Most of my Friday morning was spent watching most of Louis C.K.'s movie I Love You, Daddy.
I was viewing it on my computer, via a screening link, the way most film critics who live in tertiary markets screen most movies these days. The link--which was good for 30 days and five screenings--came from a publicist at the Orchard, a relatively new distribution company, several days before, after it had been determined the movie would open in Arkansas on Dec. 1.
But on Thursday, it appeared that the movie probably wasn't going to open here. The New York premiere of the film was canceled in advance of a New York Times story detailing the comedian's misbehavior with women. By Friday morning it seemed likely Louis C.K.'s movie would be withdrawn. As I was watching the movie, that happened. And about 90 minutes into the movie, my screen locked up. The Orchard had pulled the plug on the link.
DVD screeners had already been sent to critics and members of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. By the time this column runs I'll probably have mine in hand. I'll finish the movie. Because I'm a Louis C.K. fan.
At least I guess I am.
Like most people who followed Louis C.K.'s career, I was not surprised by the allegations made against him. For years there had been unsubstantiated rumors. I assumed there was some truth to them, but I mainly felt bad for Louis C.K. There had to be some deep sadness causing him to act out in this way.
I am ashamed to admit that I didn't give much thought to the people who he abused, about how being victimized in this way might make them feel about themselves. I thought they'd react the same way I would hypothetically react--thinking that the whole business was icky and silly and had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the problems of the person acting out.
Maybe this is what Louis C.K. was trying to say in his statement--a not-quite apology that still managed to come closer than most such documents to owning up to the facts of his wrongdoing. Basically, he was trying to say it's not you, it's me. I'm the damaged one. You only had the bad luck to come into my orbit.
His statement was a lot like his comedy. It was honest and searching and communicated the reality of an imperfect yet earnest intelligence behind the screen. He was trying to understand that which he plainly doesn't quite grasp. And it's understandable when people say it's not enough.
I understand that Louis C.K. and I are privileged in that we don't have to think about these sorts of things. I'm not routinely objectified and judged based on my physical appearance or my willingness to oblige someone's kinks. I've not always been cognizant of the advantages I've enjoyed. I've never entertained the idea that someone else's ugliness had anything to do with me and never worried that my career may be compromised by a reluctance to debase myself. Whenever bullies have presented themselves, it's always been possible for me to confront them without risking my dignity.
(Not that I have always confronted them. Which is my shame.)
People will feel differently about Louis C.K.'s work now. What we know about artists always colors how we see the art. But its not the art that changes, only our critique.
Had none of this sordid stuff come out, I would have reviewed I Love You, Daddy gently. It is an interesting movie that explores the uncomfortable territories occupied by those of us who admire the work of artists who seem to be deeply flawed human beings. It is basically Louis C.K.'s fictionalized exploration of his admiring relationship with Woody Allen, who's barely disguised as Leslie Goodwin, a venerated director with an appalling past played deftly by John Malkovich.
Louis C.K. dresses the movie out as a 35-mm black-and-white screwball comedy with a classic Hollywood score that echoes Allen's Manhattan, and casts himself as a nebbishy Louis C.K.-style writer/director whose 17-year-old daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) seems an only slightly less precocious version of the 17-year-old character Mariel Hemingway played in Allen's movie. Though I haven't yet seen how the movie turns out, it effectively grapples with some tough questions about the ethics of parenthood and the tangled, often ugly roots of genuine art.
Our culture is slightly diminished by its being withdrawn.
It's only appropriate to do so, to show our collective unwillingness to tolerate the sort of thing that Louis C.K. admits to having done. It doesn't matter on whose authority you rely; being famous (or even successful) does not license abuse. You can't grab anyone by anything without their consent. What is criminal is criminal, what is inappropriate is deplorable.
It ought to be simple. We ought to treat one another with respect. We ought to recognize that we can never earn the right to impose upon others our unfettered whims and notions. We should always seek freely given genuine consent.
We should support the victims, do whatever we can to make them whole, to restore their trust in a shaky world.
Yet it's possible to feel bad for the malefactors as well. You can pity the broken and self-loathing without excusing their actions. You can try to understand them without accepting their evasions. The best of us can live in full acknowledgment of our own dark capacities. There is no crime of which I am incapable, Goethe said, and I don't think I am any better than that.
Louis C.K. is no less an artist for these revelations; nor is Kevin Spacey. For that matter, Harvey Weinstein marshaled some resources well. Roy Moore? Well, his people will stand with him because they approve of his politics.
We human beings can rationalize anything. Just ask Louis C.K.
Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at blooddirtandangels.com.
Editorial on 11/14/2017
Print Headline: Sympathy for the devil