When I was young, I met an artist whom, everyone told me, had thrown his wife out a plate glass window. My reaction was, “I hope his art is very great.” His art was great, but not greater than his abuse. Of course, every time I looked at his work, I thought of that plate glass crashing and his wife’s limp body flying through it to the ground.
By now everyone has logged/weighed in on Mia Farrow’s accusations of Woody Allen’s abuse of her daughter, Dylan Farrow. As someone who has been abused by almost every adult who crossed her path, I can tell you that the logic of the abuser, “Just look at the train,” struck a nerve. I almost titled this post, The Logic of the Abuser.
However, please keep in mind as you read this post that I have paid my dues, been there and know of what I speak.
I also love Woody Allen. I don’t want to give up Woody Allen. Even if he had abused me in that attic – and the jury is still, as they say, out on that one – I could not give up his art.
I collect Woody’s movies. I don’t trust the guy. I’m sure he has a plan for his death, much like Disney’s occasional pulling of movies to increase their impact, I’m not at all certain Woody’s movies are going to be available after he dies. I’m buying now, as many as I feel I need in order to live the kind of artistic life I want to live.
I’m writing now, after a silence of three months, because Woody has just released “Bullets Over Broadway” on Broadway and there is a key line in that play that this post is based upon - “The artist can be forgiven anything if he produces great art.” Timely, Woody, timely.
Not everyone will agree with me. Many people are raging over Mia’s accusations, urging the public to deny Woody an Academy Award and urging them further to boycott his movies. God! No! Think about it: if we waited for our artists to be perfectly nice, what would we have to look at, read, listen to? Maybe Renoir, Matisse, Norman Rockwell? Picasso was not an easy-going guy. His lover, Françoise Gilot titled her memoir “Surviving Picasso.” In it, she reveals his “ferocious cruelty.” One has only to look at Picasso’s paintings of his women to see how his perception of them degenerates from blissful admiration to horrific contempt. Jackson Pollack took two screaming girls over the cliff with him when he committed suicide. Do you look at Picassos and Pollacks still? Salinger chased young girls in his later years; he regularly sent out strange love letters to girls. He also ignored his children. Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman were homosexuals during a time when homosexuality was a crime. In fact, Wilde went to prison for corrupting youth, namely, the incorruptible, Lord Alfred Douglas. I would not give up any Wilde, Whitman or Salinger either. My favorite Salinger story is "Teddy," about a little boy who has died many times. I cannot wait for the rest of Salinger's work to be published posthumously. Bono has supported Monsanto, which is busy poisoning the planet and the people in it. I’m sure Monsanto promised Bono the world for Africa's sake: I’m sure he was fooled by the Devil’s promises. Yet, I long for U2’s next album. U2 was the return of music for me, I who had known the gods of the late 50s and 60s – Elvis, Jim Morrison, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, John Lennon - the return of true music after the long, hideous drought of the 70’s.
Recently, I discovered that Bill Cosby has been accused of brutally beating and raping young girls, and then, as frosting on the abuser cake, ruining their careers. I’d always considered Cosby a genius. Now I’m having trouble laughing at his jokes. Not funny. Maybe that’s because his jokes depend on his being wholesome. Perhaps it is the edginess of Woody Allen’s movies and his easy jokes about sexuality that make people so ready to believe perverse sexual allegations against him. Perhaps it is the fact that I had lived with abuse and my abuser for so many years, that I am able to forgive even the hint of scandal around Woody Allen’s genius. Or, perhaps it is the amazing joy and life enrichment that his work has brought to console me in the wake of life’s daily problems. Thank you, Woody.
Walt Disney has recently gotten flack for having been a Nazi sympathizer. Do I ever forget the awe that overcame me when I first saw “Sleeping Beauty?” No way. Am I grateful for the magic of sight, sound and story he has given me that has fed my childhood imagination and adult creativity? Never. Nor would I take anything away from Charles Lindbergh’s accomplishments for his Nazi sympathies.
How about that Gerard Depardieu? When he first came on the scene, and I heard him say this with my own ears, saw him say it on TV with my own eyes, Gerard Depardieu told the press that he had raped women during his gang years. His words were, I will have to paraphrase slightly, “You are struggling with a woman and suddenly, pop, you’ve done it!” Oh, yeah, he said it! Do I still watch his brilliant performances in “Jean de Florette” and “Camille Claudel?” Yes, I do.
