Saturday, 11 November 2017

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN


THIS MAN KNEW WHERE ALL THE BODIES WERE BURIED IN HOLLYWOOD....
I was sexually harassed by an actor when I was a young teenager, after going to an audition with him, so the recent revelations about the great and the good of Hollywoodland and its outlying tar pits were hardly going to leave me cold.  Like a lot of people online at the moment, each accusation against a star, producer or TV actor, ricochets all over the place. But none of the downfalls has hurt as much as Kevin Spacey's.

I have taken flak online the past week for criticising the cynical, and to my mind, Orwellian, decision to reshoot film history and cut Spacey out of the new Ridley Scott Getty film. The Onion had a joke about the whole industry being repopulated with Christopher Plummer clones (some began to misbehave). Even to mention sadness at the news that Kevin Spacey's acting career is over was apparently tantamount to mourning the death of Satan.

However, I have a long and complicated relationship with Kevin Spacey - as an artist, not a person (having never met him in the flesh, perhaps a good thing). I do not think it condones molestation or sex crime to say that it is a melancholy and perhaps tragic event, when a great genius is cut off in their prime. And to my mind, Spacey is a genius.

I saw him in his first roles, on TV in Long Day's Journey Into Night; then, in his run of classics, which, unless someone buys and erases them, will be among the great films of the last century - Glengarry Glen Ross, Se7en, The Usual Suspects, LA Confidential, American Beauty; and, then playing Lex Luthor, after a decade or more of rather mediocre film work, but brilliant directing and acting at The Old Vic in London; and then in his triumphant return for 5 seasons of the remake of House of Cards, virtually turning Netflix, overnight, into a mainstream player.

No one acts like Spacey on film. His acidic, acerbic, diamond-sharp malice and malevolent charisma was built for villains, lowlifes, and creeps - but bad guys with balls and a whip-smart tongue. His machine-gun fire delivery was as fast as the screwball comedians' of yore, but he spewed a rancid dialogue, usually, of repellent, or cruel, or mocking jibes.

Spacey was always snakelike and weird onscreen - his almost-handsome features ruined by a sense of danger and menace in whatever he did, which made him a lousy lead actor in happy films and family-aimed comedies, but made him one of the greatest screen heavies of all time. Looking back on his career, it seems he was always really a character actor. Like Philip Seymour Hoffman, almost his contemporary, and also a genius of stage and screen, he battled demons, but often brought his A game to a performance.

I found his delivery and confidence riveting. I studied how he spoke and held himself, and used his delivery to help me become a world class debating champion.  Everything I learned about public speaking came from Thor Bishopric, Ted Koppel, Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Spacey.

To me, Spacey has been as much a part of my life - films and theatre are about 20% of my life's interest (poetry, politics, art and music filling the rest) - and he was my favourite actor for the past 22 years - so I guess that means he was pretty much representative of 8% or so of what meant something to me, for a long time. If that seems an odd way of saying he was a hero, then yeah, put it that way.

Some of my other male heroes have had feet of clay - notably Oscar Wilde, Martin Luther King, Orson Welles, Tennessee Williams, and Ezra Pound, who each had issues with their psyches, sexuality or politics, of course. My female heroes - Ida Lupino, Plath, Dickinson, Meryl Streep - seem less compromised. Regardless, I have learned to try and separate the personal lives of great saints, artists, actors, from their works.

It was once a fact that theatre people were not viewed as respectable, and in Victorian times, they lived in a shadowy demi-monde of scandal, yet were paid to perform by a public that understood the haunted and strange profession of being an artist on the boards. In fact, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Spacey's first triumph, is a play about the damaging ghosts of the theatreworld, and how acting has infected and destroyed a family, with its sins of drink, fornication and even opiates.

It is maybe unfortunate for Spacey that he lived in an age where actors stepped into the daylight, out of the limelight, to try and lead more normal lives, of respectability. In the past, and this is not to celebrate or forgive, but to historicize, his actions would have been seen as unsurprising for a flamboyant movie star millionaire. Charlie Chaplin was obsessed with pre-pubescent girls. Erroll Flynn was a priapic predator. Walt Disney... well.  Howard Hughes used to buy women's contracts to control them. Sinatra, Heffner, John Lennon, Elvis...

Yes, it is probably a good thing that the coruscating light of Twitter is now able to expose the foibles, sins, crimes, weaknesses, and sometimes, merely bad habits, of famous creative persons. It is perhaps less good that the exposure comes with 100% condemnation, and no tempering filters of sympathy, or understanding, and no offer of a helping hand. No love, just rage, blame, and hate.

One of the ironies of child abuse victims is that when they grow up to sometimes offend themselves, they tend to lose all support from society - they are suddenly only a monster. Yet, from what we have heard, Spacey's father was a true "monster" - he raped Spacey's brother, and beat them and abused them both, and forced pornography into their lives, as well as a far-right politics that is shocking. If Spacey was damaged by such a childhood, which is likely, none of that seems to matter to those who have immediately bayed for his blood.

If I was Spacey and had lost everything, I might consider suicide. He is being treated, and even that is being laughed at. Far from being an apologist for the defeated, wounded humans that often commit such sexual crimes, I come, as a Catholic, with merely the sense that I too am a human, a sinner, and capable of failings and imperfections. Most people, if they were worth £60 million pounds, and world famous, might, when drunk, make some awkward passes. In time, such celebrity behaviour can spiral downwards, as in this case. A society that prostrates itself before celebrity certainly can tempt even the strongest will, I suspect. What Spacey needs is a good priest, as much as a doctor.

If Spacey has done all he has been alleged to have done, it may be right he stop acting for a time, to face his demons, to face trial, and to heal and make amends. Still, it is unclear how cancelling a TV series loved by millions, that employs hundreds, will help anyone. Cancelling the movies he had already filmed or signed on to do also seems overkill. I suppose the view is, it will send a clear message that no longer will behaviour of this kind be tolerated. Maybe that is why it is being done. It looks and smells a lot more like a cynical ploy to cover some assess, and whitewash a bigger problem.

Spacey is not the worst person in Hollywood... more revelations are spilling out daily. Whatever the merits of this immediate turn against Spacey - and who since Wilde has fallen so far so fast from the stages of London and beyond? - I will not entirely abandon my acting hero. He will always remain a great actor, on stage and screen. I know now he is not a "good person" and he may have acted badly in his private and professional life. But, so did Kennedy, Picasso and almost every Jazz musician I adore.

If that is cultural compartmentalisation, so be it.

I refuse to turn my back on every person who is found out to have acted wrongly, even terribly.  Just as families of criminals do not always disown their own, even while condemning the crimes, I will seek to hate the sins of Spacey, but love the sinner.
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