Now more than ever we as fans are in a time, where the work and the art of an entertainer regardless of the medium. We are left to confront the reality that we can no longer love the work of a person who has done horrible things. It’s an inescapable conundrum because we have grown up with these entertainers and have loved their work for as long as we can remember. It all comes down to that difficult question: Can you separate the art from the artist who has been accused or found guilty of a past act? One artist in particular who has had this question looming over their work for the past 30 years is Woody Allen.
Woody Allen was born, Allan Stewart Konigsberg on December 1st, 1935. He was one of the most respected American film directors, writers, actors and comedians whose career spans more than six decades. Allen has been nominated for 24 Academy Awards, either as a writer or a director on his films. He began his career as a comedy writer on Sid Caesar’s comedy variety program, “Your Show of Shows”, working alongside Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Neil Simon. He also began writing material for television, published several books featuring short stories and writing humor pieces for The New Yorker. In the early 1960s, he performed as a stand-up comedian in Greenwich Village alongside Lenny Bruce, Elaine May, Mike Nichols, and Joan Rivers. He set the record as the only filmmaker to make a movie every year for four decades. Allen directed more than 55 films in a career that in which he started directing 54 years ago. Despite his many allegations over the years, Allen has continued to make and release movies as recent as 2020.
Mia Farrow was born, María de Lourdes Villiers “Mia” Farrow on February 9th, 1945. Farrow an actress, activist and former fashion model. She has also appeared in more than 50 films and is known for her extensive work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, which includes humanitarian activities in Darfur, Chad, and the Central African Republic. In 2008, Time magazine named her one of the most influential people in the world.
After working as a fashion model during her teenage years, she first gained notice for her role as in the television soap opera “Peyton Place” (1964–1966). Her credited feature film debut in “Guns at Batasi” (1964) earned her a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year and she gained further recognition for her subsequent two-year marriage to Frank Sinatra, whom she married at age 21. Farrow’s portrayal of Rosemary Woodhouse in the horror film “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), set her career on fire and earned her a nomination for a BAFTA Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress.
Farrow and Allen began their relationship in 1979 and for over a decade had starred in 13 of his films. The two were together for 13 years until they separated in 1992 due to the allegations that Allen had sexually assaulted their seven year old adopted daughter, Dylan. Also revealed was that Allen began a sexual relationship with Mia Farrow’s other adopted daughter Soon-Yi, the two have a 35 year difference and whom Allen is still currently married to.
HBO and documentarians Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering explore the complex, devastating, horrific and tragic history of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow in the four part documentary series titled “Allen v. Farrow”. The title which implies we get a comprehensive look at the charges of child abuse against Allen from both sides. But really a more fitting title would have been “The Farrows Against Allen”, as we hear extensively from Mia Farrow, her sister, adopted daughter Dylan, other Farrow family members as well as longtime friends (such as Carly Simon) and supporters (like a former French teacher of Mia’s kids).
What “Allen v. Farrow” doesn’t do, is give Allen a side or let the filmmaker counter any claims. If this were a “trial”, we’d only be getting the prosecution’s side. You keep waiting for Allen to pop in and present his side, even though he tries to make his case (although not very well) through audiobook readings of his 2020 autobiography “Apropos of Nothing”. As far as physical “appearances”, Allen is only shown through archival news conference footage, old movie clips and taped television conversations. Also missing is Allen’s and Farrow’s adopted son Moses, who sides with Allen and declined to cooperate.
One half of the films directing duo, Amy Ziering says Dylan and Mia Farrow were not originally eager to participate and didn’t initially agree to do so and that it took one month for Dylan to agree and 10 months to convince Mia. It’s clear that Dylan is still feeling the after effects of her childhood trauma and always will, but she refuses to let that define her. Dylan is the hero here as she bravely steps forward and puts her pain and trauma front and center. From all of the evidence in “Allen v. Farrow” she did nothing wrong nor did she deserve this and was the victim of her adoptive father. The story told is full of disgusting details that are hard to stomach and it’s heartbreaking to hear Dylan’s first hand accounts but she remains warm, smart, strong and brave to relive these events. I sincerely hope she can find the peace she so deserves.
“Allen v. Farrow” gives us an extensive look into a stunning series of events that played out in very public fashion. In February 1992, when Farrow and Allen had reached 12 years together. Farrow had found nude photos of her adopted daughter Soon-Yi in Allen’s home (they lived separately), that lead to a confrontation in which Allen had confessed to having an affair with Soon-Yi. The two eventually married and are still currently together and have been for 23 years.
