Recently my partner and I just got around to watching a Woody Allen movie that we found on sale in Seoul for the equivalent of $3 (US). Bullets Over Broadway had Korean subtitles and John Cusack (who will play the part of me in the cinematic adaptation of my life and times) and those two factors tipped the balance of the scales enough that we said "what the heck?" and added it to our collection.
This reviewer really wanted to like it more. The only redeeming part that stuck with me was the reoccurring discussion of this question: "Who do you love more, the artist or the man?" This reminded me of one of conversations my cousin and I keep having over the many years we've known each other. From my point of view, it is entirely possible to love the artist but not the man (or woman). For example, I was so glad I was able to see the "Godfather of Soul" in Seoul before he died at the end of last year. His concert was simply amazing- despite the fact he thought he was in Beijing!
The other side is that the personal life of James Brown is nothing to be proud about. Rather than going into a long litany of his other failings and sounding pompous and judgemental, I'll just note that he physically abused his various wives repeatedly but served no jail time and paid only minimal fines.
My coworker also had a similar conversation with his partner. Given the latest about yet another Boy George scandal, my coworker asserted the man really wasn't worth bothering over. However his partner strongly disagreed, asserting the amazing career of Boy George made him worthy of celebrity.
In 1999, Elia Kazan received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. This caused a dilema for many in attendance. Some could not overlook Kazan's cooperation with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the 1950's where he "named names" of those belonging to the Communist Party. Others felt that enough time had passed that it was appropriate to bury the hatchet and recognize Kazan's great artistic accomplishments.
These men are just a few examples of such contradictions between the public work and personal lives of the famous. Michael Jackson, Gérard Depardieu, Bill Clinton and Woody Allen are others that spring to my mind. A part of us wants to honour them for their work and the good that they did but another part of us has to weigh that against their less than perfect personal lives.
I've pondered on this question over this past week. My feeling is that it really depends on the gravity of the crimes committed and the genius of their work. For example, Adolf Hitler was an artist but his work was really quite negligible compared to all the harm he put into the world. In the movie, Amadeus, Salieri was forced to admit that, despite all of Mozart's many failings, his musical talent was inspired. At the end of the movie that inspired this post, the main character asks his wife "Could you love a man who wasn't an artist?" His wife carefully replies "I could love a man who was an artist but I couldn't love an artist who wasn't a man."
And that leads me to my final thought. At the end of the day, what's our review? Does the good that we have worked toward outweigh the missteps we have made? I personally believe that the Big Guy in the Sky cuts us some slack in this department. It's called grace and we all get it regardless of whether we deserve it or not. Should I extend this grace to others and if so, in what ways?