Film Club / Who Do We Empathise With?

Annie HallAnnie Hall
Directed by Woody Allen


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

Alvy Singer: I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That’s the two categories. The horrible are like, I don’t know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don’t know how they get through life. It’s amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you’re miserable, because that’s very lucky, to be miserable.

Oh boy. Annie Hall. Or well – more precisely: Woody Allen.

I accidentally read a Vice thing earlier this week called The Worst Fanbases on the Internet, Ranked and the winner was Woody Allen (Quote: “But his movies,” IS NOT AN EXCUSE.) which I guess makes me the worst? (cut to: everyone reading this nodding the heads and saying yes). And god yeah now I actually sit down to write this there’s a part of me that kinda wishes that I could skip ahead and just start talking about Fight Club already… And yeah – not that I’m trying to push anyone under a bus or anything but I would like to point out that the only reason we’re doing this is because someone else said it was one of their favourite movies so I was like: what the hell – let’s talk about it!

It’s a funny thing that most movie directors end up having a narrative built up around them – Christopher Nolan is a posh boy who walks around with a flask of earl grey and keeps killing off wives and girlfriends in every movie he makes, James Cameron is a domineering military control freak who tells women what’s feminism or not, Spike Lee is a sage wiseman puncturing white America with his truth-to-power proclamations etc etc I mean: maybe that’s what happens when you work in the movie business, or everyone has an image that they’re trying to sell, or maybe humans see everything through the lens of stories. I dunno. Most probably the last one? But erm yeah – the current story around Woody Allen is that he’s a terrible person who sexually abused his children. I mean – it used to be that he was neurotic stammering Jew in constant therapy – but I guess times change….

Now obviously I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to be fascinated by the stuff around the movie more than the movie itself. You know – ideology and etc. What are the ideas that people have about this stuff and what do these ideas mean and all the rest of it… And so yeah: it feels like maybe it would somehow be disingenuous of me to just dive straight into the movie and pretend that – what should we call it? – The Woody Allen Narrative (?) is just a pesky inconvenience or whatever… Because well it’s not and it’s tied to lots of things that I think are important and things that you know – people should discuss and stuff? But yeah: how you want to play things is of course up to you. If you just want to discuss the movie then go ahead or we can just talk about Woody Allen himself or (maybe most likely?) no one takes part and in three weeks time we’ll do Fight Club. Oh well. La-di-da.

oh well

Ok. So. Deep breathes. Like – I’m going to stick my neck way out over the line here and say in the most hopefully non-combative way possible that erm – I don’t think he’s guilty? I mean – I’m not under any illusions that me typing some stuff here is going to change anyone’s mind but well: there were two investigations into it (one by the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of the Yale/New Haven Hospital and another by New York State Department of Social Services) and both of them concluded unambiguously that “molestation had not taken place” (source) and well yeah – he’s never been charged with anything.

Please don’t get me wrong tho: like it’s not that I trust the criminal justice system and think that everyone who is free is innocent and everyone who is in prison is guilty. I think trying to adjudicate / determine what happened between people when they’re the only witnesses and there’s no other evidence is a… well it sounds like a frigging nightmare and so yeah: the best practice is to believe the victim and give them support and make sure that people feel safe and listened to. But then also I’m kinda of the opinion that the whole of mainstream culture / discourse is almost completely insane and you’re either Team A or Team B and if you say that you’re neither team then that obviously obviously just makes you a baddie too.

(This is going to end with me being denounced on Twitter for being a sex-crime enabling Nazi isn’t it? Oh dear).

La-di-da.

And yeah – there’s a part of me that’s kinda – curious? (Is that the right word?) as to the reasons why Woody Allen has taken up this kinda space in our culture. Because shit: the truth is – none of really know anything about Woody Allen. Yeah ok we might have seen his films and read his interviews or whatever. But the Woody Allen that exists in our head is just a projection of our own hopes and fears and desires and thoughts and emotions. I had no idea that Yale even had a Child Sexual Abuse Clinic until I read it in the thing I linked to. But you know – it sounds official and that. And I guess I’d rather live in a world where the people who make the movies I like aren’t raping their kids. But conversely it seems: there are some people who’d like to believe that famous film directors are child rapists because well: it fits with their experiences of how the world is structured and well yeah: western society is a patriarchy and women are often treated as second class citizens and there are a lot of incredibly shitty men out there. And the idea of a powerful man using his power in awful ways is so ingrained into the reality of everything that frankly we should probably be more surprised when it doesn’t happen.

shmuck

But well – my left-wing sensibilities are such that when the media all agree on a particular story / a particular way of seeing the world I can’t help myself: I find myself getting suspicious and wary. Because well: I don’t know if you agree with this or not – but I’m of the opinion that newspapers are not our friends. And if there’s a group of people telling me that the real enemies of society are the people who make movies while Barack Obama is a hero to the civilized world even tho he’s “killed an estimated 3,797 people (including 324 civilians)” (source). I mean – yeah ok: you can accuse me of whataboutery or whatever: but my general worldview is such that mostly our western entertainment industrial complex is mostly about keeping us looking in the wrong direction. And well yeah – I dunno – the idea of activism being done by the type of product you consume (or don’t): just makes me want to scream. I’m sorry. Like I’m just not convinced that choosing to watch or not watch a Woody Allen film or whatever really makes a difference to anything at all apart from the world in your own head. I mean: good for you and everything but maybe it’s another way to sell us things? So instead of Annie Hall you watch Wonder Woman or Transparent and feel like you’re doing something good for the world when well – (shocked gasp) maybe the world doesn’t change no matter what you watch?

Whoop sorry – this is getting away from me a little bit isn’t it?

So well ok here’s the “But his movies!” bit: because well yeah – shit – his movies are pretty much all really really really good. I mean: if you haven’t seen Annie Hall before then you might think I’m exaggerating but if you have then well: you know what I’m talking about. I mean technically, emotionally, aesthetically – it’s all there. It’s funny. It’s deep. It’s sad. It’s romantic. It’s everything. At least – with my eyes and my brains. Like: looking back at the films we’ve done for the Film Club so far – I can understand someone not liking The Shining or not liking Cloverfield or Total Recall or North by Northwest – but Annie Hall is just… so multi-faceted and so open and so breezy that not liking it would be like not liking pizza or something you know? (Which of course makes me all the more curious to hear a hot take denouncing it as hot garbage so you know – if you want to: please write in).

And hey if you want ironies: then let’s do a little bit of ironies – there was a headline back to June about how Woody Allen says that: ‘I should be the poster boy for the #MeToo movement’ which when I first saw it made me facepalm so hard that I almost knocked myself out but then when I read what he said I was like… oh hmmmm: actually maybe he kinda has a point?

“Because I have worked in movies for 50 years. I’ve worked with hundreds of actresses and not a single one – big ones, famous ones, ones starting out – have ever, ever suggested any kind of impropriety at all. I’ve always had a wonderful record with them.”

