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03 November, 2007

Love the Art, Hate the Artist?

Some time ago, I was asked, along with others, if we had any ideas for a piece on the film JEEPERS CREEPERS. At first I was reluctant; though I love the movie, and think that it’s one of the best recent Horror Films out there, to say that I am ambivalent about the director is putting it way too mildly. To be blunt, I can’t stand Victor Salva, and it quite frankly bothers me to watch anything with which he’s connected.

Now, I’ve stated before that I refuse to watch films or listen to music from certain performers, people like Susan Sarandon, George Clooney, or Janene Garafalo. It’s not simply the fact that their political viewpoints are diametrically opposed to my own. I’m not na├»ve, nor am I an absolutist; if I only watched films from actors whose political philosophies were in agreement with my own, then I’d pretty much be limited to constant marathons of John Wayne, Chuck Norris, and Ronald Reagan films. Seriously, I loved the man as President, I wept when he died, but there’s only so much I can take of BEDTIME FOR BONZO.

But certain artists are so outspoken in their beliefs that it overshadows their careers as entertainers, making it impossible for me to separate out their public personas from their on-screen roles. It’s difficult to enjoy a movie that stars someone who’s every off-screen breath is spent ridiculing and insulting the things you hold most dear. But those are political differences; they have a right to voice their opinions, just as I have a right to ignore their projects.

My difficulty with Salva, as well as with another, more prominent director, Roman Polanski, has nothing to do with politics, and they are not the least bit outspoken about it. In fact, it’s safe to say that most of their fans know nothing of it. What’s the reason I have problems with both directors? Simple—both are convicted sex offenders.

Salva confessed to, and was convicted of, multiple crimes against the then twelve-year old star of CLOWNHOUSE, a 1989 Horror Film that was his feature debut. He served fifteen months of a three-year sentence, and upon his release registered as a sex offender in Los Angeles County. This fact probably would’ve been ignored, save for the protests that the victim, Nathan Winters, staged upon the announcement that a subsidiary of Walt Disney films had signed Salva to direct the 1995 film POWDER. Even that was quickly forgotten, and Salva has gone on to have a moderately profitable career, with the 2001 JEEPERS CREEPERS narrowly beating out it’s sequel for his most commercially successful venture to date.

Polanski, on the other hand, fled the country following his 1977 conviction for the drugging and rape of a thirteen-year old girl in a home owned by Jack Nicholson. He had pled guilty to the charge of Statutory Rape, in hopes of avoiding a prison sentence; however, when it appeared the judge was unlikely to uphold the plea agreement, Polanski fled to France.

So, what difference is there between these two “artists?” Not much. Except for the fact that Salva paid for his crime, and as far as anyone is aware, has not re-offended. Polanski fled his punishment, and has been avoiding his fate for nearly thirty years now. One is regarded as a great director, even having a Best Director Oscar on his mantle, hand-delivered by his friend Harrison Ford. The other is a mediocre director, with three commercially viable films under his belt. Is it fair for me to lump them both together in the “Do Not Watch” category? Perhaps not… but I nonetheless do. And were I to differentiate, on what would I base it? Should I lean towards the fugitive-from-justice Oscar winner, or the average hack who paid for his crimes?

Now, I will freely admit that I own films from both men, four of Polanski’s and three of Salva’s. Even minus the personal issues, I’m not a fan of Polanski’s work, and watch those movies seldom, if ever. And my opinion of Salva’s work isn’t much better, with one exception: JEEPERS CREEPERS.

One of the most original ideas to come from Hollywood in a long time, JEEPERS CREEPERS broke out of the typical “Dawson’s Creek meets Charles Manson” style of Horror that Kevin Williamson gave birth to with SCREAM, which so dominated the genre from the late ‘90’s through the first years of this decade. JEEPERS… condensed the action down to two people, a brother and sister, being pursued by a supernatural entity on a twenty-three day feeding frenzy. No feel-good romantic crap, no red herrings, no “hook-handed-slasher-falling-off-the-boat” happy ending. Just the two kids, and the thing that is hunting them. And it works, very well. The story is unrelenting, the characterizations of Trish and Darry are natural and involving, the design of the Creeper is superb, and the ending is anything but happy. In short, it’s everything that SCREAM and it’s inexhaustible supply of clones was not. And yes, I love the movie.

JEEPERS CREEPERS was a very bright spot in a year that was replete with bright spots in the genre. FRAILTY; JOY RIDE; SESSION 9; FROM HELL; THIRTEEN GHOSTS; THE OTHERS… all were released in 2001, and JEEPERS CREEPERS stands out among them as one of the year’s best, at least in my opinion.

But as good as the film is… as much as I enjoy it… I still can’t forget that the man responsible for it is a convicted child molester. Though he may stand head and shoulders above Polanski for accepting the responsibility, and the punishment, for his actions, that doesn’t change what he did. Nor should it.

Do I still watch JEEPERS CREEPERS? Yes, every time the mood hits, and I see it sitting on the shelf. Do I still enjoy it as much? Yes, every time. Do I feel badly for enjoying it?

Yes, a little… every time. But what really bothers me is that I don’t feel worse than I do.

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