Shadows and Fog

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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.

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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.

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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…

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44 Responses to “Shadows and Fog”

  1. I don’t know either, and so like you I try not to care, although like you my sympathies are with Dylan either way. It does bug me however that, as you touch on here, his characters’ relationships with younger women is seen as evidence that he’s an actual paedophile. Has anyone else come forward and claimed to have been abused by him as a child?

  2. No, in fact all the other people he’s had relationships with are adults and speak highly of him. (But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence… as a raving madman once said, technically correctly.)

  3. The fact of the matter its been twenty years since the alleged incident and this recent outpouring, I cannot believe that if this thing really happened and there was actual evidence than Woody Allen would have been allowed to continue the way he did by the Farrow family, leave alone allow clips to be used in valedictory events. There’s no new evidence that came out and there’s no reason for anyone, on the fence that is, to believe that Woody Allen did this. He was allowed to adopt children by the state and nobody else ever had a problem with him. That’s all that one can reasonably expect. The fact that the brother has come out and called this a farce only hits the nail. As for the Soon-Yi thing, I think that’s between two consenting adults and I don’t think that’s really anybody’s business than those two who’ve certainly faced a lot of personal consequences. Call me crazy but these kind of civil divorce and remarriage disputes are really nobody’s business in the end.

    The funny thing in all this is that people want to make a big deal about Woody Allen’s greatness of an artist as not “a valid defense” and this whole wringing about “separating the art” and whatnot, and the weird thing is that the only people who introduce this argument are the people who denounce this same mentality. The people who defended Allen cite the lack of evidence and that’s what counts in the end. Call me crazy but I think there’s a kind of middle class jealousy involved in wanting to take “talented” artists down a peg and make them be, or pretend to be, “spotless citizens”. Like somehow people want to smear Woody Allen’s achievements or make it toxic somehow. The truth is that until someone has reasonable evidence this dilemma doesn’t exist, not meaningfully that is.

  4. We don’t know, and we can’t know, but I do know that I find our carefully reasoned and well-written musing on the subject refreshing. Count me among the agnostics, and certainly not out of any fondness for Woody Allen’s films (the last one I recall really enjoying was Radio Days, and that was mostly for the presence of Kitty Carlisle.

    What I do know, or at least firmly believe, is that all of those childreren are victims in one way or another. If it weren’t for money and fame, no sane authority in the world would have allowed Farrow’s serial adoptions; she stands with Josephine Baker and Crawford among celebrities whose work I admire who probably should have avoided adopted-motherhood (although I admire Farrow’s work a great deal less than that of either of those two ladies). Her treatment of her biological children strikes me as almost as problematic, not least in toying with the paternity of Ronan.

    There are no winners in this one, although the one who seems to come out best, somehow, is Soon-Yi, who would seem to have gotten on with her life and to be a level-headed, interesting woman.

  5. “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”?)”

    I think a lot of people commenting on this (and the Polanski case) either forget or are unaware of the massive shift in public morality and perception that has taken place since the 1970s. It used to be very, very common – endemic even – for grown men to express sexual interest in teenage girls, or girls dressed in school uniforms. It was the sexy young girl cliché. And it was never even frowned upon. Examples: Gary Puckett & the Union Gap’s Young Girl, Alex Chilton’s Hey! Little Child, David Hamilton’s photograph collection Dreams of Young Girls – extracts of which were published in the mainstream press as examples of tasteful eroticism. I’m prepared to bet there are countless other examples in sitcoms, films, album covers, books, music and art and so on.

    My female friends and I, all budding Feminists, found this creepy and reprehensible – but, crucially, NOT MANY OTHER PEOPLE DID. It was considered par for the course, the same way young women like myself had to put up with getting groped by strangers or people we worked with, or verbally harassed by workmen. Woody Allen making jokes about would have been nothing out of the ordinary.