And well yeah: if your big thing is representation: his movies have had a lot of great parts for lots of female actresses over the years – I mean: Annie Hall is the obvious example but just going from the titles there’s also: Alice, Melinda and Melinda, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Blue Jasmine and (OMG) Hannah and Her Sisters. I mean: for me at least his films have a genuine empathy and curiosity for other people in terms of what their lives are like and what makes them tick and he’s about trying to find the most interesting way to show that up on the screen… And mean – shit: what’s the closet thing we have to that nowadays? Kevin Smith? Adam McKay? Judd Apatow?

gah

But hey. This is just me. These are just my thoughts. If you’d like to disagree with me or tell me that I’m wrong about any of this then go ahead. I would prefer if it you didn’t call me a sex-crime enabling Nazi but then of course I realise it’s 2018 and so maybe that’s not possible lol.

I don’t know – what do you think?


CLEM
Twitter

I remember being a teenage girl, and people confidently told me it was completely normal for older men to be attracted to teenage girls. Someone wise pointed out that was a crock of shit. I listened to the wise person. Thank fuck for that.

Another Woody Allen film, Manhattan, is an incredible, beautiful love letter to New York, shot by one of the great cinematographers, with the incredible music of Gershwin. What’s tricky is that the story is about a 42 year old man dating a 17 year old. What an incredibly seductive beautiful view. But risky if you’re a teenage girl.

Here’s a list of Woody Allen films ranked by age gap in the relationships.

http://www.bkmag.com/2014/05/22/woody-allens-films-ranked-by-age-disparity/

Why? I mean, its a constant motif in his work. Why?

Louis CK’s interpretation of why was that it was directly Allen’s life, and that people will just make excuses because that’s how power works. He made a film about this called “I love you daddy”. It’s not that widely available as its basically a defence of sexual predation.

Here’s quite a good article about it. The film’s about why people excuse powerful artistic men. Here’s an article about it
http://www.vulture.com/2017/11/revisiting-louis-c-k-s-i-love-you-daddy.html

How do we excuse powerful artistic men? How do we give them the benefit of the doubt?

Manhattan’s a beautiful, beautiful movie…


JONATHAN
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter

That list needs a control against the rest of Hollywood though because for example, just taking the last film I saw there is a 20 year age gap between Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson in MI6. Now that is an excellent excellent movie, so How does that age differential impact the movie?

What it perhaps reveals is that male stars have much longer careers than female stars, which is bad but is a structural issue rather than evidence that Tom Cruise and Woody Allen are creepy. They may well be creepy but age gap in movies is not a good way to judge that, you have to look at what they are doing in real life.

Also as Woody Allen stars in most of his own films and like the rest of us continues to age chronologically, naturally there will be a growing distance with him and the women cast. Again see above structural issues. To repeat I am not defending or accusing anyone of anything I just wonder if Woody Allen is the only man casting young female actresses in Hollywood.

I am still compiling my thoughts on this however.


CLEM
Twitter

Urgh, sorry for this being so spread out now, my first email sent by mistake and then following up quickly seemed a good plan. Possibly this is a continuation of the same mistake.

I have no idea if Woody Allen molested his kid. I do know he married a 17 year old who he adopted at age 9 and was an acting parent to. For me that’s an abuse of power, even if it has the slim potential to be innocent. He makes films with huge age gaps which again have huge power disparities, but not inherently abusive. His films, I believe, don’t really talk about that potential?. From his films I’ve seen, a lot portray men who feel victimised by their own sexuality. It’s interesting to view yourself as the victim when you actually wield much more power.

I saw Annie Hall a few years ago and it was fine. I thought it was a bit over-rated then but I’ll watch it again. I read someone who said if you see it as Annie’s story and Alvy being awful, it’s great. If you take his side, it’s awful.


JONATHAN
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter

There are a lot of questions here. Where I came from is that there is a sort of mental exercise required for me to accept an artist who may be “problematic”. So…

You and I may personally disapprove of Woody Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi Previn but there is no evidence of impropriety and we shouldn’t erase her views on this. They have been married for 20 years after all. Furthermore (until long-awaited new technology becomes available) it’s not practical to do a complete personal history of all artists prior to liking their work. So it’s not irrelevant but it can’t be “oh oh this person *might* have done something distasteful – cancelled” not least because EVERYONE is horrible. Michael Jackson’s music is amazing, but I assume he is a “wrong-un”. I love the Cthulhu mythos but the first thing I will say about Lovecraft is that he is an appalling racist. Indeed I am more likely to believe a megastar director/actor/musician would behave appallingly because just imagine having virtually infinite resources, and being surrounded in equal amounts by beautiful young people desperate for your attention and also various yes-people telling you everything you do and say is genius – that’s feels like you’ve fulfilled all the requirements for some sort Newtonian law of inevitable shitness. Recognising that likelihood is not to look the other way or to forgive it, it just means it would be weird to be surprised. We could all be taking one day about how Hugh Laurie was history’s greatest monster and saying “well he did play a complete bastard in House and that Brad Bird movie no one cared about. So I guess all the signs were there.”

I actually find myself getting put-off artists due to their philosophy. If I think they are right-wing or just boring it makes me think I’ve given them credit for depths they don’t have. So as Joel pointed out, it was more worrying for me when Woody Allen said he should be the poster boy for Me Too because it was like the sort of people whose response to Black Lives Matter is to say All Lives Matter because it reveals a lack of thoughtfulness (ahem Terry Gilliam). Maybe that makes me callous to the suffering of his accusers but all I can say is that I don’t have any of the facts, and will not ever get into the practice of defending the personal behaviour of people I have never met but nor will I write them off.

Tiger

But of course the context in which things are made is hugely important. To take a simple example The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr is written by an escapee from Nazi Germany and although it’s hardly obvious you start thinking “hmm maybe there is some sort of warning in what is a fairly silly children’s book” (Although if the Mog books aren’t a treatise on anti-fascist resistance I don’t know what is)That’s kind of the point in all these film club topics for me is the conversation between my experience and the film-maker as mediated by the film and how that marries up to what other people think. So it is really interesting that for Clementine and others this is a huge deal breaker, that this behaviour is enough to say his films are tainted from now on. I feel it must be very tiring to keep ones personal preferences under constant review to keep up with developments in the lives of spoiled celebrities.


CLEM
Twitter

Hmmmm, well, this is why I think this stuff is important.

I hope we’re reasonably agreed that certain groups in society have sociological power, and power generally works to protect itself in direct and subtle ways. Challenging powerful people is hard. We tend to protect the existing status quo too. So if a powerful artistic figure has abused another person, why does that matter? What’s damaged?

And let’s be superclear. Seducing your stepchild is not just distasteful. He’s completely destroyed his other children’s relationships with him and what they believe a parent to be by having sex with someone he parented. But I guess it’s like the video of the cop shooting someone. What do you see? Now picture it from one of the other kid’s perspective. Your dad is now sleeping with your sister. What do you see?

Is the filmmaker tainted?

