“This is someone I loved more than anyone else. You can love somebody and be afraid of them.”–Dylan Farrow.
I can’t remember when I didn’t have a crush on Woody Allen. I absolutely adored his films, his humor and the schleppy, self-deprecating, neurotic character he played on and off-screen. Back in the day, if you knew me well, you often heard me say that he was my “ideal man.” I reviewed his films, briefly pitched a book proposal on his work, and am writing this in my den prominently adorned with an original framed Annie Hall poster. It’s a large, featured piece of artwork on my wall, and it’s going to haunt me from this day forward… and not in a good way.
One of the collateral takeaways from the riveting new four-part HBO documentary series Allen v. Farrow is the question of where or whether to draw a line between an artist’s work and his or her character off the grid. Should we continue to widely celebrate an artist’s oeuvre in light of his or her morally bankrupt character or criminal behavior? Allen v. Farrow has much to say about Woody Allen’s purported life off screen as a sexually abusive dad. The revelations are disturbing and, to my mind, the evidence is quite conclusive, which will trigger a terrible dilemma for film historians, critics, students and fans going forward who may still find it difficult to sideline Allen’s impressive body of work.
The first episode of Allen v. Farrow, the four-part limited series directed by Emmy® and Peabody Award-winning investigative filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, debuts tonight, Sunday, February 21, 2021, 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on HBO (see below for details).
After having screened all four hours of Allen v. Farrow prior to its broadcast, I personally believe that the series makes a strong case against Woody Allen, not only as the sexual abuser of Dylan, the young daughter he shared with his partner Mia Farrow, but also as a master manipulator of women and the media. He clearly used his formidable power and connections to control the narrative surrounding accusations of his guilt and vindication by the Yale New Haven Sexual Abuse Clinic.
Allen further discredited his accuser, Mia Farrow, as an abusive, unstable mother and a woman scorned and then sued her for custody of the very child he was accused of sexually abusing. And, most damaging of all, he forever shredded the self-worth and trust of the object of his considerable obsession, his daughter Dylan, and irrevocably fractured her once happy family.
We’ve sadly grown accustomed to this sort of woman shaming behavior after four years of Trump at the helm of our media universe, darkening our daily diet with lies and nasty name-calling. We saw it play out with the burgeoning #MeToo movement, spearheaded by Trump’s brave victims and those of fellow sexual predators Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. The women took the hit but continued to stand their ground. And now the women in Woody Allen’s life are finally speaking out.
Mia Farrow’s story–before, during and after Woody Allen–is front and center in Allen v. Farrow, as is Dylan’s, who is now a wife and mother with a young daughter of her own. The filmmakers restore Mia and Dylan’s credibility as smart, emotionally reflective women and give them a chance to set the record straight and present evidence never before released to the general public. Their stories are corroborated by family members and close friends, as well as an impressive line-up of professionals, including investigative reporters, forensic psychiatrists, case workers, investigators and prosecutors familiar with or directly involved with the Allen/Farrow sexual abuse case and custody battle as they played out in New York City and Connecticut in 1993 and beyond.
Woody Allen’s voiced reflections are threaded throughout via audio recordings from his 2020 autobiography, Apropos of Nothing; taped phone calls with Mia Farrow; and clips from his press conferences where he reiterated his innocence and his love for his kids.
Allen v. Farrow is chockablock with wonderful clips from Allen and Farrow’s film and TV careers; charming Farrow family home movies and photos; and visits to Farrow’s bucolic, kid friendly country home in Connecticut. The filmmakers explore the dynamics of the Farrow family before and after Woody Allen’s arrival, charting his slow but initially welcome assimilation into the family as dad to Mia Farrow’s two adopted kids, Moses, who was thrilled to finally have a dad, and Dylan, the cherubic little girl he singled out for special attention.
Farrow and Allen also had a child of their own, Satchel, an equally adorable tyke, who tagged along with older sister Dylan, grew up to dissociate from his dad, change his name to Ronan, and become a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist instrumental in outing sexual predator Harvey Weinstein. Ronan Farrow is a crucial player in this film.
Two pivotal, deeply disturbing incidents and the events leading up to them are revisited here in detail by Mia Farrow, with reflections from Dylan and others who were there at the time. The first involves Farrow’s shocking discovery of Allen’s nude photos of her teenage daughter Soon-Yi Previn and the heartbreaking repercussions that followed. And the second, prefaced by accounts of Allen’s intensifying predatory behavior with Dylan, centers around Allen and Dylan’s encounter in the attic of Mia Farrow’s Connecticut home.
Included are clips from the video that Mia Farrow filmed as she questioned her daughter, then seven, about the attic, where Farrow and her intimates had reason to believe Allen sexually assaulted the child. It is important to note here that Farrow’s gentle approach paints her to be a mother genuinely careful not to coach, antagonize or upend her child in any way.
Dylan Farrow is a willing participant in Allen v. Farrow, speaking out publicly for the first time about her relationship with her obsessively adoring dad. It’s clear that she was a victim many times over. She struggled with Allen’s increasingly oppressive intimacy (behavior she naively accepted at first as typical of father-daughter relationships). And then she faced public backlash and grueling questioning (nine times) by the two Yale investigators, whose final verdict is shown to be clearly suspect (the interview notes were suspiciously discarded) and compromised by Woody Allen’s handlers.
Allen v. Farrow is rich with detail, compelling and long overdue. Sadly, it may close the already wobbly door on Woody Allen’s film career and legacy. The first episode debuts on HBO tonight, Sunday, February 21, 2021, 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET/PT. Premiere Episodes 2-4 follow on successive Sundays, 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. ET/PT. Check listings for repeat air dates for all episodes once they debut and their availability thereafter on HBO On Demand and streaming via HBO Max. –Judith Trojan