The curious nature of memory and power

If you were online this weekend, most likely you will have run into headlines about the open letter to Woody Allen written by his daughter, Dylan. It’s a tough letter. A raw string of letters vibrating with fury and grief. It is without doubt, the most damning charges laid yet at the feet of the famed director.

What to think? I’ve looked up to, nay, revered, Woody’s masterful direction and writing, blocking and lighting, awkward pauses and long shots, characters and heroines but most of all his sense of life: the absurdity, the uncertainty, the heartbreak and the tumbling irrational ways of love. When I was a young director, I studied his movies and played scenes from them over and over. I went so far as to try to re-create romantic scenes (cooking lobsters with a boyfriend a la Annie Hall) and watched with stupefied wonder at the breadth of his content creation year after year, an unrelenting bar of excellence many would look up to and try to emulate.

Yet in 1992 my vision of him as artist-god was damaged by the accusations of child abuse during the intensely acrimonious separation between Woody and Mia Farrow. And yet, no charges were successfully laid and the marriage of Soon-Yi, Mia’s adopted daughter (not Woody’s despite some uninformed reporters) seemed to affirm that Woody had indeed committed no crime except the strange  and somewhat unsettling fact of falling in love with what was in many people’s minds, an extended family member.

I was myself lulled back into the spell of his work and would quietly push away that nagging accusation of abuse as I sat down to devour each and every one of his movies since the early nineties.

But tonight I am deeply disturbed by this content. The textual details, the bare openness of her revelations, the anger–they all seem to be ringing from a true bell, not a cracked one.

I find I am quite unable to go back into the illusion while there is a deep suspicion that there was a serious boundary crossed with his daughter. It is not easy to look at the allegations without the soft distance (and protection) of a kind of cultish cinematic admiration. Indeed, Woody is no less a brilliant writer and director to me but I cannot help but feel he is much less a man.

Child abuse is brought into adulthood by both the child and the abuser yet the power nearly always remains with the abuser. As a child, you are burdened with the heavy secret the adult lays upon your shoulders. As an adult, your version of the secret remains told through a child lens and therefore is easily sloughed off as ‘imagination’ or ‘here say’.

I wonder when we will take child abuse as seriously as we do smoking or cancer? Because as far as I can see, we are no better at recognizing it in our midst or supporting those that come forward than we have been at any time in the past.

Read Dylan’s letter and let me know what you think. For a balanced view of it, perhaps read this article in the Daily Beast that refutes much of the allegations and misrepresented facts that have sprung up in the case. Do you think it is ‘real’? Do you think she just wrote a letter to the New York Times for her own fame? Her own amusement? I wonder. We can’t know what happened for sure, but there is much smoke and a dark and hidden fire in this story.

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Filed under Non-fiction

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