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kenmorefield

Leo McCarey

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It is tough to find biographical information about Leo McCarey, so I recall being both surprised and frustrated a few years ago when researching "My Son John" and a possible book chapter on McCarey (I ended up writing on DeSica instead) that he appeared as a "friendly witness" before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.)

I found all sorts of refrences to common assumptions, widely circulated rumors, accepted beliefs, etc. that he "named names" though nothing that seemed to be on the record or verifiable. 

As Hollywood has revisited the McCarthy trials through films like Trumbo and Good Night and Good Luck, I've been surprised that McCarey seems to be given a pass. Am I missing something? Do people in these parts not believe this assertion, or do we just not care? 

I was thinking about this in response to some of the chatter that Ed and I had in the thread on Triumph of The Will. 

It looks like Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors was on one of the 2010 or 2011 lists, and it has been nominated again. I was just skimming through the list of films produced by Harvey Weinstein to see if any were on our list of nominees. 

Does any of this matter as far as voting? Should it?

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I certainly feel a bit icky when discussing the merits of a living (or recently deceased) artist who is anti-semitic (Mel Gibson) or an accused child molester (Woody Allen, Roman Polanski).  I'm of two minds when considering such a director's films for our list.  When these abhorrent beliefs or practices find their way into their work (The Passion of the Christ, Manhattan), it's a no-brainer for me:  I would give them the lowest available ranking.  When that isn't the case (which I believe is true for Crimes & Misdemeanors), then I'm undecided.  A part of me thinks with so many excellent films without such baggage that won't make the Top 100 cut, I'd rather steer my vote towards those.  But I'm certainly open to hear others' thoughts on this matter.

And if I ever knew about McCarey and the HUAC, I'd since forgotten it.

As far as Harvey Weinstein, I don't see how it should matter for voting if he was the executive producer of a film.  In my mind, that's far enough removed from the final product to verge on irrelevance, except as a historical footnote.   


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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11 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

I was just skimming through the list of films produced by Harvey Weinstein to see if any were on our list of nominees. 

There are so many great films which, at least at one point in time, give Weinstein as executive producer credit, including Carol and (a Ken favorite) Rounders. Apparently there's an alternate "American" ending to The Double Life of Veronique due to Weinstein's insistence. Emily Nussbaum has a great essay in her book, "I Like to Watch," on her love for Woody Allen and how she dealt with that in light of Weinstein and #MeToo where she asks, "what should we do with the art of terrible men?"

For myself, I find that I'm inconsistent on this. I now find it quite hard to separate art from artist with Polanski, Allen, and Gibson (for others, like Louis C.K., I honestly have never found either the art or artist appealing or particularly insightful). And my own personal appreciation or hermeneutic of art appreciates "artist-art-audience" as a threefold interweaving dynamic, which means here that I take the artist's background and context as one factor in how I interpret and value art, but not the factor. How that plays out for me seems to differ with each artwork I experience; the threefold dynamic means that I sometimes place more value on the art itself (beyond artist or my own initial reactions), where others I find my personal experience outweighs the other two (e.g. Steven Frears' Philomena is an all-time favorite film, and incredibly significant for me personally, but I didn't nominate it for this list because it's a conventional good-to-great drama).

All this to say about McCarey—I wasn't aware of his involvement with HUAC, and while it will now inform my viewing of his films, it likely won't be *the* interpretive factor for me.

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8 hours ago, Andrew said:

When these abhorrent beliefs or practices find their way into their work (The Passion of the Christ, Manhattan), it's a no-brainer for me:  I would give them the lowest available ranking.  When that isn't the case (which I believe is true for Crimes & Misdemeanors), then I'm undecided.  A part of me thinks with so many excellent films without such baggage that won't make the Top 100 cut, I'd rather steer my vote towards those.  But I'm certainly open to hear others' thoughts on this matter.