Oh, I get it, believe me, everyone is entitled to their indignation. I know people who have seen and interacted with Mia Farrow. Their verdict: “She’s so crazy!” I also have friends who have seen Woody with Soon Yi – verdict – “They are so wonderful together!” In his letter to the NY Times, Woody mentions a song written by Dory Previn, entitled, “With My Daddy in the Attic.” Dory Previn was the wife of André Previn at the time Mia had an affair with him and got pregnant with his twins, breaking Dory Previn’s heart. Woody suggested that Mia may have gotten confused by her own misdeeds and the title of that song. I also watched Woody’s 1992 interview with 60 Minutes in which Woody tells Steve Kroft, “She’s in the dorm. She’s continuing her education.” when Kroft asks if Soon Yi and he live together. My reaction? DO YOU HEAR YOURSELF? The only conclusion to be drawn is a quote from Woody himself from his classic, Academy Award winning movie, “Annie Hall” - after witnessing his parents fighting, Woody says, “You’re both nuts!” Amen.
I still won’t give up his work. Could I give up Judah, played by Martin Landau, in “Crimes and Misdemeanors” leading his hoodlum brother, played by Jerry Orbach, out to his pool house in winter to discuss murder? Or Scarlett Johansson’s hot mess in “Vicky, Cristina?” Or Rebecca Hall’s brilliant dressing-down of Javier Bardem in the Barcelona restaurant scene? Or the splendid perfection of “Match Point?” Or the tears welling in my eyes and the goose-bumps running up and down my flesh when the "Midnight in Paris" partier holds out his hand to Gil Pender, introducing himself as “Scott Fitzgerald!” and the whole theater gasps together? Or Mia’s deliciously delicate performance in “Alice?” Or Alec Baldwin as the ghost of her lover? Or Bernadette Peters as her Muse? Or Blythe Danner as her sister? I can hear the dulcet tones of William Hurt’s voice as he says to Alice, “You were so pretty and we went for a drive.” and I marvel once again at the loaded simplicity of Woody’s dialogue. Must I give all that up for self-righteous indignation at what might have happened? Why, I feel like watching “Alice” right now just thinking about it! However, at this writing I am watching “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona” in the bedroom where I watch beautiful movies I’ve seen many times that lull me to sleep. These movies are not dull; they are my favorites. “Out of Africa,” “Tess,” “The Portrait of a Lady,” “The Golden Bowl,” “Masquerade” and “A Perfect Murder,” to name a few. I’ve also watched “Edge of Darkness” and “Fatal Attraction” to soothe me to sleep! It’s a badge of honor to be a beautiful bedroom movie. “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” was recently one of them.
Since I mentioned his film, “Tess,” let’s talk about Roman Polanski. He was accused of sexually assaulting a minor girl. His victim has written a book. On the front cover she uses a photo of herself taken by Polanski. I can’t give up Polanski’s work either. “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” is my favorite novel. Not because it is a story of rape and injustice, but because it is the story of, as Hardy calls Tess, “a natural woman.” Polanksi’s movie, “Tess” is dedicated “to Sharon,” Sharon Tate, Polanski’s spectacular wife who was eight months pregnant when she was horrifically murdered by Charles Manson’s insane tribe. Need I say any more about Polanski?
Apparently, at this writing, the LAPD is gathering evidence on a secret child sex abuse ring in Hollywood and they are about to name some very famous names. Some legalese must go down in Hawaii before the announcements can take place. (Apparently, these sex parties spread to Hawaii too.) Monday is the suggested day of our enlightenment. I doubt if any of us will be surprised.
I also doubt if the art of these molesters is great enough to rise above such deliberate and calculated abuse of innocent children. Oh, yes, I’m still horrified that anyone would gratify his/her own sickness on the innocence of a child.
I cannot make the decision for another person about how they will choose, how they will react to accusations against an artist whose work they once admired. If the work becomes tainted by the crime, then, yes, I get it, you’ll want to drop that artist from your life. I cannot drop Woody Allen. It’s just too painful, too sad, like dropping wine or chocolate, cream or ripe strawberries, unless, of course I were allergic.
©Patricia Goodwin, 2014
Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation. Her newest poetry books are Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author, and Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse.