The Case Against (and Against) Woody Allen

Though he's never been legally convicted of a crime, the ongoing battle between Woody Allen and the court of public opinion will never end.

Let’s just suppose, for the moment, that Woody Allen is a raging pedophile. Let’s pretend that everything that the Farrow clan — Mia, Dylan, and possible Sinatra-son Ronan — accuses him of is more than true. Let’s say that, for decades, we the people of the United States of America laughed at jokes made by a man who secretly enjoys the sexual company of minors. Let’s say that the infamous case back in 1992 ended with him brought up on charges, tried in a court of law, and found guilty of the crime (or crimes) that so many in the media and in the moviegoing public believe he committed. Right now, the aging auteur would be no such thing. Instead, he would just be a forgotten name in film history whose previous efforts are now wholly marginalized by his uncontrollable desire to deflower children. He’d be a nobody. Or better still, he’d be Victor Salva.

What? Don’t recognize that name? Those with their snooty cinematic noses in the air love to point to Roman Polanski (or in casting an accusatory net further out into differing mediums, R. Kelly and Michael Jackson) as examples of artists who are guilty as Hell of abhorrent, capital offenses (child rape) and yet still get a pass from the public and the press. Salva would be the better choice, but because his name has little “pop” (he’s not the King of same, or a celebrated maker of movie masterworks) he’s often forgotten. In this case, however, the director of Jeepers Creepers, Jeepers Creepers 2, Powder, and Peaceful Warrior, among other titles, is a perfect example. He’s a moviemaker whose also a certified sex offender.

Sometime during his early career (supported by none other than Francis Ford Coppola), he was accused of molesting a 12 year old boy. When caught, he pled guilty to one count of lewd and lascivious conduct, one count of oral sex with a person under 14, and three counts of procuring child pornography. He served 15 months of a three year sentence and was paroled. Nearly nine years after his first film, he was back behind the lens, writing and directing a disturbing outsider allegory (for Disney, no less) entitled Powder. When it was released, Salva’s victim came forward and demanded a boycott of the film. It didn’t happen (not that he needed to complain – the movie’s mediocrity more or less sealed its financial fate). Since then, Salva has made seven more movies, including those in the popular Jeepers Creepers fright franchise.

Separating Salva from the current situation for a moment, it’s important to note that no one has ever said that Allen was innocent. No one – except the accusers – has ever said he was guilty either. He’s not like Polanski, his soaring ’70s fame resulting in abandoned plea deals and an escape overseas to avoid further prosecution. No, Polanski did it. So did Salva. There’s no denial. There’s convictions on the record and punishments paid (or yet to be). Allen is more like Michael Jackson, the late music icon who was dogged by accusations of inappropriate behavior with kids, and even then, he had at least one big day in court. When he passed away in 2009, he was strongly defended by legions of fans who could care less about settlement details, tabloid tell alls, and perhaps, most importantly, the ongoing psychological damage his alleged actions caused. To them, Jackson was a God and remains that way ’til this day.

In a Vanity Fair piece last year, Dylan Farrow made it abundantly clear that, when she was young, her famous mother’s then equally famous boyfriend violated her. No questions. No suppressed memories. The details are disgusting and, for her part, the newly renamed young woman wishes she could go back in time and tell her seven year old self to “be brave” and “testify”…except, no one asked her to. The prosecutor said he had “probable cause” to pursue the case but wanted to keep the child off the stand for fear of the psychological damage it would do. The judge then threw out the case when an examining doctor claimed that Dylan was either making it all up, or highly influenced by a mother in the middle of a demanding custody case. In fact, at the time, many believed that her mother Mia was using the accusation and the media circus surrounding it all to win custody of her kids away from Allen during their bitter separation. As usual, the actual kid (and her story) was kept out of the picture.

Of course, the fact that the filmmaker took sexually explicit pictures of the actress’s then 19-year-old daughter Soon-Yi and admitted to a sexual relationship with her couldn’t have helped matters. Imagine walking into your home and discovering a pile of such photographs, taken by your boyfriend (or girlfriend), of your child (well, young adult, technically). It’s got to destroy you, and Farrow had and has every right to remind the public that a then 59 year old man seduced and then had sex with a girl more than half his age. Even with a bag of Oscars and an adoring public, that revelation alone should have been enough to secure custody away from any famous father. Again, this is not some incest thing. Allen never adopted Soon-Yi Previn and, while sordid to say the least, his desire to be with her broke no law. There’s a massive ick factor involved, but if the couple (who’ve now been married for almost 17 years) doesn’t mind the constant insinuations, why should we?

The era doesn’t help either. The ’90s were under the influence of the previous decade’s McMartin Preschool style witch hunts, high profile cases of child abuse (often with Satanic overtones) which seemed to pop up with startling regularity. Call it the Something About Amelia-ing of America, that famed TV movie tapping into the long dormant “family secrets” that had previously been kept hidden and dragging them out into the open. Before you knew it, molestation was a media buzzword and hundreds of real and questionable cases became nightly news fodder. McMartin became the benchmark, a multi-million dollar fiasco which resulted in no convictions and the uncomfortable idea that careerist therapists and counselors were “planting” memories into supposed victims for the benefit of their own reputations. During this time, divorces regularly contained charges of molestation, the mere statement of same becoming the trump card for parents seeking sole custody of their kids.

With Allen, there’s no endgame. There’s no closure to his case. For those of you who’ve forgotten your basic Constitutional Law, the filmmaker has always had the right to face his accusers, have a trial by a jury of his peers, and is considered innocent — legally, if not morally — until proven (by a judge and lawyers, not a blog or tweet) guilty. In the oft-mentioned court of public opinion, that won’t do. We need to compartmentalize things, put them safely in a place where we can occasionally go back and reference the reality of what happened. Polanski and Salva are simple — both did it. One paid the price and moved on (remember, he still makes movies even while being a card carrying member of the child-rapist brigade), the other ‘escaped’ justice and has since been trying to find a way to make the complicated (and documentary inspiring) legal wrangling disappear. There’s at least some sense of an finale in each case. R. Kelly and Michael Jackson are more like Allen in that, even within the flawed legal system, their day in court raised more questions than answers.

For me, I could care less. I stopped liking Woody Allen’s movies long before he became a TMZ tainted talent. The films he’s made since 1994 have left me cold. I am disinterested in what he’s doing now, and when I have to sit through one of his current efforts as part of my job, I find myself hating his overall output more and more. Four decades ago, he was funny. Uproariously so. Now, he’s an old man metering out his talent in tepid, often terrible ways. So let Mia Farrow taunt him in the social media. Let her son slam him at any given opportunity. It’s their right to do so. They are dealing with Dylan and the continuing fallout from a hotly contested, very public and highly acrimonious legal battle. So Hollywood continues to show support for an alleged pedophile. As noted before, it’s not the first time.