Yes. Because how we talk about people and what we excuse, minimise or deny matters. Who we venerate, praise, find nuance and kindness for matters. It’s very lopsided at the moment – we prioritise perpetrators over victims for all sorts of reasons. By saying, let’s ignore the abuse of power and focus on the art, due to the nature of power, abuse and shame, it all goes a bit shit. Spoilers for Nanette:

Hannah Gadsby’s argument in Nanette is Picasso aged 42 (that’s an ironic coincidence) had a relationship with a 17 year old girl, which was abusive. Gadsby was assaulted at 17. By generally the world, and art critics in this case ignoring the abuse and focusing on Cubism, Gadsby was told clearly where her place in the world was. At the bottom. Her perspective did not matter. By overlooking, excusing or sidestepping abuse, we tell it’s victims (who are sadly legion) that they don’t matter. Their suffering is immaterial compared to the powerful and their legacy. That hurts people, it steeps them in shame, and sadly limits their ability to be artists too. And god does it fuck people’s lives up. What we focus on and ignore matters. Like a film director does.

white.jpg

It’s shame really that drives the mechanism – things that people are taught to be ashamed of. Sadly being the victim of abuse is something people are taught to be ashamed of as are their gender, their sexuality, their race if they’re the “wrong” ones- denying or minimising the impact of these things in favour of protecting a powerful person really hurts people, because shame is about believing you are nothing. It’s one of the ways power reinforces/justifies itself and abusers protect themselves.

Therefore instances of those serious crimes of abuse in powerful artists lives are stuff I care about, and want to talk about. So domestic violence, rape, child abuse, abusive parenting being a massive misogynist, racist or transphobe – dismissing or ignoring these while focusing on someone’s work is really harmful to people who really don’t need another fucking punch. Sadly the things you can ignore so easily have happened to people in the real world, some of whom are reading this. Obviously, I assume people are nice to start with.

This, of course, is why defending someone you think is innocent/appealing to neutrality causes so much pain, because it kicks in the same invalidation loops. The answer, of course, is to kill the shame around abuse, and oppression. That’ll help.

The other issue of course is celebrity (not the Woody Allen film). This links to something Joel was talking about – does what you consume matter? Often no, but film is an art and a business. So refusing to allow some people to be famous or not watching their films or not attending their screenings may diminishes their influence and power. I don’t want to reward Woody Allen with more status, praise and fame, because of the mechanism above. Praise powerful abusers and you argue abuse is basically fine, and again, same mechanisms kick in. Celebrity is power and influence conveyed by the public, mediated by a entertainment–media complex – which is why these discussions of MeToo and people coming back are happening, and are not a fait accompli. People can change, grow, learn, atone and make amends but again the same biases to excuse, minimise, protect, deny and ignore are there. And of course, people can heal.

I find these dynamics of power fascinating – Anne Helen Petersen does brilliant writing on the roles of actors (ingenue, rebel, bad girl, heartthrob) in celebrity culture, who they get to be and why.

Are the films tainted?

Film’s collaborative – I think it’s very possible to like stuff with problematic elements in it or made by problematic people but you have to talk about it. This is how we study lots of things, it’s not super difficult. Given the tendency to erase/deny the very existence of sexism/racism etc, and given how we use shame to do so, you can contextualise it. I thought this was pretty good, it’s in reference to racist stereotyping in old Warner Bros cartoons.

the cartoons you are about to see

You have to talk about the taint though. And yeah, some stuff is easier to overlook than others. And it’ll vary for people. And that’ll change with time. I think you could screen Chinatown. But you’d need to talk about why you thought it was important, not say its beauty offsets the child rape committed by its director. Basically, don’t make excuses, talk about it.

It’s probably easier to watch films with the wrong un behind the camera than in front though. I haven’t watched many films recently with Kevin Spacey in. Seven would probably still work. American Beauty will feel ickier. It probably depends on the empathy/sympathy required for the character. Not sure I can get pass it for a romantic lead. Poor Annie Hall. Diane Keaton is such a good actress.

It’s tricky when Woody Allen acts in his films to ignore his choices in life, particularly given the way he blurs his life and his work. I mean Blue Jasmine is about Mia Farrow, yeah? Although, it probably comes down to who you empathise with. Is it being abused or falsely accused that scares you more? Why?

This is good too…

https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/arts-and-books/how-can-you-separate-the-art-from-the-artist-if-the-art-is-all-about-what-they-did-wrong

Here’s Roxanne Gay on that too – she reckons it’s just easier to empathise with predators because victims is too vulnerability inducing.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/29/opinion/louis-ck-comeback-justice.html

Have you confused the refusal to empathise with the vulnerable with maturity?

Particularly in the case of sexual abuse, grooming isn’t just of the victim but people around the victim. They’re encouraged not to look, to doubt themselves, to question, to trust the plausible denials. Conflict with a powerful person is frightening. It’s just easier not to see it. What’s the quote from Silence of the Lambs – “never forget what he is.” It’s interesting what makes it easy to forget – movies are glamour. That’s what the TV series Hannibal is partly about – how did people not see Hannibal Lecter in their midst? Same mechanisms. We should talk about Silence of the Lambs.

It’s not that artists need to be perfect but if we completely ignore fucking despicable shit that falls into centuries old tradition of ignoring despicable shit that hurts people a lot. We can be better than that. Let’s talk about who it’s easy to include in a problematic figure’s audience and who’s going to struggle to receive it. Is that good/bad/indifferent? Who do we excuse, forgive and why? Who do we empathise with? Why are we so addicted to redemption narratives with minimal personal change? Do films seduce us with a viewpoint and can you tell when it’s happening? Are you sure? If you believe stories and art are powerful, do you think that power is ever misused?

Manhattan’s a beautiful movie where a 42 year old dates a 17 year old and no one really comments on it. Why?

And some quick Woody Allen oeuvre questions:

When in Manhattan (where the 42 year old dates a 17 year old) when Woody’s character says “the heart wants what it wants”, does any part of you die inside? Would you remake Lolita if you were Woody Allen?

If you were a powerful but neurotic film director who had gotten away with a serious crime, how many films would you make about men who commit serious crimes and then learn not to feel guilty about it? This is the theme of Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors. Of course, maybe you just love Dostoyevsky. Not a crime. How do you think Colombo would catch you?

Huh.

So this has been a tricky one to reply to because although I am interested in discussing the overall issue of what it takes for an artist to be on the banned list. I’m also interested in what useful actions could be take in response to Me Too.

I am definitely uninterested in getting into specifics on the Woody Allen case. Not discussing it is not me saying it’s not important or we should brush it under the carpet, it’s just saying that I don’t know what happened. What I do know is Clementine’s description of Woody Allen grooming Soon Yi before luring into marriage is completely at odds with the stated record. This is why it’s uninteresting because we would both just be doubling down on our personal takes of the facts of a matter we know nothing about. It’s boring throat clearing to say obviously victims should be given support and be believed but I am not even sure which victim we are talking about here.

So moving on to the actual issue, I think there are other examples which would make much more sense would be Kevin Spacey sneering his way through American Beauty or Johnny Depp scowling at the end of Impossible Creatures and knowing that they had deliberately hurt people and abused their power, and realising that makes it hard to have sympathy for their characters in previous movies. Watching Jack Sparrow and thinking “wow Johnny Depp does a really compelling impression of man whose lost control of his life” and now it’s like “oh”. It would be sad if it wasn’t for the fact its a breakdown obviously paved on a road of non-disclosure agreements and hush money.

