BAD REVIEWS FOR WOODY
Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable.
Woody Allen in Annie Hall
It took just a single week of merciless tabloid headlines to redefine Woody Allen. For years Allen had been praised as our finest contemporary filmmaker. He was a combination of Ingmar Bergman, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx rolled into one package. It was too much praise. By the end of the week, he had been transformed into the vilest sort of dirty middle-aged man and child molester. It was too much vituperation. "Woody Loves Mia's Daughter," trumpeted the New York Post.
"It's Getting Ugly," said Newsday.
"Mia's Got Nude Pix," shouted the Post on another day.
There was much more. There will be more to come when the supermarket tabs get their mitts on this story of how Allen became sexually involved with a girl he and Mia Farrow had raised since the girl was 8 years old. To date, there hasn't been talk of an arrest. There hasn't been a single court appearance. In fact, the only court action taken so far is the one filed by Allen seeking legal custody of several of the 11 adopted children of Farrow, not only his former romantic companion but the star of a string of his most recent films.
Up until now, Farrow has had all the best of their relationship. Woody was the director who gave her steady employment. He also contributed to the support of her big Central Park West apartment and signed on as adoptive parent for her unusual brood.
Nevertheless, the verdict against Allen already appears settled in the public's perception.
A roughly similar situation destroyed director Roman Polanski, who was caught sleeping with a 13-year-old girl. Polanski was guilty and fled to Europe. In Woody's case, there is considerable cause for doubt, including the testimony of the girl involved, who is now apparently 21 years old.
One problem is that every funny line Woody ever uttered must now be examined to determine if it contains evidence that he always thought like a sexual deviant. It's all very sick.
"The lion and the lamb shall lie down together, but the lamb won't get much sleep," Woody once said.
What does this really mean? Is it merely a funny line or is this part of the evidence?
"I always thought he looked like a child molester," I hear women say about Woody. "Isn't it typical that he got himself into a situation where there were so many children? That's what they always do. They become scoutmasters or guidance counselors. They want a lot of kids around." But how does anyone know what a child molester looks like? I wonder. I'm not an expert. But I have watched quite a few child-molesting cases over the years and have seen the poor wretches sitting at the defense table in court. They come in all shapes and sizes. They bear no identifying marks. They all dress differently. Sadly, they have only one thing in common. No person accused of the crime of child molesting is ever granted the presumption of innocence.
Why is there no effort to uncover Farrow's motives for revenge in this instance? She and Woody broke up last January and she says she then discovered he was romantically involved with Soon-Yi Farrow Previn, the Korean refugee.
Farrow, like the classic woman scorned, lashed out at Woody and her adopted daughter. She accused the girl of being mentally incompetent and Woody of being a pervert.
It's a high-spirited attack and it's one that makes me think that Farrow is unbalanced. Her next step was to hire Alan Dershowitz as her lawyer. This is a dangerous, even murderous, woman determined to destroy her enemies. Charging sex abuse against a former mate in custody fights has become known as "the ultimate weapon." Sex expert Dr. Ralph Underwager of the Institute for Psychological Therapies in Northfield, Minnesota, says:
"The system is so biased in favor of the accuser, the accused should simply take a bus to prison, walk to the gate and turn himself in." Woody is not ready to walk himself through the front gates of any prison.
@body:"Showing up is 80 percent of life," he once said. True to his own code, he called a press conference, thereupon submitting to the indignity of publicly denying this most heinous of crimes.
"These totally false and outrageous allegations have sickened me. . . . The one thing I have been guilty of is falling in love with Farrow's adult daughter at the end of our own years together. Painful as that might be, I and certainly the children do not deserve this form of retribution." He closed with a typical Allen riposte about how rare it was to hold a press conference. "My first public appearance in years and it's all straight lines," he said.
Woody's accusers are legion. They are led by Farrow, grown hysterical over the breakup of their relationship. Some of the children have joined in. They cancel each other out.
Farrow wrote to a friend about Woody and then, not surprisingly, conspired to make the letter public. "I see now that I have spent long years with a man who had no respect for everything that I hold sacred," she wrote, "not for my family, not for my soul, not for my God or my goals." She does not mention how lucky she was to have the leading roles in all his recent films--something she most certainly didn't rate on sheer merit as an actress.
Then there is her wonderful Irish shrew of a mother. Maureen O'Sullivan, now in her 80s, was once the jungle companion of Tarzan of the Apes in the 1930s adventure films. She charges about honking the accusation that Woody is an evil man.
For those in a voyeuristic frame of mind, there is Woody's film Hannah and Her Sisters, readily available on videotape.
It was filmed in 1986 right in Farrow's New York apartment while they were still a couple. Included in the cast are Farrow, her children and her mother. In it, Woody plays her ex-husband, who makes his living as a television executive.
The film opens during a Thanksgiving Day party in the apartment. Farrow is surrounded by her children and her parents, including O'Sullivan, who gives a salty performance as her movie mother. The scene was Woody's tribute to Ingmar Bergman's opening scene in Fanny and Alexander. Watching the doings makes you feel uncomfortably like you are spying into the actual mnage before the troubles surfaced. Your eyes automatically search for the children, wondering which of the girls is Soon-Yi. You wonder which one is the little boy Farrow claims Woody molested.
You look for them and you despise yourself for doing so. But such is the power of these awful charges. It stains the character of everyone within hearing distance.
In Woody's first appearance on screen, he is shown walking into a television studio. He is accosted by a producer who tells Woody about a sketch that can't be aired on that night's show.
