I like most Woody Allen movies. (I never did get "Interiors," but never mind.) "Hannah and Her Sisters" is a special favorite, and so are "Annie Hall," "Play It Again, Sam," "Sweet and Lowdown" and others in Allen's immense body of work.
So what are we supposed to do if Woody Allen really is a remorseless sexual predator and pedophile? Are we morally obliged to throw out the whole canon of his work? I don't think so, but the idea of watching "Manhattan" again, given the plot line of the Woody character's affair with 15-year-old Mariel Hemingway, gives me the creeps.
There's no moral ambiguity -- none -- about what Allen's accused of. The things he's alleged to have done with and to his own adopted daughter (for one) are so depraved and unconscionable as to defy the efforts of language to condemn them.
They're so horrible that I really want to believe they're what his lawyer says they are -- the malicious fabrications of an enraged and unstable ex (Mia Farrow), as unlikely as that is. Farrow, of course, is the significant other Allen dumped when he revealed an affair with Farrow's own adopted teenage daughter. (If there's no fire, Woody hasn't gone out of his way to avoid producing a prodigious amount of smoke.)
I won't be like the clueless Hollywood glitterati who flatly assert his innocence. This habit of film actors blindly and unconditionally covering for each other is pretty galling, especially in a situation like this.
An English lit test in college required an essay explaining how literature and the other arts could improve us in our humanity even if the artist is a flawed, even evil, human being. I struggled with that question then, and I struggle with it now.
"Chinatown" is one of the great noir crime classics, and "The Pianist" is an inspiring and uplifting testament to human endurance. Both were directed by Roman Polanski, an admitted sexual predator and quite likely a child rapist. (The movie stars clustered around Polanski, too.)
Can we separate the art from the artist and still maintain our moral integrity? Put another way, can we really make ourselves stop liking things we've liked for years just because of things we learn later? I honestly don't know. Allen's and Polanski's work will never be quite the same for me, but that's just me.
Let's make it tougher. Let's suppose some impeccably credible historian discovers irrefutable evidence that William Shakespeare was a rapist or a serial killer. This is somebody whose vast body of work has been the gold standard of literary brilliance for centuries.
Does "Macbeth" or "Hamlet" or "A Midsummer Night's Dream" now plummet in artistic and humanitarian value because we learn their creator was personally depraved?
You can ask the same question in reverse (depravity first, ambiguity later): Suppose the "medical" journals of Nazi butcher Josef Mengele somehow yielded clues to a cure for cancer.
Surely we would not be morally obligated to suppress that knowledge just because of the unspeakable evil that produced it.
A delusional loser named Perry Smith once did a sketch of Jesus so impressive that the chaplain at Kansas State Penitentiary kept it on the wall of his office. It was still there long after Perry Smith had been hanged for the brutal murders of the Herb Clutter family in Holcomb.
The real-life paradoxes usually aren't as dramatic. Charles Dickens exposed and improved the plight of England's poor, especially its children, in spite of his own personal failings. Ty Cobb was a violent sociopathic racist, a domestic abuser and possibly a killer, but he's still in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I've learned, sometimes painfully, to separate the achievements from the personalities of athletes, actors, writers, musicians, filmmakers and the like, so if they turn out to be jerks I can still enjoy their immense talent. (Notable exception: Michael Vick, who can fry in hell.)
But something like this Woody Allen story takes it to a different plane. And it takes me right back to that English test question. How could somebody who does work so insightful and ennobling do things so profoundly bad?
Dusty Nix, 706-571-8528; firstname.lastname@example.org.