With these sort of characters who have clearly used their money and power to spare themselves embarrassment for decades and then used it in the end to reduce their chances of prosecution, of course they should be vilified. However the real response to that is changes in policy. We should be demanding from studios actions like the “inclusion rider” Frances McDormand called for at the Oscars at the absolute minimum. I would like to see all the “allies” who claim to be poster boys for Me Too set up a fund to support legal action and PR for people in the film industry subject to harassment and discrimination. We need much more than just “oh we have a female chief exec now” but a complete overhaul of a male dominated system.

max

I think the studio system and the way films have been set up as the singular vision of one or two men, erasing the work of hundreds and thousands of contributors is largely the cause. I have a friend who works in the special effects industry and he says the model where SFX companies underbid to get work is ultimately unsustainable. This desperation just to be in the game whether actors or other artists has made the film industry a lot of money and there is no reason to think this will change any time soon, but there are tools such as the way individual fan bases are cultivated on social media which diffuse the balance of power. There was a really interesting moment a few years ago when Ang Lee accepted an award for Life of Pi and thanked his agent but all but ignored the work of hundreds of SFX artists who made the entire movie. There was rightly a backlash and an understanding that there is reason why the credits for Infinity War are about the same length as the film itself. Spielberg, Abrams and Woody Allen are standing on the shoulders of dozens of people who willingly raise them up. Those people used to be voiceless; caught between the titanic names of directors and faceless corporate bureaucracies. That’s ever so slightly less the case now and it makes those big names more accountable.

Even then the best we can hope for from that is a more useful discussion about how the industry can be reformed. There needs to be an actual process for redress and the main thing about that process is that it can’t be aimed at the idle curiosity of movie-goers. It must be rooted in the idea that no one should ever feel like they have to shut up about abuse to keep their job, or that they have to look the other way when Christian Bale publicly reprimands a lighting guy. But also I wonder if just lumping problematic behaviour of Woody Allen in to systematic abuse and without any actual outcome is useful at all for anyone. My personal preference is nuking the entirety of Hollywood from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure) but there are practical implications before we take that course of action.

Nanette talks about a life defined by abuse to the point where Hannah Gadsby feels it’s become the foundation for her career. Maybe one of the terrifying realities of Hollywood is that to thrive in it you may well have to be able to handle regular and persistent bullying. She singles out Picasso and the dissonance of someone having such clarity of vision with such a blindness to their own flawed character. Weirdly Annie Hall is a great example of a film which gets adult relationships “right”. It shows the intimacy, the co-dependency, the and the inevitable drift that all relationships go through. It reveals introspection far beyond many of the insipid nonsense which continues to rip it off to this day. It is hard and upsetting to square this emotional honesty with the possibility he is just another jaded man child chasing after the nearest compliant girl available.


ILIA
The Gap between Panels
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter / The Hot-Doll Pages

It’s an interesting question to me how comprehensive a portrayal of an adult relationship Annie Hall provides. Although Woody Allen denies that the film is autobiographical, Diane Keaton does say that elements of their real-world relationship bled through into the two characters and performances. What’s amazing to me about the film is that it started out as a murder mystery with a romantic subplot. It was shot over 10 months with the original screenplay increasingly ignored. The first cut was two and a half hours long (the final cut is an hour shorter). This is a crazy way to make a film, but it shows that everyone involved were feeling their way towards the central story.

It also means that the final film is a series of vignettes rather than a coherent whole that unfolds in an orderly way. The relationship we see is still structured by the need to get from one joke to the other. Alvy Singer and Annie Hall are not their actors, or convincing dramatic characters, but exaggerations designed to elicit laughs. Annie Hall’s arc, such as it is, is conveyed in the gaps between the back-to-back punchlines. Alvy pushes her to read books, go to classes, have therapy, and build her confidence on stage, until she eventually decides not to be patronised anymore and make decisions for herself. Alvy doesn’t have an arc really, in that unlike Hall he refuses to adapt to the person he is in a relationship with. His attachment to New York is a rather blunt metaphor for that, as well as being an opportunity to make snide swipes at Hollywood – as ever, the jokes are integral.

There is a fundamental tension running throughout the film in that although it is ostensibly about Annie Hall, we really only see her through Singer’s eyes. Allen’s is always the point-of-view character – enforced at the start by his direct address to camera. Diane Keaton is often just the straight man to Allen’s comedy routines – he is still the main character. Probably the film’s most impressive achievement is that although we’re stuck with Allen’s overbearing personality, we nonetheless end up realising that the joke is finally on him. In the play that he writes, Singer gives himself the happy ending that he couldn’t achieve in his life. Allen refuses to do that in his film. Annie Hall’s last moments are rueful rather than triumphant – we see the two main characters chat in a cafe before they go their separate ways. Annie is in another relationship, and Singer is on his own, thinking that even though he can’t make relationships work he still needs them somehow.

There is I suspect a buried reflection in all this on the nature of film-making, and working with actors in particular. Singer’s relationship to Hall is a bit like that of a director trying to elicit a better performance from an actor. Like the work on a film, these relationships are destined to be temporary. And while the actor learns and achieves new things, they will move on, and all that’s left to the director is the memory of their shared time on set.


JONATHAN
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter

So rewatching Annie Hall, my impression was the extent it celebrates insecurity. Whether it’s the cooling off of sex in their relationship, their changing feelings about their shared future together, Annie’s worry that she is not smart enough, and Alvy’s jealousy over her relationships with other men the film recognises that love is horribly brittle. But building on Ilya’s point about Alvy not having an arc, instead he has this weird integrity, which is played for laughs but explains a lot. Him not changing is a feature rather than a bug.

The aside “I’m a bigot for the left” of the many asides which speak to me in this film contains a kernel of why Alvy Singer is doomed to be unsatisfied. He knows his own truth and is therefore ultimately intolerant of people who can’t see his right is right. He makes such a performance of is inadequacies (as one of the few men with penis envy) but he is preternaturally stubborn. The film starts off with him refusing to miss the start of a movie and ends up with him face to face with a cop while ripping up his own driving license simultaneously reassuring the cop it’s not their fault.
suspect
That moment is really really interesting because it’s hard to think of a parallel, except maybe the line-up scene in Usual Suspects. It’s not like he’s being directly oppressed by the cop since he did crash into three cars. However maybe a man who has watched a large number of documentaries about Nazis just finds cops to be simply intolerable.
german

Contrast with the moment in Avengers where the old German man stands up to Loki. Of course it’s bold, if irresponsible, to stand up to magical men holding big laser sticks, but Alvy’s interaction with the cop is more elite grade bloody mindedness rather than bold and takes aim at the petty tyrannies in life and evil things (or roles) done by people who aren’t themselves evil. This unrest against the banality of evil is a reoccurring theme in many of his movies including Sleeper and Crimes and Misdemeanours. There is no righteous anger and no big showdown, unlike as at the end of Do the Right Thing, it’s just a quiet decision to say “fuck The Man” even if The Man is being fairly reasonable. It’s kind of punk rock but the downside it means he’s impossible to live with.


