Friday November 24, 2017

Re-thinking Woody Allen in a post-Weinstein world

Dianne Keaton and Woody Allen in his 1977 film, 'Annie Hall.'

Dianne Keaton and Woody Allen in his 1977 film, 'Annie Hall.' (United Artists)

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With so many powerful and famous men now accused of sexually inappropriate behaviour, the question has now been raised of what to do with their bodies of work — their films, their comedy, their music.

It's a topic Claire Dederer takes on in her essay for The Paris Review, entitled "What do we do with the art of monstrous men?"

"The more I researched Polanski, the more I became drawn to his films, and I watched them again and again." - Claire Dederer, author Love and Trouble

Dederer started her essay months ago, long before the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey and others became public.

Claire Dederer

Claire Dederer is the author of 'Love and Trouble'. (Claire Dederer)

In her essay, Dederer talks about the films of Roman Polanski, who was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Dederer has researched the intimate details of Polanksi's rape case. She says she found herself "awed by his monstrousness."

And yet, as she read, she had an unexpected response.

"The more I researched Polanski, the more I became drawn to his films, and I watched them again and again — especially the major ones: Repulsion, Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown. Like all works of genius, they invited repetition. I ate them. They became part of me, the way something loved does."

In short, Dederer was still able to enjoy and appreciate Polanksi's films despite what he'd done.

    

The films of Woody Allen

Her reaction to Woody Allen films, however, was less enjoyable.

In 1997, Allen married Soon-Yi Previn, the daughter of his former partner Mia Farrow and to whom Allen had been a father figure. The two started dating while Previn was in her late teens.

"That knowledge of Woody Allen and his relationship with Soon-Yi was sort of burbling underneath the watching and making me uncomfortable." - Claire Dederer, author Love and Trouble

In 2014, Allen's daughter Dylan Farrow, whom he adopted with Mia Farrow, wrote an open letter in The New York Times accusing him of sexually abusing her.

Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn

Woody Allen and wife Soon-Yi Previn attend the after party for the "Cafe Society" premiere at The Carlyle on July 13, 2016 in New York City. (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

Allen has denied his daughter's allegations.

Unlike Polanski, Allen is also an actor who often injects himself into his films.

As Dederer tells Day 6, she's loved Allen's film Annie Hall since she was a child.

"I've seen the movie maybe 12 times in my life. I love the movie."

She says that in her most recent viewing, she was still able to enjoy the film.

"I was completely caught up in it and charmed by it and, you know,  into the jokes and into Annie's clothes and all the things that make it a wonderful movie," explains Dederer.

But, as Dederer watched, she also took note of an underlying feeling of guilt.

"There was no moral complexity to the relationship ... It made me feel sick." - Claire Dederer, author Love and Trouble

"That knowledge of Woody Allen and his relationship with Soon-Yi was sort of burbling underneath the watching and making me uncomfortable. And I couldn't forget about it. It was there, and there sort of no way around it."

And yet, the film was so dear to Dederer and so beautiful, that she was still able to watch.

Annie Hall

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in his 1977 film 'Annie Hall'. (United Artists)

The film Manhattan, however, was nearly impossible for Dederer to view.

In Manhattan, Allen plays a 42-year-old man dating a 17 year old, played by Mariel Hemingway.

"That film was intolerable to watch. I mean, I made my way through it because I was trying to write about it, but it was almost physically uncomfortable because he was putting what he had done right there in front of me," says Dederer of Allen starting his relationship with Previn while she was still in high school.

"Just deciding that it's intolerable, and we can't engage with it at all, I'm not sure is the right way to go - for me." - Claire Dederer, author Love and Trouble

"And yet he wasn't wrestling with it in any real way. He was … making jokes about it or alluding to it, but there was no moral complexity to the relationship," says Dederer. "It made me feel sick."

Dederer's essay has been lauded and widely shared on social media. She says she thinks the response is due, in part, to the desire for a more nuanced conversation on the topic of men accused of sexual improprieties.

"I think that they [viewers] are tired of everything being so black and white when their feelings, and their internal life is not black and white," she says.

For Dederer, she acknowledges that some of the art — like the film Manhattan — has made her uncomfortable, but that it has provoked conversation. She suggests that the final decision is up to the individual, their experience and their comfort level.

"But the question of whether or not to throw out the art is a really real one. And just deciding that it's intolerable, and we can't engage with it at all, I'm not sure is the right way to go - for me."


To hear the Claire Dederer's comments again, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.