Bahar Orang
Senior ANDY Editor

I have grown up loving Woody Allen. I have been inspired by his ability for storytelling, by his witty humour, his incredible creativity. I have found his films emotionally engaging, intellectually stimulating, and entertaining for their beautiful cinematography and vibrant settings. My love for Woody has grown and developed over the years and has allowed me to negotiate complicated ideas. I can relate to many of his female characters while also being critical of the way they have been portrayed. I can find his love stories funny and honest but also unrealistic and weird. I can be comforted by having human anxieties articulated but also accepting of the undeniable condescension of those some narratives. I have read his biographies, watched the documentaries about him, and even looked beyond his cinema at his ventures into theatre and literature. He has been an important creative role model in my life and I stand first in line for every new film (which is an admirable feat considering how prolific the man is). But now I feel lost and disgusted, both with myself and with Woody.

This past weekend, Dylan Farrow, 28, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, released a scathing letter that accuses her father of sexually molesting her when she was seven. In it, she throws down the gauntlet to the entire Hollywood establishment, which has recently honoured Mr. Allen for a lifetime of achievement. Anyone who’s a friend of Mr. Allen, she charged, is no friend of sexually abused children. Of course, in the days that have followed, articles have surfaced with details of the story that support Woody, or at least complicate the issue. At the time of the alleged abuse, he and Mia Farrow were locked in a custody fight. She was furious over his affair with Soon-Yi (her 21-year-old adopted daughter) and Allen believes that Mia coached Dylan to tell the abuse story. There is evidence to back him up. Dylan’s story changed several times, the doctors found no physical damage at the time, and Allen’s psychiatric and lie-detector tests support his stance. Mia has been cited as being unstable, and she apparently sent Woody a Valentine’s card that told him, “You took my daughter, and I am going to take yours.”

Of course, none of this information is particularly compelling. Woody Allen is rich and powerful, and his influence almost certainly helped his case. This would not be the first time that a celebrity has evaded criminal charges through their position. And calling Mia crazy and unstable is not a new defense against women seeking to resist injustice, and for me, the sexism undermines its validity. Abuse victims have always been silenced by our society and regularly blamed for their traumas. It would be easy for me to call upon Woody’s defense in an attempt to reassure myself that it is okay to keep liking him. I could use the additional information that the headlines have likely purposefully excluded and tell myself that I can carry on – both Woody and his fans are innocent until proven guilty! While this might allow me to remain selfishly steadfast in my love for the man and his work, it would be shallow and hypocritical. If I can recognize at least some of the hegemonic structures at work in this story, I cannot simply discount them because they involve an artist who has deeply influenced me.

So what now then? How to reconcile the possibility that a brilliant artist might actually be a horrible man? The question of should we and could we separate the art from the artist has always been with us. From Roman Polanksi to Coco Chanel to Pablo Neruda to Orson Scott Card to Wagner to Esra Pound to T.S. Eliot. Anti-Semitism turns up so often in the résumés of 20th-century artists that it almost seems part of the job description.

Perhaps it’s relevant to consider the extent of immorality. Is a rapist more deplorable than a racist? A misogynist worse than a homophobe? A child molester worse than a murderer? Maybe in the case of comparing a psychopath to a sexist the seriousness of the crime becomes relevant. But otherwise, the area is so gray and so subjective that these debates of moral relativism are likely not relevant.

It’s easy to point out that in the case of the artist, badness or goodness is a moral quality or judgment; in the case of the art goodness and badness are terms of aesthetic merit, to which morality does not apply. But it seems confusing and contradictory. When you experience art, it seems ennobling. It challenges our assumptions, changes our discriminations, broadens our horizons, and indirectly asks us to be more sensitive, human, vulnerable, honest. Surely, we imagine, art makes us better people. And if art has this power over those simply experience it, then it must have endowed something far more inspirational in the creator of the art. Clearly this is not necessarily the case.

Woody Allen has a new film coming out and I was looking forward to seeing it. Especially since it’s starring Emma Stone and she seems perfect for an Allen script. I want to support the art, but not the artist. But this is impossible – the two seem inextricable. It will be easier to draw the lines when Woody dies, but given that he’s going strong at seventy-four, this is not currently a viable (hah) option. And what kind of person does that make me, wishing death upon someone so I can go to the movies?

Though I’m not a fan of his work or the messy celebrity circle jerk that goes on during the Golden Globes, the empty mouthed criticism that has marred Woody Allen’s lifetime achievement award is undeserved. Don’t get me wrong. The allegations of sexual assault on a minor, particularly his adopted daughter, are a very real concern and warrant the utmost admonishment and scrupulous attention. But what is at stake here is not Woody or his combined experiences or his personal failings, but art itself.

Let me step back. Art is a product of humanity’s ingenuity. It is the combination of thought, sound, love, breath creating life, life creating breath.

What is more is that good artists, as Oscar Wilde said, exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are. I believe this stands true for Woody Allen. Although his life is important and the minutiae of his experiences are worthy of scrutiny in both good and bad lenses, his personal background does not comprise the whole of his being. This is especially true in his art. He is not fantastic because he is a New Yorker. He does not resonate with me because he has seen some of the places I’ve seen. Nor is he a bad person because he may have voted for Bush, though it would certainly make his judgement questionable (if alleged sexual assault wasn't a big enough indicator).

Neither the personal bad nor good ruin one another. They are isolated compartments. He, and the art he creates, is worthy of merit because despite it all, despite his vulnerabilities, his possible evils, and his warped idiosyncrasies, he kept on living, kept on feeling, kept on directing.

This does not excuse his alleged act of molestation nor does it make it right. Nor, too, does the fact that there is a celebration of the possible perpetrator instead of the victim - the one who was really hurt - go unnoticed. Rather receiving this award is a testament that he was able to transform the pain of his life into beauty through his work. Rather than be a resultant process of his problems, rather than allow them to dictate his lifestyle, he moved beyond his darkness.

