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Woody Allen must be presumed innocent

Those were the days, when it was about the art…

The Mia Farrow-Woody Allen fight has become unseemly. Actually, it reached the unseemly point a while ago.

I put Farrow’s name first because she appears to be the one who wants this fight the most, and because she seems to be using her children, natural and adopted, as her weapons in her long-running family feud with Allen. My understanding is that she has been doing this for many years now.

I was sexually abused by a family member, so I don’t need to be told that I am minimizing sexual abuse. I am not.

My central problem with the Farrow-Allen fight is that if you peel away its layers, at its core appears to be Farrow’s hatred of Allen, which probably is mutual. The core of the fight does not seem to be any real, good-faith intention to educate the public about the problem of sexual abuse.

The core intention of Farrow and her surrogates, such as her son Ronan and now her daughter Dylan, seems to be to tell the world, “You think that Woody Allen is so fucking great? Ha! No, he’s a child molester!”

And maybe Allen did sexually abuse adopted daughter Dylan Farrow when she was 7 years old in 1992, as alleged. (While Mia Farrow and Woody Allen never married in the more than 10 years that they were together, they did adopt two children together, including Dylan.) But as Allen was never even criminally tried for such an act, we have to presume him innocent until and unless a criminal court deems him otherwise.

It’s possible that Allen is guilty as charged, but it seems to me that it also is possible that, as Allen’s attorney has posited, Mia Farrow, in the throes of a messy breakup, planted the idea in the young Dylan Farrow’s mind that Allen had sexually abused her. (“In my view she’s not lying; I think she truly believes this happened,” Allen’s attorney is quoted as having said of Dylan, adding, “When you implant a story in a fragile 7-year old’s mind, it stays there forever; it never goes away.”)

Indeed, if it’s true that a home video that Mia Farrow shot of the young Dylan asking her (grilling her? I don’t know; I haven’t seen the video) about the alleged incident is full of in-camera edits (starts and stops), it certainly indicates that some off-camera coaching by mama went on.

In any case, absent a court conviction, the Mia Farrow-Woody Allen fight, in my book, remains unresolved, and because we just don’t know what did or did not actually happen, because we were not there, it’s pointless to take a firm side in the fight, and it seems to me that male-phobic women of course are going to knee-jerkedly side with Mia Farrow and that female-phobic men of course are going to knee-jerkedly side with Woody Allen; it’s yet another Rorschach test, in which the individual sees what she or he is predisposed to see.

I don’t side with either Farrow or Allen, although I do find it unfortunate that Farrow probably will be remembered more for her messy breakup and post-breakup fight with Allen than for her acting — and she turned in some great performances. She might be remembered as the actress who was bitter because her ex found much more post-breakup fame and success than she did, and it’s too bad that that casts a pall over the art that she created.

And yes, I do tend to believe that art and intra-family squabbles and other interpersonal and intrapersonal problems should be kept separate. Art is beautiful and intra-family squabbles and interpersonal and intrapersonal problems are ugly. Art belongs in public for all to see; intra-family squabbles usually belong within the family.

No, I’m not suggesting that the actual victims of sexual abuse at the hands of a family member keep quiet about it. Of course they should not; and the sexual abuse of minors always should be reported to law enforcement authorities. And Dylan, now 28, certainly has not been silent about the allegations against Allen; she recently penned a piece about them for the New York Times, which she began thusly:

What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.

Dylan concludes her piece like this:

What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?

Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse.

So imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter.

Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?

The slam against actors and actresses who have worked with Allen, as though they were firm advocates of the sexual abuse of children, is gratuitous and unfair and ultimately sadly pathetic, and Dylan’s piece still seems more aimed at undercutting Allen’s stature and fame than anything else — giving her the appearance of being her mother’s long-standing pawn — and, having read Dylan’s piece, I still cannot say with confidence whether Allen actually sexually abused her those years ago or whether Mia Farrow, in the throes of a rampage over a messy breakup, really fucked up the young Dylan’s mind.

And you cannot either.

Because you were not there, either.

Until and unless something were to happen, such as Allen issuing a videotaped deathbed confession (without in-camera edits…), the only fair, logical answer to the question “Did Woody Allen sexually abuse his daughter Dylan?” that I could have as I type this sentence is: I do not know. I was not there.

I hope that he did not, but I just don’t know whether he did or not.

