeding hell was going on.

Nearly a century later, though, audiences may be more jaded. Visceral body horror aside, there was only one other sequence that got any reaction from me other than mild bafflement.  At one point a man drags two grand pianos through a room, each one topped with a decomposing donkey carcass. As the sequence goes on, though, you see that there is also a priest attached to each rope, each looking utterly confused.  I had to chuckle at that.

I did a bit of spelunking on Youtube after watching, when I saw there were some “[So and so] reacts to Un Chien Andalou” clips; save for a couple of serious Buñuel fans, though, most other reactions were similarly confused variations on “….I have no idea what this means.”

This could be another “it’s not them, it’s me” situation, though. I’ve always had a mixed response to contemporary art, and to Surrealism in particular; either I have a visceral, gut-level response to something, or I’m left cold.  Reading about context doesn’t help, either – for me, even though I know the meaning behind Damian Hirst’s shark-in-a-tank piece, it will forever look to me solely like a half-finished natural history museum exhibit.   It’s the same here – I’ve read that Buñuel’s inclusion of the donkeys on the pianos were inspired by seeing dead donkeys in the farm fields when he was a kid, but it was the priests that caught my eye. And no matter how many times I read that the razor scene was inspired by Buñuel seeing a very thin cloud bisecting the moon, my reaction will always be a shrill internal shriek.

But. I have watched it. And now I never have to watch it again in my life.  Huzzah.

(You will note that I have not included a still of that scene in this review because are you kidding me)

Movie Crash Course: The Passion of Joan of Arc

We should dispense with some history before I jump in here, even though there is vanishingly little chance my readers will be unfamiliar with the story of Joan of Arc.

But just in case – Joan was a 15th– Century French peasant girl living in regions then occupied by England. At the age of 13, she started hearing the “voices” of Saints Margaret, Catherine, and Michael, urging her to take up arms and save France from the English. We will set aside the question of the truth of her visions – whether we believe them or not, it’s a fact that many of her contemporaries did. But Joan’s youth, illiteracy, and gender were also strikes against her; she nevertheless managed to locate Charles II (the heir to the French throne), convince him to mount an attack on the English occupiers, and even lead armies into battle herself, in two successful campaigns which ultimately saw Charles II crowned in the city of Reims.

But Joan wanted to keep going, and was captured by the English during an attack on Paris.  There she was turned over to the Parisian church leaders, who brought her to trial – convicting her not of treason, but of heresy. She was burned at the stake in 1431.  Almost immediately after, however, public sentiment turned to Joan’s case, and within 25 years Charles II was able to convince the Pope to grant Joan a posthumous annulment of the verdict.  She was canonized a Saint in 1920.

Joan’s canonization, and the dramatic details of her story, put Joan on the map in the 1920s. Readers may be familiar with other movies about Joan, or with the play by George Bernard Shaw. Most other productions focused on the whole of Joan’s life, however, or with the military campaign which brought her into the public eye. The Passion of Joan of Arc instead focuses solely on her trial and execution, and is based almost entirely on the actual court transcripts and records from her interrogation.  We don’t get any battle scenes with Joan brandishing a sword – we only get the crossfire of Joan and her interrogators.  Instead of lavish scenes with the French court or a poignant staging of the young Joan hearing her voices, all we see is the spare courtroom in Paris, and the dirty plaza where she is burned.

Actually, half the time we don’t even see that – filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer shoots the film almost entirely as a series of intercut close-ups on the character’s faces as they speak.  So most of the film is a parade of angry-looking men debating with a visibly frightened, but resolute, young woman. Dreyer does stack the deck a bit with the casting – most of the churchmen are older, and the mean-looking kind of old to boot (although one had hair that reminded me a bit too much of the pointy-haired boss from Dilbert).

Joan was an unknown vaudevillian actress named Renee Falconetti, who was unconventionally beautiful, but remarkably expressive. Two of the few monks present who sympathize with Joan are also closer to her age, and a bit more conventionally handsome. But Falconetti’s performance lays Joan’s emotional turmoil bare on her face.

So no, you don’t get any battle scenes. But you get Joan’s story stripped down to its essentials, which gives this film immense power.  Whatever you may think of Joan from a religious or historic perspective, this film shows us that on a human level, here was an uneducated teenager facing off in a court of religious law against several older and more educated men, and that she not only had the strength to stand up to them, she also stuck to her principles despite the knowledge that doing so would bring her certain death.  Even if this wasn’t about Joan, that is an astonishingly powerful story.

A historical footnote – some strange rumors circulated in France while Dreyer was making the film, including the idea that Lillian Gish was set to play Joan (!). The Archbishop of Paris therefore took a dim view of the film, and demanded a pre-screening to make some cuts before the film could be screened in France. Dreyer objected, but was powerless. A year later, a fire destroyed the master copy of the film, then in storage in Berlin; Dreyer tried to re-cut a backup using outtakes and some surviving prints, but that negative was also destroyed. Then in 1981, a janitor at a Norwegian mental institution discovered a copy of Dreyer’s original cut, inclusive of the bits censored by the Archbishop, in a broom closet. There is no clear explanation as to what the film was doing in such an astonishingly weird place – film historians’ best guesses are that the institution’s 1928 director may have requested a copy, since he was also a historian. But since this is a film about a saint, I’m inclined to believe there’s a bit of a miracle at work.

