Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Deconstructing Woody

Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse and rape culture discussion follows.

The last Woody Allen movie I saw in the theater was 2008’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which I will readily admit I watched to see Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz kiss. Before that the last one I saw was 2005’s “Match Point.” I don’t know, maybe – like its creator – I was going through a Scar-Jo phase.

Throughout my life I have seen many, many Woody Allen films. My father, a Brooklyn native with the accent to match, was an enormous fan of his when we were growing up. We sat and laughed through rented copies of “Annie Hall,” “Sleeper,” “Love and Death” (pretty much the entire Diane Keaton era) in our living room.

But then, after the ugly end of his Mia Farrow period, it all changed. I haven’t felt good about seeing a Woody Allen movie since 1992. And I believe, once and for all, I am through. The separation between artist and art is something I’ve discussed, at length, before. I don’t necessarily have to like or agree with a person’s ideology and actions to like his/her art. But if a person’s character is so repugnant, it is also my prerogative to not support his or her work. I feel the same way about Roman Polanski.

And I find Woody Allen repugnant. While some have long rooted for the way his nebbish, neurotic nerd persona has always gotten the girl, I have continually found it jarring. I’m all for nerds getting the girl. Hello, story of my life. But I have never found Woody’s brand of nerdom particularly endearing. I find it narcissistic, whiny and continually obsessed with bedding young women. “Manhattan” is considered one of his enduring classics. It’s about a 42-year-old comedy writer who starts dating a 17-year-old girl.

But then the sexual assault allegations on his then 7-year-old daughter and fact that he began a sexual relationship with his longtime girlfriend’s adopted daughter happened. Let me address the latter first. I know, I know those into technicalities like to say that Soon-Yi was not his adopted daughter. And he never married her mother, Mia. But the two were in a relationship for 12 years. And the relationship only ended when Mia found nude pictures the then 57-year-old Woody had taken of the then 19- or 20-year-old (her adoption records are incomplete) Soon-Yi. I am adopted and I can tell you 100 percent, flat-out, without reservation, that shit is weird and gross and wrong. End of story.

Then there is the separate issue of the alleged sexual assault on his daughter, Dylan Farrow. The allegations, which were first made in 1992 and then became part of the bitter custody dispute though never prosecuted criminally, resurfaced a few days ago with an open letter from the now 28-year-old Dylan Farrow. Her letter recounts – for the first time publicly in her own words – what happened and how it has affected her life. It isn’t pretty. As mentioned earlier, trigger warning if you click this link.

There has been a lot made about the ambiguities and fact that Allen has never been charged or convicted of the crime. The “Who can know what really happened?”-attitude is pervasive. But its implication could not be clear. “I the absence of clear facts, I’m going to assume this girl has been lying for 21-years and keep supporting Woody Allen and seeing his movies.” Indeed, we have a presumption of innocence in this country, and it is a good thing. But it shouldn’t automatically equate to a presumption of guilt on the behalf of the accuser – especially in cases of sexual assault and abuse. Rape culture is everywhere and is real. It’s that toxic atmosphere which allows everything from casual rape jokes to actual rape because such violations are totally the same as your favorite football team getting blown out of the big game and a girl is totally asking for it because she is drunk/wearing a short skirt/what was she doing there in the first place anyway, etc. etc. Blame the victim, blame the victim, slut shame and repeat.

So let’s go to the numbers. In the Unites States, every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's National Crime Victimization Survey. Nationally, 60 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, also according to the U.S. Justice Department. And nationally 97 percent of rapists never spend a day in jail, again according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Meanwhile, an average of methodical international studies on sexual assault claims finds they are only between 2-8 percent of all reports to police are false, according to The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women. So, statistically speaking: Rapes getting reported? Rare. Rapists going to jail? Rarer. Rape reports being false? Possibly rarest.

Allen, by the way, has vehemently denied the claims through his lawyer and lays basically all the blame at Mia Farrow’s feet.

You don’t necessarily have to take a side in this debate. You can continue seeing Woody Allen movies and appreciating his work. Your conscience is yours and yours alone. I just known mine feels a whole lot better believing a 7-year-old girl. I can live with giving up on some movies. In the scope of things, it’s really the least I can do.

p.s. Yesterday New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum unearthed this gem from a one-act play Allen wrote and had produced three years ago. Yes, it’s a child molestation joke. Ladies and gentlemen, a comedy genius.


