Thursday, 2 July 2020

Apropos Of Nothing

Sleeper Beauty

Apropos Of Nothing
An autobiography by Woody Allen
Arcade Publishing ISBN: 139781951627348

Woody Allen was always my number one hero when I was a kid. I found just a few of his films almost unwatchable over the decades (Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, Bullets Over Broadway, Match Point) but, out of the 33 films I’ve seen of the 51 films which he both wrote and directed, I’d say the rest of them were... at their worst hugely entertaining, well crafted films and, at their best, works of cinematic genius. Now, it’s very clear Allen wouldn’t agree with me on that one and it’s made more than evident in Apropos Of Nothing, his autobiography, that he never watches one of his films after it’s done and never looks back at them. In fact, I think he might even have got the release date order wrong in one case so, yeah, that all rings true.

This book really isn’t about him specifically as a film-maker though and, I don’t think he’d ever write that book. Indeed, I’m surprised he’s wanted to write a memoir at all but I guess he wanted to address some issues about certain accusations which have been hurled at him over the years. You know the ones I mean.

When I first heard that he’d been accused of molesting an adopted daughter I really didn’t think it sounded right. Admittedly, I don’t want to confuse the real life person (who nobody could really ever know much about unless you were a friend or lover) with his on-screen writing but, there are enough loaded one-liners and tonal observations dotted about his back catalogue of work which suggest the absolute opposite. So my thoughts were, since the accusations have twice been disproved in court quite concretely, that he really probably didn’t and I couldn’t understand why so many actors turned on him and publicly denounced him in spite of what I assumed was overwhelming evidence to the contrary of his possible guilt of the accusations.

Still, I like to keep an open mind so, for a while he was just a fallen hero and someone I still admired as a writer and an artist. I didn’t ever expect an autobiography to come along and I certainly didn’t expect to see publishing houses falling over themselves not to publish it. I knew I wanted to read it though... not just to hear his side of that story (which I expected not to be included, actually) but because I really did want to know a little more about his films (more than I finally got here but, that’s okay, there’s still 'gold in them thar hills'). When a little publisher called Arcade finally made the book available, to such little fanfare that it was already up for pre-order a week or two before I found out about it, I hit that order button as soon as I knew, even though the times were a changing and the UK was in lock down.

Having read the book... and one would obviously expect the writer to defend himself in some way and so maybe not all the words could be completely trusted (that’s the mindset I had going in)... I can honestly say that I am in no doubt in my mind now whatsoever that a) all the charges against him were untrue and completely fabricated and b) he is a victim of one woman with a far reaching clout and her smear campaign against him. How do I know that? Well, stick with me for the rest of this review and I’ll get there.

Okay, so the first 20 or so pages of the book are dealing with the life of his parents and Mr. Allen’s childhood and, I have to say, I was in a state of shell shock. It’s a bit ropey for a while. The writing style didn’t seem like the Woody Allen I knew at all. Not the cultured and sophisticated writer of short story collections, plays and, of course, screenplays. It seemed completely unpolished and I struggled for just a little while... until, suddenly, once he starts talking about his career going into writing gags for comedians and upwards from there and into the career he’s known for today, it snaps back into the version of Allen I am familiar with and it suddenly becomes a bright and breezy, well written tome. All was well again... after a fairly shaky start.

Now, as I said, if you’re expecting to hear relevant minutia about the way his films are shot, what lenses and lighting set ups he employs, how he crafts a plot idea... you may be a trifle disappointed. However, instead we have little details about the various women in his life (including his current wife Soon Yi, with whom he’s lived in married bliss for over two decades), directors and actors who he’s worked with or met (he still thinks Mia Farrow was excellent in the films they made together), various legal shenanigans and, well, just about everything else... and it’s a trade off which, if you’re anything like me, will leave you thinking you came out a lot better on the deal.

The book is gold and I do get the illusion, at least, that I know certain parts of his personality a little better. The mask probably doesn’t slip much but, the mask seems to be a wafer thin one anyway as he tends to put a lot of stuff out there in his usual, self depreciating manner. It also jumps around a bit so, the sometimes chaotic structure is sometimes the lesser of two evils, I feel, when it comes to reading the book as if you’re face to face with someone recollecting their adventures to you in person. Which is not a bad thing.

