Try To Understand
I noted in passing this morning that Leni Riefenstahl died Monday at the age of 101. This evening I read Rien's comment "she was the best European editor of the 20th century". She probably was. The greatest editor of the 20th Century (European or otherwise), who put her genius to work for Nazi Germany.
D. W. Griffith is known as the father of the modern motion picture, his Birth of a Nation, like Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will and the two part Olympia documentaries considered revolutions in their respective disciplines. Spike Lee, an African American director of genius said in an interview he would not watch Birth of a Nation to study technique because, in addition to being a revolution in the history of the motion picture, it was also an unabashed propaganda device for the Ku Klux Klan, racist with a capital "R"). I would not argue with Spike Lee (but I'd peek). The problem with monsters is that some of them are talented. The problem with monsters is that some of them posess genius. My own thought is study the technique, add to your own set of skills, but for God's sake use those skills for something other than killing (enslaving, debasing, defiling) your fellow human beings.
There's almost nothing to gain in talking about a Riefenstahl or a Griffith in anything other than negative terms. No problem suggesting Ghengis Khan possessed military skills. Not many around who remember Ghengis, the heads on pikes, the universal slaughter. There are people around who remember Hitler. There are people around who know and remember the Klan. So why am I mentioning it? Well, it's one of those questions that sits at the nexus, sits on the line between, well, Jimmy my lad, "good and evil". It's a complicated world. How do you evaluate artistic genius separate from its use in the support a monster? I don't know that you do, not without a century or so of distance.
What's OK to study in building your technique, what's OK in the making of art (photographs, paintings, music and movies) and how does it flow together? Don't know, but it's not a trivial question. Ultimately it gets down to how do you learn to recognize the monster as an infant, as it's building its base and expanding its power. How do you recognize and stop it before it's packaged by a Riefenstahl or a Griffith or you? Don't know, but we have to try.