Archive for Woody Allen

Shadows and Fog

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , on February 16, 2014 by dcairns


Got into quite a debate with The Chiseler’s editor Daniel Riccuito on FaceBook about whether Woody Allen is guilty of child abuse, which led to him posting a fascinating account on his site. Opening this up again here could lead to a comments section that stretches to the crack of doom, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Danny’s elucidation does make somewhat clearer where he’s coming from — the accusation, if I understand it, is that cinephiles are predisposed to believe Allen innocent because they like his films, this leads them to disregard the accusations of an abused child, and this is symptomatic of a whole “rape culture” where accusations generally are ignored and powerful men are protected. And that agnosticism — saying “We can’t know” — is merely a pose, a defence that allows us to continue to suppose Allen innocent and the accusations against him false.

If you’re first reaction is to dismiss this as preposterous, I would suggest that you try not to. There’s something there that’s at the very least worthy of consideration.

I first want to say that my agnosticism seems to me a very correct attitude to disputed events which I did not see involving people I’ve never met. It is, I think, the only possible attitude.

I had a discussion with a filmmaker friend recently about Amanda Knox — he thought she was definitely guilty, I thought she was probably innocent. Mainly because her collaboration with her partner in this rape-murder starts to look very strange if you factor in “the third man,” the guy who DID leave DNA behind and DID flee the country and DID have a serious criminal record and who has also been convicted. There’s no evidence that he’d even met his supposed co-murderers. But my friend said, “She’s obviously guilty — she and her boyfriend were laughing and turning cartwheels after they were released.” And while that IS very strange behaviour for someone who’s just been falsely accused of murder, I would argue that it’s equally strange for somebody who’s guilty, and so it tells me nothing I can use.

Allen’s enemies point to creepy jokes about fancying young teenage girls in his early films (is it LOVE AND DEATH, and is it a line about “two fourteen-year-olds”?), and his character’s relationship with a sixteen-year-old in MANHATTAN, which certainly prepares the way for his real-life liaison with Soon-Yi, but ephebophilia is not paedophilia, exactly, and there is a difference between a man having sex with a teenager and with his seven-year-old adopted daughter — even if you don’t admit a moral difference, they are different activities appealing to somewhat different desires, though both could certainly exist in the same person.

Allen’s starting an affair with Soon-Yi while he was engaged in a relationship with Mia Farrow is, as everybody on both sides except Allen admits, hugely wrong. Zachary Scott in MILDRED PIERCE wrong, and look what happened to him. The trouble with this inciting incident is that it serves both narratives. In one, Mia Farrow is a psycho bitch from hell driven over the edge by Allen’s betrayal, coaching her daughter to say and eventually believe she was abused in order to revenge herself on Allen. In the other, Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi was just the tip of a vile iceberg, as he sexually abused another of Farrow’s adopted children. Everybody has motivation to lie, and those who have no trouble seeing Farrow as a passive-aggressive schemer tend to believe Allen, while those who see him as a degenerate predator have no trouble seeing why he might lie.

Allen doesn’t help by acting exactly as he would in a movie if accused of a terrible crime — see SHADOWS AND FOG for example — whining and stalling and coyly denying and convincing nobody ~

At 1:45 he refers to the alleged incident as “a total non-event,” presumably meaning “an even that never took place” but actually translating as “an insignificant event that I don’t know why everyone’s making such a fuss over.” Allen, a writer, ought to be able to use language more compellingly. He argues that he “would never” molest his child, rather than saying he didn’t, and his reasons have to do with it being an awkward time to embark on such activity. It’s like the old horse thief’s protestation, “I didn’t steal your horse — I don’t steal horses, and anyway you have a lousy horse.” The second reason seems to reinforce the first, but really it doesn’t.

But Allen’s failure to be convincing is exactly what I’d expect from him, based on his movie character. I think it’s folly to guess at what somebody may have done based on your reading of their manner, or based on other, different things they’ve done. We can’t help but form our own suppositions, but to become passionate in our belief in them seems odd to me, even when the issues at stake are so emotive.


If Allen is telling the truth, there are a few witnesses who do actually back up some aspects of the Farrow version, and these aren’t so easy to explain. And Allen’s own story is also a little inconsistent. If the Farrows are telling the truth, actually not much needs to be explained — Allen’s passing a polygraph is certainly within the bounds of possibility, and the doctors who weren’t convinced by little Dylan’s account were simply wrong.

