HE to Adele Haenel and the international #MeToo Community:
Last night I re-watched Roman Polanski‘s The Pianist, which I hadn’t seen for roughly 17 years. I watched it because I’d recently seen Polanski’s J’Accuse, and was reminded of what a brilliant artist he’s always been, especially when the spirit is upon him. Repulsion, Knife in The Water, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, Tess, The Ghost Writer, Cul de Sac — uncomfortable as this may seem to some, there is unmistakable genius in the man. He also radiates (and you really have to be exceptionally stupid to miss this) basic compassion. You can always feel the pulse in a Polanski film.
You can’t watch The Pianist and not say to yourself, “The man who made this clearly knows the horror that Warsaw Jews experienced during the German occupation of the early to mid ’40s, and also knows about love, family and kindness.” I was also reminded that many of the same qualities — frankness, intelligence, scrupulous attention to detail, magnificent visual compositions — are abundant in J’Accuse.
The difference, of course, is that anyone can watch The Pianist, but no one in the U.S. and England can watch J’Accuse in a theatre, on a Bluray or even via streaming.
Because of you guys. Because you believe that Polanski’s rep must be permanently tarred and feathered and therefore J’Accuse, too, must be buried or otherwise scrubbed from existence. Because of reputedly credible accusations of Polanski having behaved badly and perhaps even criminally with certain younger women in the ’70s and ’80s. And because the distribution community is terrified of what you’ll say and do if one of their number would even consider streaming J’Accuse.
Here’s the thing — Polanski the man is not the same thing as Polanski the artist. His depiction of awful or ghastly things in his films (he’s never explored Pollyanic fantasy and escapism) has never conveyed a corrosion or poisoning of his own spirit. He understands what goes, how it all works, who the good guys are. This is quite evident in The Pianist and J’Accuse. But the latter is nonetheless going to be buried for a long time to come, or so I’m told.
To hear it from distributors, the #MeToo community has destroyed any possibility of J’Accuse being seen theatrically in this country, but is it really necessary to keep this truly magnificent and honorable film from being streamed? Prevented from simply being watched and contemplated privately, domestically?
You should understand that this is not a good look for #MeToo. If not now then certainly in the near future and for all time to come.
HE to Parisian distribution sales guy (sent Tuesday night): “How many millions in this pandemic would love to buy access to Roman Polanski‘s J’Accuse? All you have to do is allow streaming from France to the US. Please level with me. You guys aren’t interested in tapping the English-speaking U.S., British and Canadian streaming market because of fears of the French #MeToo community? You’re afraid of what Adele Haenel might say? Is that it? Please forgive me but this seems so wrong.”
Parisian distribution sales guy to HE (late Wednesday night): “To make it simple, no streaming company operating in the UK or US will risk putting Polanski’s J’Accuse on their service. It has nothing to do with the potential customers but rather with the association of the Polanski brand. A streamer takes fewer chances if he/she doesn’t offer a Polanski title than if he/she does. But times may change…”
Consider this passage from a 6.21.12 N.Y. Times article called “Good Art, Bad People“, written by Charles McGrath:
“In the case of the artist, badness or goodness is a moral quality or judgment; in the case of his art goodness and badness are terms of aesthetic merit, to which morality does not apply.
“The conductor Daniel Barenboim, a Jew, is a champion of Wagner’s music, for example, and has made a point of playing it in Israel, where it is hardly welcome. His defense is that while Wagner may have been reprehensible, his music is not. Barenboim likes to say that Wagner did not compose a single note that is anti-Semitic.
“And the disconnect between art and morality goes further than that: not only can a ‘bad’ person write a good novel or paint a good picture, but a good picture or a good novel can depict a very bad thing. Think of Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ or Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’, an exceptionally good novel about the sexual abuse of a minor, described in a way that makes the protagonist seem almost sympathetic.
“Yet art, when you experience it, seems ennobling: it inspires and transports us, refines our discriminations, enlarges our understanding and our sympathies. Surely, we imagine, we are better people because of it. And if art does this much for those of us who merely appreciate it, then it must reflect something even better and truer and more inspiring in the lives and character of the people who actually create art.
“We cling to these notions — especially that art morally improves us — against all evidence to the contrary, for as the critic George Steiner has famously pointed out, the Holocaust contradicts them once and for all. “We know that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening,” Steiner writes, “that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to his day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning.” Or as Walter Benjamin once wrote: “At the base of every major work of art is a pile of barbarism.”
“Another, possibly more interesting way to think about the question is to cross out bad and change it to good: Can good people make good art? Or to make it a little harder: Can good people make great art? The answer here might seem to be equally self-evident. There are countless artists who seemingly lead decent, morally upstanding lives, who don’t beat their wives, slur the Jews, or even cheat on their taxes.
“There are many more of these, one wants to say, than of the other sort, the Wagners, Rimbauds, Byrons, et al., who are the exception rather than the rule. And yet the creation of truly great art requires a degree of concentration, commitment, dedication, and preoccupation — of selfishness, in a word — that sets that artist apart and makes him not an outlaw, exactly, but a law unto himself.”
You should really think about easing up on J’Accuse. It’s a moral film about doing the right thing. You should consider its message.