Denouncing the (Wood) Man

Woody_Allen_Cannes_2016I was my son Nathan’s current age – 12-years-old – when I fell in love for the first time. It wasn’t with a person, but with a world. This world was replete with articulate upper-middle-class Manhattanites of the 1980s, who struggled internally and stuttered verbally over petty, self-made neuroses far too adult for me to truly understand. Yet it (and it’s fascinating, drably, but expensively dressed inhabitants) intrigued me to my core.

The place where I fell in love, technically, was the Movies 5-7 on 15th Street West in Lancaster, CA. But I might as well have been inside the pearlescent screen that projected my newfound inamorata for the way my heart swelled with a new sense of purpose in life.
I suppose what I related to most, beyond the stunning visuals of the four seasons as seen through the lens of someone who really viewed and expressed New York as the most beautiful entity in the world, was the acknowledgement of the realities of deep-seated, but seemingly unfounded anxiety. I was battling with my own anxiety in my adolescence which I didn’t feel comfortable expressing, but which permeated my evenings and nights. It was a sort of childhood sundowner’s syndrome, where the pending hours of slumber represented all of my greatest boogiemen – heart attacks, brain aneurysms, strokes, and the granddaddy: nuclear war. Just too much for someone so emotionally and spiritually underdeveloped to quite metabolize. It was a bleak time for me.

All of that changed the day I became a die-hard Woody Allen fan. Fantasizing about being a part of his world (or the one he cinematically constructed, anyway) gave me the remedy to self soothe my dark dreads through fantasies of being one of those stark white names on the black screen at the opening credits of every one of his films. I idolized his talent, and that of so many actresses cast in his oeuvre – the queen of them all being my beloved Dianne Wiest, who I imagined in the most intricate of details would instantly become my best friend the moment I met her. (I did meet her eventually. Alas, we’re not besties, after all. Can you believe it?)

As the months passed by, like the magical images in that theatre when I was weathering the pain of peak adolescence, I projected what I loved about the world of “Hannah and Her Sisters” onto the filmmaker responsible for it. Woody Allen’s character, Mickey, was obsessed with death to the detriment of his quality of life, just like me. He spent the whole film placating his hypochondria in the unhealthiest manners of obsession, only to reach a turning point where a Marx Brothers film snapped him out of his negative perseverations.

And while “Hannah and Her Sisters” still remains my favorite movie, I soon found that it wasn’t just that classic which embedded me with deeply and naturally intoxicating ardor. Each subsequent VHS rental from the Wherehouse furthered my education as one of the ultimate Woody Allen fans. I loved his talent, and I honestly thought I loved the actual man (as if I truly knew him) during this exuberant, but juvenile epoch.

My Woody Allen themed fantasies got me through the rest of middle school and high school. I became so in tune with the Woody world that I literally began thinking in full-fledged, articulate but stuttering monologues, complete with punchlines:

“Look at these people; my supposed peers. Jeez…I’m expected…I’m expected to spend the majority of my hours every day listening to their incessant, infantile banter. Jesus, ya know, if I wanted to listen to babies cry, y-y-ya know, I’d go down to A.V. Hospital and volunteer as a…as a candy striper.”

In my freshman year of college, the big scandal broke. So effusive had I been about my Woody Allen fandom that my high school acquaintances teased me relentlessly at homecoming, I recall – the first and only conversation piece the majority of them had for me as we were reunited.
Maybe I deserved it. I had been bad mouthing them inside my own head for four years.

However, I wasn’t taking the taunting in stride. I used every opportunity I had to debate the facts of the case. The conversations generally went like this (and have continued, sporadically, up until a few days ago, and even recently with my youngest son, Joey):

THEM: How could you like that guy? He molested his own daughter. And then married his other daughter.

ME: First of all, it was proven in a court of law that his young adopted daughter was coached by Mia Farrow and he was exonerated from the molestation accusations. Mia Farrow is nuts. The day after she found out about the affair she was calling Woody Allen to talk about her costume fitting for their next film, as if nothing had happened.

THEM: Ok, but still, two nuts don’t make a moral right. He married his step daughter.

ME: Didn’t happen that way. Soon-Yi never had any type of relationship with Woody, let alone did he ever come close to adopting her, as she was already adopted by Andre Previn. In fact, she was leery of Woody, and used to hiss at him when he’d come to pick her mother up for dates. As Mia and Woody were starting to find their relationship on the rocks, near breakup, Mia suggested one night that Woody take her then 21-year-old daughter to a Knicks game so they could bond. Unfortunately, Woody and Soon-Yi bonded, alright, and fell in love. Not the most moral behavior, I’ll grant you, but certainly not molestation or incest, as she was an adult and practically a stranger to him until that night. And after all, the heart wants what it wants.

woody soon yi

I became so comfortable with the Woody-sided talking points of this case that I wrote a paper on it for a philosophy class, and confidently debated some version of the above any time it was brought up over these last couple of decades. As Woody has maintained his marriage to Soon-Yi and raised adopted daughters with her, I felt vindicated in my position. “See?” I’d say. “If it was that inappropriate, why has Soon-Yi stayed with him for all of these years?”

As I’ve aged and experienced many things in life, my vision and framing on so many topics has invariably metamorphosed, but on this topic, I never have faltered.

That is until a few weeks ago. Following the tangled web of allegations and confessions surrounding Harvey Weinstein and other entertainment industry big wigs, Woody Allen said he worried about a:

“witch hunt atmosphere … where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself.”

Whoa!

And so, just like that, as swiftly as my socks were knocked off by a little film called “Hannah and Her Sisters” back in 1986, the fanatical wind was knocked out of my sails in regard to one Allan Stewart Konigsberg, AKA Woody Allen. And that powerful gust blew right into a carefully crafted, sturdy pedestal, and a certain 80-something filmmaker fell at my feet.

I hereby publicly denounce my Woody Allen fandom.

I revile his actions which I used to painstakingly explicate.

Like the climax in a good film, all of this clarity flooded into me; all of these red flags which made me realize that Woody Allen is most likely the narcissist he always claimed to be in his movies. And narcissm isn’t funny, after all, because it means that one has no real empathy, and thinks the world is theirs for the taking; it’s human and animal inhabitants their pawns for entertainment and hedonistic gains.

I guess the breakup of my marriage shouldn’t have been so shocking. I’ve been unwittingly conned by narcissists since I was just a preteen, I now realize.

So that, my friends, is some pretty big news, if you know me very well.

I don’t share this as a “gotcha” to Trump supporters, or an effort to say “See…I slurred my superstar. So, quid pro quo, my pals.”

However, the parallels of revering and excusing a powerful, rich man who lives his life as if above the laws of human decency cannot be denied. At the very least, it helps me understand (alas, not for the first time in my adult life) that denial is a powerful, nearly impenetrable defense mechanism.

I think more of the insight I’m hoping to impart is this: It took me a long time to wake up when it came to Woody Allen. My own evolution had to occur to this stage, at the same exact time that he said something so heinous and obvious that it finally broke through my stubborn, unyielding idol worship.

Perhaps the same will eventually be true for the remaining Trump zealots. For now, their feet are firmly planted in the narrative they’ve chosen to believe about someone they see as a hero.

And I now realize that when it comes to that notion, I’ve been living in a house constructed of super fragile glass.

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