  6. There has been no “massive shift in public morality” at all. It has always been passive-aggressive hypocrisy as Graham Greene reminds us

  7. The urge to condemn doesn’t change, but the specifics of what is condemned do. So Woody Allen could get away with those jokes — as he said, his early films ridiculed everything, including sexuality, because that was easier to do — which would be impossible now. And yet American cinema is obsessed with teenagers and their sex lives. I don’t have a solution, between telling children that their bodies are obscene, or indulging the predatory fantasies of grown-ups…

  8. David Boxwell Says:

    Fact: Maureen O’Sullivan and John Farrow _did_ parent a convicted child rapist. His name is Charles Villiers-Farrow. And he is now in prison.

    In his letter to the New York Times defending himself, Allen at least was circumspect enough not to mention this. The Farrows would like us not to know about CVF.

  9. And neither would Nick Kristoff.

  10. Sudarshan makes an excellent point: I’ve also not encountered anyone defending Allen because of his artistic output. (God knows, I’m touchy enough about Polanski.)

  11. David Boxwell Says:

    The Farrows have also occasioned a torrent of anti-Semitic discourse about Jews in/controlling Hollywood that one had hoped was dead and buried.

  12. It’s never dead and buried, alas. This came up with Roman Polanski as well — as Gore Vidal pointed out.

  13. I’ve been trying not to read more about the Farrow-Allen co-accusations, but I was curious to see your take on the situation, so I read your piece. What you wrote is a very reasonable and fair take on the situation. We weren’t there, so we can’t say for certain what happened, but we know Dylan was traumatized. The debate lies in by whom and what, and it could go on forever since we don’t know what is factual.

    Having a lot of friends that are film fans, I’ve seen similar splits occur between those who tend to believe Dylan and those who believe Allen. A smaller group exists in the chasm between those beliefs. I understand not wanting something so heinous about a favorite artist to be true, of not wanting to feel guilty of liking the work of someone who might have done something very wrong.

    I watched Blue Jasmine on a plane. I wanted to see Cate Blanchett’s performance, which was the best thing about that film. I don’t see a lot of current films in theatres, I tend to turn out for silent and classic era film screenings, so I can’t say that the accusations made me not spend money directly on one of his films. They did not make me avoid the movie. I’m not sure if I can totally separate the person and his art. I tend to be a close reader, and I know anyone who creates reveals something about himself or herself.

    Allen dipped down in my esteem as a person due to not understanding the impact his chosen romance with Soon-Yi Previn would have on his non-traditional family with Mia Farrow. When a family is blended and consists of those adopted and those born into it, any halfway decent parent would stress that it is not DNA but their love that makes them a family. Even if Allen did not cohabitate with Farrow, his position as her partner still would make him a primary male figure in the family, whether or not he assumed any of the associated responsibilities of a father or father figure. Of course it would be hurtful and confusing for those children for him to romance and then marry their sister.

    I can’t say what Farrow did or didn’t say to her children about what happened with Soon-Yi. I suspect she took her hurt and anger and crossed a parental boundary and inappropriately involved or interacted with her children about the situation. That her upset and pain could lead her to look for other lapses in judgment and boundaries by Allen is believable. We can’t answer if she believes Allen molested Dylan, has exaggerated an inappropriate parental boundary crossing of his being too invested in one child into molestation, or made up a claim out of revenge.

    I can’t help thinking that Dylan is brave in speaking out on what she believed happened or actually happened, yet I fear she is being exploited not only by the media, but also by her family. When Midnight in Paris was nominated for Academy Awards, there was no public speaking out. When the Golden Globes honor came, that seemed to be the catalyst for media contact. What’s sometimes overlooked is that Farrow had to sign off on her image being used in that ceremony. Why participate even passively in something she objects to? All the press has been advantageous to Ronan Farrow, who debuts in a media gig in February.

    It’s an awful, dysfunctional mess. I hope Dylan found catharsis in speaking out, and I hope that others can be like us and remember that whatever happened, a young girl had to survive and grow up into a woman not afraid to speak her truth, even if we are left wondering what the Truth is.