Then there’s the issue of those troublesome and tainting accusations. I was surprised at how much ink he’s written on the two periods of his life where these accusations slammed into him but I did have some take-aways with his account of these incidents. Number one is that... and I certainly don’t wish to slander anyone here... Mia Farrow comes across a lot of the time as manipulative, vindictive and... perhaps... mad as a bag of frogs. The reason that Allen went through the court system twice and was acquitted was because there was nothing to acquit him of. There are numerous witnesses and enough evidence that, anybody who wants to just check what’s on file will know how the accusations made couldn’t possibly be true but were, instead (and also in the opinion of a fair number of experts, it seems to me), the harshly concocted and re-enforced grudge campaign of a vengeful mind. Not only that but the story made up seems to have been based on a song written by the ex-wife of a former husband of Ms. Farrow (Dory Previn) that was performed many years before the two even met, from what I understand.

And there are more horrendous things which have been left unpunished but which were certainly nothing to do with Woody Allen, it would appear. There’s some stuff I don’t want to go into about Ronan Farrow and some of the other kids that... I think are worth reading about from this book. I also think I understand now... or am at least reminded... how corrupt a system is in place in certain professions in the United States and have an inkling why, with so much evidence around to the contrary, Mr. Allen is continually depicted these days as some kind of devil’s spawn. I also found it interesting to know which of the actors who denounced him told him they were only doing that under orders, so to speak, from their overlords. All I’m saying is, I hope I’m alive when certain facts do finally see the light of day and I hope Woody is around to see himself redeemed in the public eye too.

But as a parting shot on that particular subject... let me just remind you that Woody and his current partner have two adopted children. Standards are quite strict and many fiery hoops have to be negotiated before an adoption agency will let you adopt someone, from what I can tell. A child molester would absolutely not make the grade and the evidence is all there that this is just not the case with Mr. Allen. He’s has been stringently probed and allowed to adopt. So, yeah, maybe just think about that.

Something that did surprise me about the relationship between Woody and Mia was that, by his account (and I believe him), he never even spent the night at her home. They were never married and the relationship was very relaxed to the point that she would spend each summer completely away from him and it sometimes sounds like the worst kind of failing relationship at best. And that really is the last I want to say about that toxic relationship because, although Allen produced some really great art in that period, it couldn’t have been the easiest working environment to be in emotionally.

Yeah, there is a lot about that whole non-incident but there are some great nuggets of interest too. For instance, I said there wasn’t much on his film work but, that being said, I know now what to look out for if I want to see Michael Keaton in the final cut of The Purple Rose Of Cairo (he was replaced by Jeff Daniels early on in the shoot). I was also vaguely aghast to discover that Allen completely re-shot one of his films again with some different actors before it was released because he just wasn’t happy with the film the first time he made it.

It’s also kinda telling that he remains friends with, or on good terms with, various ex-wives and girlfriends over the years, including of course Diane Keaton, who is also an excellent photographer and, indeed, a recent photo of Woody by her is used for the back of the dust jacket to this book (the front is designed like a typical Woody Allen set of film title cards, monotone with white American typewriter style font and no images). And I found all the stuff about Louise Lasser simply enthralling too. I always liked her in her starring roles in his films, a while after they’d divorced, in Take The Money And Run and Bananas... not to mention her little cameo in my all time favourite Woody Allen movie, Stardust Memories (I fractured my foot trying to see that movie but, that’s another story).

So yeah, this is a longer review than I expected but I certainly came away from this book knowing in my heart what I was only suspecting before, Woody Allen is completely innocent (of any of those infamous charges at the very least) and I don’t have to have any kind of problem re-evaluating his work as an artist again. Which is handy, actually, because I have three uncracked Blu Ray box sets of his to watch for this blog and so now I can do so with a clearer mind. It’s nice that I can start to think of him as a hero again.

In conclusion, all I can say is, allowing him a fairly shaky start early on in the book, if you’re a fan of this comedic genius then you should have... at least an informative time with Apropos Of Nothing and, certainly in my case, an entertaining and unexpectedly enlightening one. I hate the various media and news outlets just a little more after reading this but, you know... I’d rather know. Definitely a strong recommendation from me, especially if you’re one of those who have been condemning this man without actually checking out the evidence, which seems to have been inevitably ruled in his favour in court a few times. I think this is a true account and I think you should maybe give it a read.

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