The subject of our dilemma is a short, entirely unprepossessing-looking, just-turned-61 Manhattan Jew with thinning hair, thick-rimmed specs and an oversized tweed coat, called Woody Allen. For Allen addicts, this past week has brought only more confusion. The good news is that that there is a new film on its way to you; it is a musical, it is light and exuberant, and the critics in the US mostly raved about it. But there is some depressing news, too. You want to hear about it, or don't you?
It is, I fear, more about Mia Farrow. Almost five years have elapsed since Allen's spectacular break-up in 1992 from Farrow, his actress lover of 12 years, but the fall-out from that split - and from all of the accompanying allegations of sexual abuse and undertones of incest - is still falling. Last Thursday, the New York judge who has been presiding over the ensuing legal battles between the two, Supreme Court Justice Elliott Wilk, reaffirmed the strict limits placed on Allen's access to the two children who sprang from the relationship: Dylan, their adopted daughter, now 11, and their biological son, Satchel, 9.
Judge Wilk denied Allen all access to Dylan, whom he has not seen for four years. He did, however, agree to a resumption of once-a-week visits only with Satchel, but under strict supervision in the offices of the boy's therapist in Connecticut. In his findings, however, Judge Wilk also took the opportunity to flagellate Woody for indulging in what he termed "narcissism at its opaque and destructive worst" in refusing to give up his pursuit of the children. "It confirms that Mr Allen still has little understanding or empathy with respect to the emotional well-being of his children," the judge wrote.
The ruling was a severe setback for Allen, who still refuses to let the custody issue go. His lawyers have already said they will appeal against the decision, as they have all the others. But Allen let it be known last week that he might actually dedicate one of his next films to treating the whole saga of his court confrontation with Farrow, documentary-style. He even has a title in mind: "An Error in Judgement". The error would be a reference to the rulings of Judge Wilk, not to anything Allen did.
What he did was fall in love with Soon-Yi Previn. The bomb between Farrow and Allen exploded when she discovered nude photographs of Soon-Yi, her then 19-year-old adopted daughter from her former marriage to Andre Previn, in Allen's apartment. Allen subsequently admitted that he was having a relationship with Soon-Yi, who had been orphaned in Korea. (Indeed, the two are still together. She, now 26, is living in his Fifth Avenue apartment and studies at Columbia University on the other side of Central Park.) The relationship was not actually incestuous; neither Farrow nor Allen was a biological parent to Soon-Yi. Nor, for that matter, were Farrow and Allen ever married themselves, or even living together - their apartments were separated by the Park. But for most people, even the fans, the revelation that Allen had been sleeping with Soon-Yi was well beyond the bounds of acceptability.
"People think I fell in love with my daughter. They couldn't tell the difference between my real daughter and Soon-Yi Previn," Allen protests in a long interview published last week in the New Yorker magazine. Things got harder still for the comedian when Farrow accused him of having sexually abused Dylan. The allegations and the hearings that followed sent New York's tabloid press into a drooling frenzy. Allen was never formally charged, but reputations do not heal quickly from such events.
The indignation voiced last week by Judge Wilk may have stemmed from Allen's request that he be allowed not only to see Dylan and Satchel (now renamed Eliza and Sean by Ms Farrow) on alternate weekends, but that the visits be unsupervised and attended by Soon-Yi herself. Making his ruling, Judge Wilk cited reports from therapists who have treated the children. For any father, they would make disheartening reading. Dylan is resolute in her wish never to see Allen again. The very thought of seeing him gives Satchel nightmares and stomach ache. The boy's anxieties, according to one report, by Dr Leonard Diamond, arise from "his anger toward his father for disrupting his family by having a relationship with Soon-Yi, and from memories ... during which he would be physically abusive to him".
Allen is not about to give up, however. He told the New Yorker: "The children's best interests have not been served at all well. Murderers, dope addicts, people in prison - convicted people - are allowed to see their children. I wasn't even charged with anything, and I'm not allowed to see them."
The American release last week of the new Allen musical only adds poignancy to his latest travails. It is called Everyone Says I Love You, is funny, lyrical and, thanks mostly to ballads like Cole Porter's "Looking at You", upbeat and sentimental. It is replete with attractive stars, from Goldie Hawn to Alan Alda, Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore, all of whom are obliged to sing the numbers themselves (only Barrymore is dubbed). Centred on the tangled lives and loves of an upscale East Side family, it also features Allen himself as the anxiety-ridden ex-husband of Hawn, living in Paris and fretting about finding the perfect woman. He eventually lands Roberts, thanks to inside information about her fantasies supplied by someone who has been eavesdropping on her therapy sessions (here we go).
Allen says that making comic films is in part about offering his audiences, and himself, a break from the world outside. "I've always felt that people can't take too much reality," he tells the New Yorker. "I like being in Ingmar Bergman's world. Or in Louis Armstrong's world ... You spend your whole life searching for a way out. You just get an overdose of reality, you know, and it's a terrible thing." By choosing to make a musical, Allen was apparently hoping to take us a step further into fantasy - and away from Farrow and all the rest of it.
"Perhaps in some way my relationship with Soon-Yi has had a salubrious effect. I'm willing to play more and be more playful," he said. "I thought, I want to enjoy myself. I want to hear those songs from over the decades that I loved so much. I want to see those people on Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue. It comes from what I wish the world was really like."
Last week, just as the film opened in New York (though for one week only, to ensure eligibility for the Oscars), up popped Judge Wilk to spoil it all. Allen cannot escape his realities. One request we might make of him, though: don't foist it on us all over again with your documentary project. We may not agree with your thesis about who erred. And in any case, we are much happier with Cole Porter and anxiety attacks over croissants in Paris.Reuse content