Anonymous said...

I've always found his public personality to be weird and creepy, rather than funny, even before any of the allegations surfaced. When they did, it merely confirmed for me that I wouldn't have any desire to see any of his work.

Aline Duarte said...

Hi, i read a post in a brazilian feminist blog that speaks about Woody Allen. The blog is in portuguese, but the Google translator is here to help. Is hard make a judgment about this question, but makes sense the interview of the Woody to TV 60 Minutes in 92: "Let's be rational. I am 57 years. It is not unreasonable that in the midst of a bitter and biting fight for custody, I'll drive up to Connecticut, where no one likes me and where I'll be in a house full of enemies, and suddenly, during the visit, I choose this moment of my life to become a child molester?".

Sorry about my errors, but is the first time i write in english.

Here the link for the post: http://escrevalolaescreva.blogspot.com.br/2014/02/um-relato-de-abuso-contra-woody-allen.html

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am done with him too. As you said, everybody gets to choose and we don't have to justify our choices to anyone. I have probably seen most of his movies, and some of them are interesting and even delightful, mostly before the end of the Mia Farrow era (Crimes & Misdemeanors, Another Woman, Purple Rose of Cairo), but I've never enjoyed the man per se or the character he or his surrogates (Owen Wilson, John Cusack etc) play - and now this. Time to stop supporting ($$) and more than time to stop celebrating the man. Enough is enough.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting your thoughts on this topic and stating your decision to avoid his films. I cannot watch one of his films without thinking about his behaviour and as such have also decided not to watch any more of his films. I did wonder whether I was taking too extreme a view, so it is reassuring to know that others such as yourself take a similar stance.

Chirper said...

I think Woody Allen's last good film was "Radio Days," and he's been skating ever since, creatively speaking.

I agree with most of what you wrote, but like it or not, there are instances where young children, through the actions and words of a parent, law enforcement officer or other adult in authority, comes to believe that they have been the victim of a sexual assault. This was definitely the situation in the McMartin Preschool case and other alleged day care molestation cases, as well as countless child custody disputes.

Is Woody Allen a creep? Definitely. Did he molest Dylan Farrow? He was never prosecuted, let alone convicted of a crime. We have a system of laws to deal with these accusations, and the fact that the Farrows are now attempting to use the court of public opinion as a by-pass strikes me as suspect. And that they're doing this just in time for the Oscars makes this even more so.

The only Farrow I feel sorry for is Dylan, who definitely has issues, whether caused by her mother, Woody Allen or whomever. She's said her piece, but in my opinion, enough. Her mother and brother's continued persecution of Woody Allen does them no credit at this point--they sound demented.

Their argument has been made. Let's move along.

pecola said...

I believe Dylan Farrow. Unequivocally and without hesitation.

And if there are women who will read this post, whose lives have been touched by abuse, I believe you too.

Thanks for penning this.

J9 said...

Thank you pecola. And thank you Ms. Snarker.

Duffi McDermott said...

As a survivor, I believe Dylan. Her account is very clear. I watched Allen's movies for years, but now I am completely done. As is my husband, the Allen fan. He read the account and he believes her, too.

SFGreek said...

I loved his earlier films, but have always hated his clear interest in younger women. That in itself is common enough, and commonly enough veers into creepiness, but his was a whole other level for me.

I don't think it's just his fame or success or genius/creativity that has other actors and film pros rallying around him. From what I understood from a female actor in one of his movies, he's just a fantastic director to work with. Knows how to get the best out of people, never gets mad, quite gentle in his directing, etc. She said it was a great experience.

And that just adds to the complexities of human beings, some of whom have more egregious flaws than others. I'm with Dorothy on this one.

Sally said...

I've never seen a Woody Allen movie and I never will.

For most of my life, I had no interest in a neurotic old New Yorker dude who always puts himself in his movies dating much younger women. In a word: creepy.

Now, even if my movie-going tastes were to change radically and I find that I suddenty LOVE such movies, I will deliberately never watch anything he's made.

I believe Dylan Farrow.

dc said...

I also saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Before that I had given up bothering to read anything related to his moviemaking. And when his latest movie came out, the little I gleaned of the Cate Blanchett character confirmed to me his deep seated misogyny.

When I caught Diane Keaton doing a homage to him at the GGs, I was shocked and appalled.

