Art Versus Artist: The Alleged Transgressions Of Kevin Spacey Submerge Audiences In Murky Moral Dilemma

As a result of revelations about Kevin Spacey’s alleged predatory off-screen behaviour, his scenes will be cut and replaced in Ridley Scott’s completed film All The Money In The World. What does this say about how we relate to the art itself and the artist who created it?

Kevin Spacey’s alleged sexual predation will see the actor removed from Ridley Scott’s new film All The Money In The World. Completed months ago, Christopher Plummer will be drafted in to re-shoot all Spacey’s scenes.

It sends a clear message about Scott’s eagerness to remove the film from the uproar caused by the revelations surrounding Spacey’s inappropriate, and potentially, criminal behaviour.

It also re-examines a debate about how we differentiate the art we see, and potentially love and admire, from the artist whose real life actions we may despise.

Scott’s decision to erase Kevin Spacey’s existence from the film is not a surprising one. Netflix has already cancelled the critically acclaimed TV drama House of Cards having quickly suspended the actor after Anthony Rapp’s allegations. The show’s cancellation alone stands to lose the actor $6.5 million a year in future earnings.

Elsewhere, the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences revealed it would no longer bestow upon the actor a special Emmy award, and his agent and publicist dropped him as a client.

His work on All The Money In The World, under the direction of Ridley Scott, is presumably up to the actor’s usual standards. That is to say: stellar. But now Spacey has been erased from it.

Does that mean Spacey’s talent as an actor is now less potent in the films already preserved in our memory? Does that mean we can’t enjoy his performances any more? Does it rub-off negatively on those that worked alongside him? Despite the allegations against Spacey I can’t, for example, imagine my world without Glengarry Glen Ross being in it as one of my favourite films. A piece of ensemble cinema magic I return to often. And want to return to again.

He was wonderful alongside Jeff Goldblum when I saw him on the Old Vic stage in Speed The Plow, and was kind enough to sign my programme after the show.

He’s also starred in some of Hollywood’s best films (The Usual Suspects, Seven and American Beauty) including some of my own personal favourites. His turn in The Ref alongside Judy Davis and Denis Leary is one of those great under-seen roles while his talent as an actor is well documented in the likes of L.A. Confidential and Swimming With Sharks.

The art… and the artist…

But now, given what we know, or at least what has been alleged, can we appreciate his work in the same way? Perhaps the fact he’s been cut from All The Money In The World is more a factor of timing but I recently joked on Twitter about Hollywood digital trickery recasting Spacey’s former roles. Think Keyser Soze as, say, Keanu Reeves!

However, the fact Spacey has been systematically removed from a completed film suggests we can’t, at least in this instance, remove the artist’s real life transgressions from their art.

To engage with art – to enjoy or be entertained by it – created by someone whose actions we find abhorrent creates a curious moral dilemma. Is the art itself separate from the artist and, if not, how do the ties between art and artist impact our appreciation of the work?

Indeed, does the alleged charge make a difference? Perhaps we accept recreational drugs as a part of the creative process for many artists? A 2013 biography spoke of the rampant drug use during the making of Easy Rider, for example, claiming that Jack Nicholson regularly enjoyed a cocktail of cocaine, LSD and marijuana. But the fact the use of which brings with it a criminal charge doesn’t seem to make us like or dislike the work any less. In fact, it doesn’t appear problematic at all.

Of course, there’s a massive difference between choosing to take a recreational drug and sexual assault but Spacey is hardly the first Hollywood star with such allegations against him.

There’s child abuse claims against Woody Allen, Tippi Hedren said Hitchcock sexually assaulted her, and Roman Polanski exiled himself from America after admitting to sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl. Yet, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, Rear Window, North By Northwest and countless other films by these men remain much-loved cinema classics.

Perhaps, until now, most of us have chosen to ignore the artist’s real life lawlessness in favour of enjoying their art. Or maybe we’ve just accepted it as part and parcel.

We’re now in world where information is so easily accessible. Privacy has been fundamentally changed. Thus, monsters in closets have seen the hinges blown off.

From the trivial to the groundbreaking, the amplification of news through social media trends, Facebook shares and the collected variants of our connected online existence creates a transparency that Hollywood’s nefarious underbelly can’t hide behind. Art and artist have always been one and the same; it’s now simply more pronounced, for better and for worse.

Written by Dan Stephens

Dan Stephens
About the Author
Dan Stephens is the founder and editor of Top 10 Films. He's usually pondering his next list, often inspired by his adoration for 1980s Hollywood, a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Lyndon Wells Reply

    Great piece Dan been having this very conversation today as discussing with Down The Hall guys if we can still do an episode recommending Baby Driver given these revelations.
    Can we punish the 100s of other people that worked on a film because of the despicable actions of one man? Can you still enjoy Edgar Wright’s film as much?
    It’s a sensitive topic at the minute but as you point out not a new problem for Hollywood. However, I hope with all the recent revelations this will be the start of a big cultural change.

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    Callum Reply

    Interesting topic. I can’t see how I’ll stop watching the film’s he’s been in or be less satisfied by them. The Usual Suspects is one of my faves by the way. It also seems unfair to punish the other people who worked on the film in front of and behind the camera.

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    Jason T Reply

    By lifting the lid on what makes great art, we might find something we don’t like. It doesn’t make the art any less great.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    I’ve been aware of sexual scandals in Hollywood for pretty much as long sa I’ve been following movies. The casting couch has always been rumoured to be a real thing. And the only reason it’s been rumoured and not substantiated is no one can or could prove anything or was willing to come forward. Corey Feldman has been claiming that there is a pedophile ring in Hollywood and this is one of the reasons Corey Haim is no longer with us. Tippy Hedron flat out accused Hitchcock of attempted rape and the rumours have swirled for years that actresses like Marilyn Monroe was almost forced to sleep her way to a career.

