With a plot revolving around a warring family, dark goings-on in the attic of a family house and the simmering fury of a scorned lover, it’s the sort of old-fashioned melodrama that rarely gets a look-in at the Oscars nowadays. But this time it will.
In a couple of weeks’ time, the Academy Awards will take place with one burning question at the front of everyone’s minds: who is going to emerge victorious on the night? Mia Farrow or Woody Allen?
For the real drama won’t be anything showing on the big screen, but the fate of the clutch of award nominations for Allen’s latest comedy, Blue Jasmine — hailed as his best film for more than 20 years.
Will the director win the fifth Oscar of his career for screenwriting? Might he, in a show of defiance, break the habit of a lifetime and actually turn up to accept it? Will the film net Cate Blanchett her first Best Actress gong? And if she does win, what will she say?
We must also watch out for the other players in this affair, who were ‘named and shamed’ in a jaw-dropping open letter last week written by Allen’s adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow. The 28-year-old wrote graphically of how Allen sexually abused her when she was just seven, lying on an attic floor in front of a toy train set.
But Dylan also challenged Hollywood stars to justify their decision to work with the man she first accused more than 20 years ago. Most of them have yet to respond, so the likes of Scarlett Johansson and Emma Stone may have weightier questions to answer on the red carpet than who designed their frock.
Supremely cynical Hollywood doesn’t really go in for philosophical dilemmas, but it has one to wrestle with this year. Will the fact that one of its most revered icons has been accused of the most unimaginably vile behaviour result in his films being shunned at the awards?
If the Oscars judges do feel the scandal means that Blue Jasmine should be passed over, then revenge will be sweet for Allen’s former long-time lover, Mia Farrow. No one seriously denies that the actress and activist wishes ill to the man who left her for her own adopted daughter. Allen later married Soon-Yi, even though she was 36 years younger than him.
Farrow, the star of Rosemary’s Baby and The Great Gatsby (and 12 of Allen’s 13 films between 1980 and 1992), was humiliated and her family wrecked as her eight other children at the time suddenly discovered one of their sisters had effectively become their stepmother.
U.S. radio phone-ins and internet message boards were jammed this week with people condemning Allen and insisting that Dylan’s account should not be doubted.
But friends of Allen rallied to his tattered banner. They point out that the molestation allegations first emerged during Allen and Farrow’s child custody battle in 1993, and were investigated but not pursued. Why, they ask, are the claims being resurrected now if not to scotch Allen’s Oscars chances?
Meanwhile, Farrow has found herself almost as much on trial as Allen, accused of manipulating her daughter into making allegations she knows are false.
Dylan’s brother, Moses, who is estranged from the rest of the family, insisted this week that Allen was innocent — and that if anyone was guilty of abuse in their family, it was Farrow. ‘My mother drummed it into me to hate my father for tearing apart the family and sexually molesting my sister,’ said Moses, now a 36-year-old family therapist. ‘I don’t know if my sister really believes she was molested or if she is trying to please her mother. Pleasing my mother was a very powerful motivation because to be on her wrong side was horrible.’
His intervention prompted a furious outburst from Dylan, who said her brother was now ‘dead to her’.
In an interview with People magazine, Dylan — now married and working as a writer in Florida — dismissed claims she was being manipulated by her mother but confirmed she acted after Allen was honoured at the Golden Globes last month.
‘It took all of my strength and all of my emotional fortitude to do what I did this week in the hope that it would put the truth out there,’ she said, adding in a jibe probably aimed at Allen: ‘That is my only ammunition. I don’t have money or publicists or limos or fancy apartments in Manhattan.’
And what exactly does she remember? Her recall appears to be vivid as she describes the day one August when Allen led her by the hand into the attic of Farrow’s summer home in Connecticut.
‘He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me,’ she wrote in her account posted on the New York Times website by one of its foremost columnists, Nicholas Kristof.
