I Hate You and I Hate Your Movie

October 21, 2011 — 11 Comments

Today, Jessica from the wonderful Velvet Cafe blog wrote a great piece called “The less we know—the better?” which asked whether knowledge of a filmmaker’s personal life or misdeeds should play a role in our assessment of their films.

I wish I could say straight away that I always judge a work only on its own merits and that my integrity is impeccable, but a more honest response would probably be: it depends.

I do think this is an honest response. She goes on to say that an exception to her ignoring information about a filmmaker is her distaste for Leni Riefenstahl. Though even here, this reaction comes from the fact that Riefenstahl actually made films that were reprehensible in content and morals.

I also agree with everything she says regarding Roman Polanski and Woody Allen and Mel Gibson. I don’t care that Mel Gibson may have some serious anger problems or that he might be an anti-semite. Apocalypto is still a badass action movie.

In response to Jessica’s post, Bondo wrote a nice response at his blog, Deep Musings of the Third Kind. Bondo raises some additional questions about films that deal with lurid subject matter and how to approach such subjects without glorifying and thus becoming morally problematic. The Woodsman, which I reviewed on his recommendation for my “Can’t Stop Marathon,” is the example he uses. A film about pedophilia that does not glorify its subject, but examines it with a degree of honesty that could cause people to question the motivations of the director.

These are all fascinating interconnected issues that really get to the heart of something we as an audience have a hard time dealing with. When we watch and evaluate films it all comes down to our perception, but if that’s the case how do we separate our perceptions of the film from our perceptions of the people involved with its making.

Though I follow the same philosophical line of thinking as both Jessica and Bondo, I have to admit that I do sometimes fall into that perception trap. And in a way I have to question whether I am being fair about all of this. The most obvious example that comes to mind is my disdain for Katherine Heigl. I had seen her on Grey’s Anatomy and actually thought she was the most capable and most likable actress in that cast. Then I saw her in Knocked Up and thought she was great and funny and nuanced. But then some stories came out about her. Like her public statements about Kocked Up being sexist, or her refusal to be submitted for an Emmy because she thought the writers had not done a good job writing for her character. This kind of petty, self-entitled behaviour rubbed me the wrong way, and not only has it made me actively avoid seeing any of her new films, I have since come to find her character in Knocked Up annoying.

I fully admit it. This doesn’t make any sense. I stuck with Tom Cruise through all his craziness, and I still think he’s a talented actor who sometimes stars in great films. Yet somehow I couldn’t get past what Heigl said and did. Her behaviour got to me so much that I retroactively did not like her previous work. Is that fair? Probably not, but I can’t help it.

The same is true when I compare two actors. Sean Penn and Matt Damon. Both do a lot of great work for charities, and both are extremely intelligent on social and political issues, but somehow I find Sean Penn extremely irritating when he talks politics, and I love hearing what Damon has to say. And this has extended to how I approach their films. I think both of them are fine actors, but something about Penn’s personality doesn’t sit right with me and so I tend to hesitate when walking into one of his films. With Matt Damon, on the other hand, his personal political views have actually made me respect him even more, to the point where I feel my view of him actively contributes to my seeking out his films. I also think he’s a great actor, but I admit that there are other, non-film related reasons why I want to watch the movies he stars in.

None of this is particularly rational. It’s all emotional. It flies in the face of my philosophy on the matter. I just can’t help it, though. Sometimes we just have to accept that our emotions will affect us even when we don’t want them to. If somebody tells me that they won’t see Carnage because Roman Polanski is a child molester and a fugitive criminal, my immediate response would be that the film doesn’t reflect the deeds of its filmmaker. If the movie is good, it’s good, that’s all. And yet I completely understand it on an emotional level. The film may not reflect the filmmaker, but the filmmaker can certainly reflect on the film. If that person knows what Polanski did and that he made the movie, that lingering emotion might be there all while watching the film. It’s hard to fix and hard to ignore.

So while I fundamentally agree with what Jessica and Bondo are saying, and while I try to stick by those principles as best as I can, I can still sympathize with that basic emotional reaction. And hell, we’re all human, as much as we’d like to think otherwise, emotions usually do win out in the end.

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11 responses to I Hate You and I Hate Your Movie

  1. 

    I don’t care for anyone’s political views or anything. I like Sean Penn and Matt Damon as actors but don’t care for their politics. Plus, I think Sean Penn needs to keep his fucking mouth shut and just do his job as an actor.

    Katherine Heigl. I never thought she was a great actress to begin with. “Knocked Up” is still the best thing she’s done but she always comes across as an ego-maniacal, condescending bitch. She talks about feminism yet she is in movies where women make fools of themselves.

    • 

      I don’t have a problem with celebrities voicing political opinions. I think if they have issues they want to raise awareness for they can definitely use their more visible platform for good. But I tend to have that same reaction to Sean Penn as you do. There’s something about the way he expresses his opinion. Not with an intelligence, but with a brute force “I am a celebrity and you should listen to me” kind of thing. Meanwhile, Matt Damon seems more low key about it, but any time I see him interviewed about his political opinions he actually comes off as very intelligent, like he’s just a guy who has looked into these issues and has a well-developed personal opinion to share.

