The Woody Allen Problem


In 1989 Woody Allen made the film Crimes and Misdemeanors. I was, at the time, a Woody Allen fan and I saw this movie in the theater. I saw the movie during it’s theatrical run and I have watched it probably several dozen time since. I believe it is his best film (better than Annie Hall) and a masterpiece of both script writing and directing.  

Let me also say that I have, through my entire life, been a staunch proponent of separating the artist from the art. There have been a vast number of truly despicable people that created great art and that does not even include the ones that may not be despicable but, are still complete assholes. From Caravaggio to Picasso history is littered with great works of art that were created by terrible people, people that held and espoused vile opinions and even committed heinous criminal acts. I have always been able to appreciate those works of art separately from my judgement of the life and views of their creator. 

The work and story of Woody Allen is challenging that position for several reasons and the film Crimes and Misdemeanors is a big part of that challenge. When people look at Woody Allen films and tie them to the judgement of his life the typically talk about Manhattan, a film in which a middle-aged Allen dates and has sex with a high school girl played by Mariel Hemmingway who was 16 years old at the time of the filming. In the light of the circumstances and revelations of Allen’s subsequent vile actions Manhattan is certainly impossible to watch without throwing up in your own mouth.  

However, it is Crimes and Misdemeanors that really fucks my head up because the core of that movie is Allen’s realization that powerful men are basically immune from consequences for horrible actions. The main character of that film (played by Martin Landau) orders the murder of his mistress (Angelica Houston). Not only does he get away with the crime, he also comes to the realization that whatever personal guilt he had felt had dissipated over time. There were no criminal consequences and no moral consequences to his actions. Watching that movie now, it is nearly impossible for me to not think of Woody Allen writing that script as he was concluding that he is free to engage in any horrible action going forward in his life because he can get away with it and he can live with any guilt until it fades out of his conscience. And that guilt fade happens very quickly when you have the money to live a life luxury and privilege. The fact that Mia Farrow plays his love interest in this film makes the horror of watching it now even more intense. 

After four years of Trump and his ilk, there is no doubt in my mind that vast majority problems in this country and around the world are a direct result of powerful people (mostly white men) that have awoken to the realization that they are free to act without consequences. For every one Harvey Weinstein in jail there are hundreds, if not thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Woody Allens. Men who committed heinous acts and will feel no real consequences. Matt Lauer lost his job and maybe that was traumatic for him. But if you take a second and think about it, Matt Lauer is still very wealthy and, based on everything I’ve seen, unrepentant. Matt Lauer should be in prison.  

There are a lot of core issues that must be addressed to fix and improve the way humans’ function as a society. Core problems of greed and racism and poverty and misogyny that have been with us for centuries that we need to keep addressing and working to change. But perhaps we need to start by demanding that wealthy powerful people are subject to real consequences for their actions. It might actually be possible for me to watch a film like Crimes and Misdemeanors if I knew Woody Allen wasn’t enjoying his morning coffee in his Manhattan Mansion with his wife/stepdaughter. Nah, probably not.

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