‘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.’ Dylan — who these days calls herself Malone — recalled ‘staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it travelled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.’
Many must have found it equally difficult to read her excoriating letter, in which she admitted the acclaim for Allen in the intervening years had only intensified her pain.
She said her ordeal in the attic was the culmination of Allen’s escalating attempts to push the boundaries of their relationship — sticking his thumb in her mouth, urging her to get into bed with him when he was in his underwear and placing his head in her naked lap.
She singled out the Hollywood stars who have worked with Allen despite knowing of her claims. ‘What if it had been your child?’ she asked of Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Emma Stone and Scarlett Johansson. And to Allen’s former girlfriend and film muse, she was even more pointed. ‘You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?’
Allen, she said, is a ‘living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse’. The director, who has always denied any wrongdoing, rejected Dylan’s accusations. His lawyer accused Mia Farrow of using her daughter as a pawn, implanting the molestation idea in her mind.
Legally, the statute of limitations on Dylan’s accusations ran out years ago, meaning Allen could not be prosecuted on abuse charges even if the authorities were inclined to re-investigate her claims.
His relationship with Farrow fell apart shortly before the alleged attic incident, after Farrow discovered he had taken naked and explicit snapshots of Soon-Yi, whom she had adopted with ex-husband Andre Previn. Allen admitted the couple — he was 56, she was about 20 — was having an affair.
Farrow videotaped Dylan talking about Allen’s alleged abuse and it was raised in court during the custody battle over the three children they had together.
It was investigated by a police-appointed panel of psychologists, which concluded Dylan had not been molested. But the custody hearing judge not only gave custody of the children to Farrow but barred Allen from even visiting Dylan, denouncing his behaviour towards the girl as ‘grossly inappropriate’. And the prosecutor in the case later said he had suspected abuse had occurred but wanted to spare the child the ordeal of a trial. ‘I hope she finds peace and solace,’ the ex-prosecutor said of Dylan this week.
So Allen can be tried now only in the court of public opinion.
Inevitably, many people see his tawdry history of pursuing much younger women as a black mark against him. Some of his comments have suggested he has a very uncertain moral compass.
‘What was the scandal? I fell in love with this girl, I married her,’ he said in 2012 when asked about his pursuit of Soon-Yi.
He is a good friend of Jeffrey Epstein, the sleazy multi-millionaire friend of the Duke of York who was jailed for soliciting an underage girl for prostitution.
Some of his critics have highlighted a 1992 report that Allen was so ‘completely obsessed’ with the young Dylan that he had to go into therapy. Allen would arrive at Mia’s house at 6 am (he and his lover lived on opposite sides of New York’s Central Park) and sit on the end of Dylan’s bed, staring at her until she woke up. He insisted that Dylan be kept up until he got back in the evening to tuck her in.
But Allen, still a powerful figure in Hollywood, has his supporters. Sympathisers have been circulating a rejoinder to the Dylan/Mia allegations written by Robert Weide, maker of a recent documentary about Allen.
‘If Mia’s account is true, it means that in the middle of custody and support negotiations, during which Woody needed to be on his best behavior, in a house belonging to his furious ex-girlfriend, and filled with people seething mad at him, Woody, who is a well-known claustrophobic, decided this would be the ideal time and place to take his daughter into an attic and molest her, quickly, before a house full of children and nannies noticed they were both missing,’ he wrote scornfully.
Weide reminded readers that Farrow’s affair with Andre Previn reportedly led to his wife, Dory — a friend of Farrow — having a breakdown and being institutionalised.
And Weide didn’t forget to add shameless hypocrisy to the charge list against Farrow, a steadfast supporter of her friend Roman Polanski, still a fugitive from justice after he admitted raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
Some might say that Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, both so self-absorbed and flawed, deserve each other.
Quite who the Oscar judges will side with remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: if they were giving out an Academy Award for most vicious feud, the result would be a shoo-in.