Was Woody Allen a Good Dad to Annie, Jasmine, Hannah and Their Sisters?

Suspending judgement on the Dylan Farrow affair, Uri Klein reminisces on his encounters with Allen, concluding the filmmaker lacks the relationship a true master has with his art.

Cate Blanchett has won just about every possible award for her starring role in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” but the highest and most coveted prize of all, the Oscar, may elude her grasp. This weekend, members of the Academy will begin sending in their ballots for the various Oscar categories, with the results revealed at the 86th Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood on March 2. Until just a few days ago, Blanchett was a virtual a shoo-info for the Best Actress award for her performance in the movie, but now the Academy's voters may waver if and when they want check the box by her name.

Recognition for Blanchett amounts to recognition for Woody Allen, who is currently embroiled in an affair that whether true or false I have no ability nor intention to decide on. But it's exceedingly ugly any way you look at it. If Blanchett wins the prize, there is no way she will refrain from mentioning Allen in her acceptance speech, and even if she doesn’t praise him to the skies, her win would be equivalent to an expression of public adulation for Allen. And these days, admiration for Allen, broadcast live around the world to millions of viewers, is perhaps something best avoided.

In early February, Blanchett earned the Best Actress award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Although Allen’s alleged sexual molestation of Dylan Farrow (his adopted daughter with Mia Farrow) when she was seven years old had not been mentioned during the ceremony, Blanchett, on her way to the after-party, replied to a journalist's question on the matter. “It’s obviously been a long and painful situation for the family and I hope they find some resolution and peace,” she said.

That same day, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof published an op-ed arguing that bestowing awards upon Allen, as happened at the last Golden Globes ceremony (where Diane Keaton presented him with the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award), even though he's has always denied Dylan’s accusations, was never charged with a crime and this is entitled to a presumption of innocence, conveys the message that Dylan Farrow is lying, or that her accusation is insignificant.

If Blanchett is denied the award – and despite everything, I have a hard time imagining that – the big winner will be Amy Adams, who has been nominated in the same category for her role in “American Hustle.” This is Adams’ fifth Oscar nomination. She is certainly excellent in director David O. Russell’s crime comedy-drama, but I don’t think she’d want to win the award under these circumstances. Allen’s movie has two other Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Sally Hawkins) and Best Original Screenplay - but in both these categories Allen’s film could be more easily passed over than in Blanchett’s case.

As I wrote, I am not willing or able to judge between Allen and his daughter, but this ugly story would probably have upset me even more were I a more devoted Woody Allen fan. I’m fond of some of his films, like the early comedies "Take the Money and Run” and “Bananas.” I admire and even love some of his later films, like “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” And I’m generally a fan of what he represents in the contemporary cinema landscape: an artist who follows his own path, who makes films at a regular pace and with relatively modest means. All that being said, from the start of his career, his films have suffered from certain limitations that stop me from considering him a truly great director. One is the sense that he's condescending toward the characters in his films. A second limitation is the forcefulness with which he propels the characters’ stories, as if they were marionettes in his hands. The third and most important is the lack of feeling in his films.

When I read Allen’s long and detailed response to his daughter’s accusations, published in the New York Times last Saturday, I was surprised by its emotional dryness and total lack of empathy. Perhaps it was his anger – justified or not, I can’t say – that set the tone. Perhaps if Allen had written a more emotional response it would have been dismissed as an attempt to ingratiate himself with readers. I met Allen three times, each time with a small group of fellow journalists, and each time he had some very funny responses (such as – “What do you think about death?” Allen: “I’m against it”), but also some peculiar responses, two of which I will cite here – one in the personal realm and one in the creative realm. At my first meeting with him, in 2005, after “Match Point,” the first movie he shot in England, came out, Allen was asked by one of my colleagues how he, who hardly ever steps foot out of his beloved Manhattan, suddenly decided to travel the world.

“Because my wife wants to,” Allen answered. “My wife is a young woman who wants to travel, so I say okay.” From his tone it sounded more like he was talking about a daughter than about a wife. A media uproar had in fact ensued when his relationship with his Soon-Yi Previn, Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter from her marriage to composer and conductor Andre Previn, was revealed. The same colleague then asked him for the secret to the success of his marriage to Soon-Yi, who is 35 years his junior, and then Allen gave an answer that really astounded me: “The marriage works because it’s the first time I have had a relationship with a woman who is not my equal.”

In my encounters with him, I saw that Allen has neither the ability nor the desire to furnish insights into his films. His answers are mostly very superficial, and sometimes they have a somewhat populist tone meant to amuse rather than offer a deeper understanding. My attempts to extract from him any meaningful statement about his art - about the way it develops and what has influenced it - mostly ran into a brick wall. But one time, when I asked him if he loves the characters in his films, he responded “No!” so vehemently with a fierce look in his eyes that said he was shocked I could even think such a thing, I nearly fell off my chair. He didn't said not a single word more and I dropped the topic, but at that moment it all became clear to me: No great director in the history of cinema has ever not loved his characters, contemptible as they may be, or if not loved – then certainly felt some other strong emotion and a powerful sense of identification. Only with this strong emotional tie can a filmmaker truly reveal their humanity, twisted as it may be, and this ability is almost entirely absent from Allen’s films. This is why his movies mostly feel hollow. Even the best of them, and I include “Blue Jasmine” in this list, give off a chill.

These recollections have no bearing at all in the search for the truth in this ugly story, but they do strengthen my belief that among the outstanding directors of our time, Woody Allen is the least important.

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Annie Hall
AP