Art vs. Artist (Or: What the hell, ‘The Ghost Writer’?)

Posted: August 24, 2010 in crotchety ranting, Jeff Holland, reviews, Threat Quality
Tags: , , , ,

The struggle is obvious: The Ghost Writer was hailed as a very good movie. On the other hand: Roman Polanski is a pretty major scumbag. Can you support the art while still condemning the artist?

Shit, I don’t know. Everyone can form their own opinion and I won’t judge.

For me, sheer curiosity won out, and I bit the bullet (sorry, but a 4-star review from Roger Ebert still carries some weight with me). And for nearly two hours, I was worrying about how to recommend the movie without getting yelled at by people who loathe Polanski.

Fortunately, the last 15 minutes solved my problem for me.

Because this was the stupidest end of a movie since M. Night Shamyalan told us that alien invaders are baffled by door knobs and wind chimes, and are also deathly allergic to the substance that makes up the vast majority of their target planet and its inhabitants.

So this post offers comfort to two camps: the people struggling with art vs. artist, and the people who like hearing about how fucking dumb a movie can get.

But first, let’s play a game. A choose-your-own-adventure kind of thing.  You are the protagonist of a political/conspiracy thriller…

You’re a cynical celebrity-bio writer who takes a job, not knowing that it will put you smack-dab in the middle of an international conspiracy involving war crimes, the CIA, and the true nature of a disgraced British Prime Minister.

Here’s where things get quirky:

You are – and, hey, good for you! – actually a pretty good investigator, using bits of contradictory information to uncover the key to the whole mystery. And you’re savvy enough about your own safety (especially since your predecessor died under suspicious circumstances) that you can successfully shake a tail from people who almost certainly are about to kill you.

Here’s what you’ve learned: the disgraced prime minister – about to be put on trial for Iraq-related war crimes –is actually a puppet groomed by CIA. But before you can even think of what to do about it – and before he can stand trial – the ex-PM is assassinated. Then you realize the memoirs – which you rewrote from your dead predecessor’s (suspiciously shitty) draft, because hell, you have a contract –have a clue that your predecessor implanted in case he was killed under suspicious circumstances.

At the book’s launch party – where the PM’s wife who is SO SUSPICIOUS THAT OF COURSE YOU SLEPT WITH HER BECAUSE IT’S A NOIR THRILLER is giving a speech – you flip through the shitty first draft and realize the truth. The first word of every opening chapter is a code that reads (paraphrasing here): “My wife was recruited by the CIA by our old colleague” and basically had his dumb pretty-boy ass installed to agree with US policy decisions.

WHAT DO YOU DO NEXT? (Again, keep in mind here: you’ve previously shown competence in the face of danger.)


A) Take the draft to the minister the PM fired suspiciously for voicing opposition, who has been trying to find evidence of conspiracy and actually tapped you to do it

B) Do nothing, swallow the evidence, and walk off, sadder but wiser about the real machinations of geopolitics

C) Pull a fire alarm and get into a crazy shootout with SAS guys in a totally awesome final action sequence, or

D) Pass a folded note through the crowd listening to the PM-wife’s speech, with the subject “To [Mrs. Prime Minister],” wait for the crowd to casually pass it forward, and then, when the PM-wife gets it, reads it, and realizes that HOLY SHIT YOU KNOW THEIR MOST DEVASTATING SECRET! – make eye-contact with her, wink knowingly and tilt your champagne glass in her direction, and walk out with a copy of the original manuscript into the street, where you fail to hail a taxi before being run down by a car, at which point the (unbound, by the way) manuscript flutters away in the wind.

If you guessed D, you’re a terrible excuse for a character, and from a meta perspective, kind of a shitty screenwriter and I’m very disappointed in you.

(If you picked C, congratulations, you will be tapped when the Michael Bay remake is announced.)

What frustrates me most is that up until the last scene, I was ready to hail this movie is a great throwback to 70’s paranoid thrillers like Three Days of the Condor or The Parallax View,* and hell, even a modern Hitchcockian work.

It ends up being none of these. But it DOES solve a problem for the art vs. artist crowd: Don’t support this movie. If not on the grounds that its creator is an alleged rapist (which ARE pretty good grounds to boycott a guy’s work, make no mistake), then at least because it is one of the dumbest movie endings you will ever see in your life.

