“My grammy never gave gifts. She was too busy getting raped by Cossacks…”
Woody Allen’s Annie Hall gave me and my sister, ages seven and five, our first truly dirty joke. We didn’t understand much of the intricacies (my mother had to explain Cossacks, mental masturbation, Kafkaesque experiences, methadone), but even as tiny morons we knew this was Kool-Aid worth drinking.
We coerced our parents into buying Bananas, Sleeper, and Manhattan. Play It Again, Sam made friendship romantic. Love and Death turned me into a baby Russophile (becoming an entirely new movie when I finally read Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov). Small Time Crooks taught me to beware of fraudulent accountants. And Woody, or at least Woody’s movies, were as much a part of our humor as anything.
And in our godless house, humor was high priest.
I was homeschooled from age nine to eleven in the middle of nowhere Montana. I didn’t see anyone outside of my nuclear family for months at a time. Those years were characterized by a loneliness I’ve only later glimpsed in moments of extreme adult depression. But I had Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Graduate, Saturday Night Fever, and, most importantly, Annie Hall.
Peyton Thomas, the writer of this article, thinks that none of this matters. Woody Allen (allegedly) raped his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, and according to Thomas, “If you support women, if you support victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and if your commitment to the end of misogyny goes any deeper than aversive racism,” you won’t watch these movies. Which is all well and good, but this moral prescription is founded on the idea that someone’s sins outweigh their art. Assuming that relationship could ever be quantified, if more harm was allegedly done from their crimes than good was derived from their work, the books should be burned. Never mind the fact that this sort of morally absolutist method can get extended to just about any circumstance and holds severe consequences for society when carried to its logical extreme. Never mind the fact that “innocent until proven guilty” is now optional for both liberal and conservative camps.
My sister and I exchanged innumerable articles on the Dylan Farrow subject (“What do you think happened?” we asked each other, as if what we thought mattered). Selfishly, we didn’t care about Bill Cosby, Chris Brown, Michael Fassbender, or Sean Penn because they weren’t important to us artistically. But Woody Allen was important because we had an emotional stake in his work. I contemplated Roland Barthes’ idea of the Death of the Author, which essentially argues once an artist has shit out his Mona Lisa, the masterpiece no longer depends upon the author’s identity. If this were true, we could enjoy Annie Hall while publicly flogging Allen. But that would be horribly flippant, because no art is more dependent upon its creator than Woody Allen’s.
Do I believe Dylan Farrow? Probably. I wasn’t there, but probably. Woody Allen is undeniably creepy, and I choose to believe the victim more often than not. Not to mention, the end of Manhattan – when he convinces a 17-year-old girl to put her life on hold for his middle-aged insecurities – made me sick before I even heard about Farrow.
So, if I believe Dylan Farrow, and I believe Woody Allen committed a heinous crime, will I still watch his movies? Yes.
It’s a fact of life that all which is beautiful and good has some necessary aspect of tragedy or perversion. You can follow a lot of artists you love down their rabbit holes and find out shit that will make you sick. Shit which often enough inspires and informs the art you love so much. You can follow your gorgeous leather handbag back to France (where it’s assembled), and then back to a factory in China (where it’s actually made), and then back to the cow that was probably skinned alive to make the leather. You can follow your excellent source of potassium back to violent South American banana dictatorships. I don’t know. I’m not a reliable historian or anthropologist or ethicist. I’m just an advocate of contradiction, unexplainable dichotomy, and irrationality. Contradiction isn’t the end of the world. Contradiction makes the world go round. If contradiction didn’t make us so uncomfortable, we might actually resolve these matters in a constructive way.
In condemning the perpetrators, in naming everything they ever made ‘tainted,’ do we give the victims a voice and vengeance? In telling Woody Allen his art doesn’t mean anything to us, that his art isn’t worth fighting for, can we avenge Dylan Farrow?
No, because we’d be lying. Annie Hall is absolutely worth fighting for.
So what do we know? Woody Allen gave my life (and countless others’) meaning when there was none, but he probably destroyed the life of a young girl who trusted him. And that’s a contradiction that needs to be said, because that’s a contradiction that might never go away.