Woody Allen directs Mia Farrow in “Shadows and Fog”.

Streaming reviewer NICK OVERALL looks at the controversy surrounding a four-part documentary titled ‘Allen v Farrow’.

THERE would be few people who didn’t at least have some awareness of the Woody Allen and Mia Farrow scandal.

Nick Overall.

On one side, there’s Allen, one of the most beloved filmmakers of his generation. “Manhattan”, “Annie Hall”, “Take the Money and Run”, “Love and Death”, “The Purple Rose of Cairo”… the list of the director’s influential work extends throughout a 60-year career.

On the other, Mia Farrow, a talented actress of some 50 films and the mother of more than a dozen children.

In the middle is Dylan Farrow, one of Mia’s children who says at seven years of age she was sexually abused by Allen, a claim her mother has relentlessly supported for the three decades since.

Both women have now opened up in a new, four-part documentary series, “Allen v Farrow”, streaming on Binge that’s been the epicentre of streaming news and conversation. Most interesting though, is the public’s reaction.

On the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), an aggregator of user ratings, the doco has been lambasted with one-star reviews defending Allen.

“This is one sided! Put this to bed already! Allen IS NOT Weinstein!” says one review.

“I will never spend one cent on HBO, ever again,” says another.

“This is garbage. Just a one-sided revenge story. I say cancel HBO, they deserve it for producing this trash,” rings off a third.

The average score as a result has come to rest on around 3.5/10.

Critics have been more favourable. Rotten Tomatoes, an aggregator of critics’ reviews, currently places it at an 87 per cent positive response with many calling it a compelling, albeit one-sided account of what happened, eager to put the argument to bed through the condemnation of Allen. 

Even the usual judge, jury and executioner that is Twitter, normally by now handing down its hive-minded sentence, is divided.

Many cite the affair between Allen and another of Mia’s other adopted daughters, Soon Yi Previn, which began when she was 21 and Allen 57, as the giveaway of his alleged creepy tendencies.

However, there’s also a statement from Moses Farrow, another of Allen’s adopted children who grew up in the same house where this all played out. Moses wrote nearly 5000 words unwaveringly defending his father, instead condemning his mother as physically abusive and manipulative.

One tweet that caught my attention: “I love Roman Polanksi’s ‘Chinatown’ and I love Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’. Am I wrong?”

Polanksi was also notoriously accused of sexual abuse in the ‘70s during the heights of his directing career.

The situation indeed generates a fascinating conversation about the artist and whether they should be separated from their art.

When discussing why Allen and his work have become so celebrated, a writer for “Slate” magazine who appears in the doco, Lili Loofbourow, astutely observes: “Showing your underbelly to the audience is a great motivator of sympathy.”

Woody Allen has become renowned for his soft, vulnerable caricatures, ones audiences have been able to deeply see themselves in and, like Loofbourow implies, form a bond with. 

There’s a sense of pride in one’s own emotional discovery found in art. Certainly Allen’s films would have generated that feeling for many. It is a frightening thought, that someone who has had such an emotional influence could, at the same time, be a heinous transgressor.

One can see then why people so quickly and vehemently come out to defend figures such as Allen, as seen by the outrage in much of the response to the doco. They don’t want to lose what his work gave or taught them, and so struggle to wrestle with the idea he may have committed such a crime.

It’s up to the individual to make their own mind up about the production, and the issue at large, but it serves a silent reminder of the importance of looking at both sides of a story, however uncomfortable that process may be. 

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Ian Meikle, editor