  2. 

    You make a nice argument here Corey, and it is a side to the discussion that I didn’t see coming, but am completely glad you brought it up. We always talk of film being subjective in every way, so the same can easily be said of the “artists” involved in their production. I loved ‘Larry Crowne’ this year simply because Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are two of my favorite actors. Others did not care for it all that much. And yes, I would say that ‘Forrest Gump’ being my favorite movie of all time has something to do with personal emotion, but that’s the way it should be.

    The discussion has been decidedly on the negative side of the argument, but to say that we dislike a film because of someone involved with it would be the equivalent of saying we like something because of someone involved in the project. This is certainly the case with Hanks films for me, but what I am trying to get at is what happens when that film is terrible? You brought up Matt Damon and Sean Penn, and they do great work, but what happens when Damon makes something like ‘Stuck on You’. Maybe not the worst film, but not the best either.

    Basically, bad people make good movies, good people make bad movies, and everything in between. Deal with it.

    • 

      That negativity is why I brought up Damon. There’s something about the guy outside of his films that I like. He seems like a cool guy. And that makes it easier for me to like his performances and his movies. And when he makes a bad one I find it easier to forgive.

      I did not like The Adjustment Bureau, though I did like him in it. But my reaction to the film was along the lines of “Matt Damon is allowed to make a bad movie because at least he seems to choose interesting projects and his a cool guy.” Of course, if I’m evaluating a movie in a more objective manner, none of those outside forces should matter, but they still do because when it comes right down to it, every piece of the puzzle of a film is open to subjective opinions and emotions.

  3. 

    I feel that politics is a whole other ballgame than what Jessica and Eric are talking about. Unless it is somehow related to something particularly immoral or unsavory, like someone founding a political party around some objectionable issues, I think politics is perhaps the most petty and silliest way to go about judging actors.

    Yes, Sean Penn sounds like an ass when he talks about politics, but I enjoy his performances much more than Matt Damon even though I agree that Damon’s eloquence on political issues have made me admire him as a person, but it certainly hasn’t shaped my views of him as an actor.

    I’m not trying to say politics is completely unimportant, but that I think it’s a poor way to go about judging performers in the movies. In fact, I think if we’re judging performers on anything other than their performance in a film, our credibility is questionable at best.

    • 

      Well, first of all, I generally think Matt Damon is a better actor as well. I’m not usually a fan of Penn’s method of scenery-chewing.

      But besides that, it’s not so much their politics that I’m talking about. Penn and Damon have similar politics, and generally I agree with Penn on the issues he champions.

      I’m talking more about how their public personalities have shaped my opinions of them. Namely that Penn is a bit of and ass and Damon is a cool and down to earth nice guy. And though this shouldn’t make a difference to their acting, I can’t help but watch Penn on screen and have that niggling voice in my head going “that guy is such an ass.”

      I still thought Penn was remarkable in Milk. But it’s harder for me to go along with his performances partly because I have these other issues with him. Meanwhile, I find it easy to cut Damon a lot of slack because I like the guy.

      Like I said, it’s not really reasonable or objective, but I can’t really help my immediate emotional reactions.

  4. 

    Is it possible your opinion of their screen presence influences your view of their non-screen personality? I was wary of Sean Penn long before his inane political diatribes at the Oscars and such. I don’t begrudge him the good efforts he’s done to help people and probably don’t broadly disagree with him on policy but I’ve always, like you, been sour on him. Matt Damon is an actor I’ve always liked and so I certainly have interpreted his political comments more positively. It’s hard to see which way the influence flows (or I suppose it could go both ways).

    • 

      You may be on to something here. It probably does go both ways. Each aspects playing on the other to the point where it snowballs towards liking or disliking the actor and his work.

  5. 

    I loved your honest confessions here Corey and I admit that I probably get a bit influenced by such things too from time to time – a purely emotional thing – I’m just not aware of it like you are.

    In the case of Katherine Heigle I absolutely hated that character in Grey’s. I don’t know if it was because of the script or because of her interpretation of it. But she was intolerable and one reason why I refused to watch more of it. (we had it as a family project for a while since the kinds liked it so much).

  6. 

    This is an intriguing subject, and I’m finding each post adds a bit more to the topic. It’s tricky because I’d love to say that I’m above considering a person’s real-life actions or statements when seeing a film, but that’s not really true. The best example for me is Mel Gibson. It’s possible that The Beaver is a good movie, but I immediately cringed when I saw the trailer. I’ve enjoyed some of his films in the past, but right now he’s just a turnoff immediately. For some reason, this doesn’t really apply to Tom Cruise, though. MI:3 came out right at the time of his craziness, and I still saw it in the theaters and really enjoyed it. It’s possible that I’ll overlook the other stuff if I’m really interested in a movie, while it’s going to have a larger effect when I’m only mildly interested. Either way, this is a great topic and is providing for some excellent discussion.

    • 

      I think it’s important sometimes to admit that as much as we would like to remain objectively motivated, everything about our enjoyment of a film is subjective, and the things we know from outside the film can affect that subjectivity. As long as we are able to recognize that, we are also able to parse through the more detailed elements of what we like and don’t like about a particular film.

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