I hold a great love for Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. It both solidifies and deconstructs and aesthetic I have long been fascinated with, film noir and the detective story. I first saw it almost four years ago when I was 14. I was mesmerized from start to finish as it was clear that the filmmaker had an absolute mastery of story and image. Another of my favorite films is Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Like Chinatown, it is at times deceptively gentle with its presentations of image, not directly telling the viewer what to think or feel, but simply letting the events play out as they will, leaving us to make our own conclusions. Finally, perhaps my favorite film of all time is Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. It is a honest, heartfelt portrayal of mental illness and introversion in women, a narrative that I identify with very strongly, and is regretfully lacking in contemporary cinema. All of these films have something in common; their directors have said and done some terrible things.
Lars Von Trier has openly admitted to ‘understanding Hitler’ and wanting to kill Jewish people. On the set of The Birds, Hitchcock not only sexually harassed Tippi Hedren, but threw live birds at her and paid staff to follow her outside of working hours. Most egregiously, Roman Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl. I will not say he was only accused of the act because I do not believe that a 13-year-old girl would have anything to gain from making such a false accusation against a man much more rich and powerful than her. When I found out about this, it shook me to my core. What was I supposed to think of the movies I loved, that had changed my life? It took me more than a few years to come to the conclusion that despite the fact that these men were probably terrible people, their work is not necessarily representational of that. People are not the work they produce. For me this is even evident in the films I have discussed. Chinatown has a relatively strong female protagonist, who is not merely an object of the plot, but an actual person who does things in the story. Lars Von Trier is an avowed misogynist, yet the experiences of the heroine of Melancholia have spoken to my experiences both with depression and as a woman more truly than anything else I have seen. Even Vertigo has an interesting subversion of its female characters. This all goes to show that despite who a person may be, what they make can still connect with the audience that they may hate the most. This is not to say that they should be excused for their actions. I personally believe that Hitchcock and Polanski should have served time in prison. They committed illegal, hateful deeds that fill me with rage, and letting them continue their careers just legitimizes their actions. Still, there is nothing I can do to make them pay, nor can I change the feelings that their films evoke in me. I want to be an animator, which means I owe a lot of my career to a bigot by the name of Walt Disney. Without him, the animation industry would not even be a shadow of what it is today. I think this quote by his grandniece sums it up quite nicely, “Anti-semite? Check. Misogynist? Of course. Racist, C’mon, but damn, he was good at making films and his work has made billions of people happy.” Ultimately, I don’t think it’s your fault if someone terrible made something you like, it’s their fault for being a bad person. Though at the end of the day I’m still not sure how to square this cognitive dissonance, and that’s not for me to tell you. Like the ending of Chinatown and Vertigo, you have to make your own conclusions.