Monday, February 3, 2014


Joan Didion on Woody Allen

You probably already came across Dylan Farrow's open letter in the New York Times this weekend, in which she talks in detail about being sexually assaulted by Woody Allen as a seven-year-old girl. It's a very sad thing to read and a very brave thing to write. For additional reading, may I recommend Joan Didion's 1979 Allen ethering, "Letter from Manhattan," in The New York Review of Books. A sampling: "The characters in Manhattan and Annie Hall and Interiors are, with one exception, presented as adults, as sentient men and women in the most productive years of their lives, but their concerns and conversations are those of clever children, 'class brains,' acting out a yearbook fantasy of adult life." Go 'head, girl. [NYRB]

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These lines are meaningless, and not funny: they are simply “references,” ... smart talk meant to convey the message that the speaker knows his way around Lit and History, not to mention Show Biz.

Ugh, yes. So pervasive. Not just Manhattan, but every online dating profile, job interview, dinner party, FB post.


uniqueness ;)@l


Thank you so much for sharing this.


I loathe Woody Allen and adore Joan Didion, so thank you for sharing this. I've never understood why I'm always the only person in groups of people discussing movies who can't stand Woody Allen -- not even his older stuff. I feel like he invalidates the whole "can you enjoy the artistic work of a bad person?" debate because, to me at least, his weird misogyny and inability to create empathic characters/situations is so incredibly evident in his films. I don't understand how other people (especially women) don't feel that when they watch. I can't even really articulate why sometimes, all his movies that I've seen just make me want to say "UGH."

cat o'clock

@queequeging Yeah, this is exactly how I feel. His horrifying personal life doesn't ruin his movies for me because I already find them infuriatingly smug and shallow and bullshit-y. Separate issues, really -- I hate his work AND want to set him on fire.

Joan Didion is a stone-cold badass, though.


@queequeging Your feelings are my feelings, and Meryl Streep would agree with us.


@queequeging Yeah, for years I've felt vaguely guilty/uncultured because there is not a single Woody Allen movie that I've seen where I wouldn't have rather watched just about anything else. Not funny, not engaging, no likeable characters - I just didn't like it. He's clearly a disgusting human being, but even without knowing just how disgusting, I never liked his movies!


@stonefruit not even Sleeper, or Manhattan Murder Mystery? I haven't liked the other Woody Allen movies I've seen, but I like those two. Maybe because they're fairly superficial plot-driven movies, without purporting to say too much about people or the world.


@themegnapkin Every time I say I don't like Woody Allen's stuff, someone tries to come up with movies of his that I really should like. It has yet to work. I think it's a big part of why I feel guilty and uncultured for not liking his movies: like, I should like these things, what's wrong with me?


@queequeging Meryl Streep was in "Manhattan." Has she spoken out against him?


"I feel like he invalidates the whole "can you enjoy the artistic work of a bad person?" debate because, to me at least, his weird misogyny and inability to create empathic characters/situations is so incredibly evident in his films."

Yes yes yes 1000000x yes

I'm definitely on the side that you can separate the work and the person when taking appraisal, but for me that just makes it easier because I find both in this case to be despicable.


@queequeging I used to really like Allen's movies, but I chalk a lot of that up to being young and wanting desperately to be seen as witty and urbane. I fully fell off the train with Blue Jasmine, which I found to be one of the most vicious, heartless portrayals of a woman I've ever seen. At least Tennessee Williams had compassion for Blanche DuBois, if we're making Streetcar comparisons. And I might be completely off the mark here, but I found myself seeing parallels between the Mia/Soon-Yi fallout - **SPOILER ALERT** Jasmine finds out her husband is leaving her for a younger woman and makes the call that sends him to prison (and suicide) and herself to financial and emotional ruin. If she would have just shut her mouth and accepted his morally reprehensible (and illegal) behavior, everything would have been fine! "The heart wants what it wants!" BITCHES BE JEALOUS! Again, might be a totally "off" reading of the movie, but I came away from it with no other thought than "Woody Allen absolutely despises women".

Bullets Over Broadway is the only Allen movie I will continue to enjoy, because it at least seems to know that everyone in it is a ridiculous blowhard. Also, Dianne Wiest.


@LMac That (the Blue Jasmine plot) explains a LOT, esp. with the "Mia Farrow is a jealous bitch who manipulated her kids and the media" line that's been popping up a lot lately.

For the record, I've only seen Whatever Works (for, ah, superficial reasons). Didn't like it, though apparently it's not his best work.


@queequeging totally fair, and I didn't mean to single you out.
(I may be biased in favor of Manhattan Murder Mystery because it has Alan Alda in it.)


@queequeging I don't know if Streep has ever addressed the reports of abuse or his marriage, but I did find this gem, which puts her right in line with the excellent Didion piece-- of Manhattan, Streep said "On a certain level the film offends me because it's about all these people whose sole concern is discussing their emotional states or their neuroses."

