Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Brett Ratner. It seems that every day we hear about another powerful (and let's just say it -- male) figure in the entertainment industry who has been accused of sexual "misconduct" at best, and abuse/rape at worst.
While it's difficult to hear these stories -- sometimes because the stories themselves are horrendous and awful, sometimes because the men who were accused really disappointed us -- it's good that we're having this conversation, especially if it leads to real change within this industry that touches us all, whether or not it's where we spend our careers. But even if it takes us a while to make the kinds of changes that will make the worlds of film and TV a safe space for women to work and create, it's a positive development that both women and men who have been harassed or assaulted are generally being believed, and that everyone is waking up to how endemic sexual abuse really is.
First of all, let me admit my bias. I think Woody Allen is one of the cinematic geniuses of our time. To put it simply, I'm a fan. Hannah & Her Sisters, released before the scandals I'm about to discuss, and Bullets Over Broadway, released afterwards, rate among my favorite movies made by anyone, ever. But add to that list Crimes & Misdemeanors, Interiors, Manhattan, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex (but were afraid to ask), Annie Hall, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Midnight in Paris, Match Point, September, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Mighty Aphrodite, Radio Days, Alice, Another Woman, Broadway Danny Rose, Blue Jasmine, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and more -- some of these films feel perfect in their construction and artistry, and even those with obvious flaws are still interesting, so much more interesting than what you're probably thinking about renting next. He's our generation's Chekhov -- an artist in the truest sense of the word.
None of which excuses bad behavior, of course. And while I'm busy defending the man and his legacy, let me just state for the record that Woody Allen has behaved, in my opinion, very badly.
So what exactly are we doing here? Okay, let's talk about his offscreen life for a moment, and then I'll get back to the movies.
The most serious charge against Woody Allen came from his own daughter, who was, at the time, named Dylan Farrow. She claimed that, during his separation from her mother, Mia Farrow, he molested her in an attic. Her story was, and is, harrowing. And, there's a lot of doubt surrounding the allegation. A much more detailed account of these doubts was written by Robert Weide (who produced and directed a two-part documentary about Allen's career for PBS) in The Daily Beast in 2014. You can read that essay here, but the most convincing point made, to my mind, was that the allegation was made very soon after the alleged molestation occurred, which allowed investigators to launch a thorough and timely inquiry. And they did so. And after six months of considering the evidence, including physical examinations, they concluded that Dylan had not been molested, by her father or anyone else.
At the time that they began their affair, Previn was very young, especially compared to Allen, but was, in point of fact, a few years above the age of consent -- so we can't accurately call this statutory rape. If she were to come forward today to tell the world that she had been emotionally manipulated or physically assaulted by Allen as a teenager, I'd certainly be willing to give her a hearing. But given the fact that she remains married to Allen a quarter of a century later, that's not likely.
As much as I support the #metoo movement, and I truly do -- part of supporting those who have experienced rape or abuse or assault or harassment is to 1) start by believing the alleged victim(s), 2) investigate the claims as thoroughly as possible, and 3) separate criminal behavior from that which is simply untoward or uncouth.
If you apply that measure to Woody Allen, he doesn't exactly emerge looking like a saint. But he's not a rapist. He's not an abuser. And if you still want to call for Harvey Weinstein's head one day and take in a Woody Allen movie the next, I won't call you a hypocrite.
Speaking of Woody Allen movies, did I mention how amazing they are? In them, Woody Allen -- the writer, the director, and to a lesser extent, the actor -- has an uncanny ability to see life through the eyes of so many different people, especially women. So if he can be a selfish cad, and clearly he can -- he also has the capacity for reservoirs of empathy. Like Walt Whitman, he contradicts himself, and while that's confusing and complex, it's also the most human analysis that can be offered about any of us. Witness the following scene, from Hannah & Her Sisters:
In the scene above, Hannah (Mia Farrow) meets her sisters (Dianne Weist, Barbara Hershey) for lunch. Holly (Weist, who won an Oscar for her performance) is at a professional crossroads, and has come to ask her sister for money. While she and Hannah negotiate this request, Lee (Hershey) is overcome with emotion. What the audience knows but neither Hannah nor Holly know, is that Lee is currently having an affair with Hannah's husband (Michael Caine as -- you guessed it, a selfish cad). In this scene, there are usually three or four things going on at once, dancing between what's known and what's unknown, what's practical and what exists in the darker corners of the heart. It's less than three minutes long, and it's masterful in its execution.
