Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What Woody Allen Tells Us

Let’s talk about Woody Allen. For those who don’t know, Woody Allen’s adopted daughter has just written a letter accusing him of molesting her when she was 7. These aren’t new allegations, but they are unresolved. My question is, how should we respond?

To begin, let us be clear. We have no idea if these allegations are true or not. On the one hand, we have no reason to doubt the daughter. But, these allegations first arose from the mother Mia Farrow during nasty litigation against Allen in which she was trying to get his adoption of her children nullified. So they could well have been invented by Farrow -- a seven year old would come to believe these things happened if the mother pushes them as true. On the other hand, the reason Farrow left Allen was that he had begun a relationship with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, and Farrow found naked pictures Allen had taken of her – he would go on to marry Previn. Although Allen never adopted Previn, he did unofficially act as her step-father. Uber-creepy. So there are reasons to believe and to not believe.

So how do we handle something like this?

Allen, unfortunately, sits in a special place in our society. He has created and continues to create works of art (films) that the public respects and enjoys. Several of his films have become iconic and can arguably be considered as culture forming. So if we believe he is guilty, do we throw away the work or do we separate the man from the work and keep his contribution or do we let his crimes pass?

The moralist in me says that if we believe Allen is guilty, then we should shun Allen and his works. But I know that’s not how society works. It’s certainly not how Hollywood works. In fact, there was an interesting (read: disturbing) article the other day which gave four reasons why Hollywood continues to ignore these allegations and actively seeks to work with him:
(1) Allen has talent and his films can raise an actor up into the next tier of actordom. Specifically, his films have brought a certain level of immortality to the actors who have been in them, something you won’t be getting out of Green Lantern II: It Pukes Yellow.

(2) There is no conviction, and Hollywood works on technicalities, not moralities.

(3) Allen's films are Oscar bait and that means the chance of getting an award goes way up by staring in his films.

(4) Most disturbingly, there apparently isn’t a major film set in Hollywood without “a genuine creep – someone with reprehensible habits in the bedroom, boardroom or bathroom; someone who has committed crimes and had them swept under a deep carpet crafted out of threat letters from lawyers and publicists. . . actors know this and most see no reason to blow off one director when there are dozens of others.”
In other words, it benefits the actors and everybody does it. Nice.

Anyways, before we condemn these people too loudly, the public does this too. It’s pretty rare that a person gets expunged from history. In fact, I can only think of one – Hitler. And even then, his ideas and his works are still exploited to a degree. Our military and scientists were happy to take what the Nazis developed. We certainly didn’t throw away the good ideas he had, like highways. And Hollywood loves a good Nazi.

So the question is how bad does your crime need to become before you become perona non grata? And does any of this change if the person shows contrition? Allen denies everything, Polanski gets angry about being charged, but what if either had admitted their acts and asked for forgiveness? Local evangelical jerkoff preacher Ted Haggard is back at it again after his gay sex and meth diet was exposed. He did the redemption thing at first, but now he's calling himself battle tested, which is frankly a joke... but it seems to work.

I guess the lesson is that we talk big about morality, but as long as people claim “hey, that was in the past,” then we kind of look past the things they did.



Kit said...

"So there are reasons to believe and to not believe."

Given Hollywood, its probably 50-50.

LL said...

Innocent until proven guilty. He needs his day in court.

CrisD said...

I have just been reading about this! I think that genious artists, leaders etc have had life stories whitewashed.

I kind of think Allen's work and persona reflects a tortured neurotic. The first few films I saw, when I was young, I thought were neat. But as I age I view such films and such people in a different way. Bottom line: not such a need to worry about defending his legacy.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, In this instance, I couldn't convict him yet, but there is NO way I would let him near my kids (assuming I have some).

AndrewPrice said...

LL, True. But there's also a difference between how we react as people and how the law responds.

This is a hard case to know for real, although his dating his 19 year old quasi-step daughter really is rather damning.

Kit said...

Crazy artists are older than television (to borrow from TVTropes). The great painter Caravaggio was a drunken brawler who was constantly in trouble with the law. But his talents and usefulness to the Papacy during the Counter-Reformation protected him until he was arrested for manslaughter (killed someone in a duel). Then he had to flee.

Then there was Bernini, another counter-reformation artist and creator of the magnificent Apollo and Daphne and Ecstasy of St. Theresa.

As a young man he got involved in a little scandal. He was having an affair with a married woman. But that wasn't what caused it. The woman was also having an affair with Bernini's brother. When Bernini found out he personally beat the crap out of his brother and had a thug cut up the woman's face. Facing a harsh prison the Pope intervened on his behalf and he was fined and told to get married.