JOEL
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
Brain Teeth

I think this might just be my favourite Film Club thread so far… So erm let me see if I can mess things up a bit. I think I might have gone off the deep end a little bit here. (Please forgive me: but you know – I’m working through my own obsessions here…). And yeah I totally realise that the following is well… a little abstract and I’m sorry if it’s not to your taste (warning: it’s probably not going to be to your taste – unless your taste is overly intricate and flowery thought-experiments lol).

Mostly the things I’d say I’m most obsessed with are stories and meaning.
But well yeah maybe I should just say: brace yourself.

look

I’ve kinda had this rough idea in my head for a while now about a very basic and totally obvious kinda story that I’m just going to relate for you here but hey you know: don’t get your hopes up or anything – ok? The basic idea is this – there’s like this barren wasteland desert type place that’s all just dirt and sand and rocks and dirt and rocks and sand and right in the very middle of it – is this really big big rock – like: as big as a bus turned up on its side. And it’s made of this black rock that’s all jaded and stuff and has bits sticking out of it like the Game of Thrones throne made up out of our melted swords and right in the middle of it is this massive symbol that’s painted in white. This symbol is like a swirly circle with a dot in the middle and these lines coming up out of the underneath. It looks very old and cool and mysterious and very – important somehow. No one knows how long the symbol has been there for or who drew it: but it has these feeling that it emanates that makes it feel like it’s been there for a very very long time: like all ancient and stuff.

Now – in this wasteland are two separate tribes who’ve both been there before either of them can remember and this big black rock with the crazy white symbol lies directly in-between them both. So of course – seeing how they big black rock is so impressive looking and so high and grand and mighty that both the tribes are drawn to it and both of them get the same idea to worship it and make it the lodestone/bedrock of their crazy parochial tribe-like religion. Because of course – right? The big black rock and the crazy white symbol just – suggests it somehow. You’d be a fool not to worship it. It’s the best game in town and town – let me remind you – is basically just dirt and sand and rocks and dirt and rocks and sand.

But the split comes in what each tribe decides what the symbol means.

Tribe Number One for all sorts of various complicated psychological and historical reasons have come to the conclusion that The Crazy White Symbol means Life. It stands for the abundance of everything of the Sun in the sky, the animals that live everywhere from the smallest insect to the largest elephant – if you want to sum up the entirety of everything of the infinity diversity of every creature and how it lives – you draw the Crazy White Symbol. Because that’s what it means. Life! Like an Elton John song in a Disney movie you know? That whole kinda vibe and thing…

Tribe Number Two for all sorts of various complicated psychological and historical reasons (and stop me if you think you can already see where this is going) have come to the conclusion that The Crazy White Symbol means… Death.

Uh oh.

And so now we have a conflict.

lobster

Which – as far as I can see – is the basic conflict of all things everywhere. Because Person One from Tribe Number One will holler and scream at Person Two from Tribe Number Two that of course the Crazy White Symbol means Life and how dare Person Two try to dismiss that and doesn’t Person Two understand how important this is for people? And how this is the foundation of their very way of life? And rude and thoughtless and how lacking in empathy Person Number Two is for not getting this very simple fact and how the power structures of Tribe Two society are deliberately trying to keep down and victimize and disenfranchise Tribe Two people with all of their fake-news bullshit about the Crazy White Symbol meaning Death (I mean – who even says that?).

And of course Person Two says all the same stuff – but exactly the opposite. And how dare Person One not understand all this stuff when it’s all so obvious – and what are they? Stupid or insane or something? Can’t they’re just look at the Crazy White Symbol and see it? Swirly circle with a dot in the middle and these lines coming up out of the underneath: EVERYONE KNOWS THIS MEANS DEATH GODDAMNIT.

But then – hey: if you were there as an outside observer alien being and you wanted to try and bring peace to the situation – what would you say? Look at the power dynamics and declare the tribe that was most oppressed the winner? I mean – that seems like something that would be good (isn’t there some human trait that says we mostly tend to side with the underdog?) but I doubt it’s going to be very convincing to anyone from the other tribe.

actor

JUDGE: “We’re going to say that the swirly circle with a dot in the middle and these lines coming up out of the underneath means Death from now on – ok?”

PERSON ONE: “Wait – what? I mean: I might agree with the stated aims of justice, liberty and happiness to all and you’re welcome to legislate as much as you want – but thanks to all of the various complicated psychological and historical reasons alluded to before I’ve gotta say: when I look at the Crazy White Symbol – I’m gonna see Life and anyone who disagrees with me is just going to be all caps WRONG – ok?”

PERSON TWO: “Ah yeah – but actually – isn’t life a whole lot more complicated than this incredibly simplistic analogy. I mean: if you want to say that the Crazy White Symbol is a stand-in for whether or not Woody Allen is Guilty of Being a Disgusting Sex Offender / Creep or not then you’ve completely missed the mark – because in our world there are such things as power dynamics and the patriarchy and centuries and centuries of women being treated as second-class citizens so maybe you should just shut your mouth for once and accept someone’s else point of view for a change – who knows? It may even be good for you…”

JUDGE: “Wait – who are you talking to? Me – or Person One? Or the person writing this?”

PERSON ONE: “Ahem. I’d like to point out that stories are always simplistic by their very nature – and if you think you can compress the multi-faceted complexity of life into a few words then of course you’re going to end up being disappointed…”

JUDGE: “Then what’s the point of all this then?”

drink

PERSON TWO: “Hmmm – maybe the point is to illustrate that even tho there are complexities and other facts and features – so with the Woody Allen thing it’s looking at the case history or his movies or his personality or the wider social ramifications or even just other articles on the internet saying – whatever (link): that there’s a feature of how we think about stuff that means that we’re always going to be stuck inside our own heads – and while one person might look at a symbol or whatever and see that it means one thing – someone else might look at the very same thing and see the exact opposite.”

JUDGE: “And that’s a good place to start from because it means that hopefully maybe we’re less likely to get caught in the trap of taking up opposing sides and making it into a fight where the other person has to lose or whatever.”

PERSON ONE: “Well yeah – Fight Club is the next film so… can leave that til then?”

PERSON TWO: “I’m guessing that the basic point is that most of the meaning of the world exists inside our heads instead of actually in the world – right?”

JUDGE: “I guess. But if you say it like that then it sounds kinda lame. As with all things. LOL.”

PERSON: “Also maybe something about: how the other complicated thing is that it’s not just the world but also what we want to be true that affects how we see things. And etc. Speaking as someone who’s been victimised: I know it can be hard to see things and not think about how that stuff has hurt me. And even me saying this now and trying to be objective about it and go – well yeah maybe I’ve just developed a sensitivity – there’s also a part of me saying: BUT IT’S TRUE.”

better place

PERSON: “But then also: speaking as someone who’s had a life of privilege: I know it’s easy just to see the best in people and give them the benefit of a doubt and if there’s a reason to think that there’s just an unfortunate misunderstanding rather than people being cool, calculating and evil and abusive then well: that’s the thing I’d rather believe because I think that’s a healthier way to exist. Think the best of people and forgiveness at any cost: because otherwise we’re lost.”

PERSON: “Well – that’s easy for you to say.”

PERSON: “Well… that’s true too.”

