The Disaster Artist trailer

On a more relatable level, though, this system ushers in unsafe working conditions on the set of The Room as Tommy Wiseau insists on a commitment to Method acting. An older actress faints in the heat due to a lack of air conditioning. His scene partner in the film’s big love scene receives nothing short of sexual harassment as Tommy treats her body with flagrant disrespect, ignoring her pleas to shoot more professionally. This same spirit animates Reynolds Woodcock as he verbally redresses Alma for disrupting his precious routine by – gasp! – preparing a nice dinner and intimate evening for the two of them. Daniel Day-Lewis’ cutting delivery of British mockery might lend the scene a humorous tone, but it’s an unnecessarily cruel redressing of a genuine gesture of affection. Mickey treats the two women vying for his love as mere characters in a drama, often ignoring their feelings and desires in favor of the more theatrical outcome. And, most comprehensively, The Meyerowitz Stories depicts the multi-generational toll of this mindset in its depiction of how Harold’s narcissism and neglect trickles down to his children. The tragedy of the film is that, despite their cognizance of its deleterious effect, they are not always able to stop themselves from repeating the same mistakes.

Make no mistake about it: this is a value system that prioritizes art over people. The belief that an artist should be permitted to let their creative urges run wild in pursuit of aesthetic truth, even if it endangers or imperils others, might produce a masterpiece. It also provides cover for monsters. The two cannot, and should not, be disassociated.

Filmmakers have every right to tell these kinds of stories and feature these kinds of characters. For directors like Darren Aronofsky and Paul Thomas Anderson, perhaps this type of artist reflects their frustration with a broken framework of film financing that makes each film feel like a true labor of love. Both writer/directors managed to release ambitious projects in 2014 (Noah and Inherent Vice, respectively) through a studio system that no doubt wanted to sand off their rough edges in the name of marketability. James Franco has worked on many a literary adaptation considered folly by critics and observers. Noah Baumbach, a true believer in the big screen experience, became the latest high-profile director to take his work to Netflix. In an age of shrinking theatrical revenue and booming streaming behemoths, these characters make for an effective avatar for the considerable anxiety in the industry.

wonder wheel trailer

Yet the persistence of this tired trope manages to crowd out more progressive or less masculine iterations of the artist in public discourse. In Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest, for example, Gemma Arterton’s Catrin Cole manages to usher through a screenplay of integrity in World War II-era Britain. She fends off entreaties from both the government and her curmudgeonly co-writer, Sam Claflin’s Tom Buckley, to make the story conform to the prevailing mold of “authenticity informed by optimism.” Geremy Jasper’s Patti Cake$ tells the story of Danielle Macdonald’s Patti, an aspiring rapper in working class New Jersey. The film could have easily taken the form of another tired Horatio Alger-esque plot of rags to riches predicated on the strength of an individual will. Instead, it’s a lesson in how a raw talent reaches her true potential by collaborating with unlikely partners.

Granted, neither of those films scales the heights reached by the previously mentioned six films. It’s not entirely fair to ask why Their Finest and Patti Cake$ don’t enter into conversation in the same way as the latest Aronofsky or Allen project when the filmmaking does not fully pass muster. But when talking about the larger cultural conversation surrounding art and artists, they deserve a seat at the table. Our obsession with auteurs should not go unchecked. Without a challenge to the dominant cultural archetype, we allow a select group to shape our perceptions of artists in a way that reinforces their own mythos. They should make the movies that most honestly express their feelings and views about the world, though we as the audience should also be aware that an externality of such unvarnished expressions of the artistic id is the narrowing of the types of people we consider “serious” artists.

Really, is it any wonder women are underrepresented across the field when this monolithic portrait of the artist reigns? Representation matters because it serves to provide our society with a repository of cultural images to process. It’s significant when an Asian woman plays a crucial part in battling the First Order, when a woman or black man takes center stage in an superhero movie or a person with disabilities takes a part originally designated for an able-bodied actor because it expands our notion of who can play these roles. Without them, myths of the tortured male artist spin into self-fulfilling prophecies. They are the only ones who make bold art because they are the only ones people think can.

Here’s to hoping that the great reckoning of 2017 and the enhanced scrutiny it brought to these coarse artists, both on screen and off, awakens cinema’s desire for a broader range of representation in 2018 and beyond. When the voices of the silenced begin to overpower those who silenced them, perhaps then we will see the full spectrum of the filmmaking community showing us how many ways exist to create meaningful art.

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