4/30/21: Allen v. Farrow (2021) — It doesn’t matter what people believe – the truth is what matters. #poetry
Mia Farrow alleges in this documentary that Woody Allen told her, “It doesn’t matter what’s true – it matters what people believe.”
After watching this four part series, I have no beliefs related to the accusation that Woody Allen molested the daughter that he adopted with Mia Farrow, Dylan Farrow, when she was seven years old in the early 1990s. I also have no sense of whether or not it is true that Woody Allen is guilty of incest and pedophilia, or if Mia Farrow manipulated her little girl to use her as a pawn in order to exact revenge against Allen because he left Mia Farrow for her then college aged adopted daughter, Soon Yi Previn, and subsequently married Soon Yi Previn when Allen was 51, and Soon Yi was 21, thirty years his junior.
Kurosawa’a film “Rashomon” explores how several characters have different, sometimes wildly different, perceptions of the same circumstance. “Rashomon” considered the reality of point of view. No two people can stand in the same place at the same time, therefore our sense of the happenings of the world are necessarily always personal and subjective. I’ll add that the same person can have a different perception of the same situation depending on which modality of thought he or she applies in making his or her determinations.
Many of these different modalities of thought are represented in Allen v. Farrow. Most of them have everything to do with belief, and little to do with truth.
“It doesn’t matter what’s true – it matters what people believe.” If Woody Allen said this, he was asserting the primacy of public relations. I used to believe that Woody Allen was above public relations. He made his two movies a year, and played his clarinet at Michael’s Pub every Monday night. He didn’t acknowledge awards, and blocked out the outside world. His entire focus was on his work and his personal life. My view of Woody Allen derived from my unconscious acceptance of the messages of Allen’s very sophisticated public relations activity. Allen was not the detached artist (or at least aspiring artist) that I had imagined. He was a powerful man, of high status and influence. He represented an image of artistic purity that had nothing to do with reality. Allen consciously pursued societal success, and enjoyed his status with the public, critics, film industry professionals and the wealthy and intellectual elites of Manhattan. Allen’s skill at public relations does not necessarily make him a pedophile, but he did work to control the narrative revolving around his relationship with Mia and Dylan Farrow. Mia, and later Dylan and Ronan Farrow, played the same game with increasing success over time.
The truth has nothing to do with the charm, appeals for sympathy, persuasive arguments and strong expressions of outrage that are the common currencies of public relations.
The law requires evidence and rigorous procedure, but ultimately the results of legal proceedings still fall in the purview of belief instead of truth. A Connecticut prosecutor never filed charges against Allen, because, he says, he thought putting then seven year old Dylan on the stand would not be in her best interests. A child welfare investigator in New York City, believed Dylan and Mia, but said that the investigation was taken away from him by “higher ups” who protected Woody Allen.
The law aspires to finding out the truth, and responding to that truth justly, but the fact is that the law is limited. It can only, at best, reach a determination of what society will accept as the truth. Innocent people are punished and guilty people get off scot free every day.
Many people identify with Woody Allen, and don’t want to believe the worst about him. Many people identify with Mia and/or Dylan Farrow, and want to believe that they were wronged and deserve justice.
If people don’t identify on a personal level, they may view the controversy as a political one. They might see women and children as being abused by powerful men. They might see powerful men being slandered by vindictive women.
It doesn’t matter what people believe – the truth is what matters.
So how to get at the truth?
Regular readers won’t be surprised that my answer is “art”.
Mia Farrow was involved with the late novelist Philip Roth after her time with Woody Allen ended. Philip Roth could have written a great novel about this entire affair. It definitely deserves that type treatment, not the true crime docudrama provided by this potboiler of a TV series.
Fiction gives more of the truth that matters here, than the definitive Perry Mason climax that Allen v. Farrow teases, if never fully brings forth. The truth is that we can never really know what happened in these people’s lives. We can’t know who they are or what they did or didn’t do. We can look at the situation and empathize and imagine. We can discern and not judge and maybe create something that allows us to understand a little more about what it is to be a human being.
I don’t write fiction exactly, but I write about my personal experience. This piece for example, is about my experience watching Allen v Farrow. My thoughts were about living and speaking my truth.
I made some personal decisions while I watched this series. I rejected for my own life ever courting the status and power and success that are so important to Woody Allen. I always thought that Woody Allen was what I call a “near artist”. He sold himself as an artist. He sometimes achieved art, but mainly he is an entertainer.
There was discussion in Allen v. Farrow about the need to separate the life of an artist from his or her art. I disagree with this true -ism, at least when it comes to the area of public relations — the conscious manipulation by the artist of what people think of the artist. Allen makes a lot of choices in his movies currying favor with the people he wants to think highly of him. He has a lot of intellectual and artistic characters. He argues for his romantic proclivities — “the heart wants what it wants” is one of his famous lines. Allen cultivated popularity in the movie industry. Every actor (and every other kind of film professional) wanted to work with him. An artist can’t make strategic decisions and be true to his or her art. An artist listens to his or her inner voice, and listens to the world that he or she encounters. The artist then reports what he or she found out faithfully.
I always react a bit when someone describes what I write as an opinion. I write to attempt to understand the truth. I don’t always get there. Sometimes I get it wrong. Always, I only go so far — no matter how deep I get into something, I always wind up on the edge of a new mystery. That’s why I write the next day.
Allen v Farrow is more about how the filmmakers look at things than about the conflict in that unhappy family. The truth is that I stopped thinking about Woody Allen’s alleged crime, or the nature of Dylan Farrow’s pain. The series presentation was so thin and incomplete, I got no reliable understanding of any person, crime or issue.
What I did get was a chance to meditate about many of the forms of thought control that distort our lives: infotainment (Allen v Farrow itself), public relations (Woody Allen’s canny manipulation of people’s view of him as a person), elite authorities (expert psychiatric witnesses), lawyers and investigators (the justice system) and the push back of muckraking reporters and their subjects (adult Ronan Farrow of Vanity Fair and adult Dylan Farrow speaking as part of the Me Too Movement).
Nothing in the previous paragraph is the truth. It is just the stuff of the truth.
Where is Philip Roth when you need him? Oh yeah, he’s dead. Well don’t look at me. I don’t know enough about the world that Woody Allen, Mia Farrow and their kids live in to write about it. So I write about what I do understand — what I thought and felt while I watched this program.
Copyright 2021 Richard Thomas