Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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  • When Great Works Come from Bad People

    • Posted on Mar 16, 2014 by Scott Cawelti

     Four years ago, I taught a UNI undergraduate film course on Woody Allen’s films.  Students watched, discussed, studied, and wrote essays about Allen’s films ranging from Annie Hall to Hannah and Her Sisters to Crimes and Misdemeanors to Vicky Cristina Barcelona. 

    Allen has since made four more films, the most recent of which, Blue Jasmine, garnered an Oscar for best actress for Cate Blanchett. Allen was nominated for his screenplay, as he as been for dozens of other Oscars, winning four. 

    Allen writes, directs, and acted in his films until age took its toll.  He’s still writing and directing a film a year, and has for some forty years. They’re still winning major awards worldwide. 

    In the game of filmmaking, Woody Allen plays in the same league as Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Altman, Orson Welles, among very few others.   

    Comes now the question:  Should I try to teach his films again, knowing about his

    stepdaughter Dylan’s recent accusations of childhood molestation and betrayal?  In fact, should I stop seeing and studying Allen’s films, many of which sit at the top of my all-time favorites list?  Should I urge a boycott of his films?

    Not an easy question, and it implies an even more difficult question:  Can bad people create good films, or good art of any kind?  Is there a relationship between personal decency and serious artistic creativity?   

    My answers:  Yes and no.  Yes to teaching Allen again, if possible, and no to moral goodness being related to creating great art.

    No matter what we might think about Allen and his stepdaughter’s accusations, his films won’t go away by being ignored.  They deserve attention and serious study, partly because they offer an array of engaging stories about people struggling with real issues that real people confront regularly:  Suicide, infidelity, family dysfunctions, meaningless work, finding joy in a dark world.    

    Does this mean that I condone child sexual abuse?  Of course not. 

    I have read Dylan Farrow’s angry denunciation of Allen as a hypocritical, monstrous child molester who has fooled everyone.  I’ve also read Allen’s reply, in which he cites the court’s investigation that cleared him of all the charges, saying unequivocally that there was no molestation.   

    And in fact, Dylan’s older brother, once estranged from Allen, now insists that Allen is innocent, and insists that their mother’s behavior toward Allen was inexcusable and likely led to Dylan’s accusation.  

    Then last week I watched The Hunt, a powerful Danish film about a small-town teacher who is falsely accused of molestation by a kindergartner, and how quickly his lifelong adult friends turned against him.  Hysteria lurks just around the corner when a child accuses an adult, it seems.   

    Incidentally, a shameful real life example occurred in 1983 in California.  The “McMartin Preschool Incident,” became an interminable criminal trial, ruined several lives, and led to all charges being dropped in 1990.  It’s a case study of the panic and groupthink that can overwhelm otherwise rational people.  

    So I don’t believe Allen is guilty of his stepdaughter’s accusation.  However, even if he were, I would still teach his films.  Unfortunately, great creators feel no obligation to follow the norms and rules of anything but their art. 

    Examples abound, and include terrible behavior by some of the world’s greatest artists.  The list of abhorrent behaviors is long and sordid, the names of artists familiar, and their works still beloved.  Google “bad people, great art” for the sad stories. 

    I wish only honest, morally upright artists created the novels, poems, paintings, music, and films we love and study.  Some do, of course. 

    But whether artists are good people or not seems to make no difference to their ability and desire to create lasting art.  

               

     

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    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Arts
  • Birthday Photo and Verse for Tom Thompson

    • Posted on Jan 26, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    Tom Thompson was born 90 years ago this month, in January, 1924.  He worked at UNI in various capacities for decades.  I knew him first as a respected colleague in the Philosophy and Religion Department, then as my Dean in the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, then as a friend who made me think and rethink, who read and commented at length on my newspaper columns, and who provided a thread of continuity to life in Cedar Falls.  

    On Friday, January 17, we went to lunch at Beck's on the Hill in Cedar Falls--with another admirer of Tom's, frfe echeverria.   (See photo below) 

    In lieu of a birthday card, which seems silly and superfluous, I presented Tom with this verse---silly but heartfelt: 

    FOR TOMMY THE T

    On Or About His Ninetieth

    January 17, 2014

    Tommy the T went and turned a ripe ninety!

    How can this possibly be?

    It can't be from eating his greens,

    Nor from yoga or counting his beans.

    Could he have found a fountain of youth

    in his jazz and a life less than couth?

    He was but 40 and four when I met him

    A sage and bright presence--you never forget him.

    An Oxherder staunch (sometimes loud)

    A regular lunch-mate and columnist proud.

    He complains about aging, all achey and painey

    Yet through it all he still is our brainey

    Friend Tom, still laughing and bitching,

    At fringey right wingers who get him a-twitching.

    How many books have we plowed through discussing

    The fine points of Freudian insights and cussing

    The starry-eyed mystics about us a-fussing

    With irrational thought that we find so non-plussing. 

    It’s true with his talent for herding the cats,

    Not to mention his sax with its sharps and its flats,

    He might have done more, yet now here’s the truth: 

    What joy to reach ninety with half of his youth!

    HAPPY NINETIETH, YOU BELOVED OLD FRIEND!

    And congratulations on a life well lived, mostly.    

    --Scott Cawelti

    A lifelong fan  

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