Renouncing Woody

I admit I’m going to miss “The Whore of Mensa.” And “Match Wits with Inspector Ford.” And — what the hell — “Lovborg’s Women Considered” has some great lines, too:

Dorf: Oh, Netta! All is lost! Lost!

Netta: For a weak man, perhaps, but not if one has — courage.

Dorf: Courage?

Netta: To tell Parson Smathers he can never hope to walk again and that for the rest of his life he must skip everywhere.

Why not face facts? Nearly everything in Woody Allen’s Without Feathers holds up pretty well, though the book and I are of an age. Nevertheless, I’m sending my 1975 edition to my mother, who will sequester it somewhere in that nigh-Bodleian library of hers. (She alphabetizes by author and sorts by genre and era, so its nearest neighbors will probably be books by Bombeck and Buchwald.) When Death finally does come for Allen, I’ll ask for it back. I’ll also resume watching his movies. But while he lives, his entire oeuvre is going, as it were, into the deep freeze.

This is my feeble show of solidarity with Dylan Farrow, Allen’s adopted daughter, who now generally uses the name “Malone,” and has lately been re-iterating her 20-year-old allegations that Allen molested her. Last fall, when she gave an interview to Vanity Fair, she made it clear attention must be paid. Now, doubling down in an open letter, she demands of Times readers: “So imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter.”

Allen himself has consistently denied any wrongdoing. The doctor who examined Dylan on behalf of the State of Connecticut noted inconsistencies in her story and stated under oath he believed it to be false. The New York State Department of Social Services found “no credible evidence” that Allen had “abused or maltreated” Dylan. A Connecticut trial court judge did rule that he had probable cause to try Allen, but chose not to do so in order to spare Dylan the trauma of appearing in court.

Fandom is a species of consumerism, a state of pure caprice answerable to nobody and nothing. Most of us fans aren’t scholars or serious critics, so we’re free of any professional obligation to treat the art apart from the artist. When weighing accusations, we don’t require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, a preponderance of the evidence, or even a prima facie case. The very word “fan,” which comes either from “fancy,” meaning “strong liking,” or “fanatic,” suggests irrational attachment. If fans can’t be unfair, who can?

Dylan’s open letter was a bold move. It was clearly written with Times readers in mind, which is to say it’s less graphic or coarsely emotional than the average Murdoch rag headline. She goes out of her way not to depict herself as a basket case, reminding us, “Today, I consider myself lucky. I am happily married. I have the support of my amazing brothers and sisters.” To this one can respond chivalrously without feeling like a sucker.

With no obvious chance of a payout from Allen, It’s hard to imagine what ulterior motive Dylan, who has flown below the radar these past two decades, could have for repeating this story in her own adult voice, and now under a recent photograph. Or maybe not. Allen’s camp has claimed all along she was acting under psychological pressure from a scorned and vengeful Mia. It is possible the old programming is still in effect — Dylan makes a point of acknowledging “a mother who found within herself a well of fortitude that saved us from the chaos a predator brought into our home.” It’s the most stilted, hagiographical line in the letter. But hey, if Allen really was a viper, doesn’t Mia deserve that kind of praise?

Robert Weide, producer and director of the PBS special Woody Allen: A Documentary, makes Allen’s case in a piece for The Daily Beast. He cautions the public not to conflate Woody’s seduction of, and later marriage to, Mia’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi with his alleged abuse of Dylan. If he were conducting a voir dire, that would only be fair. But what’s at stake here isn’t Allen’s freedom; it’s his standing as a media personality. Allen behaved so swinishly in the Soon-Yi affair that my awareness of it has poisoned my appreciation for his movies — at least the ones in which he appears as a sympathetic character. Before 1992, Alvy Singer’s game was wheedling and manipulative in a cute way; since then, it’s looked wheedling and manipulative in an ought-to-be-horsewhipped way.

For me, at least, Dylan’s letter has tipped the balance in favor of a boycott. It has succeeded in making the pleasure in his movies (and books) too guilty, which was no doubt its aim. Renouncing Allen’s work for the duration of his lifetime might sound like too little — Dylan, along with her demons, should outlive him by a few decades. But, like I said, I am a fan. Renouncing it for the duration of my lifetime would be a little too draconian. To borrow Allen’s phrase, the heart wants what it wants, and this fan’s heart is compromised enough to split the difference.