In the meantime, I do, to at least some degree, separate a work of art (or attempted work of art) from the personal life of its creator. For instance, to my recollection I haven’t read any of Ernest Hemingway’s novels (I know — I’m bad…), but if I did read one of his novels, I wouldn’t be thinking the whole time, “This guy was a drunk who killed himself; he was a real fucking mess, so all of his writing is trash.”

No, I would judge a Hemingway novel by its own merits, and I do that with Woody Allen’s films.

Some of Allen’s films are pretty good; some of them are pretty bad, especially compared to his better films.*

The Mia Farrow-Woody Allen breakup and post-breakup warring (very apparently instigated mostly if not entirely by Farrow) is, to me, outside of that fact.  

*I will answer, seriously, Dylan Farrow’s snarky concluding question, “Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?”, which very apparently is supposed to make me feel incredibly guilty for ever having enjoyed any of Allen’s cinematic work — because of her alleged sexual abuse at his hands.

It is hard to pick just one Woody Allen film as my favorite, but I suppose that if I had to whittle it down, “Alice” would be my favorite.

In my top 10 also probably would be “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Zelig,” “Husbands and Wives,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Midnight in Paris.” (While I loved Cate Blanchett’s performance in “Blue Jasmine,” I found the screenplay lacking. Indeed, in my book, Blanchett’s acting is all that gave that film any real value.)

Indeed, Mia Farrow and Woody Allen had, I think, a great run together; it’s too bad that it has come to the airing of their filthy family laundry in public.

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‘Tree of Life’: For critics or for viewers?

Film review

“The Tree of Life” (which contains all of the images above, among many, many, many others): Great art or the self-indulgent, inaccessible pretensions of a baby boomer growing ever closer to death?

It is telling that (as I type this sentence, anyway) Yahoo! Movies shows American director Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” as having garnered an “A-” from film critics — and only a “C+” from the common folk.

The question then becomes, I think, whether the film is flawed or whether the film is just above the audience’s head.

“The Tree of Life” spectacularly peculiarly alternates between the very apple-pie story of a white middle-class family in the suburbs of Texas in the 1950s, patronized by Brad Pitt — and “2001: A Space Odyssey”-like grand views of the cosmos, views of dramatic geological events here at home (lots o’ lava, that is), and micro-views, such as that of a developing embryo (which we also saw in “2001,” and the same guy who did the special effects for “2001” [which was released the year that I was born] was involved with the special effects for “The Tree of Life,” and thus the deja vu). And throw in a lot of surrealism involving our real-life characters, such as an apparent family reunion in the afterlife on an ephemeral beach. Oh, and dinosaurs, too.

In “Tree of Life” Sean Penn plays the grown-up eldest son of Pitt’s character — and Penn apparently is the stand-in for Malick, kind of like one of Woody Allen’s stand-ins for himself — but Penn actually isn’t in the film all that much. It’s mostly Pitt, but Pitt does a great job, as he usually does, and the child actors also impress with their very natural acting.

The main problem with “The Tree of Life,” I think, is that the previews make it look like a Pitt-and-Penn vehicle with a little bit of artsy-fartsy stuff thrown in there, but the actual film is two hours and 15 minutes of an awful lot of artsy-fartsy stuff thrown in there. American audiences, at least, aren’t, I surmise, ready to go back and forth among watching Brad Pitt playing a family man in 1950s suburbia and Sean Penn playing his reminiscing grown-up son and watching Carl-Saganesque grand cosmic events and more down-to-Earth lava flows and even dinosaur politics.

(The French, however, have loved “The Tree of Life,” which they awarded the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival…)

Don’t get me wrong. The dinosaurs in “The Tree of Life” are quite well done, perhaps the best technically done dinosaurs to hit the silver screen thus far in cinematic history. I’d love to see a feature-length film about dinosaurs made by Malick — even if the dinosaurs aren’t anthropomorphized, even if there is no plot, so to speak, even if it’s just the dinosaurs hanging out and being dinosaurs. (Actually, I don’t like it when critters are inappropriately anthropomorphized, such as in Disney’s “documentary” “African Cats,” even though its target audience is children.)

And the story of the humans in “The Tree of Life” probably would have made a much better stand-alone film, stripped of the “2001”-like surrealism of cosmic vomiting and universal diarrhea, in which creation often rather violently explodes all over the place.

Indeed, not long into “Tree of Life” it occurred to me that just as they hand you your 3-D glasses before you view a 3-D movie, they should give you a joint to inhale (or maybe a bong would be less cleanup afterward) before you view the surreal “Tree of Life.” Then you’ll love it.

