It seems that writing, when one is a full-time employee, can be quite time-consuming. I recall having read a Nora Roberts interview in which she revealed that writing involves absolutely no magic whatsoever, but a committed discipline to bang out 4 – 8 hours of finger-numbing work onto a field of white, hope it sticks, and be prepared for the numerous, endless edits (or downright re-writes) that creating a good story requires. Of course, I am not a known author, at least, not yet. But like many a dreamer who takes charge of his own destiny and sits down in front of his MacBook Pro (or Google Pixel Slate, highly recommended!) to, fingers crossed, create a narrative that can one day get featured in a short story compilation or even part of an actual book with Yours Truly emblazoned over it like an emblem, Writing Takes Time. It has left me next to no time to also sit down and bang out yet another film review when all I want to do now is flesh out a character and bring him or her to life and see where that takes me.
So, I have decided that I have to balance out the two in harmony. I can still type up a quick 500 words that say yay or nay about this or that movie. Why not? I enjoy doing so, if not, this blog would not exist. The output might not be as prolific (and again, I wish, I wish, I wish I had not lost my 6 years of hard-as-fuck work whilst I was on WordPress through a different provider, but there it is. At least, I can pat myself on the back and tell myself, “No worries, I can backtrack through my IMDB.com contribution history and redo the ones I resonated with the most, and be done with it.” And that’s good. I have as of now, a grand total of 323, so all is not lost. What I might do, because I can’t believably be outside of the house for 12 hours a day, 60 a week, watch a new release (or three, my usual dose), come home, type 1,500 words, and then on top of that go and work out on an existing or new story, and hope for the best. It’s just not possible. I’d be spreading myself too thin across bread.
So, on that note, I will be, for the time being, transferring old reviews dating back to the early 2000s when I blogged directly onto IMDb.com’s platform of user reviewers and also migrating my own from the period dating 2014 to 2021, while still posting a brand-new review, either of film or TV (or even books), at a rate of once a week. It won’t intrude on a project that I am working on and still leave me time to pursue other interests (and perhaps write about them, why not?). So for the few of you who follow me, do check the archive section often. You might find a movie I wrote about back when making its first appearance on my own site, for your enjoyment. Or not. [Hey, we all have our disagreements on what works and what doesn’t, right?]
What will remain a constant is my commitment to attend film festivals, be it in person or online, to see what is new, and what I can recommend. I may have to miss out on this year’s Tribeca Film Festival which will play in NYC from June 8 to the 19 due to personal issues. What I will not do is miss the New York Film Festival. For the cinephile, this is basically our version of Mecca. What would NYC be without the NYFF?
Sometimes you decide to take a slight detour into another field to see how it might work out for you. I’ve been writing fiction and essays now since I was in high school, and when life threw me a wrench, it seems that all that was placed on hold. Only when the Moon was full, or inspiration, as intermittent as it was, came with a deluge of creativity, did I resume writing, only to stop just before the end, or end a story and shelve it onto my hard drive, never to be touched again.
November came at me with a hard bang. I felt as though perhaps I had said all I would want to say about movies, because with all the online reviewers that there are, many who vie for your attention with interviews and giveaways, perhaps this was not the road for me. Perhaps I could use a break and just see movies with the sole intention of enjoyment, not that plus criticism.
That is when I brought out my hard drive and searched for stories I. had written ages ago, stories that were sitting silently in the abject dark and telling their tales to no one. When I opened the first file, a horror story I wrote late in 2002, my heart sank and soared. It was as though I had come across a child I had given up for adoption and found again. The story unfurled itself to me, revealing its secrets, its twists and turns, and its final denouement.
I realized that the volume of work I had in that one box needed to be polished and developed and sent into the outside world so that others could read and enjoy (or not, I mean, let’s face it, not everyone will like a story one does the same way I don’t enjoy every movie my favorite director does.
So, starting around Thanksgiving, I took that story and began working on it. It was crude, but good, and could itself yield a few others at least through its characters. I set to work on every item I had created — some mere sketches and half-written scenarios — because their worlds begged me not to let them die in the dark. I could, in fact, return to movie-reviewing later on, or so do with less frequency at a rate of a movie a week.
So that is where I’ve been all these months. I’ve been at the Mac tapping away, performing acts of pentimento over tales that I might not see in the same light, reconfiguring plots and characters, repurposing characters into new scenarios, and lastly, making sure that I typed The End after each one.