  14. Thanks. As my hero Ken Campbell put it, anyone who begins a sentence with “I believe…” is usually a right berk. There are circumstances when firm belief is appropriate, even essential. This doesn’t seem like one.

    I recall Sarah Jessica Parker doing an interview at the time of Miami Rhapsody, which she starred in with Mia Farrow. At that time, she got an offer to work with Woody Allen and asked Farrow if she should take it. She was told yes, because nobody comes out of an Allen film looking bad (except Kenneth Branagh, but he’s an exception in so many ways).

    So Mia evidently thinks Woody’s career is OK, his success fair enough, or she did at one point. That would be consistent with her OK-ing the clip for the Golden Globes. Dylan seems to want us to reject Allen as an artist, which I’m not prepared to do on the basis of his possible guilt.

  15. I interviewed Dylan Farrow for an internship at my studio some years ago. I was quite taken aback by how nervous and unsure of herself she was, considering how she was pretty much blue-blood Hollywood royalty. Aren’t such people, with all the privilege and advantages in the world supposed to be irritatingly self-assured?
    I think your piece is good and reasonable David. The only thing that I am sure about myself is that Dylan Farrow is the victim of someone.

  16. Well, any of us who’d been in the papers aged seven in a custody battle with allegations of child abuse would probably be a little off-balance for life… I wish her well. I don’t think more publicity is going to make her feel better, but I hope something does.

  17. The Dylan Farrow who “wrote” that NYT whine is an actual person only in the vaguest sense of the term.. it is painfully clear that monstrosity was confected by Mia Farrow and Nicholas Kristoff. So please everyone, spare your feeling about the “feelings” of that Replicant.

  18. The vaguest sense is good enough for me.

  19. I concur. Being sure about this, and being wrong, seems like a worse choice than being unsure and pleasing neither camp. It’s a no-win situation but there’s a way to lose more slowly.

  20. Then you’re not very demanding when it comes to character assassination and slander.

  21. My whole point is, seeing as I’m unsure what’s true here, I can’t call it definitively character assassination and slander. I guess Kristoff is probably guilty of that, because he’s working to sell papers rather than to obtain justice. But, as Wallace Shawn says, there are real people somewhere at the root of this story, and a real truth. Both are unknown to me.

  22. Thanks to Kristoff (Mia’s sock puppet) there are NO real people in this story. Just ideological chess figures.

    And I should like to take the opportunity at this point to say I have VERY GOOD IDEA of what happened here. (See my links above.)

  23. You have formed a conviction. I just can’t, in this case. And I’ve read every account — I read one version, I’m semi-convinced for about thirty seconds, then read another and swing the other way.

  24. You should do something about that “swinging.” Sounds like a “Motor Skills” problem to me.

    You may have indeed been unable to form a conviction. But ever since this tsunami of prurient trash issued forth from the NYT a great number of seemingly serious people have CLAIMED they “don’t know what really happened” yet act as if they do by wildly beating their breasts and DEMANDING we all “believe Dylan Farrow.”

    The Mia/Nick con game is a very powerful lure.

  25. Well that’s one of the things that bugs me even in my conflicted state — everybody in this debate thinks what they choose to believe makes them more virtuous — and some think we should choose what to believe based on what would make you feel most virtuous IF YOU TURNED OUT TO BE RIGHT. Obviously, the feelings of a genuine abuse victim (if one accepts that scenario) outweigh the feelings of the unjustly accused foster father (if one accepts that scenario) so Allen can’t win. Also, everybody acts like their side is losing and it’s terrible. I think the undecideds are going to win the long run, and I’m fine with that.

  26. I don’t see myself as virtuous as all. And I certainly don’t see Woody as virtuous either — and neither would he. It’s a simple matter of Reason Over Passion.

  27. Some point out that child abuse is much more common than false memories or false accusations — that’s reasonable too.

  28. “Some”? Outside of Daniel Riccuito who are these “some”? And does this mean that false memories and false accusations are to be discounted out of hand? Cause that’s the clear implication.