AndrewPrice said...

Cris, That is the other angle quite frankly. Like you, I don't think Allen will be remembered over the long term. His films fit well with the 1960s mindset, but they don't work all that well today and I see them fading further away each year as the culture shifts.

On the artists and leaders, I agree. I think people generally do get whitewashed over time because all the little things fade away just leaving the bigger narrative and their accomplishments. That's how a person goes from a complete person to "Poor boy makes good before dying of drug overdose." When you hit that point, it's easy to overlook all the controversies and insults.

Kit said...

Oh, and here is a bust of the woman, Constanza Bonarelli, by the way. She was the wife of one of his assistants.

And here are some of Caravaggio's works.

tryanmax said...

Contrition is suicide. That's all I have on that topic.

I don't see the logic in throwing out something good because it's source was bad. Taken to it's limits, it leads to paralytic navel-gazing. Well before that, however, it's a punishment on society for the actions of an individual, so there's your moral conundrum. More fundamental than that, you can't put a genie back in a bottle, at least not with extreme difficulty. Any effort to scrub the gains won by grim means would impose their own calamity.

As for Woody Allen, true, if he had his day in court, his directing days could well be over, depriving the world of whatever genius he might still have bottled up inside. But we won't miss what we never had.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, It seems that a great many artists and political leaders "have issues."

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Contrition does seem to be a problem for public figures these days. That seems to bring on a wave of attacks, whereas denial lets things fade away and be forgotten. That's why everyone from politicians to corporations to sports figures etc. denies everything, no matter how ridiculous.

What's interesting on your other point is that the conventional wisdom (both left and right) is that we should not allow the villains "to win" by recognizing their works. But it seems that society doesn't actually believe that when it actually happens. So I guess the "why punish ourselves" logic tends to win out. And you make a good point about putting certain things back in the bottle. It would be easy to not show a film, but it would be harder to choose to ban an invention until someone somehow comes up with it without knowing about the original.

Tennessee Jed said...

I saw Woody Allen live do a stand up routine and really enjoyed many of his movies. I tend to be willing to give somebody the benefit of the doubt when allegations are unproven, but find him seriously creepy. As such, I probably would see a film if it is thought to be good whereas I will not patronize Roman Polanski. I am also trying to put my money where my mouth is. I don't mind when entertainers and actors are liberals. Most are, but when they get in my face about it, like, say, Barbra Streisand, I no longer will pay to see anything of hers. As a contrast, a Reese Witherspoon may have been to the white house, but doesn't appear to wear her politics on her sleeve.

tryanmax said...

Even if you bury a film, what then? Do you revoke the copyright? And what of the next guy who films a scene-for-scene copy? Is he guilty of something? What? Or do we protect the banned film? What does that look like?

And what of the other contributors? Are the actors denied residuals b/c they worked with a scumbag? Did they know? What did they know and when did they know it? If a simple film opens a can of worms, how does one manage anything of significance?

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I know you do put your money where your mouth is and I find that impressive. So few people do. That's why things like boycotts rarely work out because so few people respect them.

It's an interesting conundrum. Why do so many claim to believe something they don't put into practice even when it's relatively easy?

BTW, I agree on liberals. I can put up with liberals, but the more openly political they get the less I want to see them. And when they become openly hostile, then I'm finished with them.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, To be clear, I'm not talking about anything "legal" as I don't generally believe in censorship. What I'm talking about with Allen is more of a moral thing. Should we as society shun Allen and his work? So I wouldn't advocate things like revoking copyrights (though there are people who would).

In any event, you make very good points about the collateral harm, points I'm sure Scott will agree with.

But let me change this example somewhat. What about future work? Suppose you get someone who we know is guilty and isn't contrite but they keep right on turning out films or running for election. At what point should we say, "You know, I can't tolerate supporting this guy"?

tryanmax said...

Well, look at O.J. Simpson. We apparently know the point when we reach it.

AndrewPrice said...

Good point and an interesting example. His crime is apparently a mix of murder, race and "cheating the system." I wonder if just murder would have been enough? Probably not.

darski said...

Having sex with your stepdaughter is counted as incest. Taking porn pics of your 17 yr old stepdaughter is illegal. But it probably wasn't rape-rape eh?

I say string him up by his private parts; if he survives he is guilty if he dies he was innocent... oops.

