Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 19, 2014

House of Burgess: Separating art from artist

Allen, Polanski are talented creeps.

By Rob Burgess
Tribune columnist

— Dylan Farrow begins and ends her open letter, published by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof on his blog Feb. 1, with a question: “What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?”

“Before you answer, you should know: when I was 7 years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house,” wrote Dylan, before launching into a stomach-churning recollection of what she maintains are her memories of the abuse she suffered at the Oscar-winning director’s hands.

These are not new allegations and have been part of the public consciousness for the last 22 years. Since they first surfaced in 1992, though, we hadn’t heard Dylan’s side of the story — until now.

Allen has never been charged and, as ever, has denied any wrongdoing.

“No one wants to discourage abuse victims from speaking out, but one must bear in mind that sometimes there are people who are falsely accused and that is also a terribly destructive thing,” he closed his response in The New York Times on Feb. 7. The same day in the Hollywood Reporter, Dylan confirmed she wouldn’t go quietly. “I won’t let the truth be buried and I won’t be silenced,” she wrote.

Over the years, both Allen and Dylan’s mother, Mia Farrow, have separately but consistently used legal documents to stick up for another celebrated but embattled director, Roman Polanski. In March 1977, the then-43-year-old Polanski was charged with multiple sexual assault counts involving then-13-year-old Samantha Jane Gailey.

For decades, Mia Farrow has written letters to the court and testified on Polanski’s behalf. In 2009, Allen joined Terry Gilliam, John Landis, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Tilda Swinton and others in signing a petition to the Swiss government asking for Polanski’s release after being arrested there.

Interestingly, Gailey (now known as Samantha Geimer) defended Allen on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live” on Feb. 4. “I think maybe everybody should pull back and not make this such a public thing,” she said. “There’s no resolution to it.”

No matter what else they may or may not have done, many unsettling facts concerning the Allen and Polanski cases are indisputable. Allen really did begin a relationship with Farrow’s adopted daughter (and Dylan’s sister), Soon-Yi Previn, when he was 56 and she was in her late teens. Her age is the source of some controversy as “nobody knows how old Soon-Yi really is,” reported Maureen Orth in Vanity Fair in November 1992. “Without ever seeing her, Korean officials put her age down as 7 on her passport [at the time of adoption]. A bone scan [Mia Farrow] had done on her in the U.S. put her age at between 5 and 7.” The reason Polanski is still haunted by his crimes of 36 years ago is because he really did agree to a plea bargain, but fled prior to sentencing.

I struggle with this every time I hear about a new project Allen or Polanski have released. I am filled with mixed emotions. And then, there’s the question of the price of the ticket in some small way funding the person who created it.

Consider this: When Allen and Mia Farrow started dating, Soon-Yi was around 8 years old. And, according to the victim, before Polanski committed his crime he plied her with a Quaalude and alcohol.

And yet, I still think “The Pianist” is one of the best films about the Holocaust ever. And I consider “Annie Hall” to be one of the funniest movies of the last quarter of the 20th century. After you make something and release it into the world, it is no longer completely yours. It belongs to each person who experiences it.

The list of artists with despicable personal lives is seemingly endless. Great things can come from flawed people. I think the reason I’ve decided I can hold both thoughts in my head at the same time is simple: I’m separating the art from the artist. I’m trying, anyway.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.