How do we separate the man from the art?
I have had this discussion many times, with a variety of people and there doesn't seem to be a clear cut answer. Does it matter that Picasso wasn't the best of men to his domestic partners if what he created has relevance for the planet? Do we stop listening to Mozart simply because he was juvenile and selfish? Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald were chauvinists and alcoholics so should we stop studying and reading their books? I would like to think I wouldn't hold the personal digressions of a human being against them, but when the behavior is bad, does it taint how the art is perceived? Or is it easier and more palatable to put human beings' follies and transgressions into perspective when they are dead? We can stand back, look upon their lives like a historian, dive into the private world and thoughts and empathize and reflect and learn.
Case in point....
I had an encounter with Mel Gibson. I met him in a Los Angeles area restaurant and I had a brief conversation about his recent film, Apocalypto. I also spoke to him about Guillermo del Toro's intense and haunting masterpiece, Pan's Labyrinth. These were my two favorite films I had seen in recent months and I wanted to express that sentiment. But after this seemingly pleasant exchange, everything went dark. Mr. Gibson left the restaurant and confronted paparazzi in the parking lot. A bunch of photographers waiting for someone famous is a common occurrence in Los Angeles, especially someone as famous and controversial as Mel Gibson. But his reaction was what took me by surprise. He stormed back into the restaurant in a rage, yelling and cursing, and accusing the staff of "dropping the dime" on him. If anyone dining didn't know he had been there, now everyone knew.
I reserved my judgment about Mel Gibson when he was arrested for a DUI last year. He said a bunch of nasty things and then publicly apologized for it later. I wasn't there and the media has a tendency to distort and exaggerate celebrity behavior. Besides, I don't know the man personally or what has constituted his life up until this point, nor do I care much. Celebrity gossip is boring. All Mel Gibson was to me, was a movie star I had a crush on when I was thirteen and then he became a director I respected. But right in front of my eyes, he had transformed a grown man into a spoiled boy having a gigantic temper tantrum about nothing terribly important.
I was shocked. I was disappointed. And then I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. Here was someone I assumed knew better, and that is a naive assumption on my part. I believed a man of his fame and stature, with his privileged and golden life, would treat others well and never take what he has for granted. What's a few pesty photographers to a seasoned Hollywood star? But I suppose having many advantages in life doesn't give a person class and civility and respect for other human beings.
Of course this is my account, my slant on one side of a story and I don't have a clue what was going through Mel Gibson's head. But he didn't take into account anyone else's evening when he came back into a half busy restaurant and ranted and raved. I still like Apocalypto. I still enjoy Braveheart and Road Warrior, Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously and even the first Lethal Weapon. My jury is out on The Passion of the Christ but that's only because I have a cynical view about films about religious figures. But now when I see Mel Gibson's name or see his films, I will see his face and hear his voice and be reminded of the silly, sad moment I bore witness to the first week of January 2007. And I still don't have a clearer answer about how one separates the art from the artist. In the end it may not matter, but in the here and now, it's hard to think it doesn't.