Archive for Deconstructing Harry

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…