Reanalyzing Woody Allen in the Age of #MeToo

I was 15 years old when I first saw Annie Hall. I was going through a breakup, and in a depressive state, I sat down to watch whatever was on television, and I just so happened to stumble across the movie as it was starting. It made a significant impact on me (and still does now), and I soon thought to myself about what more I could do to be a lot less like Alvy Singer – or was it really Annie herself who isn’t worth going out for? From then on, I branded myself as “the biggest Woody Allen fan” at my high school. I even paid for a ticket to see Blue Jasmine when it premiered in my area, because seeing Cate Blanchett, one of my favourite actresses in recent memory, work with one of my own favourite writer-directors at the time was something that I had to watch – and of course, it met my sky-high expectations. I just couldn’t stop thinking about how much I loved his writing style, whether it was Annie Hall, or something like Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, or a recent work like Midnight in Paris.

However, I’m not the same person as I was at 15. Back then, I knew nothing about Woody Allen’s personal life, only that he was that weird guy who film lovers like myself had held in high regard for his distinct writing style. I can’t bring myself to hate a film like Annie Hall, which made me want to become a better person than I was then, and still seek to be nowadays, so obviously, these films still mean quite a great deal to me. They still feel like thoughtful slices of life that are being told from the perspective of a neurotic genius with so little social experience that reminded me of myself. With that having been said, calling him a “genius” makes me uncomfortable, because of how I’ve only come to see Woody Allen from reading up about his personal life. No matter how weird it was to be the youngest person seated to watch a Woody Allen movie in the cinemas, I now see it as one of the biggest mistakes that I’ve made in my life. I didn’t know anything about Allen at the time and even if I did, I convinced myself just to merely “separate art from the artist,” an idea that I no longer believe in. No matter what the quality of the work may have been, the idea that I had given my own money to an alleged molester is something that leaves me feeling uncomfortable to this very day.

But even with Allen, can you really “separate art from the artist,” knowing how much of his own life still finds its way into his own films? It’s clear to me that I can’t anymore, watching his own relationship in Manhattan together with the 17-year-old Mariel Hemingway flourish in what I also called one of my favourite films of all time. It was impossible for me, even in the case like Roman Polanski, another filmmaker I have greatly admired despite his own status as a fugitive from the United States on the count of drugging and raping the then 13-year-old Samantha Geimer. I couldn’t make the distinction with Polanski knowing the subject matter of his work, and even in cases like The Pianist or Tess, which have been made ever since he became a fugitive from the law – his own personal life can be felt in his work to a heartbreaking degree. It’s brutally apparent what part of his life these films were speaking for with him being a Holocaust survivor and having grieved the loss of Sharon Tate and an unborn child in a brutal murder, and while it wouldn’t make him any better of a person, you can’t ever find yourself wishing such awful things to happen to someone else as a normal human being.

When I first read Dylan Farrow’s open letter about the alleged abuse she had suffered from the age of seven at the hands of Woody Allen, I was heartbroken. I couldn’t believe a single thing that I was reading. The neurotic, socially inept genius that my 15-year-old self had championed for making films that made me want to be a better person than I am, was also a monster. It was the only conclusion that I could ever have come to knowing that he was married to Mia Farrow and André Previn’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi. I was ashamed, because even that made me unsure if I was able to look at Allen’s films the same way that I had used to. I knew I couldn’t, knowing that these thought pieces reminiscing about how we live our ordinary lives were coming out year after year, from a monster.

Knowing already that Woody Allen’s films had so much of his own self inserted into them was yet another hurdle for me to jump over, but I somehow managed to go along with it. I would never bring myself to defend Woody Allen as a person, even if I still stand by how I feel about his work. Allen’s early works have made themselves so distinct in the sense that they are self-deprecatory portraits of his own life. He clearly hates himself as is, based on the way Annie Hall had ended, but even then, it’s not a very comfortable feeling when you know you’re still seeing Allen tell everything as is the way he does so in Manhattan, because what you still see is Woody Allen being Woody Allen. However, since his work is so full of self loathing, why hasn’t Woody Allen chosen to improve himself from this? He never offers a solution, we just see him continuously telling everything as it is, and it hasn’t even stopped nowadays given how 2015’s Irrational Man turned out.