This is a helpful distinction, Andrew, about these terrible things showing up in the works themselves versus when they don't. I appreciate how honest many of Allen's films are in presenting flawed humanity, even when they reflect his own very icky and immoral flaws. I of course don't know, but I think that the ethical wrestling on display in some of Allen's films could be a working out of some of those issues. It doesn't mean the person shouldn't be held to account for their actions, but I think it means that the artwork can be judged on its own merits, even if it has baggage.  I'm inclined to give the artwork itself (thinking of Joel's distinction) the most weight. The fact that Weinstein did immoral and criminal things personally and also actively tried to make art worse for the sake of profit seem related but good artists do evil things and a lot of bad art is made in the name of good causes. I also wonder about where lines should be drawn with, in our case, giving lower points to works of art because of the actions of the directors or stars. I do think that views/actions should be taken to account when they are known and register in the art, though that should be balanced against other aspects of the artwork, too, I think. If we can say that Weinstein is definitely on one side of a line, and probably Allen, how much baggage and of what kind should we consider. Like, if every director or star who used their prestige/power to sexually influence a woman (or man) or have an affair had to be written off, we'd be left with far fewer films to consider. The HUAC issue is an interesting one. I also think it makes sense to consider how politics that I disagree with find their way into films, but that could be done without knowing the political views of the directors/writers/stars, too. It can confirm those interpretations of the artwork or offer more evidence to know the biographies. Anyway, I don't have a position, but I think this is important to keep thinking about.

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In listening to some of these responses, I've realized that one reason the HUAC thing bothers me is because as I age I find auteur theory increasingly problematic. So I question a little the notion that we can always see or measure how such beliefs or actions work themselves into the film. (If set visits and junkets have done anything over the years, they've reinforced to me that the process of filming can be very different depending on who is making it.) I recall one conversation many years ago in which a friend and colleague expressed admiration for Dustin Hoffman because he was committed to not doing any projects for many years that required his character to use or fire a gun. And yet there have been many accusations since about ways in which he would interact with women he worked with (as well as others whom he did not). I'm not sure it is a sufficient response (for me) to simply say, "Well these attitudes didn't work their way into Tootsie or Kramer v. Kramer."  (Aside: I am not saying that is what Andrew's distinction means or what he is doing.)

I suppose that on some level that supports an argument that these things must be bracketed. The film itself is all we can really know, and yet...

I was involved in theater for awhile when younger (amateur, high-school level, nothing professional), and  there is something about the HUAC testimony that *feels* to me like a betrayal of the community that makes the film, not just the community for whom the film is made or the community in which the various people live. Perhaps that's part of the personal/subjective aspects. I remember being bothered when I was researching Vittorio de Sica that one of the documentaries had a clip of him slapping the kid in Bicycle Thieves to get his attention. The Judy Garland biopic appeared to claim that she was withheld food and otherwise shamed while making The Wizard of Oz. So  conduct that bribes or bullies actors (usually female)  and blurs the lines between using the commodity of making the film as a means of gratifying one's own interests outside the art work is pretty expansive and probably touches most/many works we hold dear.. That's a slippery slope, I know, but I am convinced on some level, perhaps even a spiritual one, that the nature of the production influences the result. I don't know how to pursue that line of inquiry much beyond just saying, sometimes McCarey's films make my spider-sense tingle.

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5 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

So  conduct that bribes or bullies actors (usually female)  and blurs the lines between using the commodity of making the film as a means of gratifying one's own interests outside the art work is pretty expansive and probably touches most/many works we hold dear.. That's a slippery slope, I know, but I am convinced on some level, perhaps even a spiritual one, that the nature of the production influences the result. I don't know how to pursue that line of inquiry much beyond just saying, sometimes McCarey's films make my spider-sense tingle.

Interesting - it reminds me of my response to Hitchcock when I've tried to study his films intensively.  Twice I've had to stop after five or so films because I was feeling spiritually/morally/emotionally queasy after an immersion in his world.  I know much of this has to do with the content and tone of his films, but it also didn't surprise me to learn subsequently that he was a letch and a creep towards his lead actresses.  


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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22 hours ago, Andrew said:

Interesting - it reminds me of my response to Hitchcock when I've tried to study his films intensively.  Twice I've had to stop after five or so films because I was feeling spiritually/morally/emotionally queasy after an immersion in his world.  I know much of this has to do with the content and tone of his films, but it also didn't surprise me to learn subsequently that he was a letch and a creep towards his lead actresses.  

To be clearer, I don't get that vibe from McCarey's films. I just find it hard to (as Cindy says) "give myself over" to the work because I don't inherently trust the sincerity of the filmmaker. Its more akin for me to watching Quentin Tarantino, Joss Whedon, or Clint Eastwood. I can' go through long stretches of enjoying what the film is doing, but I never can quite shake the feeling that it is crafted around the director's persona rather than being an expression of it.

 

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