PERSON: “Maybe the solution is always to try and see things from the other person’s point of view? And just to try to get to the point where instead of feeling like we’re different people each trying to gain the upper hand it feels more just like one person talking to themselves and trying to build and join and create something constructive that will illuminate and bring more joy into the world.”

PERSON: “Well – that’s easy for you to say too.”

PERSON: “But of course!”

But erm yeah anyway…

I watched Manhattan this week. (I mean all Woody Allen films are all basically the same – right?)

skeleton

The strangest thing was seeing Diane Keaton again. I mean having watched Annie Hall last weekend – her whole Annie Hall-ness was written on the inside of my mind like someone had used a biro on my brain so seeing her as Mary Wilkie (“I’m just from Philadelphia, you know?”) was all kinds of weird – like seeing a kinda Darkest Timeline version of Annie which kinda got me thinking: I mean how many movie actors are there around nowadays that actually really move around in terms of the roles they take on and do the whole proper acting transformation thing? Although: having said that I’ve gotta admit that because of the Annie Hall thing: I wasn’t quite convinced by the Mary Wilkie thing… because well: it just kinda seemed like Annie Hall pretending to be someone else. Don’t know tho if that’s more on me or more on Diana Keaton? Hmmm. Thinkingface.emoji.

But wait yeah – the whole 17 year old girl dating a twice-divorced 42 year old man thing – let’s look into this… Lift the covers up and see what we find: because yeah – this stuff is important and we should talk about it right?

Right.

I mean – first things first: just going on the abstract – it’s obviously kinda icky right? I mean I’m from the school of Half Your Age Plus 7 so you know late 20s is probably the youngest he should be dating. And yeah obviously the film is acting out a male fantasy of this cerebral intelligent man being attractive because of his quick wit and oh-so nasally accent alone. But then: aren’t all movies basically fantasies? Isn’t that what they’re there for? And you know: maybe we only start to get made when the fantasy isn’t for us? I don’t know….

streep

But then yeah – here’s the interesting part: apart from her being 17 (and please correct me if you think I’m wrong): but it doesn’t really seem like the movie really sexualises her… I mean: there’s no shot of her getting out of a swimming pool or something like that you know? (I’m tempted to post that shot of Carol Marcus from Star Trek into Darkness when she takes all of her clothes off for erm – no real reason? Or you know – any of the other thousands of shots from thousands of movies… But YOU ALL KNOW WHAT SEXUALISATION LOOKS LIKE SO). I mean like everyone else in a Woody Allen movie she seems like a real person with real thoughts and feelings and what we see in the film is only one small captured aspect of someone that exists beyond it…. Which you know: is a cool trick. And yeah ok: there is one scene when they’re in bed together but there’s a scene just like that in Annie Hall too and well shit – my memory of what it was like to be in a relationship tells me that: in bed together is where a lot of the interesting conversations happen – no?

I mean: in a nutshell that’s what I like about his movies: they’re mostly just about people hanging out and talking with other. And I dunno – normally I’d find that sort of thing deathly dull and nowhere near enough to sustain a movie (I wanna watch something where something happens) but his movies are so nicely constructed and all the characters and dialogue always pop in such an interesting and beguiling way that well you know – it just works. It’s you know – movie magic or whatever.

And whoops: still being on the defensive and giving him the benefit of the doubt (sorry) – but the 17 year old thing kinda reminds me of the whole Paul Rudd thing in Clueless you know? I mean yeah it’s distasteful / kinda creepy to date your ex-stepbrother / 17 year when you’re 42 but in terms of how the story works it’s the same thing: Josh in Clueless and Tracy in Manhattan are both in the “Not Realistically an Option” Zone for nearly all of their entire movies so that when that final twist comes – it’s a real twist you know?

Hmm

Of course: there’s the other side to all this – I mean on the Manhattan wikipedia page it says:

According to actress Stacey Nelkin, Manhattan was based on her romantic relationship with Woody Allen. Her bit part in Annie Hall ended up on the cutting-room floor, and their relationship started when she was 17 years old and a student at New York’s Stuyvesant High School.[10] Allen did not publicly acknowledge the relationship until 2014.[11]

So wow yeah: obviously we’re not just dealing with something that exists purely in the realm of art obviously obviously Woody Allen likes much younger women (it’s interesting tho that the [11] footnote links to this tho: OPINION Woody Allen Speaks Out By Woody Allen) and obviously he started dating his wife Soon-Yi when she was young (some parts of the internet say she was 17 others say she was in her early 20s – I mean: I don’t know who to believe) but shoot at the risk of sounding like a complete hippy: my general view of relationships is that as long as everyone involved is a responsible adult and everyone is having a good time and no one is being abused or exploited then I’m for it? I mean: the world is a harsh and unforgiving place and so if two people manage to find love then shouldn’t that be celebrated? Yeah ok – maybe it wrecked his relationship with his other children but well all relationships are complicated and well I don’t know – the general mainstream narrative around Woody Allen is that he’s a child abuser as opposed to: maybe he’s not the best dad in the world? Like well yeah – those are two different things? I mean: my relationship with my own father is completely toxic and I wouldn’t even choose to be in a room with him but there’s a world of difference between that and me thinking that he raped me when I was 7 years old you know? (Whoops sorry – too direct? Maybe I should stick to the abstract stuff?).

Also (oh dear) if you check Mariel Hemingway’s (Tracy in Manhattan) wikipedia page it says this:

In her memoir, Out Came The Sun (2015), Hemingway alleged that Allen attempted to begin a sexual relationship with her shortly after filming was completed, when she had turned 18. Hemingway successfully resisted his advances.[3][4][5]

Altho what’s interesting about that is when you click that first link the story seems less – I dunno? – sensational? than that:

After she turned 18, Hemingway says the 44-year-old director flew to her parents’ home in Idaho with the invitation. “Our relationship was platonic, but I started to see that he had a kind of crush on me, though I dismissed it as the kind of thing that seemed to happen any time middle-aged men got around young women,” Hemingway writes, according to a book excerpt obtained by Fox News. Although Hemingway told her parents she was unsure of the room and sleeping arrangements, her parents encouraged her to go. Hemingway vetoed both parties after she awoke in the middle of the night “with the certain knowledge” she was being duped into a sexual setup. She then went to her family’s guest room — where Allen was staying — and shook him, saying: “I’m not going to get my own room, am I? … I can’t go to Paris with you.” He left Idaho the next day.

Hemingway’s memoir details similarly presumptuous advances from other Hollywood heavyweights, including Bob Fosse, Robert DeNiro, and Robert Towne.

I mean “presumptuous” is an interesting word there right? Like: aren’t all advances presumptuous? Maybe this is why I’m still single…

And also yeah – I mean the other funny thing is Woody Allen and Soon-Yi got married in 1997 and are still married now. I mean – holy wow – a 20 year plus marriage in Hollywood? Like I don’t ready any celebrity gossip pages but erm – doesn’t that seem pretty good? I mean if we are weighing up the evidence etc? I don’t know…

Allen

Final thought that I know maybe it would be better for me just to keep to myself but also erm – I wonder how much of the whole Woody Allen narrative is helped by the fact that Woody Allen looks like Woody Allen? I mean Leonardo DiCaprio is 43 years old but spends lots of time with very young models etc like I dunno – some people think that’s cool and some people think it’s also creepy but I guess for me it’s still: as long as they’re all happy and not hurting anyone then: hell – good luck to them? I hope they’re happy. I hope the whole world is happy.