Part of the reason Danny Riccuito was so passionate about this was his contention that to sit on this particular fence is to call Dylan a liar, or crazy. I don’t think that’s the case, and in the Mia Farrow false memory brainwashing scenario, Dylan is still honest, sane, and a victim rather than a perpetrator. D.R. says that false memory is a rare, exotic and unlikely phenom to haul into this storyline when a simpler explanation exists. I’m generally inclined to regard those claiming rape as highly trustworthy, since the advantages to be gained from lying about such a thing seem virtually non-existent. Exceptions for me are cases of “recovered memory,” which I don’t, on the whole, believe to be a real thing, and cases where some obvious reason to lie exists — in such cases, the needle wavers midway between True and False.

Danny also argues that, since Woody is now quite safe from legal pursuit, we should simply accept Dylan’s account — the negative consequences of failing the victim are worse than those of vilifying a maybe-criminal who can’t actually be legally punished anyway. But I can’t actually choose to believe something because I’m told it’s the best belief to have. I believe what seems to me believable, and in this case both sides of the story fall within the grounds of possibility.

The most damaging accusation is that cinephiles don’t want to believe an idol to be guilty of such a foul act, and so we will ignore any evidence and concoct any lunatic theory to find him innocent. Not having seen an Allen film since DECONSTRUCTING HARRY, I at first dismissed this. But I have fond feelings for a lot of earlier Woody movies, and I have to admit I don’t want to believe he did this. I don’t want to believe Mia Farrow poisoned her daughter’s life either, but there’s less of a sentimental attachment involved to Mia as celebrity. But ultimately I don’t think Allen’s case is that weak or bizarre — but it could certainly stand being stronger.

Since neither psychiatrists nor judges, contrary to what they themselves believe, are any better at detecting when they are being lied to than any regular member of the public, we can basically discount their opinions about who is being honest. Justice Wilk’s 33-page analysis of the case, which takes Farrow’s side, isn’t perfect either. Wilks puts a lot of faith in the fact that Mia came forward with the claim that Dylan had been abused before she knew that Allen had been alone with the child for fifteen minutes. Later, corroboration was obtained that showed that despite Farrow’s request that Allen shouldn’t be left unsupervised with the children, there was a period when he was out of sight. The problem with that is that since Dylan apparently was alone with Allen, she could have reported THAT to Farrow even if nothing happened, something Wilk apparently never considered. So all that’s proved there is what had already been corroborated — Allen and Dylan were out of view of the nannies and maids. Wilk’s report gives a good account of the Farrow side of things, but the trouble is he’s so one-sided he makes you suspicious. “Ms. Farrow’s statement to Dr. Coates that she hoped Dylan’s statements were a fantasy is inconsistent with the notion of brainwashing.” This is so naive it’s surreal — a circuit judge is apparently unfamiliar with the idea that somebody might say something without meaning it. Certainly Farrow may have been completely sincere, but the fact that she said that does not prove her sincerity.

If Allen were guilty, it wouldn’t change the fact that he’s made some brilliant comedies and quasi-comedies. It might make the experience of watching them still more uncomfortable — it already became a bit awkward after the Soon-Yi thing broke. (A director friend actually said, “The one thing that would make me think he’s innocent is the fact that you get the impression from his films that he’s quite ethical.” Which is true, but the Soon-Yi thing — about as vile an act as you can imagine within the realms of the adult and consenting — kind of disabuses us of that idea. He’s clearly not terribly ethical.

The timing of the revival of this story bothers me. Is it designed purely to hurt BLUE JASMINE’s Oscar chances? Dylan Farrow’s open letter almost says so — but then, if I’d been sexually abused and the man responsible was potentially about to be publicly honoured, I’d probably want to shout denunciations at that time too. The only thing I don’t like about the letter is that it calls upon us to — do what, exactly? What do the Farrows want? For us to stop liking Woody Allen films, because of what he did? Which he hasn’t been convicted of, or even charged with. I’m not willing (or able) to do that. What an artist does should have no effect on their art.


As with a huge number of things, I hover between disbelief and belief. I can suppose both sides, but not wholeheartedly believe either. It would be reassuring to have absolute knowledge. But I’m not prepared to absolutely believe without it, and I rather resent being told I must.

Oh well, it’s been quiet around here lately…

Paris By Night

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 11, 2012 by dcairns


Two couples on a night out — according to the plot contrivance, all work in the telephone exchange, two in Berlin and two in Paris. When the Germans visit, there’s a deliberate mix-up and a scheming German boy and French girl go out with the French boy and German girl who were supposed to go out with each other. Hard to explain.

Anyhow, the naughty French girl’s idea of a night out — Club Negro — looks more fun that the boy’s, although he does get a song co-written by the film’s director.