AndrewPrice said...

darski, I remember when people learned about it, they were pretty shocked and sickened. He kind of vanished from public for quite some time. Legally speaking, however, they couldn't touch him because he had never adopted her and thus was not technically her stepfather and the pictures were apparently taken when she was 19 or 20-- past any sort of statutory rape or sexual assault ages.

You trial idea is a good one. LOL!

Dave Olson said...

In my IMDB review of Three Days of the Condor, I pointed out that Joubert (the immortal Max von Sydow) was portrayed as more moral than CIA agents because he wasn't in it for the ideology: "I don't interest myself in 'why'. I think more often in terms of 'when', sometimes 'where', always 'how much'." That's morality according to Hollywood, a town where the question is always "how much".

I still stand by that review from almost 10 years ago, but now I realize that I made an error. It's not always "how much" for Hollywood, because they'll happily lose money on a Woody Allen film. It makes them feel important, and he votes the right way. On the other hand, Hollywood will hold their collective noses and let a conservative like Mel Gibson make movies like Braveheart or the Lethal Weapon series because they make scads of money. They turned on him only when his seething anti-semitism couldn't be covered up anymore, but they still collect the checks when one of his movies is shown on TV, or is sold on DVD or iTunes. There are plenty of similarities between these "tortured artists", but one whose crime is calling people bad names is shunned, the other who may be a child rapist is embraced.

You're right about "Hollywood Movies" always having a scumbag. In some TV "extended versions' of The Godfather, Jack Woltz is revealed to have had his way with a young girl of about 12 years old. Oh what I would give to see Woody Allen wake up with a horse's head in his bed. Better yet, I'd like to see a horse wake up with Woody's head in his stable.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Have you read Robert Weide's piece breaking down all of the allegations? You can find it here. Weide did a documentary on Woody a couple years ago but their relationship continues to be mainly professional (i.e. this isn't Woody's BFF trying to defend him!).

As for copyright, Woody doesn't really own the rights to his movies (but the studios honor his wishes when it comes to certain things). I don't see MGM putting the rights to Annie Hall up on the auction block anytime soon!

And yeah, Woody's movies have (for the most part) never made tons of money, but he keeps managing to find financing, hence his "European period." But sometimes even low-grossing movies are worth it for the prestige and awards. Sometimes. :-)

BevfromNYC said...

The timing to me is suspect. Ronan Farrow's talk show will begin airing on MSNBC was announced just few days before Dylan's big NYT's open letter.

PikeBishop said...

"And what of the other contributors? Are the actors denied residuals b/c they worked with a scumbag?"

Interesting. Like I always thought it rather funny that all the actors, not to mention the working stiffs like the sound men and the prop girls were all denied earning money on "The Path to 9/11" when noble, liberal Hollywood quashed it's release to protect the Clintons.

One of the actors was Amy Madigan, wife of loud-mouthed lefty Ed Harris. (Ha Ha)

shawn said...

In the article at Scott's link, the biggest thing that stands out to me is that it says that in Mia Farrow's memoir, she claims that Woody played no role as a father-figure for her adoptive children. If true, it does alleviate a fair amount of the creepy factor for me. Still doesn't wave off the fact that he is so much older than her and that she is his former lover's daughter. On the other hand, history is replete with May-December romances.

As to his movies, the last one that I saw was Curse of the Jade Scorpion. I generally prefer his work from the 60s-70s.

Roman Polanski on the other hand, fled the country after admitting to "consensual" sex with a minor. He tends to overlook the fact that she was a minor and intoxicated at the time.

In the end, all I can say is the work is the work and the person is the person.

T-Rav said...

My gut tells me the allegations against Woody are true. Not enough to get you convicted in a court of law, of course; but that's what my gut says.

More broadly, I think this kind of thing gets accepted because so much of Hollywood is the same way. We'll probably never know what things are like behind the curtain, but rumors about the "casting couch" are legendary. So by Tinseltown standards, his behavior isn't that far beyond the pale.

AndrewPrice said...

Dave, The on-set scumbag quote came from an insider who was quoted anonymously in an AP article.

I don't think anyone wants to lose money in Hollywood, but they will let certain people make films that are going to be a lot riskier than others. Allen is one of those people.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I haven't read the piece. The allegations have always been somewhat suspect because of the timing. But dating and marrying his "step-daughter" was not, and that supported the creepy factor big time.