"Why all of a sudden is this sketch considered dirty?" Woody's character asks.
"Child molestation's a touchy subject," the producer says.
"Read the papers," Woody says. "Half the country's doing it." Is this more evidence against Woody? Or were these remarks later noticed by Farrow and used diabolically to build her own case?
By the way, no one knows if half the country is "doing it." But certainly every literate person in it has by now read about Woody supposedly "doing it" with Farrow's children. Mia's former husband, Frank Sinatra, has also chimed in on Mia's side. Wonderful!
Sinatra, who married Farrow when he was over 50 and she had just turned 20, now becomes the defender of the cross. @rule:
@body:And, of course, there is the galloping, harrumphing barrister, Alan Dershowitz. You remember him, of course. He is the defender of such worthies as Claus von Bulow and Leona Helmsley. Dershowitz says that it is not true that Mia demanded that Woody make a lump payment of $7 million in return for her silence.
The money, Dershowitz says, was not a payoff. It was to be used for support payments for the family. It would make it unnecessary for her to undergo the humiliation of soliciting funds from Allen each month. By now the thought police are everywhere, scouring through Woody's classic films, searching for lines they believe provide clues to his diabolical intentions. We are all in search of Woody Allen as Humbert Humbert.
No matter whether he was Alvy Singer in Annie Hall or Isaac Davis in Manhattan or the college professor in his newest film, the character, in essence, is always Woody Allen. The character Woody projects on the screen is tortured, full of self-doubts about his own character, and immensely talented. Woody's life has become tangled beyond repair. "I don't believe in an afterlife," he once said, "although I am bringing a change of underwear." He will need more than that to get through this siege, which promises to be bloodier and longer than the battle for Sarajevo. There may be no survivors.
Woody's act of betrayal with Soon-Yi was hinted at on screen as long ago as 1979 in Manhattan, when he as a middle-aged writer fell in love with the schoolgirl played by 17-year-old Mariel Hemingway. One fears that Woody, even with all his talents for creating a sympathetic persona, will be unable to untwist this latest turn in his life into a warm and humorous tale. Not even background music by George and Ira Gershwin or poignant scenes of the Brooklyn Bridge or the New York skyline can create the miracle.
It was one thing for Woody to fall in love with a teenager in Manhattan. As he did that, he was playing a nudnik who was unable to decide whether his life ambition was to write the Great American Novel or be Humphrey Bogart.
Real life is different. In reality Woody is a rich and powerful figure in the film industry. More important, he had already been involved with the same woman for a dozen years. And the young girl he has taken up with was his adopted daughter since she was 8 years old.
@body:All last week, writers in the New York Times took turns fretting over the revelations. Headline writers had a field day. Woody Allen was much more interesting than George Bush.
He was even accused of sexually abusing Farrow's 7-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan, whose custody Allen also seeks.
In Manhattan, Mariel Hemingway says, "I'm legal, but I'm still a kid."
In Annie Hall, Woody says, "Even as a kid, I always fell for the wrong women. I feel that's my real problem." In Bananas, Woody says, "I'm doing a sociological study of perversion. I'm up to advanced child-molesting." Allen and Farrow made a dozen films together during their odd relationship. During this time, they had one child of their own and adopted several, but never lived under the same roof. He lived on the east side of Central Park and she and the children on the opposite side of the park.
What will almost certainly be their final film together is now being sneak-previewed in various parts of the country.
It is called Husbands and Wives, and the plot involves a college professor and his wife and a 21-year-old student. Woody, of course, is having an affair with the student. Farrow plays the wife.
At one point in the film, Allen's character talks of his attraction to "crazy women." He says to his wife:
"I thought you were different. I thought you were sane and strong, but it turns out, in your own quiet way, you're just as crazy as the rest of them." There is a scene in the film in which the young woman attempts to seduce Allen, who plays a man with a self-destructive streak.
Allen tells the young girl that their relationship just could not work out. Then he adds, "Why do I hear $50,000 worth of psychotherapy dialing 911?" I never miss a Woody Allen movie. In this I'm not alone. When I lived in Chicago, it often meant standing in lines in below-freezing temperatures to get a seat on opening day. The cold never bothered me. Neither did it deter anyone else who was a Woody Allen fan.
His films are so memorable. They become a part of our lives. We talk about Woody Allen over dinner and drinks as if we know him personally. I still remember pivotal events of the periods in which the films appeared.
Annie Hall won four Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and for Diane Keaton as Best Actress of 1977. But Woody didn't bother to show up for the awards ceremony. He spent the night playing with a small musical group in Michael's Pub in New York. That was the year Gary Gilmore was killed by a firing squad up in Utah. It was also the year Groucho Marx and Elvis Presley died.
Jimmy Carter urged all Americans to become better family people. "Those of you who are living in sin, I hope you get married," Carter said. "And those of you who have left your spouses, go back home." In those days, George Bush and Dan Quayle were still more than a decade away from assuming their roles as moral arbiters.
Manhattan came out in 1979. That was the year O.J. Simpson retired from football and Ronald Reagan began his pursuit of the Republican nomination. How good is Woody Allen as a filmmaker? I answer that with a question. Over the years, who's better? I always remember that unforgettable scene in Annie Hall when Woody dines with Annie's WASP family. Annie's grandmother peers across at Woody, who is transformed in her eyes into a bearded rabbi.
What will he look like to us when this gruesome business has finally run its course?
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