Terrible Beauty and Its Discontents

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If you were to ask any random assortment of film critics and cineastes to provide a list of the top ten films of the 1970s, you would expect to see two films on many lists: Chinatown, directed by Roman Polanski; and Annie Hall, directed by Woody Allen. And for good reason -- they are both outstanding. The trailer for Chinatown only begins to suggest how brilliant it really is:

Not long after Roman Polanski directed Chinatown, he committed a horrible crime, raping a 13-year-old girl. He's been busy escaping justice for the last 40 years.

Woody Allen had a string of successful comedies in the 1970s, but he took his game up a notch with Annie Hall:

Woody Allen is still working today, but he's had a slow slide into persona non grata status, as his ongoing depredations have been aired. Some still defend his honor, but there's not much of it left. His movies come and go and only his tribe really cares -- his last successful movie at the box office, Hannah and Her Sisters, is 30 years in the rear view mirror.

We're over 40 years away from when these films were made. Polanski and Allen are both with us, but they are decrepit. In the years since the release of these films, it has become simultaneously easier and more difficult to see them. We live in an on-demand world and you can stream both at any time, but the chances of seeing either film on the big screen is just about nil in 2019, as few theaters would risk the wrath of a public showing.

I have no brief for either Woody Allen or Roman Polanski; they are creeps and monsters. But ought we pretend their masterworks don't exist? Are there no pleasures to be found in either film? Or does the life of the filmmaker devalue his best work, or even render it worthless?

I was too young to see Chinatown when it came out in the theater, but I saw in on the big screen as a college student and it was a revelation. I did see Annie Hall when it came out; I was in high school and it played in my home town for a long time. I enjoy Annie Hall, but I really love Chinatown -- it's one of my all-time favorite films. I trust the tale, not the teller of the tale. And I don't believe those who say the tale is worthless. Do you?