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What's New, Woody Allen?

Posted: 10/02/2014 16:18

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FRANCOIS GUILLOT via Getty Images

Old allegation, old counter claim in the Woody Allen matter.

What's new? Nothing. So why has this hoary old chestnut got fresh legs?

The reemergence in a New York Times blog of sex abuse claims against Woody Allen seemed almost like an anniversary story, a timed reminder, the only difference being it had been delivered not by a child but the adult she had grown into - and done so forcefully.

We all have an opinion on it, and the whole while the spectre of Soon-Yi has been looming in the background.

Do you buy the line that Dylan Farrow was just a confused kid and couldn't remember stuff clearly, or had her memory warped by an aggrieved mum in the throes of a bitter separation? (I don't, for the record).

Maybe that's why 21 years after these allegations were originally dismissed and the testimony of seven-year-old Dylan Farrow impugned as unreliable, we are now mulling it all over again.

It's easy to forget how sharp seven-year-olds are and also how for a child the hurt of not being believed sticks with them.

Hell, I remember seven like it was yesterday: Mrs Boyle yelling at me for running in the school library, breaking my leg on Lydia Roberts' trampoline, watching Star Wars with my dad for the first, second and third times, etc.

It's not that Dylan Farrow's statement about her father amounts to evidence, but you could say that it's compelling, not just for the words but coming so many years after the original accusations, with still a raw hurt in the tone.

And there will be people who believe her because of that and people who rightly say "that's not evidence - innocent until proven guilty".

The filmmaker, born Allan Stewart Konigsberg 78 years ago, might have hoped this had been laid to rest back in 1993.

Unlike the slew of celebrities who have been facing historic sex abuse charges in the UK, though, unless Woody Allen sues his daughter for slander, this one looks like it will never make it to court.

The statute of limitations on child abuse in Connecticut, where the alleged assault took place, ran out at age 20 for Dylan Farrow to bring criminal charges, even though she could still press for first degree child sex assault (which would be much harder to prosecute).

You get these impasses in life. Some stuff will never be resolved. Some truths will never be known to anyone other than the players in the drama.

We have it in our heads that justice can only be delivered through the legal system. That without a categoric judgement of guilt a perpetrator has "got away with it".

But like a lot of things in life it's not that black and white. Public opprobrium, deserved or not, remains a powerful force.

And 17 years into his current marriage (his third), the niggling uncertainty in many people's minds stems from the fact that Woody Allen is a man who married one of the children he helped raise.

Soon-Yi Previn was 10 years old when her adoptive mother Mia Farrow began a relationship with Woody Allen. By 1991, when Previn was 19, it was her who had begun a relationship with the 56-year-old.

No, he was not her father, either biologically or adoptive, but he was her mother's partner and a father-figure in her life.

I know from experience raising both my own children and many years ago my (at the time) girlfriend's children that your feelings towards them are the same.

You want what is best for that child, you want them to grow up happy and confident and with all the benefits you are able to give them. And you protect them and you nurture them.

If you see them as potential marriage material you have a problem - or more accurately, you are a problem.

Most people treat parenthood as a happy honour, difficult at times but also a great privilege and joy.

Woody Allen was looking out for himself.

If you like Annie Hall or Mighty Aphrodite you've probably already forgiven him this moral faux pas and may continue to believe the best of Woody Allen. Would you feel compromised otherwise?

It's true conviction in a court of law allows a greater deal of censure than otherwise.

Every now and then the papers will run an outraged story about the royalties convicted sex offender Jonathan King still collects whenever a radio station or an advertisement plays Who Let the Dogs Out? (which he produced).

No such stories are written about the late Michael Jackson who, though accused, was never convicted of anything.

He did however display all the grooming characteristics of a paedophile.

And while there isn't always fire where there's smoke, a single man who invites young boys for sleepovers on a regular basis should be treated with some caution.

There is a muddying argument, a red herring, in all this too, that what a person produces, their legacy, is toxic if they are guilty of abuse.

Probably, that shouldn't come into it.

Punishment and the convenient, or embarrassed, air-brushing of history and culture are very different things.

Billy Jean, Can You Feel It and Zelig are great pieces of art, regardless of how accusations have tarnished their creators - Who Let the Dogs Out? remains an abomination.

With Woody there's plenty to choose from too. A prolific writer, director and actor, he has made almost a film year since 1965's What's New Pussycat?, and all of them savvy and intellectual.

The famously neurotic director has not been accused by anyone else of sexual assault, his loving wife Soon-Yi defends their relationship vigorously and he will probably never be charged, let alone found guilty of what he's been accused of.

But between what has been alleged by Dylan and what we know of Soon-Yi, who among us will ever think of him in the same way again?

 

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