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Louis C.K. and Hollywood’s Canon of Creeps
November 14, 2017

Soon after Harvey Weinstein was first outed as a sexual predator, I created a document titled “Creeps” in which I tried to list every man who had sexually harassed or assaulted me. It’s a companion to the running inventory that I keep in my head of the male filmmakers, in Hollywood and out, whose work degrades or disdains women. This is another kind of cinematic canon, one that includes directors I loathe and those I otherwise sometimes admire, however reluctantly. I imagine that a lot of women who love movies even when the movies don’t love us back have their own such lists.

One fallacy about criticism is that it can be practiced objectively, as if we could see and write about movies from some sort of out-of-body experience. As if it were possible for me to watch a movie in which women are abused for no apparent reason — without even a pretense of narrative rationale — and view this exploitation as simply another formal attribute, like the cinematography, soundtrack or superb camerawork. I’ve watched a lot of movies with really excellent camerawork from male directors who treat women onscreen like garbage. And then there’s the peculiar and ugly case of Louis C.K., whose forthcoming movie, “I Love You, Daddy,” was recently yanked by its distributor.

Louis C.K. is of course only the latest powerful man to be accused of what is politely called sexual misconduct, in his case masturbating in front of appalled women. On Friday, he admitted in a statement that “these stories are true,” closing with a pledge that I hope is widely heeded: “I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen.” I don’t feel bad for him or mourn a career that may be over. He’s rich and can crawl into a cushy hole, where he should follow his own advice and listen, namely to women who have been silenced by men who are free to say — and do — what they want.

This freedom is at the center of “I Love You, Daddy,” which now serves as the last will and testament for at least Louis C.K.’s career to date. I first saw the movie in September at the Toronto International Film Festival. As a catalog of male pathology, it made me laugh, at times uncomfortably, but part of its power was that it also seemed confessional. The history of cinema is also a history of the exploitation of women, and here was a male director seemingly grappling with this. As I wrote then: “Cinema has long served as a vehicle for male onanism, a space in which male fantasies about sexual power over women are expressed on screen and enacted behind the camera.”

“I Love You, Daddy” is a compendium of such male fantasies. It centers on a successful television director, Glen (Louis C.K.), in the midst of myriad crises. He’s incapable of parenting his 17-year-old daughter, China (Chloë Grace Moretz), and caves to her every wish. (“Can I take the jet?”) He’s similarly thwarted at work. He’s signed up to create a new TV show but is creatively stuck, to the exasperation of his producing partner, Paula (Edie Falco). Meanwhile, he has fired one actress and hired another, Grace (Rose Byrne), and they start sleeping together. She introduces Glen to his idol, a pompous, 68-year-old filmmaker named Leslie (John Malkovich), who, as someone says, “likes young girls.”
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Related Coverage

Louis C.K. Is Accused by 5 Women of Sexual Misconduct NOV. 9, 2017
After Weinstein: A List of Men Accused of Sexual Misconduct and the Fallout for Each NOV. 10, 2017
How the Myth of the Artistic Genius Excuses the Abuse of Women NOV. 10, 2017

Recent Comments
lou andrews 44 minutes ago

For those who think Woody Allen is guilty of anything please read this article posted on the Times: https://www.nytimes…
Jim Muncy 44 minutes ago

If a large cache of unsigned, but beautiful paintings were found in Germany, but could have been painted by a Nazi, would they nonetheless…
Dolcefire 44 minutes ago

Let’s start with the title of this piece and the reduction of molesters, pedofiles and rapist to “creeps.” NO! We’re not going to play this…

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A lot happens in the movie, which repeatedly circles back to the question of whether it’s possible to separate the artist from the art, a question that some are asking now of Louis C.K. For Glen, this takes on extra urgency when China begins an undefined relationship with Leslie, who showers her with attention, shopping with her and sweeping her off to Paris. The first time they talk at length, Leslie even defines radical feminism for China, a scene that mirrors another in which Glen delivers a more generalized feminist lesson. Men explaining equality to a young woman is one provocation; another is that Grace defends sexual relations between teenage girls and adult men.

The other sustained provocation is that “I Love You, Daddy” is partly about the Woody Allen Problem. The film’s black-and-white cinematography is an obvious reference to Mr. Allen’s oft-celebrated 1979 film “Manhattan,” in which he plays a comedy writer having an affair with a 17-year-old girl. The title “I Love You, Daddy” refers to China’s repeated declaration to Glen, but it also seems like a nod at Mr. Allen’s expansive influence on comedy. Louis C.K. himself has been compared to Mr. Allen and he appeared in Mr. Allen’s 2013 drama “Blue Jasmine.” “He’s a very big deal in my life,” Louis C.K. said of being cast in that movie. “Since I was a little kid, I loved Woody Allen.”

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