Upon being questioned by Lydia, Max declares that “as a BIPOC pangender person” he’s not “into” Johann Sebastian Bach, due to the 18th Century composer having been (a) white, (b) privileged and (c) a bit of a sociopath in his youth.
The instant Max says this, the viewer understands what a tyrannical little bitch he is — a Zoomer willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater because a gifted artist’s behavior was imperfect or even abusive.
Others (including, I presume, Tar director Todd Field) see things differently. In a fair-minded world the unfortunate shortcomings of a genius artist (like, say, the predatory Roman Polanski of the ’70s and ’80s) wouldn’t be disqualifying when it comes to assessing his/her work. The presence of profound talent, mind, doesn’t mean that sexually voracious or manipulative behavior warrants an automatic “get out of jail” card. But given the historical record, it should, I feel, be regarded with a less-damning perspective. I mean, we certainly don’t want the Max brigade to be calling the shots…good heavens.
In Michelle Goldberg‘s 10.21 N.Y. Tines essay about Tar (“Finally, a Great Movie About Cancel Culture“), she writes that “the notion of separating the art from the artist has gone out of fashion,” at least among Millennials and Zoomers. Over-45 types, she notes, “have complicated and contradictory feelings about the rapid changes in values, manners and allowances that fall under the rubric of cancel culture.”
In my case, these feelings can be fairly described as disgusted and appalled. But then you knew that.
I’m prodded by a 12.21 story posted yesterday by World of Reel‘s Jordan Ruimy. It concerns a Max-like critic (presumably younger but who knows?) who recently voted in the once-a-decade Sight & Sound poll about the Greatest Films of All Time The critic, an East Coast IndieWire person and quite possibly a woman (though not necessarily), recently told a film producer that he/she had refused to vote for any Alfred Hitchcock film because of his sexual “predator” rep, earned by well-sourced accounts of his behavior with Tippi Hedren during the filming of The Birds and Marnie.
How many Max-ian critics are part of the current Sight & Sound fraternity, which has, I gather, recently expanded its ranks with certain Millennial and Zoomer contributors? Are there enough Hitchcock haters to unseat his masterful Vertigo (’58), which pushed aside Citizen Kane in the last Greatest of All Time poll in 2012? (Vertigo didn’t even appear in the S&S poll until 1982, when it came in seventh. It ranked fourth in ’92, and then second in ’02 polling,) A critic friend says he’s “sure that Hitchcock is safe overall,” but a voice is telling me that the Max factor may topple Vertigo. ‘
Ruimy commenter #1: “[The Max mentality] doesn’t even make any sense. Unless you’re going to conduct a background check on every filmmaker and actor involved with a given film (much easier to do these days, now that everyone is on Twitter and Instagram), then dinging a particular masterpiece because it was made by a bad person is stupid. If you think that Vertigo is a great film and would be willing to acknowledge it as such if it were made by a Good Person, then the fact that you’re unwilling to do so because of Hitchcock’s character flaws makes you a dope.”
Ruimy commenter #2: “In art, there goes Picasso, Dali, Pollock and a ton of others, all of whom had problematic personal lives and/or predatory instincts. At what point do we separate the art from the artist? John Wayne, Walt Disney and others had racial blind spots that will forever cloud their work.
Ruimy commenter #3: “It is one of the complexities of the human soul that a person may produce something of unsurpassed beauty and still be a shit of a human being.”
Ruimy commenter #4: “The woke virtue warriors don’t do complexity. It’s too hard for their simple minds to comprehend. I guess in a way, we can’t blame them, they have been indulged and infantilised for years. The only remedy [is] war.”
Ruimy comment: “The December poll results will reflect the biggest-ever expansion of the Sight and Sound voter pool, both in terms of diversity and sheer numbers. We can expect that trend to both disrupt and bring a little more color and gender to the final results.”