Also calls Allen a womanizer. See it here-- http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1356&dat=19800218&id=M2VIAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wwUEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5648,948023

(I hope that link works!)


@queequeging I watched Midnight in Paris recently and felt vindicated that my dislike of Woody Allen goes deeper than the superficial, because even when Owen Wilson, who I like, is playing Woody Allen, I still can't stand him. I don't mind the performative intellectualism (I'd be an awful hypocrite if I did), I mind the implication that every woman in his movies is just hovering on the peripheries of his sex life. Even if the women are smart and interesting, they are smart and interesting primarily to reflect well upon him, because these smart and interesting women all want to sleep with him.


@queequeging UUUUGH is there anything worse than having some on-screen character explain his neurosis to you? Didn't Allen ever hear of "show, don't tell?"

But yes, the entire oeuvre is boring and pathetic and horrible.


@themegnapkin Is it weird that I've had a crush on Alan Alda since I was a teen even though he's older than my grandfather?


@bluewindgirl Yes! That's exactly it! Thank you for eloquently articulating what I've only ever been able to express as "i just get a gross vibe" whenever someone tries to defend Woody Allen by saying "but Annie Hall?" or something. It's that all the women in his movies, when they're not being Blue Jasmine type witches (I haven't actually seen Blue Jasmine) are just playing out some weird male fantasy.

dj pomegranate

I'mma come sit over with you guys because I cannot stand Woody Allen in any context, neither the art nor the artist.

@queequeging Yessss, that is exactly it! You said it much better than I ever have. Totally going to say this next time someone says, "You don't like Woody Allen?!"

In sum: Woody Allen: UGH.


@LMac Agree with you across the board. I think you'd have to be blind - or a Woody Allen apologist - not to see that the Cate Blanchett character is a perpetuation of Allen's smear campaign against Mia Farrow. If you notice, the audience's negative perception of Alec Baldwin's lecherous character is subtly and swiftly altered by Blanchett's reaction to it; although her response is actually perfectly understandable, Allen makes it a sign of emotional imbalance, and suddenly reveals that she is some kind of crazy bitch (which she remains for the balance of the movie), which in turn makes Baldwin somehow sympathetic (as he clearly is in Allen's eyes, being a stand-in for Allen, himself). See how Baldwin oh-so-condescendingly says, with sickening rationalization, "I tried to have a reasonable discussion with you about this, but you make it impossible." Anyone who cannot see this for the BLATANT manipulation of public perception that it is is either willfully denying it or simply not that bright.

Woody Allen makes the same movie over and over and over, and as others have pointed out, his characters are almost universally unlikeable because they are smug, unapologetic, self-centered, emotionally stunted or detached, and intellectually fake. Just like Allen.



When I saw Manhattan many years ago I was very disturbed by his character's relationship to the high-school child (Mariel Hemingway??). (or was that a different one) It doesn't surprise me that he may feel compelled to molest children.


There's also this piece from Vanity Fair in 1992 which really helps you understand the whole situation even more, and it is epicly fucked. There's tons of stuff in there I didn't know, like that Soon-Yi is both developmentally and learning disabled. Whole new layer of yuck on that aspect too.


@Megasus Wow. Woody Allen reads like an emotionally (and sexually) abusive predator.


@Megasus Yes, this and the more recent VF articles, are must reads.


"Not long ago I shared, for three nights, a hospital room with a young woman named Linda. I was being watched for appendicitis and was captive to Linda’s telephone conversations, which were constant. Linda had two problems, only one of which, her “relationship,” had her attention. Linda spoke constantly about this relationship, about her “needs,” about her “partner,” about the “quality of his nurturance,” about the “low frequency of his interaction.” Linda’s other problem, one which tried her patience because it was preventing her from working on her relationship, was acute and unexplained renal failure. “I’m not relating to this just now,” she said to her doctor when he tried to discuss continuing dialysis." oh my god yes.


Then there is this response to Dylan's letter:


Author Alana Newhouse claims that Mia's decision not to press charges "disabled our ability to judge either way" since "we, as private citizens, are not imbued with the right to pass these judgments." Oh really, we're not? That's news. Because I thought the court of public opinion has the right to judge the courts of law and find them lacking or absent. Public opinion being part of the function of a free society and all that. The author then ends with a cheap psychoanalytic potshot - that Dylan isn't mad at us, she's actually mad at her mother. Bollocks, Tablet. Sniveling bollocks.

The Allen-defense rages on. And most journalism seems to be cheapened for it.

Thank you Megasus for the link to that Vanity Fair article. I read it in the past but could never remember where it was from!

I hope Ronan Farrow turns out to be Sinatra's kid. And I really don't want to read the memoirs of the two daughters Allen adopted with Soon-Yi, written in fifteen years. Ugh.

and it's not even my birthday

Universal reading of Didion would move our conversations on so many things right to more productive territory.


a VERY brave thing to write.


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