    From rape to inappropriate conduct, Hollywood has long been known as a cesspool of licentious Saturnalia. But no one can prove anything. Until perhaps now.

    As for the question at hand, no, it doesn’t really diminish my love for films like American Beauty and the Usual Suspects (Spacey) or Grosse Point Blank (Jeremy Piven) or Rainman and The Graduate (Dustin Hoffman). It does make me dislike them and even despise some of them (Weinstein) but it doesn’t take away from how good an actor they are or how good some of their movies are.

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      I think the fact they wanted to keep the release date and not penalise the rest of the cast and crew for Spacey’s actions, it was the right decision to remove him from the film. Although this does raise the issue of art and artist, I do feel as though I can despise a person’s actions but appreciate the work they’ve done in their respective chosen field of art. Someone mentioned the “Nazi architecture” paradox which is a good way to think of it: looks good but came from a tyrannical regime.

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    Jenny Saunders Reply

    You can’t separate the art and the artist but you can differentiate between the work that created the art and the real life that goes on outside/away from it. That way, I can enjoy Spacey’s films even if I choose to dislike him as a human being.

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    Mark Fraser Reply

    “Indeed, does the alleged charge make a difference? Perhaps we accept recreational drugs as a part of the creative process for many artists? A 2013 biography spoke of the rampant drug use during the making of Easy Rider, for example, claiming that Jack Nicholson regularly enjoyed a cocktail of cocaine, LSD and marijuana. But the fact the use of which brings with it a criminal charge doesn’t seem to make us like or dislike the work any less. In fact, it doesn’t appear problematic at all.”

    That’s because (as the article suggests)it ain’t comparing apples with apples. A healthy drug consumption, like sex, should ideally be practiced by consenting adults (the same could be said about a number of other things, like religion.)Once the sexual involvement of minors comes into play, however, it’s a whole new kettle of fish.

    I must admit I almost completely stopped watching Allen after it transpired he helped raise Mia’s adopted daughter so he could hit on her when she grew up (whichever way one looks at this, this behaviour is undeniably predatoresque). I also grew just a little indifferent to Polanski in the early years until the extent of what he did became a bit more public … when he was interviewed by Clive James on TV in 1985, for instance, he more or less said something akin to: “Falling for jail bait is an easy mistake to make when a girl lies about her age and wears make up.” Turns out he knew damn well she was underage when he was plying her with booze; plus he anally raped her, which suggests his intentions were not entirely romantic. Having said this, I’ll still watch Chinatown and Macbeth today (but not much else of Polanski’s output). And what about drink spiker Bill Cosby? For a while I was thinking of tracking down the DVD of Hickey and Boggs. Now it’s not so much a priority.

    I haven’t been following the Spacey thing too closely, but it seems his biggest crime was the fact he targeted jail bait. Had he just been seen leaving a male Turkish bath/brothel, no doubt his role in Ridley’s movie wouldn’t have ended up on the cutting room floor (although there would have been a brief scandal). Weinstein’s case is kind of different as he was doing exactly what any hot blooded dickhead with delusions of power would do – hit on attractive women. Certainly it’s not acceptable (he will probably never really be punished in the way he truly deserves to be), but as Dan Grant says above, this kind of reprehensible stuff has more or less been going on since Hollywood was established, so turning a blind eye to the peccadillos of the talent behind the spectacle is inevitably part and parcel of being an audience member.

    In this regard, we don’t really think too ill of the late Don Simpson given a good portion of his devious fun was with prostitutes who were willing to take his money to endure pain and humiliation. And certainly his behaviour didn’t sully the box office’s relationship with his business partner Jerry Buckheimer. Even Charlie Sheen managed to become the biggest TV star on Earth post his involvement with the Heidi Fleiss network (and his known relationships with porn actresses). This all fell apart (but not completely, though), when rumours emerged that he too pursued teenage boys post his announcement that he was HIV positive.

    There’s a saying that goes something like: “Great art demands a great audience.” Post the Weinstein revelations, maybe this should be changed to: “Great art demands a morally compromised audience.”

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    Dan Reply

    Certainly what prompted me to write this was the removal of Spacey from Scott’s new film. In hindsight, do we attribute some of these real life horror stories to the work that we love. By taking Spacey out of the film, erasing his existence from it, there’s a sense that art and the artist’s life are intertwined. But, I think it’s a timing issue. It’s just not right for a film company to promote a film starring a potential known paedophile and they wanted to keep the film’s release date. This also means the rest of the cast and crew aren’t penalised for Spacey’s actions.

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    Roger That Reply

    Spacey’s efforts to destroy his career do cast a shadow over his movies and performances but that won’t stop me enjoying Glengarry Glen Ross either. I suppose his turn in Seven will now have an even seedier undertone given the character has an air of nonce about him.

    I’m not surprised Scott got rid of him in the new movie. You simply couldn’t promote that movie with Spacey in it. He had to go. Good move.

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    Simon R Reply

    I think given the revelations and Spacey’s response to them it’ll make it very difficult for him to ever appear in film, tv or on stage again. His art will forever be tarnished as a result.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    I just hope this house of cards is just the beginning. There seems to be a new person every day being named in one of these. Steven Seagal, Jeremy Piven, CK Louis, Dustin Hoffman and so on. But there’s so many more out there and if Spacey’s career is ruined over this, then there will be more to come with other celebs as well.

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    Rory Fish Reply

    Good piece Dan. One fears there are many closets still to be opened. Who knows which one of our Hollywood “idols” will be next!

    • Avatar
      Dan Reply

      Yes, Pandora’s box has been opened.

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