Writing this on the train home from work, I’m flecked with that familiar dirty mix of snow and salt that New York gets covered in every now and then. It’s bad and dispiriting enough, and leaves you feeling in perpetual need of a wash. But all of the city’s dirty snow and salt is positively nothing compared to what I’m here to write about: the fistfuls of mud hurled, of late, in the direction of Woody Allen.
Of course, none of that mud ever comes within a country mile of me – like just about everyone else pitching in a thought or three about the whole sorry saga, I’ve nothing to offer except my thoughts. I don’t know anyone involved, and I don’t know anything illuminating about the alleged crimes and misdemeanors that may or may not have occurred since Woody fell out with Mia twenty-some years ago. But, hey, when did that ever stop anyone? It’s not my mud – only, somehow or other, the stench of it is mighty tough to ignore.
For me the most troublesome waft came from this diatribe on the Esquire website:
To save you from reading it, here’s what it sets out to do: insinuate that Woody Allen is indeed a child molester by quoting, in lieu of actual evidence, some excerpts from four Allen screenplays (well, in fact, three screenplays and one play). I mean, really. What could possibly be more fatuous? Even people who can’t stand the sight of Woody Allen couldn’t deny he’s a prodigious writer – more-or-less a film a year since 1969, plus numerous other plays, essays, short stories, and articles. So what is even the least bit smart about cherry-picking a vanishingly small sample of his writing in service of the claim, similarly banal in its own way, that “Artists can be scum?”
More to the point, when did it get to be ok to label someone a pedophile, or a creep, without knowing for sure that he is one? Yes, the accusations made by Dylan Farrow against Woody Allen are serious and deserve to be taken seriously. But that doesn’t, necessarily, make them true. Suppose for a moment that they’re not. Or suppose, at least, that the rush to find Allen guilty is not, simply, a righteous cause taken up by the masses on behalf of a woman they don’t know.
The more you read about this story – the more you weigh up claim and counter-claim – the more it seems it’s doing nobody any good. Frankly, if I had let better sense prevail, I’d have kept away from it too: as much as I love (and, no, love is not too strong a word) Woody Allen as a filmmaker, and as much as my gut tells me he didn’t do it, speculating about child abuse can only ever be a grubby business.
Nonetheless, I can’t shake the feeling that opposing Woody Allen are larger forces I haven’t yet seen addressed. Is there, I wonder, some knee-jerk dislike of him – in his own country most of all – because he so comprehensively isn’t the kind of American that America likes best and is most comfortable with: alpha, conservative, and Christian.
No matter that some of Allen’s great passions are as American as apple pie – top of the list: movies, American sports, and jazz – I’d wager that he’s fixed in the American imagination as an outsider. He’s Jewish. He’s an intellectual. He’s a New Yorker. He likes those weird, subtitled foreign films. He married an Asian woman with a funny name. He’s not, in short, one of us. (And to further prove the point, he always avoids the Academy Awards ceremony, America’s great celebration of itself, even as it promises to make him a winner.)
Take the notion, posed mischievously by Mia Farrow, that Woody’s son Ronan, might, in fact, be the son of Frank Sinatra. How many Americans, do you think, would gladly consider that a much better deal for the kid? Even though, by numerous accounts, when Sinatra wasn’t busy being everybody’s pal, the life and soul of the party, and a first-rate crooner, he was often a bully and a prick. (And who was 50 when he married a 21-year-old Mia Farrow.)
If Allen is not the pedophile or the creep that Esquire writers and a large, angry mob accuse him of being (two groups of people assuredly not including Dylan Farrow), how about we ask instead why a filmmaking giant is all too often treated like a pygmy? I’d say careful what you wish for. There isn’t enough high-quality, mainstream filmmaking for adults anywhere, let alone in America. And not for nothing do defenders of Allen – like me, I guess – assert, over and over again, that he writes great roles for women. With the awful, leering gaze of Michael Bay all too typical of the kind that peers through movie camera lens, don’t forget too quickly who framed – and wrote – so many of modern American cinema’s greatest female characters.
Whoever did what, when, and to whom, let’s also remember how many of those characters were once played by Mia Farrow. If Allen did what he’s accused of, it’s truly horrible. But if he didn’t, it’s all still horribly sad.
Today’s post soundtracked by: