The First 10 Minutes Of Annie Hall Told Me Everything I Need To Know About Woody Allen
Unless you’re Scarlett Johansson, you’ve probably figured out that supporting Woody Allen in a post-‘Me Too’ world is a Big No. Honestly, that’s some bullsh*t. People keep acting as if treating women with common human decency is, like, some new concept invented Alyssa Milano in 2017 when it’s something we should have been thinking about as a society for decades. The ‘Me Too’ hashtag isn’t even actually new — it was invented by a black woman named Tarana Burke back in 2006 when MySpace was still the most efficient method of organizing communities. But, no, we only started caring about women as a collective when some actress from Charmed brought up the issue. Still, it’s better late than never, and America has finally agreed that assaulting women shouldn’t just be a quirky footnote in the life stories of powerful men.
Woody exists in a strange limbo between reckoning and willful ignorance with no shortage of think pieces asking why he’s been left out of the Me Too conversation, ironically making him part of the narrative while questioning his absence from it. Selena Gomez and Timothée Chalamet faced backlash for choosing to work with him, but people will still hesitantly list Manhattan or Zelig among their favorite films to a chorus of understanding shrugs. It’s not an acquittal for the most heinous allegation leveraged against him of sexually assaulting his adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow when she was seven years old, but it’s not the outright rejection that we’d like to believe other artists would face under similar circumstances, especially when it’s compounded with Woody’s iffy-but-legal relationship with Soon-Yi Previn. For anyone who’s been living under a rock (or was born in the past decade, in which case, why are you reading this?), Soon-Yi wasn’t exactly Woody’s step-daughter, she was just the adopted daughter of Woody’s then-wife, Mia Farrow, which is basically the same thing. She also wasn’t exactly underage, she was just 34 years Woody’s junior, finishing up high school when they started dating, and the two met when she *was* underage. On its own, the Soon-Yi of it all is just a weird, icky family issue that’s none of our business. In the greater context of Dylan’s accusations, Woody’s relationship with a high school student during the making of Annie Hall (which he admitted to in The New York Times), and his many unproduced stories about adult men in relationships with teen girls as detailed in The Washington Post, it’s a weird, icky family issue that is definitely our business and another straw on a camel’s back that should have broken a long time ago.
All of that is to say, in a culture that’s often too quick to cancel, Woody has remained outside of the fray for far too long. Fans (or, at the very least, reticent former fans) argue that Woody’s work stands in a league of its own, and they don’t sound altogether different from Michael Jackson supporters talking about their decision to stand by the King of Pop even after Finding Neverland rode the coattails of Surviving R. Kelly into the zeitgeist. Before the allegations, Woody was simply a beloved filmmaker. Just look at Annie Hall: Best Picture winner, an AFI greatest film in American cinema, Roger Ebert’s favorite Woody Allen movie. But, really, look at Annie Hall. If you have any doubts about Woody’s guilt, your questions should be answered in the first ten minutes of his best-known work.
It’s hard knowing I watched Annie Hall after knowing, at least tangentially, about Woody’s various scandals. It would be dishonest to say my viewing wasn’t partially colored by what I already knew about his not-so-private life, but for whatever reason, I had decided to watch the film with fresh eyes in an attempt to learn what about Woody Allen’s Annie Hall so endeared it to a generation of comedy writers, my heroes. As it turns out, separating art from artist is pretty difficult when everything about the art is screaming, “Hey, look at the artist! He’s a bit of a pedo!”
Woody Allen’s Annie Hall starts with a monologue not unlike modern stand up comedy, where Woody explains that he’ll be virile in his old age and quickly pivots to his childhood depression and pre-pubescent sexual precociousness. Sexualizing children as a child is, honestly, still a little strange, but it’s less strange than an adult man placing himself in the shoes of a child sexualizing other children. That the object of his affection is clearly upset by his physical advances is played for laughs and isn’t used as a learning experience — an adult Woody-as-Alvy jumps into the narrative to ask why it was wrong to express a healthy sexual curiosity. The fact that, by age 40, he hadn’t realized that the non-consensual female body isn’t a vessel for his sexual experiments is enough of a red flag, but we’re only five minutes into the film. The kids then tell us, the audience, where they are today as adults. One is the president of a plumbing company. Another sells taliths. A third is addicted to meth. The button of the bit? A little girl who’s into leather.
All this, in a film that’s ultimately about a thinly veiled representation of Woody, whose relationships with women fail because he chooses young, developing partners, molds them, and raises them in his image, then loses interest once they become fully formed adults with opinions and agency of their own. This, in a film whose enduring joke is that Alvy, in his neuroses, tears his good (adult) friend away from an illegal, incestuous tryst with a pair of 16-year-old twins, where the pedophilia of it all isn’t the butt of the joke, but the friend’s missed opportunity. This, in a movie where Diane Keaton’s Annie is portrayed as a character in the children’s film Snow White, not even attempting to shy away from the vague connection between Annie and a child. Woody’s self-awareness of some of these issues doesn’t excuse his admittedly toxic behavior, which the film’s coda deems neurotic love. His obvious fears about aging also don’t justify his fetishization of youth, which has arguably gone a bit further than the disturbing national fetishization of youth we’ve been conditioned to accept as normal since birth. Put into context with Woody’s on-set relationship with high school student Stacey Nelkin that he then allegedly used as the inspiration for an Academy Award-nominated film about yet another Woody stand-in dating a teen (obviously, Manhattan), this feels more like a predator hiding in plain sight.
But tell me again how Woody Allen’s Annie Hall stands on its own.
P.S. If a man buys you books about death, dump his ass.