Frame up, or truth exposed?
HBO documentary Allen v. Farrow is the one-sided tale of a case that's intrigued America for decades
Movie fans who have been following the news about what's been happening in Hollywood over the last few decades are used to hearing or reading about public scandals, especially the case of American film director Woody Allen's sexual abuse allegations and actress Mia Farrow and her divorce from Allen.
Twenty-nine years after the first accusation was made in 1992, award-winning investigative filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering revisit the incident again in Allen v. Farrow, a four-part documentary series on HBO that goes behind the headlines to reveal the Farrow family's story. The series chronicles the allegations of abuse, which have been the focus of many reports and discussions over the years. The series does a meticulous examination of allegations that Farrow and later her adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, make against Allen for sexually molesting her in the attic of her mother's Connecticut home when she was seven years old -- a story she has maintained for nearly 30 years. Although the accusations were investigated, the case was eventually dropped due to a lack of credible evidence and Allen was never charged with any crime.
While the documentary includes interviews with family members, friends, lawyers and other experts, the main talking points in Allen v. Farrow are Mia Farrow and her two children, Dylan and Ronan. Despite the title's suggestion of balance, this is very much the Farrows' show and Allen does not feature to defend himself. However, the series makes use of an audio recording of Allen reading his book, Apropos Of Nothing, in the documentary which was a strange way to include his take.
The first episode touches on Allen's filmmaking career between the 1970s and 1980s and features film critic Miriam Bale describing Allen as a weak man. The episode also examines Allen's long-term romantic relationship with Farrow and the establishment of their large family of 11 children, including Dylan and Ronan as well as Allen's current wife Soon-Yi Previn, whom Farrow adopted with her ex-musician husband André Previn. In episode two, we get background information on Farrow's childhood, her experience with polio and how that affected her as a young girl. The audience is told how she entered show business and discusses her marriage with jazz singer Frank Sinatra. Farrow first met Allen just after he finished working on his 1977 critically-acclaimed film Annie Hall.
From here, the docuseries shifts its tone and gets into specific details as Farrow shares what Allen did to Dylan. It also includes stories from close family members, friends, neighbours and even babysitters. They all talk about how they saw Allen do a number of inappropriate things with Dylan around the house. In the third and fourth episodes, the docuseries does a deep dive of the investigation into abuse allegations and points out how the media and the PR machine behind Allen was able to cloud people's opinion of him, allowing him to move on and still be a prolific filmmaker. At one point, the documentary even mentioned that Manhattan -- arguably Allen's most famous film -- is actually about paedophilia.
Just like the 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland, which focuses on people who alleged they were sexually abused as children by Michael Jackson, Allen v. Farrow deals with a topic that is not a comfortable watch, especially when we as an audience have to decide what to believe and what not to believe. I'm especially a fan of both Allen and Farrow's works, particularly the wonderful films the two made together in the mid-1980s such as The Purple Rose Of Cairo (1985), Hannah And Her Sisters (1986) and Radio Days (1987). So, it's quite difficult to discuss this documentary as it felt personal and is a tragic and heartbreaking story.
This type of situation is out there constantly and similar to the #MeToo movement in many ways. When somebody is accused of a monstrous crime like child molestation, you have to ask yourself, what do I believe? And based on what we've been told and the evidence brought forward, especially by the Connecticut State Police and from a team at the Yale-New Haven Hospital Child Sex Abuse Clinic who carried out a six-month inquiry including medical examinations, it's safe to say that Dylan had not been molested.
Moreover, Moses, one of the couple's children, who was about 12 at the time had come forward and told a different tale than his mother. Moses is briefly mentioned in the first episode but his story is not explored further, partially because Moses declined requests to participate. However, Moses' posts on social media suggest that his adoptive mother Farrow raised her children by influencing their thoughts and coaching them. He also suggested the story was likely planted in Dylan's head, so based on all the facts, there has to be a point where you say, who am I going to believe -- the authorities who investigated this or people who are making accusations?
While there is a lot of interesting insight, interviews and never-seen- before footage, the case remains muddy. Without the presence of key characters like Allen or Moses who was living at the same place where the supposed assault took place, this documentary fails to cover both sides of the story. Ultimately, I think this is the tale of an odd relationship and a dysfunctional family in many ways and there are things behind the curtain that we don't know and probably never will. Moreover, I'm not sure if it's our business to judge their personal lives even if they've put it out there on display. Sadly it seems that many people, including the filmmakers of this documentary, have jumped to conclusions quickly.
- Allen V. Farrow
- Starring Mia Farrow, Dylan Farrow, Ronan Farrow
- Directed by Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
- Now streaming on HBO GO