A Woody Allen version of De Profundis would not be pretty. Outside, the day may be blue and gold, but the light that creeps down through the thickly-muffled glass of the small iron-barred window beneath which one sits is grey and niggard, and niggard clashes with everything but earth tones…It is always twilight in one’s cell, as it is always twilight in one’s heart, but try pointing this out when they wake you for morning inspection…The supreme vice is shallowness, unless you’re a tattoo artist — then it’s an inability to spell “Mother.” I’ll try to remember that the next time I find myself wishing he’d ended up in Bridgeport.

  • Stefanie

    We used to be huge fans — our early dating years were marked with his films although I never understood the mess that was Stardust Memories and “Manhattan” was compelling but completely creepy — Mariel Hemingway’s character was the only “grown-up” in the movie and she was sleeping with a man old enough to be her grandfather as if that was the most natural thing in the world. It’s weird how movie-goers accept things – like the frog in the slow-to-boil pot, I guess.
    We haven’t actually paid to see a Woody Allen movie since Manhattan Murder Mystery, but we have watched his films on t.v. and via friends’ dvds and Academy screeners that come in the mail. Blue Jasmine was fascinating character study and the writing was spot on and funny. He is good at writing about people who are empty in their soul.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    The Weide article is very troubling. He both tries to say that he isn’t intimate with Allen and only knows him tangentially in a professional way, and mentions how he calls him, speaks to him, etc. in what sounds like more than a merely business deal fashion. To me, it comes across as a fan making the most of the encounters with a celebrity, and that does influence how I read the rest of his piece.
    On the best reading of the whole affair, yes, there is room for doubt: was a vulnerable seven year old pressured into giving testimony during a very messy and emotionally fraught breakup?
    On the other hand, we’ve been through all this in the Catholic Church. Remember how these kinds of allegations were disbelieved, and the assumption was that troubled kids must be lying, or someone was manipulating them? Because it was quite literally unthinkable to believe that a priest would do such a thing.
    I think Allen’s fans are behaving in the same way: it is unthinkable that their hero should do such a thing, so Dylan must be lying or manipulated, and it’s Mia Farrow who is the villain in all this – see the way Weide closes up with a slap at Farrow over Roman Polanski.
    I’ve never been a fan of Allen’s; what I saw of his work left me uneasy, because it seemed to me that there was not just a struggle for liberation from the stifling world of the family, but an underlying contempt and disgust with the whole notion of the domestic. To me, that’s why he seemed to find it so easy to take up with Soon-Yi Previn; for him, her adoptive mother wasn’t his partner in any meaningful way as a family relationship; her children weren’t anything to do with him as a step-parent or other figure; the children he adopted with Farrow and their biological child seem not to have figured very widely in his life (however that turned out): I really don’t think he ever saw himself in terms of ‘husband/partner’ or ‘father/parental figure’, so as far as he was concerned, a new relationship with a younger woman was no big deal.
    Weide makes the best of a bad job by his list ‘correcting’ the misapprehensions, but it does come out like – again – the legalistic defences mounted in the abuse cases by the Church early on: Allen wasn’t technically Previn’s step-father; he wasn’t married to Farrow; they didn’t share a house, etc.
    I don’t know the truth of it. But there’s an awful whiff of victim-blaming in Weide’s post which I do not like at all.

  • BadMF

    Good idea, Max. I’m going to give them up also. Offering it up for the family’s forgiveness of one another, and the sincere repentance of any evil committed, whatever that might be.

    Woody Allen films have a distinct flavor and atmosphere, colored by his self centered persona and somehow adorable neuroticism. Enjoying them, in these circumstances, seems more like you are accepting the (fictional) decisions to choose evil for its own sake, rather than identifying with the protagonist’s weaknesses and sort of weeping in solidarity at our fallen nature.

    Now that I think about it, that’s one of the big differences between the Church, and therapy, isn’t it? Instead of trying to overcome your faults and repent for your sins, psycho-therapy helps you get it out, justify it and accept it as just part of life.

    What a mess.

  • BTP

    Well, not to conflate (because that would be wrong), but the incest taboo isn’t just to keep the offspring from having deformities. Why is it so hard to suppose that a man who has incestuous relations has incestuous relations?

    I mean, it’s one thing to overlook an artist who is a roaring drunk or trashes hotel rooms, but this should be something else, entirely. Yet it has not been treated that way. Interesting.

