The morning Oscar nominations were announced, he was talking to a stranger about movies, as is often the case, and the conversation ended up focused on Woody Allen.
“My son has seen all his movies and believes he is innocent,” she said. “I’ve seen all his movies and I think he’s guilty,” I replied. It was not said much later; There was not much to say anymore.
But in reality there is much more to be said. The words we used were not the most suitable. Innocence and guilt are legal (and metaphysical) issues, but when we talk about the behavior of artists and how we feel about it, we are undoubtedly dealing with more subjective, uncertain and complicated standards.
It’s not just about whether you believe Dylan Farrow’s accusations of sexual abuse by his father, Allen, or his denial. It’s also about who you think deserves to have the benefit of the doubt.
The accusation that Allen inappropriately touched Dylan Farrow came in 1992, after his breakup with Mia Farrow. That break was caused by Mia Farrow’s discovery that Allen was sexually involved with Soon-Yi Previn, who was his adopted daughter but not Allen’s.
Those who defend him (including his adopted son with Mia Farrow, Moses) suggest that the allegations of abuse were the inventions of a disgusted woman who wanted revenge on the man who humiliated her.
The seriousness of the complaint and Allen’s total denial of this had the curious effect that they neutralized what would otherwise have been a reputation-destroying scandal. “The heart wants what it wants,” he once said.
And what his 56-year-old (then) heart wanted was a 21-year-old woman he had known since she was a girl. He married her, he continued making movies and all the drama was relegated even by the tabloids.
I remember vividly the key points of the debate, that is, I remember having used them in arguments I had with friends at that time. Previn was not a minor. Allen and his mother had never lived together. He was not Soon-Yi’s father, not even his stepfather, although he was his half brothers. In addition, Allen’s love life is personal and therefore irrelevant. What matters is work.
For more than two decades, the belief that Allen is an artist remained intact. Fluctuating how well their films were received, but critics (including me) usually found a reason to celebrate those that represented a return to their best moments after a streak of some that were not. He won prizes and the actors clamored to work on his films. It is until now that that has begun to change.
And the old defenses have resurfaced. But, like many things that once seemed to be common sense, now they sound somewhat clueless in the current context. It has been proclaimed – in a somewhat desperate way, in my opinion – the separation of art and artist as if it were a philosophical principle and not a cultural habit propped up by an already worn out academic dogma.
But the idea that art belongs to an area of human experience that is different from others is both incoherent in conceptual terms and incapacitating in intellectual terms. Art belongs to life and anyone-whether critical, creative or fanatic-who has dedicated his life to art knows it.
What’s more, Allen’s particular art is saturated with his personality, his worries, his biography and his tastes. One of the most powerful illusions that popular art has reinforced is that those who create it are people that everyone else knows.
It is not only because the anecdotes of their childhood and the news of their marriages and divorces satisfy our appetite for morbid or because we can see something of their lives through Instagram and Twitter. It is also due to the fact that they take part of their intimate baggage to their work and invite us to peer into the contents.
I guess I can declare that I’m not going to see one more of his films anymore. But I can hardly erase from my memory those that I have already seen, which are all.
Whether you celebrate that authenticity or hate to get to know more of what you wanted, this is undoubtedly an era of putting oneself on the screen. And, undoubtedly, one of the founding fathers of the time is Woody Allen, the neurotic Narcissus of the Generation I, a bridge between mid-century psychoanalysis and the culture of selfish and digital.
So doing it on the side will not be easy and that’s part of what I wanted to say in that short discussion about your guilt or innocence. I guess I can declare that I’m not going to see one more of his films anymore.
But I can hardly erase from my memory those that I have already seen, which are all; Half of them I have seen more than once. And even if I could, by some feat of cinephile sophistry, separate those films from Allen’s life, I can not separate them from mine.
When I was young-too young, but already-my grandmother took me to see Dreams of a seducer . I did not catch most of the jokes back then, but several of them stuck in my head anyway. “Did you hear about another girl being raped near Oakland?” Asks Diane Keaton’s character.