Movie Crash Course: The Docks of New York

I’ve not previously run into a film that felt this much like a Tom Waits song.

It’s called The Docks of New York, but the film is mostly set in one bar where two steamship stokers and their boss are spending their one night of shore leave.  I’m assuming simple chance (or plot convenience) has brought them all to the same place – which just so happens to be where the foreman, Andy, runs into his ex-wife Lu carousing with some of the sailors from another ship. They have a grumpy, but resigned, reunion.

Stoker Bill, meanwhile, is en route to the same bar when he sees a woman jump into the harbor in an attempt to drown herself. He jumps in to rescue her, and brings her to the bar – conveniently close by – for help. The barmaid hustles her to one of the rooms upstairs, Lu tagging along to play nursemaid.  But Bill is taken with the young lady (or at least her looks) and lingers in her room, wanting to help as well.

Our damsel in distress is Mae, a down-on-her-luck prostitute and barfly. She insists Bill should have let her drown, but he’s persuasive enough to let him show her a night on the town. “I can always make a hole in the water tomorrow night,” she says, shrugging.

Bill proceeds to wine and dine her – at least as far as one can in a dive bar – while also trying to talk her out of suicide.  She thinks she’s run-down? Well, he is too.  She’s done bad things?  Well, so has he. She thinks she’s ugly? Hell, no, she isn’t. Bill is so caught up in his mission – or captivated by Mae – that when she sighs that no one would love her for keeps, Bill blurts out that he’ll marry her, right then and there. Why not? When Mae scoffs, Bill doubles down – and gradually enlists the rest of the bar in the game. Someone drags the local preacher in to officiate, and the deed is done.

….And then the next morning, Bill gets cold feet. Mae wakes up as he prepares to do the walk of shame back to his boat, and he stammers out excuses – come on, she knew it was a game, wasn’t it?  Mae sheds a few tears, but lets him go, resigned to her fate.  Bill’s conscience bothers him all the way back to the ship. But meanwhile, Andy – who’s stayed behind, and also was checking Mae out – thinks he can step up now.  However, Lu has her own opinions about that…

The relationship between Lu and Mae, actually, is a lovely touch. The other characters and their stories all seem like stories I’ve heard before – the down-and-outs who find each other, the hooker with a  heart of gold, the rough-and-tumble sailor who finds love – but Lu’s story really caught my eye. She treats Bill and Mae’s “wedding” as a game, but like Bill, she’s been touched by Mae’s plight – and comes to treat her with genuine sisterly affection.

Reviews at the time seem to all have agreed: the performances were good, but ultimately it was a run-of-the-mill story with a far-fetched ending. Still, there are some nicely set-up shots that herald the days of film noir; Mae’s suicide attempt caught my eye particularly.  All you see at first is the water, then her reflection in it, then you see the reflection jumping.

The “life among the low-lifes” element is also safely titillating, but ultimately nothing earth-shattering.

Tom Waits would really have fun producing a remake of this, however.  Maybe he’d even take a cameo as the preacher.

From The Projectionist’s Booth: A Policy Statement From the Movie Crash Course

The day I write this is about one month after we all first heard about the movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long habit of sexually harassing women. Over the course of that month, since the first allegations, over 75 women have come forward to say they faced inappropriate attention from Weinstein; another dozen have made the further claim that he went all the way into rape.  It is also two weeks since we heard similar allegations against the actor Kevin Spacey, with 13 people coming forward so far.  And just today, a friend of the late actor Corey Haim accused Charlie Sheen of sodomizing Haim on the set of his very first movie, when Haim was only 13.

Everyone has been horrified at these allegations – understandably so. The stories about Harvey Weinstein have sparked particular shock – the sheer number of cases prompted men to ask if the problem of sexual harassment has really been as rampant as all that, causing women to revive the existing “#metoo” hashtag and revive discussion on this issue yet again. Amongst my friends – many of which are theater professionals – the discussions have been especially harrowing, since some of us know others of us who have gone on to work in film – and have had their own stories to tell, or know people who’ve had stories. Spacey’s actions renewed the conversation yet further, and brought in a swath of other theater folk with yet more stories.  …For the record: I’m relieved to say that I never encountered any sexual harassment when I worked in theater (other kinds of gendered attacks are something else again, albeit on a minor scale). However, I’ve heard a story or two of people I’ve personally worked with later having sad stories of their own.

It’s making us all want to do something. Talking hasn’t worked in the past, and just ignoring it isn’t good – it’s just too big and shocking. We want to act somehow; maybe we can put Harvey Weinstein in a stockade and throw rotten eggplants at him or something.  But the only power this time is in the hands of the courts and all we can do is watch and wait for them to act.  Which somehow doesn’t feel like enough, so people are flailing a little and thinking of ways to act.  Donating to a charity, perhaps, or taking people on over on Twitter.

