Woody Allen: How can one rationalize admiring an artist’s work when they’re such twats in real life? Great art doesn’t atone for heinous acts done in one’s personal life, but an artist’s heinous acts shouldn’t diminish their great art. Take Woody Allen. He is (or can be) a great artist. But he also seduced Soon-Yi, the teenaged step-daughter of Mia Farrow, whom he’d been seeing since 1980. But he also made Sleeper . But he also married a girl he had helped raise since she was 10. Repeat ad infinitum.
John Cassavetes: To paraphrase Le Tigre’s “What’s Yr Take on Cassavetes”: Misogynist? Genius? Alcoholic? Messiah? How about all of the above?
Elia Kazan: Snitch.
Roman Polanski: The documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired overstressed both the director’s strengths (many uniquely brilliant films) and tragedies (mom killed in Holocaust, wife killed by Charles Manson Clan) when surveying the case that caused him to flee America for fear of a lenghty prison stay. A better director would have found more balance and not made excuses for a man who drugged and banged a 13-year-old in Jack Nicholson’s hot tub.
Leni Riefenstahl: After the fall of her employers, the Third Reich, the superb German stylist spent the remainder of her life (she died in 2003, at 101) ducking questions, denying hard evidence and barely working. Was she really never aware of the Holocaust? Was she really simply ambitious and in no way a Nazi? In any case, the response to her work is peerlessly contradictory: stunning and, in its intentions and real-world effects, awful.
Lars von Trier: Nicole Kidman said she’d never work with him again. Ditto Björk. And then there’s Antichrist . Like Dick Cheney, the Danish provacateur marvels at his infamy; in his doc The Five Obstructions, he cast himself as a kind of Bond villain, giddily torturing filmmaker Jorgen Leth with increasingly difficult tasks. What a brilliant asshole.