By John H. Foote
To begin, let me get the hornets’ nest out of the way.
I do not believe a word of the bile that has spewed from the mouth and mind of Mia Farrow for the last 25 years about Woody Allen supposedly assaulting his daughter, the now grow Dylan. Understand I did not come to this decision lightly.
I have read all the court transcripts, I have read the psychologists reports, (those that are available legally), every single interview Allen and Mia Farrow gave, read the interviews and obviously rehearsed answers from Dylan Farrow, I know Woody Allen passed five lie detector tests while Mia Farrow refused to take even one (?), I have read the very personal letter Moses Farrow (one of her adopted children) wrote, supporting Woody and openly condemning Mia for her attempts to brainwash the children about Allen, the beatings, and blatant physical abuse should any of the kids challenge Mia about anything, and I believe she is a monster. What does she have going for her? Woody fell in love with her 21-year old adopted daughter Soon Yi, who for years detested him, and would have nothing to do with him. It was Mia who suggested he begin doing things with her, like taking her to basketball games. Yes, he hurt Mia terribly, and she said to him (recorded) “You took my daughter, I will take yours” and she went about doing just that with wild accusations about child abuse stating Woody abused his own daughter. No charges were ever brought against Allen, but let me ask you this, if there was even a hint of truth to the allegations would any New York, any American judge allow Allen and Soon Yi to adopt two little girls? They did just that, and those girls are now in university. Soon Yi was rumored to be “slow”, yet she graduated with honors from University at the top of her class, and finally, she and Allen have been married for more than 25 years! Allen never married Mia Farrow, he never even stayed overnight at her home! They were together in public and on his movie sets, where she found herself his muse. He admits in his superb autobiography, all the red lights were there, all the warning signs but he ignored them, he was played.
So no, I do not believe the allegations, and I am serious, I have read everything I can lay my hands on, legally and illegally about the situation. Read more on Farrow, your mind will be blown, the woman is a nightmare walking the earth.
Woody Allen is innocent.
He has been one of the most brilliant and prolific directors and writers in film for the last 50 years, averaging a film a year, sometimes two. He has been nominated for an Academy Award as Best Director seven times, winning for Annie Hall, and for Best Original Screenplay a record 16 times, winning three times for Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and Midnight in Paris (2011). I daresay there should be more nominations and wins for the artist. The Directors Guild of America, which many film directors consider more important than the Academy Award, have nominated Allen five times, while the New York Film Critics have honoured him with Best Director three times, making him one of the most honoured filmmakers in the history of the art form.
If Woody Allen has a most beloved film it is without question the Academy Award winning Best Picture Annie Hall, that also won Allen his Oscars for directing and writing. Diane Keaton won the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance, and Allen earned his only nomination for Best Actor. I am not certain Annie Hall has ever been given its due for what it did to romantic comedies in American film as it altered only everything.
From 1934 on, from It Happened One Night (1934) there existed three rules for the Hollywood romantic comedy.
Boy meets girl.
Boy loses girl.
Boy gets girl back.
That was it, three rules and it worked for decades. Think Doris Day and Rock Hudson, or Tom Hanks with Meg Ryan and you understand precisely what I mean. Then Allen writes about his longtime relationship with actress Diane Keaton, for many years his girlfriend, and after breaking up romantically they remained best friends (to this day). Boldly he decided he and Keaton should essentially portray themselves on screen, a huge risk (that worked). Initially the film was entitled Anhedonia, which means “the inability to feel pleasure”, which of course defines Alvy (Allen) in the film. He wisely changed the title to the name of the lead character when he realized no one would go to see a film entitled Anhedonia.
In bringing a fourth rule to the romantic comedy “girl leaves guy forever” or “couple splits for good” he brought to the genre a sense of something bittersweet, a love story tinged with a realism that had never been present before. We still see the old fashioned romantic comedies, and they do very well, but they are not taken anywhere near as seriously as those that follow the Allen template of realism.
Alvy is a comedian who chides himself for analyzing every small detail of his life, and when the film opens, he is doing just that, trying to figure out why the relationship with Annie (Diane Keaton) ended. Having grown up in Brooklyn he was constantly asking his put upon, always suffering mother about the pointlessness of existence, leaving her thinking he was crazy. Alvy reads constantly about the grand mystery of death, and is constantly discussing morose subjects such as, guess, death, and the Holocaust.
The film is less a narrative than a series of vignettes from their relationship, the highs and lows of it all. There is much joy: as they made lobsters together, she freaks about a spider in the bathroom, Alvy goes to her home outside of New York which turns into true culture shock for him, but Annie is still in the process of figuring out who she is and what she wants. Though she is learning and evolving from Alvy which he does not realize, they eventually split, leaving Alvy to question what went wrong. One night he is in bed with another woman, and his phone rings. It is Annie needing help with something, so Alvy goes. Turns out she misses him terribly and their romance is rekindled. However it is not long before the same old problems come up, Annie wants to try new things, Alvy does not, she is invited to California and wants to go, Alvy does not, but when offered a record deal, she cannot resist. Again their relationship ends, as again they have drifted apart, Annie having outgrown Alvy. They meet some time later for a coffee and he realizes how his life was enriched just by knowing her, and when the part, they are friends, very likely for the rest of their lives. They shared so much as a couple, they grew so much as a couple how can they not remain friends?
