Think Anew, Act Anew

observations and opinion

Judging the Woody Allen Case, Part 1

Woody talks to himself, about getting away with murder. 

The Woody Allen child abuse allegations have burst back into the public consciousness, following his recent acclaim at the Golden Globe Awards and his new Oscar nomination.  His ex, Mia Farrow, has starting tweeting out the story again.  There is a piece in the Daily Beast refuting the charges and now there is the “Open Letter” from Dylan Farrow, repeating the story in heart-breaking fashion.

You don’t like to think of yourself as prejudiced.  But you are.  We all are.  Through our days and nights we acquire opinions, habits, “expectations” of what things are and what they mean.  These are mostly benign: I expect Ball Park Mustard to ruin most of what it touches.  Sarah Palin’s face activates my internal contempt-meter.  A movie featuring George Clooney is probably worth giving a try; a movie with Cher (in this century), probably not.  Tennis is fun, but downhill skiing? Nope.  Etc. We call these “tastes” or “opinions” but they are, in essence, prejudices because they pre-judge.  But they are benign because for the most part, we are the only people affected by them.

We have lived through a storm of faulty judgment in the last decade or so.  Osama bin Laden must have believed – hoped anyhow – that felling America’s biggest icons would spark a wider jihad.  Nope.  George W. Bush seemed to believe – hoped anyhow – that his father’s bete noir, Saddam Hussein, wasn’t just an evil bastard but the next Hitler.  Maybe, but Hussein lacked the tools.  Everyone seemed to think that if the roulet wheel of the U.S. housing market could keep spinning, the free ride would never end. Ouch.  Didn’t everyone, even many Republicans, want to believe that Barack Obama was “The One”, who would stop the rising of the seas and melt the partisan ice berg in D.C. ?  Sure they did.  We all wanted to believe it.   These and a trillion other judgments, were all infected by the prejudices of the human beings involved.  Some consequences were horrific, some benign.  For some, the jury is still out.

The public jury is still out on Woody.  My opinion of the case is benign, in the sense that it harms no-one.  I’m not the prosecutor who wanted to convict him, but didn’t have enough evidence; I’m not the psychologists who interviewed the child and concluded she had been manipulated into false memories; and I’m not the person who has grown up believing – knowing – that it was true, living in a world which celebrates the man who nearly destroyed her.  It is not up to us to decide the case, but inevitably, we will.   In our hearts and minds we will come to a decision.   And almost inevitably, that decision will be coloured by our sense of who’s involved, by how we feel about them (based on what we think we know about them).   And I fear, our ability to weigh the evidence will be affected by what we believed before we heard any of the evidence.  By our prejudice.

My prejudice is plain and simple: the guy wrote and directed four of the greatest films of the Twentieth Century, he portrayed a sweet character in each and I find it very hard to dislike him.  Each of the four films, ironically, is about the same thing:  loving the wrong people, who seem very right at the time.  Annie Hall brings him magic, but it wilts as she grows up;  Manhattan has a teenaged girl in love with Woody (uncomfortable in retrospect) who dismisses it while he pursues a grown-up Annie Hall;  in Hannah and her Sisters, everyone is blind to who they love (for a while) before a miracle occurs. And in Crimes and Misdemeanors, one man murders his lover to protect his reputation, while another man watches his true love sail away, while a good man goes blind.  Message: God may be watching, but he doesn’t seem to care.

Each of these films, which for many mark the height of Allen’s artistic achievement, are steps up a hard staircase: progressing from the pre-occupations of early adulthood (romance) in Annie Hall, to the darkest corners of maturity (loss and death) Crimes and Misdemeanors, Woody Allen turns his personal life into a multi-part morality play.  Allen paints a true and often ugly picture of human avarice, dishonesty and stupidity, but he does it affectionately.

Allen’s work was my companion as I entered adulthood.  My idea of who he is, has meant something to me.  From the first day the world learned of his romance with Soon Yi Previn, who was believed to be his step-daughter (she wasn’t, but she was the adopted daughter of Allen’s girlfriend) to the day Mia Farrow launched the child molestation accusations at him, through the criminal investigation and the civil case, I just couldn’t believe he was a monster.  Even now, I find myself itching to remind people he was never convicted, he beat her in the law suit, he took the lie detector and Mia wouldnt, the shrinks said…and so on.

The truth is, I want to believe he is innocent.  I may be a fool to let a man’s work affect my opinion of him,  but I would be a bigger fool if I pretended it did not.  And you would too.

Yet ask yourself, haven’t you done it a hundred times today?  If you hate what a politician stands for, can you ever hear him open his mouth and not dislike what comes out of it?  If someone has let you down, can you ever really trust him again? Indeed, can you trust anyone, anymore?   And if you keep falling down, isn’t skiing stupid?  And if you could never learn the words to that damned song, “All I Ask of You” and had to read them from your palm so not to screw up the thing in front of two hundred people, isn’t it just a bad song?

The only real answer to any of those questions has to be “no.”  Or at least, “maybe not”  Because as it turns out, Ball Park Mustard can taste pretty good, depending

To be continued.

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This entry was posted on February 2, 2014 by in Arts and Entertainment, Woody Allen Case.
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