  29. This is part of why I have a problem with that view. Statistically, it is likely that false accusations are rare. But that doesn’t rule it out in this case. The fact that Farrow was already calling Allen a “child molester” because of the Soon-Yi affair BEFORE Dylan’s claim seems to me to make a false claim more likely, whereas to DR it’s either irrelevant or proof of Allen’s innate skeeviness, if “skeeviness” is the word I want.

    To me, certainty about any of this smacks of watching Rashomon and deciding you know whodunnit.

  30. As you say, DC, child abuse is more common than false accusations and false memories. Wouldn’t it be best to refrain, then, from shuffling Dylan Farrow’s claims into a deck of exotic hypotheses? In the editorial you refused to include here, I address the palpably obvious motivations, shared by virtually every cinephile on this thread, to hide behind the pathetic overreach of “False Memory.” But no link…. It requires monumental willfulness and towering entitlement to abuse “agnosticism” this way. You’re hosting a forum in which DE screams “MIA FARROW IS A PSYCHO BITCH” over and over. So we’re no longer in the realm of decorous abstractions. Your palpable silence on that score is, I suppose, a kind of agnosticism, but it hardly makes you an unbiased arbiter when it comes to inconvenient women. If that’s the definition of “agnosticism” you’ve chosen, then I take your point. You’re going along to get along with a known predator. As for fancy words like “virtue”… C’mon… It’s *common sense* to treat sexual abuse claims seriously, and *not* to wonder aloud about the alleged victim’s mental state. I’m asking: Are future victims of child abuse more or less likely to come forward after the Woody-bots have spoken? I reiterate: you are NOT agnostic. That’s all I’ll say.

  31. Randy Cook Says:

    DC would be more easily blamed for hiding “behind the pathetic overreach of ‘False Memory'” were it not for the fact that Dylan’s brother Moses (the one who does not have a new MSNBS show to publicize) has himself floated this theory.

  32. David, your piece is in so many important ways very clear-eyed. Thanks for taking the time (and bearing the brunt of attack) for writing it.

    It’s very far from the most unfortunate aspect of this whole affair, but the tremendous push for all of us to pick a side and loudly proclaim it whether we want to or not has made for an exhausting few weeks. Even the agnostic position is being pushed more forcefully than I’ve seen with prior uses of that term in other situations. You even write: “It is, I think, the only possible attitude.”

  33. “Possible” for me, anyway. Clearly others find other attitudes perfectly sustainable, as is their right. Bad choice of words.

    DR, here’s the link. http://chiseler.org/post/75900054945/up-the-ziggurat Should’ve included it, but this was more of a response to our FaceBook dispute.

    As a well-known coward, I tend to avoid fights. My mild-mannered “But surely” tack with Mr Ehrenstein is as close as I’m going to get to provoking that notorious street ruffian.

    Your argument that Woody Allen fans simply choose to believe his side, or maintain an artificial agnostic status to have it both ways, because they like his work (which I think is true of Michael Jackson fans) would be more compelling to me if I hadn’t stopped going to see his films after his separation from Mia.

    As for your most serious point — should we proclaim Dylan Farrow truthful so that other (genuine) victims of child abuse feel empowered to come forward? Or at least keep quiet about the whole situation? It’s a very powerful argument. If the allegation were known to be false, would the same argument still apply? Pretend it’s real for the sake of genuine abuse victims?

    My own stance is to treat everyone as if they’re telling the truth, but to also be truthful myself, which is to admit I don’t know.

  34. Sorry to chime in on such an ancient thread. Just wondering if anyone finds it ironic that, since our little conversation took place, Mariel Hemingway (pictured above) publicly accused Allen of attempting to seduce her on the set of Manhattan. She was under age at the time. Does this sway anyone? We could also look at Allen’s “pen pal” relationship with little girls, prose creepy enough to make NAMBLA blush. And, of course, Ronan Farrow now reports that Allen crept into Dylan’s bed at night and forced the child to do some pretty disturbing things. Most importantly, Dylan herself sticks to her initial accusations after more than twenty years.

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