Blog | The Genius Excuse

The Genius Excuse

By admin | November 15, 2017

by Colin Thomas

The Genius Excuse

In this essay in The New York Times, Amanda Hess argues that it’s time to give up on the “aesthetic alibi,” which attempts to excuse or downplay abusive behaviour by male artists, and to separate such artists’ behaviour from their work. Instead, she reasons, it’s fruitful to consider how the misuse of power has shaped the output of compromised creators.

Can Louis C.K.’s art be separated from his behaviour? (Photo by Cara Howe/Netflix)

Can Louis C.K.’s art be separated from his behaviour? Photo by Cara Howe/Netflix.

She cites film director Bernardo Bertolucci’s mistreatment of actor Maria Schneider in the butter scene in Last Tango in Paris, for instance: Bertolucci didn’t tell Schneider exactly what was going to happen in the scene because he “wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress. I wanted her to react humiliated.”

In the scene, Marlon Brando’s character uses butter as a lubricant before raping Schneider’s character. Both actors have said that the sex wasn’t real, although Schneider has said that “I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci.”

Hess also reassesses the work of comedian Louis C.K.: “What once looked like creative provocations now read like justifications of a moral universe where women are as complicit in sexual violation as men are, and where sex that begins with force easily gives way to mutual desire.”

The essayist doesn’t support the idea of simply discarding the work of compromised creators, however: she describes HBO’s decision to remove Louis C.K.’s comedy specials from its streaming service as “perhaps counterproductive. Louis C.K.’s comedy specials are artifacts of both his comedic artistry and his self-justifying persona. Some viewers may not want to see Louis C.K.’s face again, but others could find illumination in watching his work with a new eye.”

Hess also cautions, “None of this is to say that it’s never valuable to consider a piece of art on its own terms, or that biographical details necessarily make for illuminating connections. Many personal lives are simply boring.”

This Female Season

Two-thirds of the writers and directors are women in the current season at London’s Royal Court Theatre—and, even at this distance, the scripts fascinate.

In Goats, which runs November 24 to December 30, Syrian families whose sons have been killed in the fighting are given a goat. Goats-for-martyrdom is an actual practice.

In this video, Syrian playwright and documentary filmmaker Liwaa Yazji explains, “The relation between reality and the surreal is really shocking for me.” Describing being paid in livestock for your son’s life, she says, “the implication is so humiliating.” But she also asks, What if the family is poor? “What if the family really needs the goat?”

In the light-hearted My Mum’s a Twat, Anoushka Warden explores the bizarre experience of losing your mother to a cult: “Have you ever tried to sustain a relationship with a twat? It’s hard work and you need to be completely not a twat yourself if you want any success in this. Which is really hard when you’ve just started being a teenager.”

My Mum’s a Twat opens in January.

And, as I noted, in last week’s Fresh Sheet, Ukrainian playwright Natal’ya Vorozhbit’s Bad Roads, which opened yesterday, examines the female body in wartime.

Glorious Nothingness

When I first read Ben Brantley’s review of the new Broadway musical The Band’s Visit, two things made me swoon: anticipation of seeing this musical, and pleasure in Brantley’s writing.

When an Egyptian bandleader and an Israeli café owner cross paths in The Band’s Visit, nothing—and everything—happens.

When an Egyptian bandleader and an Israeli café owner cross paths in The Band’s Visit, nothing—and everything—happens.

“Breaking news for Broadway theatergoers, even—or perhaps especially—those who thought they were past the age of infatuation: It is time to fall in love again,” he begins.

He goes on to explain that The Band’s Visit is about the non-events that transpire when a touring Egyptian band finds itself stranded in a backwater Israeli village, where lives are “governed by a caution born of chronic disappointment.”

As the characters, including Tewfiq, the band’s “straight-backed conductor,” and a café proprietor named Dina, “a wry beauty who clearly doesn’t belong here and just as clearly will never leave,” interact, The Band’s Visit “finds ecstasy in ennui; eroticism among people who rarely make physical contact; and a sense of profound eventfulness in a plot in which, all told, very little happens.”

According to Michal Schulman of The New Yorker, this is “the glorious nothingness of an uneventful night in the middle of nowhere.” And, as Peter Marks says in The Washington Post, “We’re every one of us waiting in the desert for a little happiness.”

Come Up and See Me Sometime

In Daughter, playwright and actor Adam Lazarus uses charm to undermine the audience’s ability to draw the line on misogyny.

In Daughter, playwright and actor Adam Lazarus uses charm to undermine the audience’s ability to draw the line on misogyny.

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My newsletter contains the best of Fresh Sheet, plus exclusive content and links to all of my current reviews—including the pans.

This week’s exclusive content includes items about Shakespeare’s understanding of PTSD and Daughter, a provocative new show from Toronto that asks its audience to draw the line between good parenting and bad.

For theatre pros, there are also items about a progressive funding model from Toronto and a great new theatre rental deal in Vancouver.

What’s Up?

This weekend, all of the smart people are going to be heading to Studio 16 to catch Mitch and Murray Productions’ interpretation of Smart People, a nuanced and expertly performed exploration of race and identity.

Smart actors Kwesi Ameyaw, Trisha Collins, Katrina Reynolds, and Aaron Craven play smart characters in Smart People.

Smart actors Kwesi Ameyaw, Trisha Collins, Katrina Reynolds, and Aaron Craven play smart characters in Smart People.

Here’s my review. Your tickets are waiting for you right here.

And, if you haven’t been there yet, by all means visit Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios – A Cabinet of Curiosities. The Victorian costumes tip into the surreal and several cells in my body are still singing with the thrill of having experienced this show several weeks ago.

Review. Tickets.

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