Column: Is your mind made up about Woody Allen? Watch this documentary
She is a sad and slightly distracted little girl, sitting on a bed, twirling a piece of her hair and sucking on it, answering questions her mother gently poses:
“What did daddy do?”
In never-before-released home video that represents a crushing blow to Woody Allen’s years of denials, his 7-year-old daughter, Dylan Farrow, tells her mother, Mia Farrow, that her father touched her at their Connecticut farmhouse.
“Where did he touch you?”
Dylan reaches around to her bottom.
“We went into your room,” Dylan says, “and we went to the attic, and he started telling me weird things. He went behind me and touched my privates. ... He said, ‘Do not move. I have to do this.’ But I wiggled my bottom a little to see what he was doing. He said, ‘Don’t move. I have to do this. And if you stay still, then, um, we can go to Paris.’”
That was in the summer of 1992, the beginning of an intense, sordid battle between Allen and Farrow that resulted in accusations, investigations, a fraught decision by a prosecutor not to bring charges against the iconic filmmaker and a final, ugly custody battle initiated by Allen. Which he lost. In a scathing decision, the judge found Allen to be “self-absorbed, untrustworthy and insensitive.” Farrow’s main shortcoming as a mother, said the judge, was her continued relationship with Allen.
So many important questions are raised in the new HBO docuseries “Allen v. Farrow,” four excruciating, enraging and enlightening hours by investigative filmmakers Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering and Amy Herdy, who have, in previous films, tackled such issues as sexual abuse on college campuses and in the military. “Allen v. Farrow” is based on attorney and police files, affidavits, interviews with friends and household staff, and private recordings that had never been made public until now.
“I was always in his clutches,” an adult Dylan tells the filmmakers. “He was always hunting me.” At the time of the alleged incident, Allen was in therapy for his “inappropriately intense” relationship with Dylan, who describes her father instructing her on how to suck his thumb and “what to do with my tongue.”
Unsure what to think about Allen? Just watch and judge for yourself.
But why is it so hard for us to believe beloved artists are capable of monstrous acts? Why don’t we believe children who tell stories about abuse that are consistent and corroborated by circumstantial evidence? (Three babysitters, who have never before spoken publicly, say in the film that Allen disappeared with Dylan for 20 minutes on the day in question; they searched high and low for the pair.)
Why do we apparently find it easier to believe the misogynistic and self-serving Allen narrative that Mia Farrow was a woman scorned and out for revenge?
“You don’t get to have sex with my children,” Mia Farrow says in the film. “That isn’t part of the deal.” Yet by Allen’s own admission, he had sex with another of Farrow’s children when she was a teenager.
Allen has devoted most of his film career to fantasies about relationships between older men and much younger women. As Vox film critic Alissa Wilkinson tells the filmmakers, Allen’s whole career has been about “grooming us” — the audience.
“It’s basically always an older guy dealing with a younger woman,” says Richard Morgan, a freelance journalist who has read the entire Woody Allen archive at Princeton University — 56 boxes of material, made and unmade, spanning 57 years. In a 2018 Washington Post essay, Morgan wrote, “Running through all of the boxes is an insistent, vivid obsession with young women and girls.”
I confess, I was taken with Allen’s 1979 masterpiece “Manhattan.” But now, when I see 16-year-old Mariel Hemingway’s Tracy, kissing 40-something-year-old Allen’s Isaac, lying in bed next to him, all I feel is deep discomfort and disgust.
Allen did not speak to the filmmakers. But his voice is heard throughout the series, in clips of the audiobook version of his 2020 memoir, “Apropos of Nothing,” in press conferences addressing the abuse allegations and in chilling phone calls recorded by Mia Farrow, where his voice is cold and calculating.
Soon after Dylan told her story to her mother, Connecticut state prosecutor Frank Maco found probable cause to issue a warrant against Allen in the sexual assault of a minor. He did not proceed with an arrest and prosecution because he feared for the emotional well-being of Dylan Farrow, who had already been interviewed an excessive nine times — unheard-of treatment of a victim of suspected child abuse — by experts at the Yale-New Haven Hospital’s child sexual abuse clinic, whose oft-quoted results calling into question whether abuse occurred is challenged in the documentary by the prosecutor and other experts.
Toward the end of the series, a now-adult Dylan sits with Maco in the yard of her rural home. It is the fall of 2020. She is 35 now, the married mother of a 4-year-old daughter, and considers herself a survivor of incest. Maco explains, almost tearfully, that he did not want to drag her through the trauma of a trial after she had already been through so much.
“I wish I had testified,” she tells Maco. “I wish I had been stronger. To this day, I feel like I was given an opportunity to be brave and I turned it down.”
“I never want to hear that you blame yourself,” Maco says. “I made the decision.”
Mia Farrow, for her part, wishes repeatedly that she’d never allowed Allen to become part of her family.
“Are you angry with me?” Mia asks Dylan, as they sit over coffee in Mia’s farmhouse.
No, Dylan says. “When it mattered, you were there for me.”
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