I’ve had it easy until now. The crimes and misdemeanours of all those 70s entertainers, publicity gurus and singers conveniently conformed to my world view of things. Reinforced the echo chambers of my personal cultural comfort zone.

Max Clifford? ‘course he is, just look at him. Jim Davidson? The man told un-PC jokes in the 70s. He toured the country with his ‘blue’ panto ‘Sinderella’. Gotta be a pervert.

The fact that Davidson’s been cleared, and Clifford (et al) have yet to be charged didn’t, really, shift my righteous worldview all that much.

But when someone like Woody Allen is implicated – harrowingly and publicly, by his adopted daughter – (and this is no speculation on the specifics of the case itself) all bets are off.

And, what, are you crazy? Now this happens? When, with Vicky Christina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine even the man’s perennial ‘return to form’ is enjoying a return to form?

Whether we like it or not, our cultural choices are like little shards of our soul, floating around us. A plasma of meta-information – helping us to hook into the hearts of others. A chakra of hip-hop, Almodovar, Steinbeck and Pinter, we assign qualities to it, and to its makers, that go way beyond the rational. Our favourite stuff is us. Through it, we share a route-map to the heart of the human condition. Attack our Twitter pronouncements of affection towards Little Mix, and do we not bleed? In short, we take our culture personally.

Allen’s gnawing dissatisfaction with life, his constant tussle with morality and retribution in a godless universe speaks to us – and to me, particularly – like a shaman. Like, this guy – he gets me.

But these are also the actions of cold-reading psychics and charlatans – we’re attuned to look for patterns, to seek our soul mates, and to hunt out the kindness of strangers. Great art, however it’s created, has the power to short circuit our conscious, leftbrain view of the world. And great artists know this.

But conflate the creator with the created, and imbue an artist with immunity, and dangerous things start to happen.

To stare coldly at Amanda Knox and intuitively know she’s guilty – even pre-retrial – primarily because she didn’t direct Annie Hall, or team up with Pharrell Williams is as wrong as sticking blindly to team Allen.

We don’t know. We weren’t there. The only people who know what happened between the seven year old Dylan Farrow and Allen? The two of them. Not even Mia Farrow.

What do we know? That Farrow remains unwavering in her belief that she was abused. That successive investigations have failed to agree on a definitive answer.

We know, also, that it’s troubling that the 56 year old Allen formed a relationship with his the 19 year old adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Andre Previn, Soon Yi (more troubling still that he left pornogrpahic images of her around the house). But that, twenty years later, they’re still as solid as a rock.

On discovering that it was halfway through filming Husbands and Wives when Mia found these photographs, I rewatched the film recently. No matter how brilliant an actor Mia Farrow is, it chills the blood to see the light, ever so slightly, go out of her eyes in the second reel. That, too, is troubling.

But does my appreciation, still, for Allen’s work implicate me? Am I condoning his actions? Does our fandom buy them a pass (aka The R Kelly defence) Or can I embark on a little cognitive dissonance? We do it for Picasso, Wagner, Norman Mailer, Byron, TS Eliot and font king Eric Gill – a gang of incestuous, anti-Semites, attempted murderers and rapists. Do we treat living artists (not yet convicted) harsher than these?

The ongoing emotional harm to Dylan continues every time Allen is awarded, every time a film is released. But the world is a messy, ugly, frustrating and unresolved place – and good art grapples with this better than anything. It raises questions that do not have definite or unanimously accepted answers. And great art can come from very dark places. Always has, always will.

I can’t, in all honesty, say that I won’t watch the next Woody Allen film, if and when it’s released. Many have – it’s a choice they’re free to make, but I know I’d be lying if I said I’d reached the same conclusion.

But, at the same time, I can’t, and won’t, defend Allen. How can I? I wasn’t there. I don’t know him.

Defend an act you never witnessed (whether it’s a footballer accused of racism, or a film director accused of molestation) and, really, what you’re attempting to do is defend yourself. Your own choices.

And you know what they say about people who protest too much.

Let movies, let art, music speak on its own terms.

And artists? They need to answer for themselves.

12 Responses to “The Woody Allen Problem”

  1. Tom Smith

    Although in fact that distinction highlights a lot of the issues you’re talking about here. What would it change if she was his adopted daughter? Definitely something, for the worse, although it is hard to define. What does the mistaken use of “his” tell us about the Chinese-Whispers-like chain of public response to these situations, and the desire to castigate or defend? It’s interesting that David made that slip despite the fact that, I’m guessing, he actually was aware she wasn’t “his” adopted daughter, when he had a think. The right decision to leave it in as a strikethrough.

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