  • AnneG

    I’m glad you wrote about this. I’m way older than you. The last Woody Allen movie I enjoyed was Sleeper. Watched Bananas, meh. Watched some of Hannah and her sisters and it was just too much about neurotic, barely functional people obsessing about nothing while in the middle of a disaster. Came to the conclusion that the writer was a deeply narcissistic person who has ignored his soul and conscience for so long that he can no longer access it.
    Seems like Dylan was definitely abused, probably by her mother’s boyfriend and probably by others. Reminds me a lot of Herod’s court. Everyone is perverted and everyone is lying about something. Our challenge is to recognize evil while praying for God to take control and bring good out of all these twisted situations.
    I’m glad you are putting him away. Pray for him before it is too late.

  • guest

    I’ve never watched a Woody Allen movie the whole way through. Now, I guess I never will. There are hundreds of actor/directors who have never raped a seven year old, so it’s no great loss in my estimation.

    Well done for standing up for the victim instead of shielding the perpetrator just because he’s famous.

    Now, how about a Roman Polanski boycott?

  • guest

    I don’t think that’s a fair description of psychotherapy. If your therapist finds out that your actions are hurting other people, they’re not going to be okay with that, they’re going to try to persuade you to change your ways. They might look at the underlying reasons for your behaviour but that’s not the same as justifying it.
    If someone goes to a therapist and tells them they’ve raped a child, for instance, the therapist is going to try to get them to turn themselves over to the police- for the patient’s own sake as well as the child’s.
    Church and therapy don’t have to be seen as in competition. They can be complimentray and their basic goal- to heal people- is very similar.

  • John Wisher

    I think you hit the nail squarely on the head noting the difference between the Church and therapy. Well done!

  • Manny

    I don’t know who to believe, but Woody Allen is so creepy that the charges stick whether true or not. If they are totally false, I feel sorry for him but somehow I can’t help feeling that there’s something there, even if Dylan’s story is not 100% accurate.

  • Darren


  • Y. A. Warren

    Boycotting Woody Allen and his movies is such a small price to pay to protect children and other vulnerable populations from predators, and yet people waffle on this. I simply don’t understand.

  • Y. A. Warren

    Boycott both!

  • Y. A. Warren

    PRAY FOR HIM?! He is a pervert! Jesus said that those who lead a child to harm should be killed doubly, by hanging and drowning!

  • Y. A. Warren

    Jesus threw money changers our of the temple. Jesus said that those who led children to sin were to be doubly killed, by hanging and drowning. Jesus said that we must make amends to each other. Jesus said that we must render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars and did not take the convicted thieves off their crosses.

    What we call “Christianity” is not following what Jesus exemplified and said.

  • Spainsunshine

    Thank you for a focused response. Roberts Weide’s response was so charged with how Mia behaved in the past, her distance past relationships, and her current responses. I guess he didn’t want to seem distasteful and blame the victim so Mia is the next best female who deserves horrible treatment? Its about Dylan’s healing and how this man has abused. Woody barely has been in touch with reality for decades. Just because you have fame and fortune does not mean you are mentally stable.

  • slideguy

    I’ve been disturbed at mob howling for Allen’s head. His choice of taking up with his girlfriend’s daughter was, as you said. swinish. And Weide is definitely biased in Allen’s favor. But facts are facts.

    The evidence – Dylan’s original denial to the doctor, followed up by a retraction of the denials after Mia took her out “for ice cream”. The video, made over a period of days, with parts edited out. The fact that there is no evidence pedophile behavior from him in the past or since. And the utter insanity of his using a visit tho a houseful of people, one of which is suing him for child custody, as an opportunity to molest his stepdaughter… – It doesn’t add up.

    And now we have his stepson, Moses, saying that Mia had been trying to poison the minds of the entire rest of the family against him. Why are we so willing to believe his sister, and not him?

    Instead of looking at the evidence (and I’d recommend a reading of Elizabeth Loftus’s work on memory as background), what I seem to be reading in these comments are the emotions of people who already disliked Allen using the very questionable memories of a 7 year old girl, and the accusations of a scorned woman with honesty issues of her own, to buttress their already-held opinions.

    Angry mobs don’t think very clearly.

  • chrysalis fx
  • slideguy
  • chrysalis fx

    Was he even there the whole time? And I heard Woody Allen paid off some huge debts that he had. Anyway, people will always choose what they want to believe, I guess. I choose to believe someone who can muster up the courage to admit, even after all these years, that they were molested by their father.