Paul Schrader Kevin Spacey comments

Perhaps desperate to slow down any Oscar momentum surrounding First Reformed, Paul Schrader has decided to complain about movie audiences, and then say some really dumb stuff about Kevin Spacey. The writer and filmmaker first sat down to an interview to bemoan the sad state of unserious movie-goers. Later, he hopped onto his Facebook page to reveal he really wants to make a movie with Kevin Spacey, despite the allegations of sexual misconduct against the actor. Needless to say, this has raised a few eyebrows.

Paul Schrader is responsible for one of the best movies of the year – First Reformed. But rather than sit back and glide through awards season, the filmmaker has issued some controversial statements. Let’s get the least-controversial bit out of the way first, shall we? During a talk at a recent BAFTA Screenwriters Series in London (via Deadline), the Taxi Driver screenwriter was asked about the sorry state of cinema today when compared to the 1970s, when Schrader broke into the biz. But according to Schrader, the problem isn’t modern movies – it’s modern audiences.

“There are people who talk about the American cinema of the ‘70s as some halcyon period,” Schrader said. “It was to a degree but not because there were any more talented filmmakers. There’s probably, in fact, more talented filmmakers today than there was in the ‘70s. What there was in the ‘70s was better audiences.” Schrader added:

“When people take movies seriously it’s very easy to make a serious movie. When they don’t take it seriously, it’s very, very hard. We now have audiences that don’t take movies seriously so it’s hard to make a serious movie for them. It’s not that us filmmakers are letting you down, it’s you audiences are letting us down.”

I’ll be honest: I don’t entirely disagree with this. Sure, it mostly sounds like Schrader grumbling like an elderly man telling kids to get off his lawn, but I do think many movie-going audiences don’t look at films as “serious.” They think of them as strictly escapist entertainment – that’s the reason the most popular films now involve franchises and superheroes. So all in all, this isn’t that bad of a take on Schrader’s part.

But we’re just getting stared. Schrader took to his Facebook page to drop a rather surprising (and altogether wrongheaded) opinion regarding Kevin Spacey:

“I was sent a script yesterday. A very very very good script which screamed Kevin Spacey for the lead. I told the producer I’d direct it if they would make it with Kevin. The producer responded that that was not possible. I believe there are crimes in life but no crimes in art. Spacey should be punished for any crimes his actual person created. But not for art. All art is a crime. Punishing him as an artist only diminishes art. Put Celine in jail, put Pound in jail, punish Wilde and Bruce if you must, but do not censor their art.”

There’s really no way to defend this. Kevin Spacey isn’t being punished for his art. And saying he’s being “punished” at all woefully misunderstands the situation. Spacey is (was?) an excellent actor – but the strength of his craft shouldn’t guarantee him work if he’s engaging in criminal behavior. Beyond that, I don’t even know what the hell Schrader is trying to say with “All art is a crime,” and honestly, I wish he’d just get back to using his Facebook page to praise Taylor Swift instead of unfortunate statements like this.

First Reformed is my personal favorite movie of the year, and I don’t see that changing by the time 2018 ends. But my praise for that film won’t stop me from decrying Schrader’s foolish comment here. I’m sure Oscar pundits will also want to start guessing how this will affect Schrader’s awards season chances, but I’d rather not go there.

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