*By the way: Three Days of the Condor is a really great movie. The Parallax View is a pretty annoying movie. But that opinion may have a lot to do with my interest in punching Warren Beatty in the face.

  1. braak says:

    Listen: criticizing Signs because of the aliens’ water allergy is NOT A VALID CRITICISM.

    If they are looking for slave labor, they can’t go to a planet that doesn’t have water, SINCE THERE ARE NO SLAVES THERE. What were they going to do, invade Mars? Name ONE PLANET that the aliens could have gone to to get slaves that doesn’t have water on it.

  2. braak says:

    Also, Roman Polanski is, technically, a convicted rapist.

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    Yeah, good point. About the conviction, not signs, because if you are telling me that an alien race that has mastered interplanetary travel can find NO OTHER PLANET IN THE UNIVERSE BUT EARTH – damp, moist Earth and its squishy, drippy inhabitants – to find that slave labor?

    I must respectfully disagree. Also that doesn’t explain the doorknob stupidity. I could see if it didn’t have fingers, but that fucker had fingers (well, up to a point).

  4. Jeff Holland says:

    And don’t you tell ME what not to complain about in a movie, Mr. I-Can-Only-Watch-A-Fight-Scene-If-It’s-Done-Just-So (this is a nickname I don’t think will take off).

  5. Jack B. Quick says:

    To be fair, your American doornobs do not make any sense, compared to door*levers*. Clearly, the aliens meant to land in Scandinavia or Germany, but got their Google Maps mixed up.

  6. Carl says:

    Regarding the ‘respect for the artist vs the art itself’ quandary, I will refer you to little seen film called BRAVEHEART that still rocks my f-ing pants off, the assholedom of the film-maker notwithstanding.

    Also, considering the spindly nature of the Aliens’ fingers and depending on the consistency of their skin (I mean, suppose it was exceedingly silky and slippery and that their technology in no way depends on friction created between their skin and surfaces) its entirely conceivable that they might have trouble with doorknobs.

  7. Jeff Holland says:

    Yeah, during The Son of Gib’s first freak-out (i.e., “The Sugartits Debacle”), I wrestled with that and finally concluded that his nutjobbery does not ruin the general badassery of “Payback.” Gonna be a TOUGH sell getting me to watch any new films of his, though.

    And okay FINE, guys, I will lay off of stupid Signs. Stupid, stupid Signs.

    Which, now that I think of it, is actually a notable movie for featuring two gigantic public-meltdown-prone assholes. Hey, maybe Mel Gibson will also be featured in that Joaquin Phoenix mockumentary! It’s all been a huge stunt so we’d rethink the nature of celebrity and junk!

    Or possibly they’re just a couple of assholes.

  8. braak says:

    I can’t listen to any news about Mel Gibson. My devotion to Lethal Weapon, Braveheart, Payback, and Road Warrior is, in this particular case, more important than the factual truth about his life.

  9. Rick Russell says:

    “Name ONE PLANET that the aliens could have gone to to get slaves that doesn’t have water on it.”


  10. braak says:

    I think oceans–even deadly caustic oceans–are a preferable risk to armies of Fremen.

  11. braak says:

    @Holland: Also, isn’t it a bit of a stretch to suggest that the aliens could have mastered interplanetary travel if they still don’t have the hang of doorknobs?

  12. Rick Russell says:

    Well, there’s nothing explicit about the design of a doorknob that suggests it needs to be turned. If you imagine a species with different proprioceptive and touch faculties, it could take some time to figure out that it needs to be turned.

  13. Jeff Holland says:

    @Braak: So you’re suggesting they just kinda galumphed along through the cosmos until they stumbled onto Earth and thought, “Well…what could it hurt?”

    This is your “Only the shitty stormtroopers were stationed on Endor and that’s why they were defeated by carnivore teddy bears” theory all over again.

    (By the way, I am happy to report that according to Spellcheck, “galumph” is an actual word!)

  14. V.I.P. Referee says:

    Why would Aliens use slaves, anyway? You’d think they’d have moved beyond such an energy inefficient way of doing things. Clearly, the Aliens travelled here because they intended to breed with human females and create an Alien/Human hybrid species, that could endure–and even utilize–exposure to water and other Earth-like resources. If you’d been paying any attention to recent statements by Conservative Fundamentalists, Sarah Palin and lessons learned from 1950’s, B-horror movies, I wouldn’t have had to waste precious Earth resources explaining any of this to you. Ugh. Nerds.

