Let me state for the record. I have been a die-hard fan of Woody Allen’s body of work for almost 40 years. I’ve even continued to see his movies after the 1992 scandal broke out. When his Wonder Wheel premiered at the 2017 New York Film Festival, I was basically front and center along with all of New York, ready to view his latest, applause and praise at the ready. Never in my life did I ever expect that one day I would have to re-evaluate my admiration for a man’s body of work, and measure it against his conduct, his morals, and his overall betrayals.
[If this post ever goes viral, let me make it clear that first and foremost this is my view, as objective as I may give it, and I owe no one any apologies or allegiance. I only speak from my own self, after having viewed the HBO documentary — which it must be noted, I had no intentions to see in the first place. After all, I had read several op-eds on both sides of the case and Mia Farrow’s 1997 book. I’d seen the famous 60 Minutes interview well before Diane Keaton coyly suggested that the public do and make up their minds. However, because I am always on the side of the victim until their own actions prove inconsistent and unethical, I decided to listen to the other side of the story, without prejudice and separating the man from his work of art.]
Here is a question. Is it possible that wicked men can do great works of art? Of course, it is. If Alfred Hitchcock were alive today he’d probably be in some hot water following his conduct with Tippi Hedren (which is the only actress to have come out and spoken against his treatment of her during the filming of The Birds). Look at Johnny Depp and his work, and then place that side-by-side with his behavior towards Amber Heard (and the damning texts that, while done in a “jokey” manner, added more fuel to his fire). So many artists with behaviors that are frankly, damning, and downright criminal. Should I continue to support their work or should I close the doors and basically cancel them?
That is a difficult position for anyone to be in. I can’t speak for anyone who’s dead and let’s face it, whatever people engaged in 50, 60, 100 years ago, they were different times. [It’s still inexcusable.] These people are not under the microscope. They don’t have former colleagues of any gender claiming that they were sexually molested. It took Shirley Temple a long time to come forth with her story, and by then, whoever she could have and did name was probably dead a minute, which shielded her from any potential legal issue or attempts of character assassination. Even so, it is difficult — damn near impossible — to point the finger at someone when that same someone can afford the best legal defense money can buy and use their own influence to ruin your name and kill your career. On paper, the entire conflict can reach its satisfying ending in a quick, clean 120 minutes or less. In reality, this can take years and years and leave its participants in tatters If victory arrives at all — most accusers of a sexual crime actually get blamed for it even happening — it comes with a Pyrrhic taint. Resolution may never actually take place at all.
For Dylan, the person most hurt and at the heart of this devastating, unforgivable betrayal of trust, her situation may never be settled. It must have taken an enormous leap of faith just to agree to have outsiders like Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick enter her world and listen to her side of the story. As documentarians who have been on the side of the abused, Ziering and Dick knew this wasn’t just another case, but one that rocked the film world in 1992 and involved high-profile celebrities.
Side note: I can only wonder what it must have taken for the women who accused Bill Cosby of the monstrosities he inflicted upon them. Or the boys who suffered under Michael Jackson. Corey Feldman has yet to present his own side of the story on Hollywood’s abuse of minors, and any attempt to discuss this topic has resulted in his interviewer (among them, Barbara Walters) victim-shaming him down. “You’re damaging an entire industry!” You can’t bite the apple that feeds you. Especially when the tree providing the apple is already rotten at the core, but never mind that, we have movies to produce and money to make. Youth and the vulnerable are expendable. Look at Judy Garland.
For almost 30 years, the Woody/Mia case has been a kind of restless ghost that just won’t let up. Allen has continued to make movies at a rate of one per year up to 2018 when his Rainy Day in New York was denied distribution over the same allegations stemming from the #Metoo movement and Dylan Farrow’s bold denouncement. Up to that time, Allen managed to successfully paint a picture — through movies and his own words — of an unstable, emotionally violent Mia. For every allegation came his own cold counter which made so much sense because of course, it did. Mia was a woman scorned, of course, she was livid with rage at the fact that her partner of 13 years had left her for another woman.
As we all know, the other woman wasn’t a rising starlet — which probably would have made more sense and let him off the hook a lot easier had it been that. Many older men leave their partners and wives for younger women. It’s almost a rite of passage. John Derek left Linda Evans for the starlet who became Bo Derek, a woman with a striking similarity to Linda Evans. No, this time, the other woman was Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, and the story, told again with striking, damning details, suggests that Allen hadn’t started seeing/dating Soon-Yi when she was over 18 but potentially, and again, allegedly, before that.
