man v myth

just finished mitchell zuckoff's fantastic oral biography of robert altman (titled, amazingly enough, robert altman: an oral biography). altman has long been a personal hero not only for the films themselves but also due to his image: renegade auteur issuing steady 'fuck you's to the suits in service of art. a filmmaker able to navigate between studio and non-studio - yes, w/ varying results - and enjoy rich decades of work.

however the book managed to puncture that mythic aura a bit (granted i'm at fault for allowing myself to play along) by showing the more human aspects: destructive habits, child-like self-regard, familial neglect etc. it's been messing with me. can you respect/love an artist who is an asshole in life? further, can you be a great artist without being an asshole in life? that is, do the particulars of art demand a certain selfishness, an exclusion of others at the expense of others? i'd really like to think not but as i reflect on great filmmakers that i admire (for their films that is) i do not admire them so much in life. they've either had strings of divorces, affairs, substance problems, monomanical treatment of subordinates on set, married their adopted daughters, or some combination. do you get a pass b/c you can make a film? or rather, do poor 'real-life' qualities invalidate, blunt, or otherwise neutralize art? there's no easy way to encapsulate this really, b/c you have to bring in context and history, but the short of it is, again, it's been messing with me.

the following is from an interview w/ patton oswalt and robert siegel about their film big fan which deals w/ rabid sports-fan adulation (and which you should see). it goes thusly:
Do you think someone obsessed with sports like this is different from someone who's really into, say, an actor?

Siegel:No, I think it's the same.
Oswalt: Yeah, especially in L.A., I've seen some really, really extreme examples of people who are fans of an actor. [Gestures to a picture of John Lennon on the wall] Over there, there's a picture of a wife, child-abandoning, heroin-using anorexic that everyone worships as this paragon of peace and brotherhood. They worship the image, despite the realtiy of it...
Yes, that kind of hits it.

back to the altman book, I came away from it w/ a deeper richer appreciation for altman and his films and - on that level anyway - i am no less a fan. as a director he did amazing things that won't be matched and if you can keep your focus only on work, not the man, he's incredible. but should your gaze drift to the human level,  he and his loved ones paid a price. so, what to do w/ that?

should you think of any good people who have made great art forward them my way


Elizabeth Munroz said...

I think brilliant celebrity's personal life get the magnifying glass, and the average person who lives a shady life doesn't necessarily have such things well known. So it looks like the celebrity is a jerk, when we are surrounded by them and just don't know all the facts of their lives.

CarrieP said...

I don't think it's possible to get through life without at least ONE person thinking you're an asshole, so if they can think that while simultaneously writing a book about what a fantastic artist you are, I think you've probably done pretty well.

Which is to say that I think being an artist definitely involves an element of selfishness because at some point you have to turn off the part of you that cares what other people think. But it doesn't matter because you are making art. And really, when did someone last have a book written about them just because they were thoughtful and nice?

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