Sunday, February 02, 2014

Woody Allen, Child Abuser

Monsters can create great art, but how should we feel about them? In Woody Allen’s case, make that facile popular art, but the question remains.

In the wake of a Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement Award, his adopted daughter Dylan, now 28, comes forward to accuse him of sexually abusing her at age seven. We are not in the murky area of childhood memory here: A Connecticut prosecutor concluded back then there was enough evidence to charge him but dropped criminal proceedings to spare her.

(Full disclosure: A decade older, I met Woody Allen in 1965 when he was doing standup at a dinner I emceed. The audience was baffled [“My wife had a tough divorce lawyer—-If I get remarried and have children, she gets them”] and, as he came offstage in a daze, I tried to comfort him [“You were great, it’s not you, it’s them”].

(I enjoyed and admired his early movies but was increasingly so put off by his whiny self-love and moral disingenuousness I found it hard to watch him on screen. Only when someone else finally inhabited his persona, as in “Celebrity” and “Match Point,” could I relent and watch his protagonists’ atrocious behavor.)

Dispassionate as we try to be, can we decline to judge? This is the man who was living back then with Mia Farrow, who discovered pornographic pictures of another child Soon-Yi, whom he later married. Allen shrugged: “I fell in love with my girlfriend’s adopted daughter.”        

By all means, let him keep his Lifetime Achievement Award and other honors as a film maker, but the rest of us can retain our opinions of him as a human being.

Reading Nicholas Kristof’s account of it all, along with the accompanying links, may not turn your stomach but it will certainly keep you from watching “Annie Hall” or “Hannah and Her Sisters” with the same eyes again.

When it comes to aging movie icons, I’ll take Clint Eastwood, chair and all.

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