Apart from all the Oscar buzz and the blatant ignoring of the elephant in the room, Dylan Farrow's article is likely a response to the The Daily Beast article, a defence of Allen written by Robert B Weide "the tone of the piece is ... aggressive, borderline gross." says Lainey Gossip. And I agree.

I'm glad Dylan decided to publicly tell her own story for the first time. And I totally believe her.

And the hostile responses from the people who would like to deny that the sexual abuse took place are predictably using the tired sexist trope of pointing the finger at the "vengeful lover" MIa Farrow, who of course "manipulated" her daughter into making the accusation.

Solo said...

Never really been a big WA fan...I know for sure I have seen just 2 or 3 movies of his.Did I enjoy them? Probably.Did I know much about his personal life and affairs?! No !
Do I find this Open Letter scary and sad?! I do !
I feel just the same way as when I read Nabokov's 'Lolita' -- SICK !!!
I have never understood how this sick book about a pedophile is considered CLASSIC ???
So same mixed feelings of anger and sadness are arousing now

Anonymous said...

I agree. I have been done with him for years now. I haven't watched Woody Allen movies since I found out about him marrying his daughter (!!!) And that is a fact, regardless of what happened or didn't happen to Dylan. Also, I cannot stand Polanski. I also refuse to watch his movies.

Carmen SanDiego said...

Thank you DS for sharing your thoughts on this
I believe Dylan and will not watch his movies again

egghead said...

I believe Dylan, and I support HER. I will never support Woody Allen. I don't know why Allen's colleagues feel the need to support him or lavish awards upon him under this dark cloud. I guess they've never been finger-raped (no consent) while being a baby or a little child. The world is full of narcissists who think nothing of anyone but themselves.

It was the summer between kindergarten and 1st grade when I was molested by a family member. I was told it was a secret. At 6 years there is no way for one to consent to such a thing when you know nothing of such things. "Just watch the toy train go round little girl . . ."

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. I have never liked him and always thought he was guilty. The lines from the play were very disturbing.

Anonymous said...

Oh come on. Do you guys really think it's possible to judge someone by a few items posted in magazines? IT'S NOT! Thinking Mia Farrow sounds demented or Woody is a creep doesn't prove anything at all. Of course I hope the allegations are wrong. Obviously it's a family tragedy either way. But I don't see any need to damn Woody Allen just yet. There are reasons why there wasn't a conviction (or a real process) in the early nineties. And they didn't settle out of court for $15 mio like Jackson did, either. Maybe he just didn't do it, you know? In that case I would feel horribly, horribly sad for the old guy. He's already lost his daughter. He's having a shit-storm again. Maybe he didn't do anything to deserve that. And yes, maybe he did. But who am I to judge.
The older guy/younger woman-theme in Woodys movies might not be to your taste but it's hardly evidence of criminal activities. Relationships with a big age difference are not the same thing as child abuse. Not by a long shot. And even if:
Solo, I don't see why child abuse can't be a subject in art (not talking about those stupid lines in Dorothys post. Those are bs). Nabokov's Lolita is the most wonderful, compassionate thing I've ever read about the subject. As a survivor it almost made me throw up sometimes. Not easy to read. At the same time I never before felt so understood. It's a work of genius and if you're not able to appreciate great literature, well, that's not on Nabokov - or his favorable critics.
I still like Woody. I choose to believe he's not a monster. Even though that means that probably Mia Farrow is one, sort of. Anyway, Woody Allen's movies have been good to me and I feel I owe a bit of loyalty in the sense of "innocent until proven guilty".
The olympics on the other hand: The sum of wrongness (ecological, human rights, political...) around that gigantic event makes it very easy for me to just not watch any of it.
So Dorothy: What makes you think Woody is bad enough to be boycotted but the Russian government@Sochi is not?

Adriana said...

I work with victims of sexual abuse on a daily basis. For some of them the abuse took place decades ago but they still live with the pain every day. They kept their mouths shut their whole lives for fear of being blamed or because they feel they are somehow responsible for having been abused as a child. The only thing that can alleviate some of this pain is being recognised as a victim. All victims should feel it's safe to speak out. Sadly, I feel the media storm surrounding Woody Allen is keeping other victims from telling their stories. That's just wrong.

Anonymous said...

How's that? I'm interested.

Jill said...

That pretty much says what I think about the whole thing.

I've always thought that the big clunking wheel of Hollywood has a "as long as you make me money I don't care what you do" mentality.

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