The gimmick of the film is that every line of dialogue is translated from French to German or vice-versa, so audience’s of both nations can enjoy.It’s an early experiment in making a talkie which could transcend the language barrier — while Pathe-Natan and others were making co-productions in multiple versions — French, German and English, Duvivier makes a truly bilingual film. Oddly, this has the effect of de-emphasising language, so that the film can be enjoyed even if you speak neither tongue.

Thirty-some years later, Godard tried something similar by including a translator character in LE MEPRIS, in the hopes that the Americans wouldn’t dub it. They dubbed it anyway, so that the translator is just kind of re-phrasing things that Palance says to Piccoli and Piccoli to Palance. For no reason.

Kind of like this ~

Thanks to La Faustin.

Making the scene

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2012 by dcairns

I first heard about ACTING OUT in editor Ralph Rosenblum’s book When the Shooting Stops… The Cutting Begins, a very engaging and insightful look at RR’s life as a film editor, which includes transforming/rescuing films from William Friedkin, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. His work with Allen, from TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN to ANNIE HALL particularly comes to mind when viewing ACTING OUT (rescued from obscurity by trashmeisters Troma) –

The film is a sort-of documentary about sexual fantasies. Various New Yorkers are interviewed, then auditioned, then finally invited to attempt to enact their fantasies in real life on a plush estate outside the city (Project: Nim was probably being enacted a stone’s throw away… the building is also slightly reminiscent of the orgy palace in EYES WIDE SHUT, and it seems likely that, given his interests, Kubrick would have screened this).

Well, it doesn’t all go swimmingly, although probably most of the participants are glad they tried. A learning experience. “It was completely asexual,” complains one young woman, after her fantasy of medical domination turns out off-puttingly real. I would think anybody capable of imagining such a scenario might also be able to imagine how different it might all feel in reality, with a movie crew present…

Woody Allen lines kept cropping up in my head as I watched:

“A large vibrating egg. Well, I ask a psychopath, I get that kind of an answer.”

“I am in love with my sheep.”

“She is elderly, and she uses her wrist a lot.”

The up-tempo jazz tracks don’t do anything to dispel the hilarity, and the dry VO is a killer: “John Smoczyk and Karen Frohardt from Seattle, Washington, who wanted to make love to clowns in a funhouse surrounded by distorting mirrors, got lost in a pleasant but aimless orgy and forgot about completing their scene.”

“You may be interested in why am appearing without, uh, my face. I’m very interested in getting into this show naked and I’m interested in telling you my fantasy. BUT — I thought this was going to be a porn movie, and I have a family… they might think it unfair. My – my wife know about this, being in this p-picture, b-being in this interview, my children don’t know a thing about it. And I worked in civil service, and I was quite straight, and now that I’ve retired, I felt, Gee, modern times, why not get into all the act? So, uh, I’ve been out to the, uh, beach, and I’m going to tell you what my fantasy of sex is. I went out to the beach at Brighton. I don’t mean Brighton. I-I went out to the breach, ah, beach, I won’t give the name of, uh, they now have people… dressing… without any clothes. And it seemed very exciting and so on. And my fantasy is that I’m out there and everybody’s sitting there, some with clothes, some without clothes, and I fall asleep. And then I wake up and there’s a young girl come over to me… she’s interested in tickling me, she’s interested in having me have a party with her, and… either we have a party on the beach, or we have a party in her place, and, um, my fantasy goes on to all sorts of fun there, lots of fun similar to what you’ve probably heard in other people’s fantasies…”

My theory is that this guy just wants sex. That this isn’t his sexual fantasy — how could it be? I mean, I know he’s a retired civil servant, but still… The other stuff in the film is properly whacky and sometimes a little disturbing (only the men are disturbing), and mainly I was thinking “This is HIGHLY personal stuff… are you sure you want to be putting it out there?”

Rosenblum, I seem to recall, says in his book how moving he found the experience, and for the most part, although porn actors were used in staging the scenes, the movie is as far from the exploitation of “adult cinema” as you could wish. Except that not everybody seems to be going into the scenes knowing what to expect, which raises questions about informed consent which the filmmakers don’t seem inclined to answer. There’s also the straightforward incompetence, as when the guy with the dream of being a Salem impuritan (one of America’s F***ing Fathers?) and tickling a bunch of men’s penises with a feather goes awry when they line up a bunch of straight guys (including a lead player from CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) who don’t, ah, respond as he’d hoped. The guy’s pretty upset about this, as well he might be — it’s like he’s gone to Fantasy Island, and Herve Villechaise won’t put out.

Foundering feathers.


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