Watching the film, I will bet couples across North America saw each other up there on the screen, sharing their lives together until there was nothing more they could give one another. It always fascinates me how films so often speak directly to us, reflecting our own lives. That to me that has always been the beauty of film, how it mirrors society, often life, and we see ourselves or people we have known on the screen. How many times have you watched a film, and said to yourself, “I know that man, I am that man.”? I went through this re-watching Annie Hall years later, recalling fond memories with my high school sweetheart, and what drove us apart.
My God how I loved that girl. When it ended, second year of college after four years together, I was bitter and upset with her for just removing herself from my life, but as the years went by and I discovered what love really was when I met Sherri, everything from that first great love was forgiven. What a fool I had been trying to control her, being so possessive and jealous. Such wasted time. She believed in me like no one ever had before, she supported all my dreams, she gave me so much as a person. I realized how much she had given me as a partner, how she saw something more in me than just the guy she fell in love with. We became adults together, moving from our late teens to adulthood, she just got there quicker than I did. She outgrew me, plain and simple. When we split I ran things over and over in my mind just as Alvy does and finally realized we had done nothing wrong, we had simply gone as far as we could go with each other. She knew that before I did, guys are usually about a year behind women in the growth process, sometimes more. I met the absolute love of my life six years later and we were together 25 years, married 22 until she passed of brain cancer in 2012. Losing her gutted me, broke in half. The lessons I learned from that first love helped me do things right with Sherri, those lessons were well learned. That first love taught me how to love, how to be a better person, how to be a better man and partner. Sherri made me want to be a better man, just to be worthy of her. Women have always been smarter and stronger than men, and the sooner guys admit that the better life will be for everyone.
And yes, I am now friends with that first love, who is happily married to a really good guy, a guy I went to school with, whose kids played with mine. It took a long time before we could be friends, but we did it and I am pleased we can talk and learn from each other again. She said to me recently, “You sound a lot more mellow John” which I suppose I am, the anger and fury in my activity is gone, replaced by a sense of peace. I live now convinced Sherri watches over me, just as my ex-girlfriend has a great husband now who watches over her. They deserve every happiness together, truly. I hope they share the joy Sherri and I did.
Life is strange as Alvy discovers, often in very good ways, though we must often struggle with deep emotional pain before the good is manifest. Watching the ups and downs of their time together, how many couples watched this feeling the way I did? I suspect hundreds of millions. That has always been Allen’s great strength as a director and writer, he writes what he experiences, what he feels, how he loves.
Diane Keaton was and remains wonderful as Annie Hall, the role that has come to define her though she is in fact a razor sharp actress and businesswoman, light years away from the sometimes flaky Annie. With her breezy “la-di-da” attitude about life, she is in fact hungry for knowledge and far smarter than she appears. Alvy feeds that hunger, and gradually Annie discovers she does not need him anymore, though eventually she still wants him in her life, which he wants too. Keaton gave two great, truly brilliant performances in 1977, the first being her award winning work in Annie Hall, the second being her stunning work as precocious grade schoolteacher in Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977) for which she also should have been Oscar nominated. For Annie Hall (1977) she won Best Actress accolades from the Academy, the Golden Globe, the LA and New York Film Critics Associations and a litany of other critical, lesser known awards. With her work in 1977 she was transformed into one of the major actresses in modern film, comfortable in comedy and drama equally. Her array of brilliant performances in the years since, includes many other films with Allen, including Interiors (1978) and Manhattan (1979), as well as superb performances in Reds (1981), Shoot the Moon (1982), The Little Drummer Girl (1984), Crimes of the Heart (1986), Baby Boom (1988) right up through brilliantly heartbreaking work in Something’s Gotta Give (2003) with Jack Nicholson. Her lovely chemistry with Allen is simply a joy to watch, and we understand why they were a couple for so long and were able to remain friends.
Allen’s performance was exactly what it should have been, he was her straight man with a zinger of a line here and there, but so much more. We could see his uneasiness as Annie grew, met other people, and slowly began to leave him behind. It sort of became what Allen did as an actor going forward, mocking himself as the intellectual New York Jew forevermore. People forget what a fine actor, what a fine comic he really has been. Watch his speech after 9/11 at the Academy Awards, it is paralyzing in its humour.
Allen gave the film so many wonderful moments, wildly original scenes that no other filmmaker had ever thought of. Standing in a movie line, listening to a pompous ass pontificate about things and suddenly pulling out the man that customer is talking about? Brilliant. Watching he and Annie make small talk, while subtitles tell us what they are really thinking, a scene that rings true of all couples. That hysterical dinner at Grammy Hall’s where Alvy imagines the family looking at him as a real Jew, Hassidic beard, the clothing, brilliant. That strange encounter with Annie’s brother Duane, portrayed by a very young Christopher Walken who tells Alvy he thinks, often about crashing his car while driving into an oncoming vehicle, at which point we cut to Duane driving, and Alvy paralyzed with fear. Alvy taking Annie’s call while with another woman, suddenly leaping out of bed to go to her rescue never imagining they are going to reconcile.
Allen went on to make greater films, Manhattan just two years later, Hannah and Her Sisters, Bullets Over Broadway (his funniest film) Match Point, his dark, murderous thriller and the lovely Midnight in Paris, a time travel film without a single visual effect, but not one of them is as beloved as Annie Hall. Why? I think, more than ever, it is because we see ourselves in the two of them.
And what would Annie say about that?
“La di da, well, how about that…la di da.”
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.