A Tale of Two Movies
My mother played strings professionally. Classical music was on all day long. She loved Amadeus. By the time I graduated high school I'd probably seen it (two VHS tapes it's so long) five dozen times.
I know that movie, its every nuance. It's told entirely from the perspective of Antonio Salieri, Kapelmeister of Vienna. The calm, boring and generally nurturing music teacher has long since been overshadowed by Peter Schaffer's plotting monster of mediocrity, a creature F Murray Abraham breathes astonishing life into. It's a tale of a man crushed by his own inadequacy who is driven to destroy a thing of beauty. Mozart has a shrill and unappreciative wife, Mozart is a thoughtless child, and we, the audience, walk a mile in Salieri's shoes.
Set aside for a moment that the Emperor is played (delightfully) by Jeffrey Jones. The film is otherwise unassailable, a masterpiece of human frailty. Constanze has always been a bit too much of a bitch; Mozart never tries quite hard enough to succeed. You're never sure why.
Until the Director's Cut was released in 2002.
Salieri is a straight up monster to Mozart's wife because he can be. Mozart busts his ass to succeed but he's been blackballed. And Constanze? There's ample reason why she doesn't like Salieri.
The Director's Cut is a better movie. It's more nuanced. It requires more of you as the audience. But I don't think the Director's Cut becomes the '80s cultural juggernaut the original cut was. We want our frames to be simple and Amadeus already requires a lot of complexity from us (it shared movieplexes with Beverly Hills Cop, The Care Bears Movie and Desperately Seeking Susan). Your relationship with Amadeus depends on when you saw it and where you saw it. And while the central premise of the film is that ambition and jealousy turn us into monsters, Orion decided that there was a limit to our monstrousness. I think they made the right choice.
2) BAD INFLUENCE
You haven't heard of this movie and you certainly haven't seen it. It was one of David Koepp's first scripts and one of Curtis Hanson's lesser works. It has a very young James Spader and a very young Rob Lowe being bad boys; Rob Lowe is a legit psychopath who basically lures a fine upstanding young lawyer into Doing Bad Things. The movie itself was effectively buried because Rob Lowe was radioactive but I've always loved it because it's got some rippin' threesomes, it's violent and creepy, and it's got Skinny Puppy in the soundtrack.
I didn't watch Bad Influence from about the age of 20 to about the age of 35. When I watched it at 35 I'd written six screenplays. When you've written six screenplays you realize that there's a VERY OBVIOUS SCENE that is VERY OBVIOUSLY NOT IN THE MOVIE in which James Spader and Rob Lowe have sex.
The inclusion of that scene would have made the film a blend of Brokeback Mountain, Single White Female and Diabolique. The inclusion of that scene would have made Rob Lowe a jilted lover and a shunned bisexual rather than a psychopath. The inclusion of that scene would have taken a movie from "has skinny puppy and boobs" to "let's force the audience to confront some dark truths". The inclusion of that scene would have made some really poignant statements. Here's Rob Lowe to put it on the nose:
So while I still think Bad Influence is a fun movie, I can't enjoy it the way I once could, not just because I'm having a lot more sex than I did as a teenager. The movie that was released is a wounded, castrated version of the movie that could have been and it suffers from that realization.
Rob Lowe said in a 2017 interview it was the project in his career he did not feel got the attention it deserved. "It was really ahead of its time," he said. "I’m really proud of it... It’s sexy. It’s weird. It’s dark. The characters are great... It’s also a great snapshot of underground L.A. at the beginning of the ’90s. And yet it doesn’t feel dated."
Those are just movies. But the way we regard movies has a lot to do with what we know about movies and how we experience those movies. A cheerleader at my school was singing "Jane Says" by Janes Addiction at the top of her lungs; when asked why it was because "it's such a happy little care-free song." The fact that she had no understanding that it was a song about addiction not only made me hate her more, it made me better appreciate the song. Art is not consumed in a vacuum.
I got to meet many of my idols mixing bands in college. Many of them ceased to be my idols. We can still appreciate the works of failed idols but we may have a hard time enjoying them. Something this essay deals with that nobody else has addressed is that we aren't avoiding the works of scandalous figures out of duty; we're doing it because we don't enjoy them anymore.
Certain pieces of art seem to have been rendered unconsumable by their maker’s transgressions—how can one watch The Cosby Show after the rape allegations against Bill Cosby? I mean, obviously it’s technically doable, but are we even watching the show? Or are we taking in the spectacle of our own lost innocence?
At the heart of this discussion is the ephemerality of entertainment. Does it withstand the bodyblow of the destruction of its maker. From
People care deeply about Louis C.K.'s misconduct (myself included) because they thought he was better than that. No one seems to care much about the allegations about Steven Seagal; no one liked him enough to be surprised.
Danny Masterson has largely escaped controversy because nobody gives a fuck about Danny Masterson. Louis CK? We're all forced to realign our understanding and appreciation of his art in light of who he is and that is an internal discussion we have to have with ourselves. It's comfortable for no one.
Art has always been a mirror held before society. Right now it's showing us stuff we'd rather not see. We're being forced to integrate our view into our understanding and we have no simple answers. We don't like hard choices, we like easy ones, and we want our distractions to be light and airy. That there are monsters in the deep, and that the deep is actually quite shallow, forces us to contemplate things we'd rather not think about.