I suppose that there are two general camps when it comes to art. One camp maintains that art is whatever the artist wants it to be. Therefore, highly personal art is perfectly acceptable, probably even more preferable to art meant for the masses, to this camp. The more inaccessible, the better — the more artistic/“artistic” — some if not most of those in this camp seem to believe.

The other camp, which I favor, believes that art should be accessible, that art should communicate, or at least touch those who experience it, and that if the artist does not touch his audience, then the artist has failed.

It probably isn’t an over-generalization to state that we might call the camp of artistic/“artistic” inaccessibility the French Camp and the camp of accessibility the American Camp. Those in the American Camp often view those in the French Camp as pretentious. Those in the French Camp don’t really understand the incomprehensible art that they claim to understand, those in the American Camp believe (and thus the charge of pretension), and I tend to agree.

But art doesn’t have to be comprehensible, doesn’t have to be logical and rational and linear. As I stated, as long as the art touches you, in my book, then the artist has succeeded.

It is true that with American audiences, Malick had an uphill battle making such an impressionist film that would be well received (if he really even cared at all how it would be received by American audiences, indeed). Americans aren’t used to impressionism in their movies. American audiences are used to realism, to literalism, to fairly clear, point-A-to-point-Z plots.

“The Tree of Life” has elements that succeed, but in my eyes with the film Malick fails as an artist because his film goes on for so long, and becomes so ponderous and so difficult to experience, that he loses his (at-least-American) audience. In the audience that I was in, I think that most if not all of us were ready for the film to be over at least a half-hour before it actually ended, and at the end of the film we felt only the type of satisfaction that a long-suffering cancer patient might feel during the last few moments of euthanasia.

I’m down with the dinosaurs, and I am open-minded enough to be able to give a chance to a film that tries to capture Life, the Universe and Everything, but in my book when the viewer just wants it all to be over already, please please please God just make it end!, the artist probably has done something wrong.

I get the impression with “The Tree of Life” that the 67-year-old Malick had two films inside of him trying to claw their way out of his chest cavity like identical twin aliens a la “Alien,” but that he was concerned that if he didn’t put them into one film, he might not live long enough to get both films made, so he put both of the films into a blender.

Again, either of these two films probably would have been or at least could have been great, Malick’s ode to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” (and to “Jurassic Park”) or Malick’s very personal (perhaps too personal) recap of his own childhood as an American baby boomer having grown up in Texas.

Malick’s fellow baby boomer Roger Ebert ate up* “The Tree of Life,” which, while apparently is accessible to white American baby boomers who grew up in families that were at least middle class, isn’t as accessible to the rest of us. (I, as a member of Generation X “raised” by and surrounded by baby boomers, had quite a different experience growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. Yeah, my memories of childhood are not so fucking idyllic.)

So we come back to the question as to whether a film succeeds even if it loses most of its viewers (here in the United States, anyway, since I am an American writing this review primarily for my fellow Americans). I say that it does not. (Again, the French, apparently, say that it does [indeed, a good number of them apparently believe that if a film is comprehensible, then it is shit].)

So, while I appreciate Malick’s technical achievements — again, love those dinosaurs, and he directed his child actors masterfully — I cannot ignore the fact that as patient as I am, “The Tree of Life” wore out its welcome, wore out my patience, and apparently wore out my fellow audience members’ patience even more so and even more quickly than it wore out mine. A good film, it seems to me, makes you regretful, not relieved, at having to leave the movie theater at film’s end.

And again, unlike Roger Ebert, I cannot ignore what doesn’t work in “The Tree of Life” — such as the apparently uber-pretentious scene, among many apparently pretentious scenes, that has Sean Penn walking through a door frame that is erected in the middle of nowhere — and focus on how great it is to take a stroll down Baby-Boomer Memory Lane, because I think that I can relate to the lives of the dinosaurs a lot more than I can relate to the reportedly idyllic childhoods of the baby boomers, who made my childhood much less idyllic than theirs.

“The Tree of Life,” as a whole, fails (at least here in the United States of America) because it loses its (American) audience.

And the grade for failure is an “F.”

My grade: F

(I surmise that Yahoo!’s commoners give the film an average grade of “C+” only because some people will give a movie a decent grade if there are at least some scenes that they liked and because there are plenty of pretentious, “artistic” people who will claim to have appreciated and understood an incomprehensible film.)

*Ebert swoons:

I don’t know when a film has connected more immediately with my own personal experience. In uncanny ways, the central events of “The Tree of Life” reflect a time and place I lived in, and the boys in it are me. If I set out to make an autobiographical film, and if I had Malick’s gift, it would look so much like this.

