See what you think.” With these words, halfway into his nearly-not-published autobiography, Woody Allen plunges into the thesis that he was falsely accused of child molestation in 1992. This was the year, amid a blistering break-up and custody battle with Mia Farrow, that he was investigated for assaulting her 7-year-old daughter Dylan, a story he posits was a premeditated smear, vengefully orchestrated in its entirety by Farrow.
Apropos of Nothing is the book that Allen’s accusers on the Farrow side were appalled to learn was scheduled for publication by Hachette – the very firm that, in 2019, had published Catch and Kill by Dylan’s brother, the journalist Ronan Farrow, chronicling his investigations into powerful sexual predators, among them Harvey Weinstein.
Hachette’s staff walked out in protest. The publisher responded to the outrage by pulping the book. Now, the smaller firm Arcade have stepped in, releasing Apropos of Nothing without fanfare, and certainly not publicising how vigorously Allen doubles down on the insistence he was framed.
Three hundred of these 400 pages cover, unapologetically and with gossipy glee, the unrelated sprawl of Allen’s life and work. But the harrowing Dylan drama isn’t minimised – it’s addressed in unsparing detail at the two moments in Allen’s life (1992 and now) when it has attracted most public attention. And given the emphatic flow of his arguments, it’s easy to see why the Farrow clan would have preferred it if Allen’s side of the story – familiar as much of it might be, though never walked through quite so forensically before – hadn’t seen the light of day.
Allen reasserts his oft-held position – that Dylan was schooled and “brainwashed” into remembering something in the attic crawl-space of Mia’s Connecticut home – and marshals his case compulsively, more or less wherever you’re sitting. Against him, the full fury of the #MeToo movement is already well trained, so much so that actors in many of his recent films have turned their backs on him, in some cases donating their salaries. Allen views the likes of Timothée Chalamet and Greta Gerwig as victims of peer pressure, rather than activists, but he’s under no illusion that a book written by him will change anyone’s mind on the subject.
On his side, though, he does have the two official investigating teams from 1992-3 who threw out the charges; a series of psychologists, several nannies and caretakers (fired by Farrow); and most potently Dylan’s older brother Moses, whose 2018 open letter, quoted extensively here, contradicts almost point-by-point the testimony Dylan set down when she reaccused Allen in 2014. Were there toy trains in the attic, as she recalls and Moses disputes? Why would Allen wait to abuse an adored child in the most toxic and closely watched circumstances of his adult life? No one outside the family can realistically claim to have all the answers here.
The rest of the book, sandwiching this endlessly sad, vexed saga, is guilt-triggering for the simpler reason of being so much fun. Allen romps through his childhood as a smart-alecky Brooklyn film nut, and bounds into his fluky (as he sees it) career breaks with the irresistible self-deprecation that’s always been his stock-in-trade. Time and again, he pooh-poohs the notion that he was any kind of intellectual or aesthete, leaving all that to the likes of Philip Roth and Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Ingmar Bergman.
Name-dropping just enough high culture to make his punchlines sparkle was a grifter’s skill in itself, launching him halfway to fame as a screenwriter and stand-up comic. It was all down to the gift of the gab. He may be hard on himself when his attempts at high seriousness (Interiors, September, Another Woman) failed to come off, but what he judged back then as strenuous failures can now be repurposed as fodder for comedy at his own expense.
Here he is being hilarious about the Bergmanesque Interiors: “while perhaps falling short of Aristotle’s requirements of pity and fear, the audience did pity me and the investors learned the meaning of fear”. Or on a megaflop, his black-and-white homage to German expressionism in 1991: “The filming of Shadows and Fog came off without a hitch except for the movie.”
True, Allen takes heterosexuality to weirdly neurotic extremes – so much so that he panics even at sharing a bathroom with another man, and would never dream of entering a Turkish bath. As an unlikely lothario, he also has few equals. Is he obsessed, as everyone tends to think, with barely legal sex partners? He says no, claiming that only his current wife, the 35-years-younger Soon-Yi, is significantly his junior, along with an ex-girlfriend called Stacey Nelkin on whom he based Tracy, Mariel Hemingway’s 17-year-old character in Manhattan.
It’s one of his more tired routines still to be gratefully amazed that any of his myriad gorgeous girlfriends (and three wives) gave him the time of day, misanthropic schlemiel that he is. Given his habit of referring to the early girlfriends as “delectable bohemian little kumquats” (for instance), he may have a point. But he’s never been less apologetic than he is at 84, or less fussed about what anyone carries on thinking.
Believe him? Write him off as a rapist who got away? He says he’ll be dead too soon to care profoundly, but you might as well know where he stands.
Apropos of Nothing is available from Arcade Publishing now