As a matter of fact, I’m still in the midst of that. Late at night, I’ll be slaving away while the world sleeps, living an imaginary life, resolving the unresolvable. Movies have come and gone and we are now into the end of the winter season. I have seen at least 30 movies, all — well, almost all — which I have loved and hailed. I was swept away by Spielberg’s ultra-kinetic take on West Side Story, a movie I have now seen thrice. I was put off, then on, by Rade Jude’s Band Luck Banging or Loony Porn, the movie that I was set to write about on the 18th of November (followed right away by Branagh’s sensitive portrait of the life of a boy in late 60s Belfast. I was conflicted, but won, by the difficult story Maggie Gyllenhaal directed in The Lost Daughter, and completely floored by my personal choice of Movie of 2021, Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog.
I just didn’t write about them. I was too busy writing.
But, while I can’t turn back time, and I won’t yet do a list of the best of 2021, I’m back to seeing new releases and at least discuss one classic a week, and gobble up as many festival films as I can, within reason, without turning my back on storytelling.
Because that is ultimately where I feel I will make the biggest splash.
The occupation of being a film critic, ego or no ego, is to be a [subjective] communicator who can reflect an idea, an interpretation if you will, of what it means to have seen a film, or an entire television series (in the days of binge-watching, so common now). I’ve been banging at the laptop for a good 15 or so years now, starting via IMDB.com as a simple user with a keyboard and continuing on my own site of the same name as this one (which, as I wrote in my first post from February, did not transfer successfully to this current version). Film critique is a practice that I thoroughly enjoy. After having watched a movie, or finished a limited series, I’ve got all these ideas swirling around in my head as of the information that I’ve been presented with, and now, the task of putting it all together into something called “my interpretation”. Sometimes I’ve turned out stuff that made me feel truly accomplished. Last year, in the middle of the pandemic, I wrote an extremely long essay on Luca Guadagnino’s short movie The Staggering Girl. That 40-minute movie affected me in more ways than anything I’d ever seen, to the point that I make it a point to see it whenever I feel a sense of grounding myself, and thus, finding whatever it was that I lost to the ravages of time and being an adult in the middle of corporate hell.
At the same time, I’ve submitted less than stellar writings. As a matter of fact, I’ve put out quickie reviews just to meet my own personal quota and make sure that whoever was reading me would see a new post every other day whether the movie was good or not, whether I even cared about the movie or not. I realized that this was not where I wanted to be. I don’t want to be just another reviewer who sees everything that gets released week after week; it’s just not me. Considering where I live plus the accessibility to an almost limitless online streaming content I’m almost navigating against the current, barely able to catch my breath as I start another two hours with a new movie, and so on and so forth. [Trust me when I say I can easily watch a good two movies per weekday, and as much as six to eight during a weekend.] Perhaps, by cutting back a bit, I may be missing on that brilliant new work that [insert name here] turned out, and for that, I can accept it. I will never be able to see every last thing that cinemas turn out; I now realize that I simply don’t want to. I want to be able to for once, simply enjoy the art of viewing, and leave it at that, and if I feel like it, express my thoughts, rather than feel compelled — obligated — to perform an analysis and tack on a completely subjective rating.
Speaking of ratings, I think it’s also time to retire that. What I consider good or bad is entirely my own view, my own appreciation of “what works and doesn’t work” in a cinematic experience. And who’s to say that I may, on a day I felt rather irritated, transferred my aggravation into a perfectly innocent vehicle? Many critics have stated that after the fourth or even fifth movie during an all-day festival felt exhausted and borderline ornery and gave the last one a less than favorable review simply because they were tired and their eyes hurt. That’s not fair for the finished product nor the director and his team who set out to simply entertain, and also make money. While there is no shortage of bad art out there, no one sets out to make bad art. I don’t have to emit a juicy negative opinion filled with snark and thinly veiled anger only to make my viewers chuckle. That was an institution that critics from 100 years ago established only to place themselves before the movie (or play), and thus, entertain by schadenfreude and mockery. There is too much of that already and I don’t feel as though I want to be a part of that. I don’t claim to have the last word. If I did, I’d be a snob, and I know way too many who are mainstays at art-house cinemas who produce cringe-worthy viewpoints when all I saw was a simple romance with a slight social statement (to name an example).
During the month of July, I saw no less than 12 movies ranging from new releases to restored classics, and a few short series. I may try to get to all of these, and if I do, fine, and if I don’t, that’s fine, too. I just don’t want to only be writing day after day after day as if it were an occupation. Unless I feel a connection to the project or its director, I probably won’t devote time to write about it. That simply means that I may be cutting back a bit and taking a point, midyear, to take off from watching and reviewing films, at least the lull before the New York Film Festival. So that is it, before I turn this into a tl;dr post, I just felt that I needed to address this into cyberspace, purge it from my system, and carry on with what truly interests me instead of churning out 10 reviews a week about 15 new and upcoming releases. I want that my personal views mean something, not simply parrot a elitist’s consensus about a film or series of films.
So, there it is. Now, to move on, whatever August may bring. Happy watching!
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.