    I’ve liked Ewan McGregor’s acting for some time, but now I’m beginning to wonder if he peaked at “Trainspotting”. Which leads me to wondering how far a leap it is from “Up and Coming Scottish Film Ingenue” to “Heroin-Addicted, Scottish Alley Lad”. Hmm. It’s odd that his last few films had all the packaging of blockbuster-action status, but then public interest fizzled-out before each even opened. I don’t know. I still like him.

    Anyhow, about badly behaving directors–those with a public reputation for having done something very, very bad, going back to the days of Fatty Arbuckle–are at risk of audiences not accepting their moralizing in films. Is Polanski in any positon to moralize about global politics and conspiracies? Does the audience even care? His credibility as “The Empathetic and Intellectual Artist” went to the chipper because he did something very stupid and inhumane. Audiences might allow him enough leash to make something pretty or brain-dead action packed, but are less likely to accept his trying to make moral statements about political and social issues. Fair or not, there it is.

  15. Roman Rapeanski says:

    How can he be a “convicted rapist” if he’s never stood a trial? That’s the whole thing: he ran away from his trial. Batman should bring him back, then he *will* be a convicted rapist.

  16. braak says:

    He ran away from sentencing. After standing trial, first, and then changing his plea to guilty.

  17. Jack B. Quick says:

    Not to be they guy who defends Polanski, but unfortunately, there was a lot of politics going on, which means that we’ll probably never know exactly what the hell actually happened, outside of some illegal sex was had, and it was either voluntary or not voluntary, depending on accounts. Though sex with a minor is called Statutory Rape in California, this is not the case most other places in the world (though by all means, that does NOT make it any more all right). The question of whether or not ACTUAL rape was also involved is still unclear after forty years.

    Polanski was ordered to psychiatric evaluation in prison, of which he served 42 days out of 90, and this was pretty much supposed to be it. But as the story goes, the judge was up for reelection, and the Polanski case could be a real feather in his cap, which made him decide to change his ruling. Which prompted Polanski to flee the country, before standing a new trial.

    So, pervert, sure. Rapist, maybe. Convicted rapist, no.

  18. Maureen says:

    Jack, have you read the police reports? It’s pretty clear it’s rape, unless “drugged, screaming 13-year-old girl” doesn’t say rape to you.

    And I would’ve totally checked the movie out from the library (free = no money goes to support wealthy rapists), but you’ve saved me the hassle of putting in a hold request. Thanks, Threat Quality!

  19. V.I.P. Referee says:

    Yeah, Jack, I don’t know if her stint in elementary school three years previous to the incident, necessarily prepared her to make informed consent to have sex with a 30-something adult, at the age of 13. The court assumes she was clueless because all things considered, she really was. Any signals he thought she was giving him, were from a 13-year old playing adult and this filtred through his own imagination and ego. And the evidence was there, this wasn’t an ambiguous case.

    Polanski was questioning and challenging the ruling because she later said something like, it was okay, she forgave him and got over it. He was not denying the charges. But our laws make it very clear, that no person has special privileges to violate underage persons, no one–not creative artists, computer programmers and accountants, wealthy people or politicans. It’s a human rights abuse; a child should be able to grow into maturity, without being exploited by adults. Give them some time to breathe and get a head start, before the wolves set in. That’s what societies that consider themselves to be civilized, do.

    The judgement was for exploitation of her 13 year old person and her opinion from the point of view of a matured woman, has nothing to do with it. It’s like the court saying “yeah, that’s your opinion but we think you don’t know what was best for your 13 year old person, that’s why we had laws intended to protect you—we have the last word, here”. In the U.S., there’s no statute of limitations for sex crimes against children and pubescent persons. That’s why you hear cases tried involving these crimes to be “The State vs. …” because The State has the right to bring up certain charges, whether or not the victim changes their mind about what they think is fair punishment for the perp (they don’t have the right to decide the punishment for certain crimes, even if they were the victim of them).

    Anyhow, Polanksi should’ve left her alone and not just “because the law says so”. Because she was a kid.

  20. Jack B. Quick says:

    All right, all right, uncle already, I clearly don’t know enough about the case, and probably should have kept my mouth shut. Mea culpa.

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