It’s really difficult to think of a handsome, famous, millionaire as an underdog, but until recently I think it is safe to have referred to Ben Affleck as just that. Some seriously bad career choices and a tabloid persona that seemed at odds with the seriousness he appeared to possess had turned him into something of a joke. There were many who thought his career was over and done.
Certainly, if you had said a few years ago that Ben Affleck was your favorite actor, you would have received some cock-eyed stares. And if you had said Affleck was your favorite director, well, that surely would have been tantamount to saying Air Supply was your favorite rock band.
But, guess what? Ben Affleck is one of my favorite directors. There, I said it. Okay, so maybe not of all time. But at this very moment in time ... there’s no doubt. I can certainly say that his name on any project going forward will have my immediate attention. He’s that good.
As will come as no surprise, I saw Argo this week. And, yes, it is as spectacular as every critic has already declared. Not perfect. Not my favorite movie of the year. (And Affleck loses a couple of geek cred points for two missed opportunities in the movie — one involving perhaps the greatest comic book artist of all time). But after having just watched The Town a few weeks ago for the first time, there is just no denying that this dude has chops.
And it makes me happy. Affleck has always struck me as someone with a pretty solid head on his shoulders, smart but also a little self-effacing. The fact that Argo’s second-funniest line comes at his personal expense only goes to further that perception. (Believe me, you’ll know it when you hear it).
From a creative standpoint, I think an artist can look at Affleck’s recent career turnaround and be heartened by the fact that, even when it seems like your career is knocked cold and the ref is giving you the standing eight-count, it’s still possible to get back on your feet and win the fight (How’s that for a strained metaphor?) I have no idea what kind of reaction Hollywood offered when Affleck first made his directing intentions known. What I can guess is that behind his back there was a lot of snickering. “Oh, great, the pretty boy from Gigli is gonna direct a movie. Bet that’ll be good!”
And when his first movie did in fact turn out to be pretty damned good, I’m sure many cynical critics and actors and writers and directors called it a fluke. And then when he made another great movie, the protestations dimmed and a creeping anxiety set in that someone they had recently ridiculed might turn out to have more talent than his detractors.
And now with Argo, a man whom many dismissed as washed up a few years ago as an actor stands a very good chance of winning an Oscar for best director and if nothing else the movie is a shoe-in to be nominated for best picture.
The point being this: every day artists face this uphill battle. Whether a writer or painter or poet or musician, there is always someone who is more than happy to point out to you — loudly — why the project you are currently working on is doomed to fail. And why you will fail. Sadly, that critic is sometimes no further than the mirror. After all, no one can demoralize an artist faster and more effectively than him or herself.
How we shut out those internal negative voices is certainly something that could fill volumes (and a lot of psychiatrists’ notebooks) but how we shut out the voices of other people is different. We as artists can simply never, ever, listen to the voices of those who would tear us down. If we are going to fail, fine. No shame in that. But we have to do it on our own terms. Not someone else’s.
Every great band has been told they were crap, hang it up. Every great book, especially from a first-time writer, was met with agents who thought nothing of it and publishing houses that wouldn’t give it the time of day. Truth is, if you want to create great art (of any kind) you have to run a gauntlet. And that gauntlet is comprised primarily of people who want you to fail for the simple reason that it makes them feel better about themselves.
As I walked out of Argo, one of my initial reactions was, “well, that oughtta shut some folks up for good.” Of course, that isn’t entirely possible. No matter how great a piece of art, there’s always someone to whisper, “It stinks.” But it remains up to the artist to rise above those dark and corrosive whispers.
I saw Affleck as part of a panel on a talk show last week and his demeanor had changed a bit since I had seen him last. He was still self-effacing. Still smart without being smug. But there was a different light in his eye. The light of an artist appreciating every second of the accolades now pouring in while his naysayers are sitting at home, cursing gently to an empty room.