The Public’s Privates

Once upon a time, in the magical world of New York, Mia Farrow and Woody Allen made a couple of masterpieces.

They met in 1981 on the set of his film A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, fell in love, had some kids, and adopted a few more. Woody entered his most fruitful period with Mia as Muse; Mia did the best work she has ever done. Then in 1992, ironically during Husbands and Wives – Woody’s divorce dramedy that sees his character leave hers for a much younger woman –  Woody and Mia’s romance came to a screeching halt when Woody was discovered with nude Polaroids of Mia’s 18 year old adopted daughter, Soon-Yi. They had been having an affair.

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Woody – Oscar winner, beloved icon – was dragged through a very ugly legal battle over the custody of their children (one of which, Dylan, had accused him of molesting her) and his reputation was further sullied by his cavalier attitude: “The heart wants what the heart wants.”

Anyone who had been following Allen’s films knew of his – or at least his character’s – proclivities for younger women. In Manhattan, Woody’s character Isaac dates 17 year old Mariel Hemingway; and Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow herself are 10 years Allen’s junior. But to sleep with, date, and eventually marry a girl who for all intents and purposes was his step-daughter was seen as reprehensible by the media, the fans, and of course the girl’s mother. Still twenty years later and 15 years after Soon-Yi and Woody got married, Mia (and her son with Allen, Ronan) are leading the Lest We Forget campaign to remind everyone that Woody Allen might be a great filmmaker, but he is a home wrecker and a (potential) child molester. Mia is still so pissed that she and Ronan felt the need to take to Twitter to comment on Woody’s Cecil B. Demille Award, so vengeful that producers are worried they will make trouble at the premiere of Bullets Over Broadway, and so disgusted by her own history with him that she has recently started making claims that Ronan might actually be Frank Sinatra’s child; Ronan stands with his mother in hope, shaking his head in disgust that he could possibly be related to someone as despicable as Woody Allen.

And yet Woody Allen reigns on in the Hollywood pantheon as a living legend, an American icon, an undisputed cinematic genius; nominated the same year as Mia-gate for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards and has been recognized by the Oscars eight subsequent times, including this year for Blue Jasmine.

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And why not? If awards are meant to honor merit, the best achievements in cinema of the year, Woody Allen the Filmmaker, Woody Allen the Writer will continue to earn a place among the ranks. He is one of the best. Period.

As far Woody Allen the Human, Woody Allen the Father, who knows? I am not his kid and have never been married to him. I am not even his friend. I have never been alone in an attic with him as a child, nor posed for Polaroids. Perhaps he is a creepy old man. Perhaps he is a pedophile. Perhaps he is a terrible human being. Honestly, I don’t give a damn. I am choosing to judge the artist on his art. And leave the moralizing to those it actually effects. I wish for their own sake Mia and Ronan could let the past be the past and move forward – the incident with Dylan was supposed to have happened 22 years ago – but I can understand their indignation if they never decide to get over it.

What I don’t understand is why anyone gives a damn about it. Then or now. Or why anyone gives a damn about Chris Brown. Or Roman Polanski. Or O.J. Simpson. Or Robert Blake. Or Lindsay Lohan. Or Winona Ryder. Or Walt Disney. Or Phil Spector. Does the fact that O.J killed his wife change the fact he was a great football player? Did Rosemary’s Baby suddenly become unwatchable after Polanski slept with that 13 year old girl? Did “Be My Baby” lose its magic when Spector was indicted? Does it matter that Disney was an anti-Semite when he gave the world Mickey Mouse? Of course not. But we pass these judgements on people that we really know nothing about because we feel “betrayed” and offended. How could these amazing artists – artists with whom we have aligned, artists with whom we have put our faith and trust and own emotional stake (and money) – have deceived us in such a way that we never saw the evil actions of which they were capable coming? We feel personally affronted. And I think this is ridiculous and sad.

As artists, we share our soul through our work, hoping to make some kind of connection or statement. We tell you our dreams, our hopes, our world views, our passions, and occasionally our missteps through a seemingly candid persona that is heavily constructed by teams of people and/or our own lessons on what the world can handle and how we want to handle the world. As much as we may think we KNOW an artist, we don’t. And unless you are also an artist, you probably never will; we live in an insular world of mystique and mayhem.

Artists are also people. And sometimes people do shitty things. But does this take away the good? The beautiful? The inspired? Should we shun the benefits they have given humanity? Burn their books? Melt their movies? Never listen to their music? Are they past the point of redemption? And which actions are redeemable? And which are not? And whose decision is it? This extends past the Artist to everyone. Most “evil” people were once “good” until that one terrible thing they did to taint them. I’m sure even Eva Braun could tell us stories of kindness and love about the World’s Most Hated Man.

Can judgement ever be justified? And should our judgements change depending on who we are judging?

I look forward to your responses.

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