“But I was not close to Oakland!” Replies Allen, who plays a San Francisco film critic named Allan Felix. ( Dreams of a seducer, premiered in 1972, is somewhat atypical within Allen’s early catalog: it is based on a work written by him, but was directed by Herbert Ross).
Allan is sometimes visited by the ghost of Humphrey Bogart, with everything and his fedora and raincoat. He gives advice on “ladies” and other topics. I barely had any idea who Bogart was, but in a short time what Bogey is for Allan Felix, Woody Allen turned to me. A mentor A cultural hero A masculine ideal.
It sparked my interest in foreign films and films of yesteryear, in jazz and Russian literature, in Franz Kafka and in Marshall McLuhan. Wherever there was a re-release of Sleepyhead , Bananas or Love and death: The last night of Boris Grushenko , as it happened in those days before the homemade video, there I was.
My soft copies of his first two collections, Getting Even and Without Feathers , were folded and groped so I read them. No gift was so desired or devoured as quickly as the hard paste from his third, Side Effects, that my parents gave me a Christmas.
Allen’s prose had an even greater effect on me than his movies. Its deflationary twists between the idealist and the absurd, from the very serious to the very banal, I am made the pure definition of what is funny.
The same man is a somewhat credible definition of sexy. What he achieved in his early films, most clearly in Annie Hall (his seventh film as a director), was to become a seducer in a slim, literate and self-conscious man.
His next achievement was to become a very serious filmmaker without leaving behind that cache of his beginnings. The character of Allen in his various incarnations is insecure or immature or socially unfortunate (or a combination of all these), but he is never single for long.
Parts of your character that exposes hiperintelectualismo His mockery, his snobbery or soJewish that is- they are also arms of seduction. His self-criticism is a tactic, a feint, he makes himself look like the loser but ends up winning, and he was more frustrated by his desires than when they were fulfilled. As soon as his heart got what he wanted, he wanted something more.
What heterosexual, influential and unathletic adolescent would not want something like that?
Ok, it’s okay: not all teenage men. But beneath the neuroses and the self-directed and stammering criticisms there was a powerful feeling of having the right to it. The figures of Woody Allen in a Woody Allen film are almost always passing from one woman to another driven by a dialectic of enchantment, disappointment and a revived desire.
The rejected women seem to be grumpy, demanding, dull or boring. Their replacements, at least initially, are sincere, sensual, generous and, almost always, younger and more sophisticated than their predecessors. For a long time that was seen not as a self-fulfilling fantasy, but as a sign of honesty and the freedom of sentimental conceptions of what home love is like.
There was also more there. Imagination takes you where you want. In a recent article, The Washington Post went completely into the archives of Allen’s unpublished writings and found many signs of his many worries about – and apparent obsession with – young women, something that has become clear to those who have seen his movies from Manhattan .
Part of the work of a critic – say anyone with a serious interest in films, professionals or not – is to judge, and no judgment is free of a moral dimension. Nor is it free of personal interest. What I find most worrisome at the ethical level nowadays about Allen’s work is how many of my colleagues and I have ignored or diminished its most unpleasant aspects.
A sensitivity that seemed to be sweet, skeptical, and self-critical might well have been cruel, cynical, and self-justifying from the start.
There is a powerful and understandable urgency, as a consequence of the long-awaited recognition of the widespread nature of sexual abuse, of expelling all those who have committed it; to turn his back on his work and to erase it from the canon. It’s never that simple.
Allen’s films and written work are part of the shared artistic record, which means that they form the memories and experiences of many people. I do not want to say it like a defense, but of recognition of the sorrow and betrayal it entails.
As I said, there’s more to discuss about it. Reassessing something is part of the work of culture and in extraordinary moments that work is particularly vital and especially challenging. I do not blame them if they want to stop watching the Woody Allen movies. But I also think that some of us have to start seeing them again.