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.