Renouncing Woody

Renouncing Woody February 2, 2014

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.

"Saint Joseph of Cupertino.'Nuff said."

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