Yeah, like I said, I had a different life experience…

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It stinks in Paul Le Pew’s Maine

The Repugnican Tea Party governor of Maine — a stupid white man, of course, named Paul LePage — wants to remove a 36-foot-wide, 11-panel mural depicting the state’s labor-movement history that exists in the lobby of the state’s Department of Labor in its capital of Augusta. Oh, and while he’s at it, he wants the conference room that’s named after labor-movement icon Cesar Chavez renamed.

Why?

Because the name of Cesar Chavez and the mural — which depicts such scenes as child labor, the introduction of the secret ballot for labor-union votes, and a shoe-mill strike and a paper-mill strike (and which you can view here) — is too potentially offensive to business interests.

A Maine newspaper reports that

According to LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt, the administration felt the mural and the conference room monikers showed “one-sided decor” not in keeping with the department’s pro-business goals. [“Pro-business goals”? WTF?]

“The message from state agencies needs to be balanced,” said Demeritt, adding that the mural had sparked complaints from “some business owners” who complained it was hostile to business.

Demeritt declined to name the businesses.

The mural was erected in 2008 following a jury selection by the Maine Arts Commission and a $60,000 federal grant. Judy Taylor, the artist from Seal Cove, said Tuesday that her piece was never meant to be political, simply a depiction of Maine’s labor history.

This is the state’s Department of Labor that we’re talking about, but LePage, in typical Repugnican Tea Party fashion, has his allegiance straight: the interests of the rich and the super-rich over the interests of the common person. (Ironically, in his probably-exaggerated, Dickensian website biography, LePage claims to be “The oldest son of eighteen children in an impoverished, dysfunctional family” who “left home at the age of 11 to escape domestic violence and lived on the streets of Lewiston for two years, making a meager living shining shoes” [which apparently means that he now thus has the license to do whatever the fuck he wants to do].)

Following LePage’s “logic,” perhaps any pro-health murals or other images in the state’s public health department and in the state’s and the state’s counties’ hospitals and clinics should be removed. Why? Well, these pro-health images might be — gasp! — offensive to business! After all, the tobacco, alcohol and junk food industries’ profits will slump if we are too successful at promoting healthy lifestyles. And so will Big Pharma’s. And the wealth care industry’s in general. And that would be un-American! (What are you, a Commie?)

The Repugnican Tea Party’s plan for the nation is clear: to hand over all public property, all public functions and all public powers to the businesses and the corporations so that there is no “public” anything left. Even the state of Maine’s labor department, under the thumb of the state’s stupid white male Repugnican Tea Party governor, is supposed to exist not for the benefit of the state’s laborers, but for the benefit of the laborers’ employers.

Under the Repugnican Tea Party worldview, anything and everything can be and should be subverted to serve only the rich and the super-rich. Fuck the people!

How this is not treason — to act against the best interests of the majority of the people for the monetary interests of the rich and the super-rich few — escapes me, yet it is the Repugnican Tea Party that claims to have the monopoly on patriotism.

I guess that I’m a tea-bagger, because I believe wholeheartedly that we sorely need another American Revolutionary War, to be sure: but this needs to be a revolutionary war against the treasonous plutocratic few who are a de facto monarchy — and against those traitors who aid and abet these traitors — who tell us, the people, that we need to sacrifice even more even though income disparity for some years now has matched the levels of the income disparity of the 19fucking20s.

Now more than ever during most of our lifetimes, laborers need more protections, yet Paul Le Pew and his treasonous ilk are telling us that right now laborers need even fewer.*

This shit stinks.

P.S. I have to note that this current event reminds me of the historical event in which plutocrat Nelson A. Rockefeller in the 1930s hired Mexican artist Diego Rivera to paint a mural on a wall of  the Rockefeller Center in New York City. Rockefeller never allowed the public to view the completed mural (he had it covered up) and he later had the mural chiseled off of the wall because he found the mural to be too subversive to business interests. 

Of course, a huge difference here is that Rockefeller’s family owned the center, whereas Gov. Le Pew does not own his state’s labor department building; the people of Maine do. And Gov. Le Pew should not be acting like a Nelson Fucking Rockefeller — he should be acting like a governor who was elected to do the most amount of good for the most amount of people.

*The New York Times on this news story notes that “LePage has repeatedly clashed with labor unions since his inauguration in January. He is pushing for a higher retirement age for public employees and for ‘right-to-work’ legislation that would allow union members to stop paying dues or fees.”

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