And there's another scene from my other favorite Allen film, Bullets Over Broadway, which came out in 1994 -- three years after Woody Allen's contentious break-up with Mia Farrow and the tabloid furor around his relationship with her daughter, that speaks directly to the question of whether or not artists should be excused for their bad behavior. I couldn't find this particular scene anywhere on the internet (do better, internet!), but the basic setup is this: David Shayne (John Cusack), an aspiring playwright, is in a conversation with Sheldon Flender (Rob Reiner), a selfish cad. Sheldon is explaining to David that artists exist on a separate moral plane than the rest of us ordinary mortals. This is probably exactly what David wants to hear, since he's cheating on his girlfriend Ellen (Mary-Louise Parker) with the leading lady of his new play (another performance by Dianne Wiest, another Best Supporting Actress Oscar), and also wrestling with the knowledge that Cheech (Chazz Palminteri), a bodyguard and the real creative genius behind David's new play, has killed Olive, the talent-deficient actress (Jennifer Tilly, who is hilarious in this movie) in an effort to save the play from being an artistic flop. However -- and this is key -- the audience hates Sheldon Flender, and we don't even know yet that he's sleeping with Ellen himself. When we hear Sheldon's philosophy from his own preening, obnoxious mouth, we reject it immediately, even after we laughed our heads off when Cheech killed Olive (no really, it's hilarious). Allen, the filmmaker, expertly makes us complicit, and then shows us the lie -- all while cramming more laughs into a single movie than he probably ever did before or since. Just to prove it, here's more genius from Dianne Wiest:
Woody Allen has a new movie coming out this winter. It's called Wonder Wheel, and it stars Kate Winslet, Justin Timberlake, Juno Temple, and Jim Belushi. I'm going to see it. I typically see whatever Winslet does, and I'm not likely to pass up a chance to see her act a script that Woody Allen has written. I might even see it in a theatre, or I might wait until I can see it at home. But I'm almost definitely going to see it.
My final diagnosis is this: Woody Allen might be a decent guy who made a big mistake. He might be a completely decent guy who found the love of his life in the oddest of places. He might be the world's most rancid asshole and deserving of nothing good in this life whatsoever. I've never met Woody Allen, and I'm not likely to. I'm not even sure I'd want to. But watching Woody Allen's movies makes me a better person. They force me to ponder life's essential questions, and they often make me laugh so hard I don't even realize I'm doing it.
Y'know, if Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey never work again, I won't be upset. They have each exhibited a pattern of abusive behavior, and the stories of their victims stand up to scrutiny. It's important that they be held accountable for a history of assault, even if I, the moviegoer, miss out. There's zero chance that I'll ever see Daddy's Home 2, because I can't stand to look at Mel Gibson's face -- he's a racist, he's guilty of domestic assault, and I wouldn't enjoy watching that movie, or any movie he appears in for the rest of his career. And yet, I don't feel like I'm "boycotting" Mel Gibson. For starters, I wasn't all that likely to see Daddy's Home 2 to begin with; more importantly, I'm not trying to stop anyone else from seeing that movie. I'm personally not going, because I personally wouldn't be able to enjoy it; it's that simple.
If the public at large decided to hold Woody Allen accountable for being a selfish cad, and he stopped working after a long and prolific career, I suppose I'd survive that as well. But if Woody is still making movies (and he is), and if I, as a human being in this world, can benefit from seeing those movies (and I believe I would), then I'm going to see them. And I'm more than okay with that.