Seven months later Farrow came out publicly with accounts that were reported by her 7 year old daughter Dylan that she had experienced with Allen. There is accounts of Allen alone with Dylan in a room putting his head in her lap while she had no underpants on, Allen sexually abusing her in an upstairs area of Mia’s Connecticut home and how his demeanor got so suspicious that even the parents at Dylan’s school voiced concerns. It’s utterly heartbreaking to not just to have to hear Dylan’s first hand accounts but also Mia’s audio recordings from the past and recent on-camera interviews. She expresses how devastating and heartbroken she was and how much she was consumed with regret over not doing more to stop Allen from the atrocities against Dylan.
After the scandal had become public, Farrow and Allen started recording their phone conversations. In one conversation Farrow tries to get the truth out of Allen about that afternoon when Allen allegedly abused Dylan in Mia’s home as they were missing for 20 minutes. Farrow says in the phone conversation: “If I have a shred of belief left in you, then help me now: Tell me where you were for those 20 minutes?”. Allen replies with “All the details will come when the time comes and the truth will come out”. I’m still trying to figure out what the hell that even means?
A week after the accusations. Allen’s lawyers filed a custody suit against Mia Farrow trying to pin her as an unfit mother. Allen would also accuse Mia of manipulating Dylan in fabricating the sexual abuse allegations. “Allen v. Farrow” goes to great lengths to establish the creepy obsessive behavior Woody Allen displayed upon young Dylan and Soon-Yi. The home video footage combined with Dylan’s own recollections illustrate what an unhealthy dynamic Dylan had with her adoptive father. While the documentary also explores the unanswered questions that have surrounded Allen and Soon-Yi’s secret sexual relationship. Fellow friends, family and professional therapists discuss the concerns that Allen was grooming young Soon-Yi, a practice often found to be employed by sexual predators.
While Allen doesn’t make appearances, his recorded interviews and book excerpts told in his own words don’t serve him well. Whether he’s being insensitive and evasive in news conferences and television interviews, manipulative and combative in phone conversations with Farrow or sounding downright creepy he comes across at best like a leering, selfish, disturbingly obsessive presence. Take his response to his “60 Minutes” interview when news reporter Steve Kroft, asks Allen about his abuse allegations. Allen responds back: “If I wanted to be a child molester, I could have been as I had many opportunities in the past”.
“Allen v. Farrow” is fascinating work because it doesn’t just keep its focus on the allegations against Woody Allen, but also how he employed his power and celebrity through the media to evade his accountability. Such as when Allen was facing criminal charges, he decided to go public with his affair with Soon-Yi in hoping to shift the eyes of the public away, from the more horrific allegations against him.
We’ve had decades to decide the outcome of Allen’s allegations of child sexual abuse. Newsweek, 60 Minutes and the entire media in general tried to get us to come to a conclusion about all this right after the scandal went public in 1992. With the release of Woody Allen’s 2019 film “A Rainy Day In New York” (which sat in limbo for a couple years) and the current “Me Too Movement”, the past allegations have resurfaced. Causing actors who appeared in recent and past Woody Allen films to have expressed regrets in appearing in his film and in some cases donating their salaries to support charities fighting sexual abuse.
Now the 84 year old Allen is still making movies and his 2020 comedy “Rifkin’s Festival”, was financed and filmed in Spain and released there last September. No word on whether it will ever see a release in America and I can safely say that I wouldn’t bet on it. It’s amazing to think that after 30 years people were still buying tickets to his movies and honoring him with awards. All the while letting Allen off the hook with nothing in the way of actual jail time or charges, other than some jokes and spoofs about his relationship with Soon-Yi.
“Allen v. Farrow” employs court documents, interviews with prosecutors, forensic experts and home footage to confront every angle of the allegations. The evidence presented here is convincing for anyone on the fence about these accusations against Allen and the information and evidence will change your perspective of one of the greatest American writers and filmmakers. Allen comes off as practically sociopathic, remorseless and doesn’t show a respectful attitude towards it all.
“Allen v. Farrow” resurfaces that difficult question: Can you separate the art from the artist? I think its possible to do that in some cases. But in the case of Woody Allen, it’s practically impossible because the he is so front and center in his art. Granted we’ve never heard Allen’s full side of the story and with his refusal to a polygraph test, we won’t know the full scale of the story. But all the evidence that the directors have dug up and the weight of his accusations being laid out in the film, are just too much to not make an assessment. “Allen v. Farrow” won’t be the final word in this ongoing saga and there will always be those willing to stake their reputations to defend Woody Allen.
As difficult as it is to hear the graphic recounts of the incidents, this is a professionally made and informative documentary. Directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering make it perfectly clear that Woody Allen left behind a fractured family full of pain and suffering. All the while he has used his power and celebrity to avoid accountability for the crimes he’s accused of. After laying it all out for us over an expansive and in-depth four hour film, it’s clear that he should have been indicted on charges and that the once admired filmmaker will never be able to rehabilitate his legacy.
GRADE: ★★★★★ (5 out of 5)