I love movies. It hasn’t been a lifelong thing for me, it started in 2002, when I had heart surgery and began a six-month recovery. I took a lot of Vicodin, and didn’t do much more than watch movies for the months of June, July and August of 2002. It was then that I discovered Turner Classic Movies. I had cable service, but never had enough time to look through all the channels. Having nothing better to do, I watched movies. (BTW, that’s not exactly true. These were also my first months as an ex-smoker.)
One of the great things about TCM is they have special months, focusing on one actor, or a period, or a style of movie, and cover it in great detail. August 2002 was Joan Crawford Month, and I watched every one of the movies they played. In her first talking movie, in 1929, she sang and danced and smiled, she was so cute and charming and young. In 1932, she played a girl stranded on a Pacific island, victimized by other people’s morality in Rain. Also in 1932, in Grand Hotel, she plays a secretary who is seduced by a seedy old married dude. In 1939, she played a leading role in The Women, which had a cast of women only. No men. They talk about the men, fight over them, divorce them, remarry, all of that, without any men on screen or with lines. She plays the woman that all the other women hate. The beginning of the Crawford persona. In the 40s she developed into a business person in Mildred Pierce, and many other characters. I think her last great movie was What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, with Bette Davis. In this movie, she’s old, and kind of dumb, and a little sweet. At least that’s how I remember it.
Joan Crawford had her accuser, her adopted daughter, who wrote a book called Mommie Dearest, which became a movie, with Faye Dunaway playing Joan Crawford. The book came out in 1978, the movie in 1981. Here’s a piece in the NYT in 1998, which gives an idea of how it shook out, 20 years after the book came out.
I wasn’t a Crawford fan when all that happened. I never would have looked if I hadn’t been on my back in need of something to explore, to study, to occupy my mind while my body was healing. And I’m so glad I did.
Whether Crawford abused her daughter or not, to me, is not connected to her work as an actor. Abuse isn’t something that exists in a vacuum. Who was the victim? I have no idea. Each generation tries to do the best they can, but the gifts of previous generations can be hard to overcome. Where does the blame start? And what if Crawford’s daughter was taking advantage of her dead mother, who wasn’t able to tell her side of it? If we want to stop abuse, imho, the best thing we can do is all of us become conscious and develop a deep sense of fairness, and practice it, systematically, and without passion. Step back and take a deep breath, and stop treating people as symbols, and you’ll be doing a lot to stop abuse.
I didn’t love all of Crawford’s movies, but I loved enough of them. Same with Woody Allen. His early movies are funny, often deep, personal, and are just plain great story-telling and movie-making. I can’t believe supposedly serious people hold Manhattan up as evidence of some kind of wrong-doing! It’s a brilliant story, beautifully told. The young woman, played by Mariel Hemingway, provided a perfect foil for the childishness of the adults. She was kind, thoughtful, cared about herself. I thought she was a role model for how someone should conduct themselves in love. She gets the last word, and leaves Woody standing at the door of her apartment, realizing it’s time for him to grow up. Now don’t get confused about whose words are whose — that’s Woody Allen speaking through the young Ms Hemingway. He’s talking about himself to himself. The critics, these are supposed to be smart people. Why don’t they get this?
He made a series of great movies, but he hasn’t made one, in my opinion, since Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The Paris movie — what was that about? And the latest one, Blue Jasmine, was a imho a waste of time, even though many people loved it.
There’s no doubt that Mia Farrow, his ex, is trying to destroy his legacy. She’s been pretty open about it. In what way does that protect women against abuse? You can’t heal your pain by using it to destroy. She isn’t in a high moral position. She decided this should become a public issue. Okay, then her motives deserve a look too, as Christina Crawford’s motives were examined after the publication of Mommie Dearest.
Woody Allen’s art, no matter what his crimes, or how tarnished his name becomes, stands. It’s no longer his or Farrow’s — it belongs to all of us, for perpetuity, like Joan Crawford’s work. Some of it is human expression at its best. Other bits, not so much. But it’s not Farrow’s or Kristof’s to dispose of. And we also have to consider the possibility that they are cynically using Allen, and the rest of us, for some purpose that’s not good for anyone but them.
I’ve been told not to touch this, that there’s danger here for me. That’s exactly why I have to write about it. I’ve even been told this by journalists! I guess that’s how powerful the Internet shaming machine is. Cross them, and they’ll find a way to abuse you, even if all you did was question their motives.
PS: The Front — a 1976 Allen movie — is a cautionary tale for the era of Internet shaming we’re entering.