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COLUMN: 'Bohemian Rhapsody' churns up the muck of the art versus artist debate



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Director Bryan Singer sits on the set of "X-Men: Days of Future Past."  Movie Stills Database Buy Photos

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” a biographical movie starring Rami Malek as the late Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury, will sing and dance its way onto multiplex screens everywhere Nov. 2, no doubt to box office success despite the antics of its original director.

A troubled, behind-the-scenes history makes it more than just a significant film about a musical legend. It’s also an important piece of the “art versus artist” conversation.

Bryan Singer, the film’s original director, who will still receive a directing credit on the film, was fired from the project late last year after he failed to show up on set several days in a row, forcing a stop to the production. The string of mysterious absences on Singer’s part came, you guessed it, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, as decades’ worth of allegations against him were resurfacing. 

On Dec. 4, Singer was fired. On Dec. 6, the studio announced Dexter Fletcher as replacement director, and Dec. 7, Singer’s name was back in the news, this time facing sexual assault charges from 2003. The victim was 17 years old.

And thus the classic debate emerges: is it right to support good art when the artist himself is an alleged vile scumbag? Singer’s filmography is strewn with bona fide blockbuster hits and critically acclaimed classics. He directed 1995’s beloved crime caper “The Usual Suspects,” and only a few short years later he directed the blockbuster smash hits “X-Men” and “X-Men 2.”

But like a great many men in Hollywood, Singer’s troubled history of sexual assault and misconduct allegations followed him to the top. 

In 1994, production on “The Usual Suspects” was briefly halted due to whisperings of Kevin Spacey’s inappropriate sexual behavior on set. 

Singer and his producers for “The Apt Pupil” were sued by the parents of one of the film’s cast members for allegedly filming their son and other minors nude without permission.

“X-Men” actor Alexander Burton and a few others filed a lawsuit against the founders of up-and-coming company Digital Entertainment Network, of which Singer was a part, claiming that the founders physically and sexually assaulted them.

In 2011, openly gay filmmaker Roland Emmerich said in an interview that he and Singer, also gay, made a tradition of scores of “twinks," which is slang for a young looking gay or bisexual man - at Pride parties each June. Emmerich added that “When (Singer) makes a New Year’s party, there’s like 600, 700 twinks running around.”

Former child actor Michael F. Egan filed a lawsuit against Singer, alleging that when he was 17, Singer flew him to Hawaii multiple times under the guise of professional work, but fed him cocaine and alcohol and raped him.

The aforementioned handful of allegations are far from the full story, but the takeaway is clear.

Singer is a vile human being, and his movies bear the undeniable mark of a predator. And that's what the "art versus artist" debate so often misses. 

Look no further than his four “X-Men” films, and you’ll find that the filmmaker’s predilection for youthful and even underage men — or, as Emmerich unglamorously put it, “twinks” — is on full display. 

Singer has a type — he’s blonde, slender, boyish and can be found in numerous iterations throughout the director’s work. Whether he's Pyro, Ice Man or Quicksilver from the "X-Men" movies or the spandex-clad hero of "Superman," he's there, accompanied by the chilling implications of Singer's gaze. One such twink, "X-Men's" Alexander Burton, was even one of the great many to accuse Singer of sexual assault.

And that’s unquestionably disturbing, a taint that renders his movies unwatchable in the face of the allegations because it calls to mind his unsavory fetishes and disturbing behaviors. 

That’s not an isolated phenomenon to Singer, either. Look no further than Kevin Spacey – with whom Singer worked on “The Usual Suspects” to see an actor who routinely portrayed sick and psychopathic predators, only to be outed as a sick predator himself. 

There are unquestionably significant pieces of art made by creators who’ve since been outed as deplorable individuals, but the real tragedy is that oftentimes in the face of such outings it’s hard to not find the individual’s putrid soul translated into the very fibers of their work. 

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