Here I am, criticizing Woody Allen for being the sort of person that he is, but I continue to praise his work – and I’m sure this is a question that many would want to ask me: Why do I keep watching Woody Allen films? If I can’t even look at even those that I championed the same way that I used to, and I don’t believe that “separating art from the artist” is possible, why do I continue to admire them? Besides merely being good films as I believe them to be, I don’t think that revelations about an artist’s personal lives should poison art that has already been released. Will it indicate more about how these films have aged? Absolutely, but I also don’t think that it should demerit a film that the consensus has agreed upon, as a great piece of work. What I do believe, however, looking at these films from a current point of view, is that as we watch Allen playing himself, another lesson is being taught about consequence in the form of his usual philosophical ramble. No one wants to be the sort of person that Allen always writes, but that’s why his work continues to remain fascinating to me, as he still sees someone who has done wrong in his own characters.

So even if there are people out there who can still agree that these films have their merits as they are, what good is it really to stick up for Woody Allen? There isn’t any good in it, especially in the age of #MeToo, because we should not be ignoring the fact that Woody Allen has still been allowed to release at least one film after Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have fallen hard from grace at the hands of sexual abuse allegations that have surfaced against them. Over the years we have come to recognize Kevin Spacey as a truly great actor, but knowing that he has endangered so many people over the years, we cannot allow him to keep his position of power. Quite frankly, the fact Woody Allen is still allowed to work and brag about himself without the same refreshing thought that made his earliest works carry the impact that they maintained is something I cannot stand for, regardless of the quality of the films. You just know that from this alone, a dangerous figure is still put in power because people see him as “a talented artist.”

Do I believe that he is a talented artist? I figure that I will only be asked the same thing about Roman Polanski, whose films I continue to treasure today – because you will only get redundant answers: yes. Will I still watch their films? Yes, but maybe the best thing to do in this scenario is wait for a better time. Finally, in good conscience, will I pay to watch another film by Woody Allen? The answer to that is as simple as no. As we talk about the films of such people, we unfortunately cannot ignore how their own personal lives has impacted their art to any extent. However, what we can take from this is that as Woody Allen’s films remain influential to many, another template for where to start anew with how we live out our lives as they are. Whether you dislike Allen’s film because they are indeed films about himself, or you stuck so closely with Woody Allen’s work like I did, you’re not wrong for feeling either way. It is, however, an appropriate time to learn about the traumatizing scope in which their prominence upon modern art has left behind.

Dylan Farrow ended her open letter asking the readers, “What’s your favourite Woody Allen film?” In a normal scenario, this is where I would answer with Annie Hall, but because we are looking at the scope in which Allen has left a scar upon the Farrow family, it’s become so much more difficult to answer. When you find out that your favourite film has been directed by such an awful human being, I can only imagine that it would sting terribly. But even if these films were indeed directed by awful people, there are many others who had no prior knowledge of the scenario at hand that are being criticized as enablers only for working with them, something I do not believe is fair. What I do believe, is that as we learn more about what happens as this power continues to be abused, we should find more ways to act against it and show the film industry to be as inviting as possible for new artists. As an aspiring filmmaker myself, I would hate to work in an industry where dangerous figures can still be shrugged off because “they are talented artists” or because we should “separate art from the artist.”

Speaking as someone who still holds Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, The Purple Rose of Cairo in such high regard, I am done with Woody Allen. I am done with Woody Allen as a person, and I refuse to financially support him once again. I am done because the image he has left behind is sickening. Although in retrospect I am not changing how I feel about Allen’s work, and it isn’t easy trying to distance myself from an artist whose work has obviously made a great impact on me, I cannot bring myself to support what he puts out in the future. I should have known better at the time, because I gave Allen more power to work as consistently as he had done so. I cannot undermine how much I regret this, because I believe every word that Dylan Farrow has to say about Woody Allen. For so long I have ignored the voice of a victim in favour of a man who I believed to be an “incredible artist,” and I’m drowning in remorse. I cannot stand for this sort of abuse going ignored because it was committed by people whom we have cherished for so long.

If Dylan Farrow were ever to read this, I would also like to express that I am sincerely, very sorry, for having been a part of the problem. It takes a great deal of courage to stand up against this sort of abuse from the industry, and I admire it immensely, for I would like to stand up and be a part of the war against predators like Allen. I told myself after watching Annie Hall that I didn’t want to be the sort of person Alvy Singer was anymore, and I suppose this is another step further in moving away from that.

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