One really popular step has been the Public Boycott – a declaration that “that’s it, I’m never watching any of their movies again!”  Some people have been so shaken by the allegations that they realize they will never be able to see Kevin Spacey or Charlie Sheen, or watch anything with the Weinstein name on it, without remembering the allegations.  Those movies are forever tainted for them.  Others are more pragmatic – they don’t want to give Kevin Spacey money, and watching his movies gives him money.  Therefore, no more watching his movies. QED.  I also considered this step for a couple seconds, to be honest – but then realized that three of Kevin Spacey’s movies – The Usual Suspects, American Beauty and Se7en – are all on the master list of the Movies To See Before You Die.  And so is Platoon, featuring Charlie Sheen.

Hmm.

I’ve got a while to go before I get to these films; easily a few years. By the time I get there, no doubt whatever trial Kevin Spacey is facing will have run its course and whatever punishment he is charged with will be underway.  Same with Charlie Sheen, and almost certainly the case for Harvey Weinstein. I doubt I’ll be able to forget that these incidents happened, but the story will be further along – the wound will not be as fresh.  It may be okay.

However, the problem is that this is not a unique scandal for Hollywood.

  • The silent film star Errol Flynn was accused of statutory rape in 1943. He was acquitted, largely thanks to the assistance of public donations enabling him to hire really good lawyers.
  • Actress Tippi Hederen has stated that director Alfred Hitchcock sexually assaulted her during the filming of The Birds.
  • 1930s star Loretta Young’s career was tainted by scandal when she conceived a child out of wedlock. It wasn’t until 1998 that she finally revealed that the father had been Clark Gable – and it had been an instance of date rape.
  • European director Roman Polanski had sex with a 13-year-old at Jack Nicholson’s house at a party in the 1970s, was found guilty of statutory rape and fled the country – and has been a fugitive from justice to this day.
  • Shirley Temple even once had a producer expose himself to her when she was only twelve. Fortunately he didn’t touch her – by all reports her nervous giggles brought him to his senses and he buttoned back up.
  • Producer Louis B. Mayer was the Harvey Weinstein of his day, regularly propositioning actresses and pressuring them into sex – he once literally chased Jean Harlow around his office in an effort to seduce her. Mayer also would sit Judy Garland on his lap and had her sing so he could “study her technique” by placing his hands on her chest.
  • ….And then there’s whatever the hell is going on with Woody Allen.

If I wanted to boycott Kevin Spacey or Harvey Weinstein’s work, I’d have to also consider boycotting Errol Flynn’s, Alfred Hitchcock’s, Clark Gable’s, Roman Polanski’s, and Woody Allen’s as well.  And if I did – well, to be honest, that would knock out a huge swath of my list, and the Movie Crash Course would essentially be over.  So from a practical perspective alone it doesn’t really make sense to boycott these works.

But there’s an even better reason to keep watching them despite their creator’s foibles – and that is that none of their films were solely their work.  Scores of other artists were also involved in each of their films, most of them wholly innocent – some even their victims.  And they shouldn’t be punished.

Way back when I reviewed Birth of a Nation, I spoke of having wanted to see the 2016 film with the same name; director Nate Parker used the title for his story about the rebellion of the slave Nat Turner. I’d actually been looking forward to it prior to its release – not because I knew anything about Parker, but rather because of the actor Colman Domingo, who was also cast in the work.  Colman is one of my “I knew him before” stories; we worked on a play together in 2003, and I’ve been watching the growth of his career from the Facebook-friends-feed sidelines ever since. And during the building to the film’s release, Colman spoke with great pride and excitement about the film and his colleague’s work, and mentioned how eager he was for everyone to see it and give their feedback. But right before its release, a story re-surfaced from director Nate Parker’s past, concerning an allegation of a rape when he was in college.  The scandal irretrievably tarnished the film, and it died a quick death in theaters.

There is actually some debate about whether Nate Parker did or did not commit the crime of which he is accused. But one thing is certain – Colman did not do it. And yet it feels like Colman – as well as the rest of the cast and crew of that film – was being punished for Nate Parker’s actions. And it doesn’t seem like that helps – especially if any of the actresses in the film were themselves harassed by someone somewhere along the line.

So. I will not be boycotting any of Kevin Spacey’s films – because they’re not just Kevin Spacey’s films.  Instead, when I see The Usual Suspects, I’ll watch it for Gabriel Byrne and Benicio Del Toro.  I’ll be watching Thora Birch in American Beauty, and Brad Pitt in Se7en.  When I watch Platoon, I’ll be watching for Willem DaFoe instead of Charlie Sheen.  When I watch The Birds, I’ll be watching for Tippi Hederen instead of Hitchcock.  I’ll watch Gone With the Wind for Vivian Leigh’s sake instead of Clark Gable’s.  I’ll watch Annie Hall for Diane Keaton.  I’ll watch Rosemary’s Baby for Mia Farrow’s acting instead of Roman Polanski’s direction.

The biggest argument in favor of boycotting these films is that “you shouldn’t separate the art from the artist”. However, each film has more than one artist in it. I’ll simply watch for one of the others.