In terms of his career, Allen got lucky that he got his start in the 1960s when a lot of people were allowed to do a lot of crazy things. He had a few hits which seemed to give him "top notch" status. Since that time, he's really done his little niche thing (ethnic Jewish New York) and I think he gets awards based on prior reputation. In many ways, he's a Jewish clone of Scorsese, who does ethnic Italian New York, or Robert Altman who did random "biting" exposes of people you already didn't like.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Isn't that a funny coincidence? It amazes me how often someone will show up in the tabloids for something only a week or two before their next project hits the screen. The whole publicity machine is pretty sick.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, Liberals only care about principles or the effect on people when they are offended. Otherwise, they don't care.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I think that is society's view -- the person is the person, the work is the work. Although, there do seem to be points where the public will finally turn their back on future work from these people.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, If the rumors are to be believed, then this is very common in Hollywood.

PikeBishop said...

Listen to an interview with Corey Feldman. I don't know if he has written a book about it yet, but some of his stories will curl your hair.

CrisD said...

your examples are just as I was thinking. Those artist were among the greatest! Great links. I am very familiar with the works and an lucky to have seen some in person.

Anthony said...

I'm not sure the allegation Allen molested his seven year old is true, but what he did with his quasi-stepdaughter is enough. I confess I didn't worship at the alter of Woody Allen before the allegations (I saw a few of his movies, they weren't life changing experiences or anything) but afterwards I've steered clear of his work.

Still, some of the stuff Mia Farrow has said doesn't make much sense.

The details of the allegations against Allen, which never resulted in criminal charges, are reported in the 1992 Vanity Fair article “Mia’s Story,” by Maureen Orth, which begins, “There was an unwritten rule in Mia Farrow’s house that Woody Allen was never supposed to be left alone with their seven-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan.”
If she thought he was messing with her daughter why let him in the house/her life under any circumstances?

tryanmax said...

Certainly the recurring themes in Allen's work seem to lend credence to the accusations against him. On the other hand, if I wanted to destroy somebody's reputation, I would would make an accusation that might seem likely.

I tend to view the matter as Bev does--the timing is awful interesting.

tryanmax said...

P.S. I don't know much about Ronan, but in his photos he looks like just the sort of smug prick that would be perfect for MSNBC. Just sayin'.

Koshcat said...

Well, I just heard a Michael Jackson song yesterday. So much for shunning pedophiles.

Allen deserves his day in court so right now it is an empty allegation. But I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be true.

Overall, interesting topic although I think Polanski would be a better example. His movies are pretty good but it bothers me that he admitted to sex with a minor and hides in France. But what REALLY bothers me is the Hollywood defense. Running away and hiding is human nature. Cowardly but understandable. Defending him they way some do "it wasn't rape-rape" is sick.

BevfromNYC said...

Personally, I believe Allen. I have followed this issue since the early '90's and I just don't believe her (as in Mia Farrow). I think that she used her children to manipulate and blackmail Allen and Soon-yi out of sheer spite and vindictiveness, but most probably the jealousy of a middle-age actress. Why else would she have work so hard to publicly humiliate and hurt the children she purportedly loves so much and should have protected from public humiliation? Because with all of the public accusations, it's not Allen that she hurts. It's her children. Now Dillon is fighting for her reputation and is being accused of being either a boldfaced liar or a weak minded, manipulated, brainwashed pawn. Allen will go on with barely a public scratch.

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

It's funny you mention the recurring themes - someone's been doing our homework!

The only one I remembered was Manhattan but a lot of the other stuff consists of one-off gags.

Kit said...


Thanks. I am rather jealous about you getting to see them.

Also, I recommend the documentary series Power of Art, hosted by Simon Schama. If you have not seen it.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Interesting. Talk about playing with fire.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev and Anthony, I have no idea if he's guilty or not. I definitely doubt Farrow. And having seen false allegations like this appear all the time in divorce proceedings, I know that you can't just trust the allegation.

That said, he still creeps me out because of his relationship with Previn.

And even without any of that, I just don't care about his films anymore, not since his 1960's stuff.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, That is annoying that Hollywood defends the acts even when they are admitted.

CrisD said...

Power of Art...Tx, Kit!

KRS said...

The case against Woody Allen is circumstantial, but you can send murderers to the chair on circumstantial evidence - at least in Texas. And in Woody's case, I see way too many detailed stories, snippets and memories from too many unconnected sources. That carries me beyond a reasonable doubt.

It's easy for me to shun Woody's movies - I was doing it before he boinked and married his step daughter. The few I watched were weak, pretentious and the jokes just fell on the ground and lay there like roadkill.

Maybe I didn't see his best work...

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

If you're still reading this, here is Woody's reply.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks for the update Scott. Interesting reading. It really does seem to blow away the allegations.

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