With lights, camera, and action, he achieved greatness even if he himself wasn’t, and isn't, great.

Photo c/o ThomasThomas on Flickr.

 

I’ve grown up watching Woody Allen’s films, so he will always have a soft spot in my heart. When I was a little girl, the black and white Manhattan had me totally bewitched and lusting after an obscenely romanticized New York. When I was in my teens, Penelope Cruz made me question the boundaries of my sexuality as I planned a future honeymoon to Barcelona, with my husband and wife of course.

But now, in my university environment, where I’m surrounded by radical opinions, open debate, and am constantly challenged to reconsider, I must take a closer look at my love affair with Mr. Allen. Long story short: What’s the deal with his obsession with women? Long story even shorter: Does it ever become…sexist?

He once said that he’s “always felt more sanguine about women than about men.” He finds them "more mature, less bellicose, most gentle” and he insists, “They're closer to what life's supposed to be about”. He’s been called “the ladies man” of cinema because nearly all his films feature women in every important lead and often in every important supporting character. Allen usually plays the man, or has another actor be his stand-in. And in a male-dominated cinematic realm, he is unique in this sense. He constantly creates passionate, layered, gorgeous, mesmerizing female characters. The actresses of Allen’s films have together won eleven Oscars. And Blue Jasmine is true to form.

Cate Blanchett is sure to steal the Oscar this year with her powerful portrayal of a modern Blanche Dubois. Woody explains that, in many ways, his fascination with women was the result of his relationship with Diane Keaton, who came to be the star of many of his films. No one can deny that he offers movies that are filled and focused almost entirely on female characters and female relationships. But is that enough?

I can’t help but identify a key pattern in most of his women; they’re all nuts. And Jasmine is perhaps the nuttiest of them all. Allen is almost unkind, almost merciless in his destruction of this woman. At times it was hard to watch. I regularly felt that odd compulsion to laugh, the way you sometimes feel a laugh bubbling in your chest at a funeral. I felt thoroughly sorry for this woman who clearly had severe psychological problems while likely suffered from drug abuse and alcoholism. Blanchett gave us a fantastic performance (she blue me away, hah) and Allen gave us a clever, clean, fresh and exciting story – but her character, her neurotic mess of a character – was only the next in a long line of Allen’s crazy ladies.

While I may daydream about a love triangle with Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz – barely any part of me would like that dream realized. Cruz, or Maria Elena, routinely has mental breakdowns and tries to kill herself while Johansson, or Cristina, is so lost and confused that her character effectively becomes the laughing stock of the film. And Penelope Cruz is basically as far as he will venture off Western soil – his women are always white, beautiful, and upper middle-class. While this may be a tired argument against most forms of Western entertainment, I strongly insist that it’s time for this seventy-seven year old to discover what lies beyond the clichéd cities of love and culture.  Why can’t he discover Midnight in Tehran or go To Punjab with Love?

It pains me to discredit Woody, it really does. And don’t get me wrong, Blue Jasmine is a smart, entertaining film – you should see it.  But as an almost-women from a minority background who sincerely hopes to remain fairly sane for at least the next thirty or so years – Allen’s forty-nine films leave something to be desired.

 

Filmmaker Woody Allen has hinted in both interviews and films (case in point: his latest, To Rome With Love) that he equates retirement with death. He is continuing to make movies well into his seventies, he says, so that he doesn’t have too much time on his hands to sit and wait for the inevitable.

He might describe the life of man in nature in the words of Thomas Hobbes: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” In other words, Allen figures there’s a lot to be unhappy about in life, so it’s best not to spend too much time thinking about it.

All this is to say that I should have gotten a job in the summer I turned 16.

Instead, I sat around at home. I watched movies. It was About Schmidt, a 2002 film starring Jack Nicholson, that set me off. In the movie, Warren Schmidt retired from his career as an actuary. Soon after, his wife died. He had little to do but mope around the house, feeling useless as he tried in vain to prevent his daughter from marrying a waterbed salesman.

It got to me. I was young, and my life was a good one. But somehow, watching Warren Schmidt wonder how he was going to spend the final sad years of his life hit a nerve.

That summer, I got depressed. It hung over me every day, from when I woke up until I went to bed.

I didn’t expect it to happen to me. I couldn’t really name the source of it, either. I felt stupid about it. What did I have to be depressed about? How were my problems unique or worthy? I didn’t talk about it.

I understand now that what I felt that summer was a relatively mild version of what a lot of students here at Mac go through. I wasn’t suicidal, and once school started up again, I got better. That’s not the case for everyone.

McMaster’s Student Wellness Centre is trying to “stomp out stigma” around depression this week. Its events will present statistics gathered by the Wellness Centre to make the case that depression is serious problem affecting a significant chunk of the student population.

It’s a great and necessary campaign. But I’ve got a word of caution.

Among the statistics, words like “anxious,” “overwhelmed” and “stressed” will get mixed up with more severe ones like “hopeless” and “suicidal.” Truth is, we students are supposed to get a little bummed out when we bite off more schoolwork than we can chew. We complain about being overworked to our friends. We work through it, learn something, and then blow off steam on a free weekend.

Depression is something else entirely. It’s isolating. It’s frightening. Piles of homework might not help it, but depression is deeper than the plight of your average struggling student.

You don’t need a good reason to be depressed. That it’s happening while school weighs you down doesn’t make you weak. Like any illness, I’ve learned, depression can take you by surprise, and you might not know where it came from.

Take it from me, or Woody Allen or Thomas Hobbes or Warren Schmidt; life’s a bitch. So don’t be hard on yourself.

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