“You have to have a little faith in people.”


ELI
Twitter

um I haven’t read the most recent posts to this thread yet, so this won’t really be a response to them (or maybe it will, inadvertently – who knows). But there’s no way around it, at least for me – Annie Hall, which I hadn’t see for about 15 years and had completely forgotten, is a really good film. It’s so smartly written (like even just the asides – Jeff Goldblum on the phone at the LA party saying, “I forgot my MANTRA”) – and breezy, touching, tender, sad, a little glamorous and aspirational, and very very funny.

Also, as I think Jonathan said earlier here, it’s startling in its insight into adult relationships, like, that race to the bottom thing that happens when you trigger each other’s insecurities, in this case Annie’s belief that Alvy thinks she’s not clever, and Alvy’s belief Annie is more attracted to other men (her adult education professors, in particular). And try as you might, these clashing neuroses keep getting in the way of you being able to love each other, until it properly just isn’t working. My (jewish) friend told me yesterday that in jewish romcoms, the obstacles to love are always internal – your neuroses, i guess – and in gentile romcoms, the obstacles are external – comas, time zones, missed planes. Maybe it’s true, I dunno. Or maybe Woody Allen was just absolutely brilliant at depicting self-loathing, anxiety, insecurity – and arguably this is just the stuff of everyday life, and it’s a shame that so few filmmakers are so willing to explore it, or as capable of doing so, as Allen seemed to be in Annie Hall.

“You’re seeing an analyst? Yeah, just for 15 years.”

I miss this kind of thing. I mean, I’m properly interested in people’s psyches and whatnot, so a film like Annie Hall that just looks so closely – and yet with compassion – at being a total fuck-up/bit of a mess (take your pick) is a winner to me. EXCEPT…EXCEPT…wait a sec, I can’t go there yet. There’s something else I need to write about, and it’s not young Christopher Walken (though fuck, Christopher Walken! And Alvy saying: “I have to go now Duane because I’m due back on planet earth” –so good…)

Walken

It’s Diane Keaton. Obviously I’ll use any excuse to talk about manic pixie dream girls and my issues with them, but Diane Keaton in Annie Hall is one of the original MPDGs, and she is adorable and brilliant and girlcrush-worthy and I’m trying to figure out why it is that mostly when I see an MPDG in a movie nowadays I want to roll my eyes and shout at the screen ‘for fuck’s sake at LEAST give her a fucking personality’, I just want to be Annie Hall. Um. I think it’s just one of those fortunate things – a well-written role and an extremely likeable, odd, fascinating actress, maybe – a happy twist of fate, so, y’know, la-di-da. Like how I feel about Greta Gerwig these days, maybe. Also, this is a film where Alvy is able to look past Annie’s imperfections and weirdnesses – where she’s not as cool or “transplendent!” as Shelley Duvall’s character – and not as perfect-looking as the woman he takes to have lobsters with him after he and Annie break up – and he loves her despite the fact she doesn’t sit quite as well on screen, with her dude clothes and fidgetty body and nervous laugh, as maybe they do. And that’s pretty different from the great majority of movies women grow up on these days, where we are taught that the dude loves you cos you are Angelina Jolie.

Though did anyone else feel zero on-screen chemistry between Annie and Alvy? Like, minus zero? “Sex with you is a Kafka-esque experience”, says Shelley. Hmm. Um.

So that brings me onto the thing. I really like Ronan Farrow and think he is clearly a good egg and when all the shit hit the fan i read a bunch of harrowing articles last year and was 100% convinced of Allen’s guilt, though was also just SO confused by how someone who seems to have such good self-knowledge and is famous for airing his dirty laundry can have this one darkest secret that’s all locked up. I mean, it’s a classic, in a way, but it’s also, like, what kind of crazy double life is that? how do you not going totally fucking insane with the cognitive dissonance?

As an amateur psychological detective, there were a couple of moments in Annie Hall that really made me cringe. Like, to some degree I’m of the belief that ‘hurt people hurt’ – as with Junot Diaz, as Clementine mentioned above. But not always. And who knows what the fuck happened to Woody Allen in his own past, maybe nothing. But for a film that should have nothing to do with underage sex and pervy adults, there are more than a couple of ‘wtf?’ moments. Like Joey Nichols, the creepy adult male ‘family friend’ who pesters young Woody (well done the guardian for calling this the second funniest moment in the movie – no, it was fucking creepy); Alvy mentions child molesting in it, as an off-the-cuff joke; there’s that scene in the classroom where Woody Allen sits among those kids and talks of being sexually developed, and then there’s his mate out in LA telling him he’s shagging 16-year-old twins. “Twins, Max.”

I mean, I’m just doing terrible detective work here. None of this points to anything. I’m just saying that given the circumstances, this stuff ages really fucking poorly. And so there it is – not only a tainted filmmaker, and a tainted film, but random, unexpected bits of the film that are so cringe you just have to shake your head in dismay. The overall thing’s a mess. In fact, if you believe Dylan Farrow, to enjoy the film surely takes a cognitive dissonance that no-one can pull off. And I do believe her – and yet I still really like Annie Hall.

(One of the biggest problems, too, as an aside, is that Diane Keaton supports Woody Allen. So fucking difficult).

A couple of years ago I was stuck on a plane and watched the dismal Woody Allen movie ‘Irrational Man’. It was such astounding shite that I scribbled down the worst lines from it in my notebook, which was pretty much the whole screenplay by the end tbh. What fucked me off at first was that Joaquin Phoenix is a washed-up, self-obsessed drunken snore of a college professor but his colleague Parker Posey and student Emma Stone immediately fall for him, like this whiney fuck of a man is irresistible or something. And then, there’s a ludicrous murder plot. It wasn’t the ‘old dude, younger woman’ bollocks that felt really off as i finished watching it, or the shockingly bad script, it was that woody allen’s brain genuinely went ‘uh so let’s have a character who’s a depressive philosopher, let’s let him sleep with two sexy women, now let’s have him contemplate murdering someone AND CUE THE UPBEAT JAZZ SCORE’. Like, it was unnerving. The lack of moral seriousness. The lack of reflection, the shitty faux reflection instead. The perky jazz score that tried to carry the deranged, disturbing plot as though it was all just japes. It made me feel that the Woody Allen of Annie Hall was long gone, and some kind of programmed android without any real perception or understanding of humans had taken its place. What that means about him I don’t know – all I know, really, right now is that shit is very fucking weird – cos literally all I googled here was ‘Woody Allen’:

Google

They are both alive, right?

btw, for the interested, there’s a good interview with Ronan Farrow here about the allegations, and about the fact that this guy had grow up with his father Woody making a move on and then marrying his adopted sister Soon-Ye, gaaah fuck. I mean, I always get totally distracted by the Frank Sinatra stuff, but that’s obviously by the by. And then Mia Farrow’s other son won’t speak to her and accuses her of ‘brainwashing’, and her own brother is in jail for child molestation. I mean, the more you go down the Allen/Farrow rabbithole, the crazier it is. It all seems a world away from Annie Hall, and there’s something so sad and disappointing about that. Anyway, now I’d better go & read the rest of this thread…


JONATHAN
Barbican Comic Forum
Twitter

So I thought, having spent so much time defending Woody Allen, that I would come back just one more time concerning the issue of his character.