I’m not sure in what universe does this sound normal. Allen, with his already unconventional love stories featuring older men — thinly disguised versions of himself — getting seduced by lolitas, sold this scenario to the movie-going audience. This audience began to accept that Allen’s stories were the norm. Most infamously, Manhattan, the one movie Allen Vs. Farrow touches, introduces us to the winter-summer scenario with Allen and Mariel Hemingway playing romantic partners. In the movie, she’s 17. He’s 42 and already looks creepy as fuck. Hemingway recounts the now well-known story that Allen had wanted to take her to Paris with him — an offer Allen would also make to Dylan on the afternoon of August 1992, when the events that scarred Dylan took place. While that didn’t pan out, it does present a narrative of encroachment upon younger women, complete with false promises.
And the audience kept coming for more May-December romances. It is as he was grooming America and the world itself that yes, romance can happen between a man and a teenage/borderline legal girl. Then again, pop music is rife with songs that sing about 17-year-old girls. When he made Crimes and Misdemeanors, no one batted an eyelash when his character hung out [non-romantically] with a teen girl. No one even bothered to question what it was that Juliette Lewis’ character saw in his own in Husband and Wives, and Lewis’s movie parents seemed only too pleased to observe from a distance. So when he announced his relationship with Soon-Yi, the world only nodded and stated that this, in fact, was the quintessential picture of life imitating art.
When Dylan’s story takes the center stage it only gets more and more disturbing. Mia’s videotaped recordings of Dylan, seven years old at the time, telling her that “he touched my privates… and I don’t like that,” are brutal. Slightly questionable, but they effectively hammer the final nail on the coffin. You try seeing those recorded videos and not feel anything but rage. No child should ever be this naked and unprotected in this world.
It’s for this reason that I’ve come to the conclusion I can no longer affiliate myself with any of the “New Yawk” sensibilities that Allen brought into cinema. I’ve come to terms with the artist and the man, a man who lives in solipsism, who has his own obsessions and will never admit responsibility. The artist presented his work; I saw it, I can throw it in the recycle, and move on. It’s a shame. The man virtually and on his own terms revolutionized the art of visual storytelling. He gave a voice to troubled masculinity, wrote great parts for women, yes. But then you see Dylan as a child. Nowhere is a picture of her happy. When a child runs away from an obsessive parent, it raises eyebrows and should be cause for alarm. However, it wasn’t, and here we are, a family shattered and the ghost of another conflict just around the corner.
As painful as Dylan’s story is, she needs to and must be heard. Too many victims are already bruised and battered beyond help and once they voice their cries to anyone who could listen, they get the ultimate humiliation, the last, final denial. When she first began speaking a few years back I didn’t want to hear it. However, times change, attitudes change, and if I could listen to Allen (and his defenders, of which there are many) proudly talk about the man’s work, I could take a moment and listen to someone who isn’t a part of the PR machine, who isn’t self-serving (no sex-abuse survivor is).
I am glad that I saw Allen Vs. Farrow, that I took the time to do my homework. I researched not the tabloids but the records themselves, the reports on how the investigation brought on by child healthcare workers was botched within every inch of its life, and notes by child psychologists were destroyed even after Dylan had been interviewed nine times, her story never changing one inch. I’m glad to now, even though his own writings, note Allen’s obsession over extremely young girls, and see the wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s never the man you think it is, who will come to blow your house down. Allen was and still is the perfect trap. His own work gives his true motives away: almost always, the perpetrator gets away. Justice is a fantasy. Accusers and naysayers find themselves silenced. In Mia’s own words, “A man with no allegiance to the truth… that man is to be feared.”
Allen Vs. Farrow is an eye-opening, and ultimately deeply unsettling documentary that never feels like it is riding on the anguish of a young woman who is still in many ways a bruised girl. We need more people like Ziering and Dick. We need more Dylans to come out and tell their story. Truth has a pesky way of letting itself seen, and sometimes it can take a minute longer than one would prefer. The final and most cathartic sequence of importance shows how the defense attorney, who had a solid case against Allen in 1992, chose not to let Dylan testify because it would have been just too cruel to expose her to the savaging by knowing adults at the ready-to-tear her story to shreds. Yes, it would have been poetic justice, but justice moves in mysterious ways. Allen may have been vindicated then — shallowly so — but time has proven otherwise.