I was thinking today about the the soap store Lush. Now there’s only 2 things I know about Lush. 1. My kids like their glittery bath bombs 2. They earlier his year decided, as a full on posters-in-the-window marketing campaign, to take on the police. Specifically the under cover police who infiltrated environmental, animal rights and anti-arms protest groups. People who in any sane society would be applauded through the streets were instead targeted by the state leading to undercover cops not only spying on them but in some cases entering into sexual relationships with and even reportedly having children with them. So essentially state-sanctioned rape because these people might disrupt some fox hunters, or maybe embarrass the UK’s sale of torture equipment to repressive regimes.
Now Lush run a successful chain of soap stores, they don’t have to do anything more than sell soap and no one would expect them to. The fact that they decided to take on the cops on a very serious and under-discussed issue is amazing and for that they will always have my loyalty when it comes to my infrequent purchase of bath paraphernalia.
Lush
So what has this got to do with Woody Allen? Well because I like Woody Allen’s movies and I also feel some loyalty to him for making films that speak to the decaying husk ironically referred to as my conscience. However I was very bored to hear him say he said he should be poster boy for #MeToo. His reasoning was because there have been no complaints against him from actresses and also because he wrote meaningful roles for women in his films. Here’s the thing though, I realise that may be quite a claim in the nightmare hellscape that is Hollywood, but it is also the case that you’re not actually supposed to have complaints against you. And if you are a professional writer you are supposed to write meaningful roles for women, so don’t try to take credit for stuff your supposed to do you low expectation having motherfucker!
Ok, so let’s acknowledge that these roles are really great, leading to many academy awards for individual actresses. Good, but what did he do that was positive for women?  What risks did he take? He just worked his way through a number of already successful stars and he wants a fucking parade for giving women dialogue. Hardly at the spearhead of the campaign for equality. Which makes me think that, like Spike Lee, he’s just coasting on some Reagan era level of egalitarianism back when things were so awful you got enlightenment points for acknowledging women and people of colour were actually human. Just in the last week in that article with Soon Yi in New York magazine he takes pains to point out he tried to give money to Hilary Clinton, as if that were some signal of political action, it just left me pinching my nose at a level of political vacuity from this “genius” that still fails to meet the standards of a soap manufacturer.
Paper Street Soap

Ok. One last thing before it’s over.
I’ve been rereading Junk by Melvin Burgess. Read it as a kid and thought it’d be interesting to go back and see what it was like (also well yeah I work in a Children’s Library so yeah lol). The thing that I’m finding really interesting about reading it this time is the way that each chapter switches between a different person. The main two characters are a kid called Tar and a kid called Gemma. Both of them are runaways and both of them are going to become junkies (altho I haven’t got that far yet). They both run away to Bristol and find some squatters who help put them up. The only issue is – the squatters think that Tar was right for running away from home (his father beats him and his mother is an alcoholic) while they think that Gemma is just a spoilt kid and should just go home (her parents don’t beat her and they’re not alcoholics – they’re just well – very authoritarian).
The thing that kinda gives you a sense of mental whiplash as you read it is that you start off inside Gemma’s head and the view from there is that yeah – her parents are horrible and abusive and un-understanding. But then when they’re in Bristol one of the chapters give you someone else’s point of view and you’re like: oh wow yeah Gemma is just a spoilt kid but then next chapter – you’re back inside Gemma’s head again and you’re like: oh god why won’t these people just understand?
(You can probably see where I’m going with this).
gulp
Jonathan mentioned the Soon-Yi article from a few days ago: Introducing Soon-Yi Previn. I don’t know how many of you read it. Maybe you’d prefer not to. Which of course is understandable. Like I read it and was like: well – ok. That’s one person’s point of view. And well – that sounds like a really fucked up family:
Thaddeus died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and a decade and a half before that, Tam, the blind orphan from Vietnam, died at 19 of heart failure, according to Mia and published reports at the time. But based on what he says Thaddeus told him, Moses insists that Tam’s death was a suicide caused by an overdose of pills. Lark also died in tragic circumstances. Living in poverty, she was 35 when she died, in 2008, from AIDS-related pneumonia.

I mean – obviously that’s just really sad.

In the Soon-Yi article Mia Farrow doesn’t come across well at all. Like she sounds majorly abusive and neglectful and there’s a few bits of it that made me flinch as I read it. But that doesn’t make me hate Mia Farrow or think that she’s a bad person. Like: first of all: it’s just Soon-Yi’s view of the relationship which has obviously been coloured by a lot of shit since. Like: it would be interesting to read Mia Farrow’s recollection on all of those years raising a child. And shit – well: even if it true: my experience on this planet has taught me that only people who carry around a lot of hurt and anger and misery are abusive. Like: if you’re not able to give love to your loved ones that means that you’re in a fucked up place – and the thing you need isn’t condemnation and scorn. You need therapy and love and understanding and forgiveness.

Which well yeah – I guess is my whole message. Forgiveness and understanding at any cost. Because that is the only thing that will make anything/anyone better. Yes I know that if you’ve been hurt your instinct is to want to hurt in return and that’s totally understandable. And maybe our celebrities / famous people are there to be lightning rods for all the sewage of society that we can’t fix in any other way: so you know – instead of trying to deconstruct and mend the major systematic problems of our messed-up and insane society: we turn film directors into pariahs.

I think I disagree with everything Jonathan wrote in his last email (sorry dude). I mean: I don’t know how good this soap is – but I’m pretty sure that they haven’t added value and joy to my life in the same way that Woody Allen’s films have. Also: fuck corporations. All they want is our money. And any pretence of values or morality that they pretend to have is only there because they’ll think you’ll spend more money.

Also: being a human is hard enough and lonely enough that I think just getting through your day without harming other people is the level we should all try to meet. And well yeah – in terms of humanising all of the characters in his films (whatever their gender) I think that’s enough you know? The idea that a film should be a celebration of people’s identities or whatever (which seems to be the phase we’re going through at the moment) so far… hasn’t really produced any good films? (But that’s discussion for another day lol).

Plane

But in conclusion I guess what I wanted to say is that empathy is not a finite resource and it’s possible to try to believe everyone and see that – oh wow – everyone has a point of view and the thing that’s going to benefit us all is if we all come together and just try our best understand it all – you know? And well – with understanding comes forgiveness (or maybe it’s the other way round? I don’t know).

And I didn’t quite know where to put this so I guess I’ll just leave it here: here’s a very interesting and illuminating interview with Samantha Geimer (who was the girl raped by Roman Polanski when she was 13 years old): Nobody’s Victim: An Interview with Samantha Geimer.

(I’d recommend it to everyone).

Peace out. x

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