Woody Allen—whose 50th and possibly last film premieres at the Venice Film Festival on Monday—is a four-time Oscar winner whose career has been dogged by unproven allegations that he molested his adopted daughter. The 87-year-old New Yorker, who has averaged about a movie a year since the 1980s, is considered a comic genius by many and envied by fellow filmmakers for the freedom that movie studios grant him. His films—notably romantic comedies “Annie Hall” (1977), “Manhattan” (1979), “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008) and “Blue Jasmine” (2013) — have led to Academy Award wins and nominations for his leading ladies.
He is known for a certain intellectual and intimate style, dissecting relationships with a bittersweet wistfulness—and often casting himself as the neurotic man at the center of it all. His work however lost some of its lustre with critics in later years, and his troubled personal life has increasingly overshadowed his films. For more than 30 years, allegations that he molested his and Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Dylan when she was seven have colored a career that often is now more celebrated in Europe than in America.
He has long denied the allegations, saying they were fabricated by Farrow after he began a relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, another of Mia’s adopted daughters from a previous relationship. New Wave influence Born Allan Konigsberg on December 1, 1935 to a New York family of second-generation Jewish immigrants, Allen spent much of his Brooklyn childhood alone in his room, practicing magic tricks or playing the clarinet. Allen’s stage name is a tribute to the clarinetist Woody Herman. He was reportedly hired as a teenager to write one-liners for well-known comedians, and then eventually dropped out of two film studies programs at New York University and City College of New York.
He worked as a stand-up comic and wrote for television in the late 1950s and early 1960s before moving into film. “From the beginning, I dreamed of being Godard, Fellini, Truffaut or Resnais. Together with Bergman and Antonioni, these are the filmmakers who made me want to do this job,” he told French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur in 2014. ‘Untrustworthy and insensitive’ As a screenwriter, actor and director, he has won four Academy Awards and been nominated more than 20 times in a career that has often blurred with his personal life.
It was with one-time partner Diane Keaton that he made some of his most popular films including “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan.” And he wrote many roles for Farrow, with whom he had a 12-year relationship. She notably appeared in 13 of his movies, including “Hannah and Her Sisters”—one of his greatest commercial successes. But his relationship with Farrow exploded in 1992 when Farrow discovered Allen had a stash of nude photographs of Soon-Yi, whom she had adopted during a previous marriage to pianist Andre Previn. Soon-Yi was 21 at the time. Allen and Soon-Yi married in 1997 and are still together.
They have two children. In the midst of a toxic custody battle, Dylan Farrow claimed Allen had sexually assaulted her. A US judge ruled the allegations inconclusive, but lambasted the director as “self-absorbed, untrustworthy and insensitive”. Allen always denied the claims and continued to work with generations of A-listers. ‘Witch hunt’ Showered with awards in Europe, Allen once described his relationship with Hollywood as love-contempt and frequently snubbed the Oscars gala over the years. He has regularly accused studios of pandering to the lowest common denominator and being driven by purely commercial concerns.
Allen’s mostly small-budget films have often lost money, with notable exceptions, including 2005’s “Match Point,” which took in $85 million worldwide, and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which won Penelope Cruz a best supporting actress prize. And then the #MeToo sexual harassment firestorm, fueled by a bombshell expose about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein written by Allen’s son Ronan Farrow, saw several actors declare they would no longer work with the lauded director. In January 2018, Dylan Farrow gave her first television interview, tearfully describing her father as a liar.
Allen hit back, accusing his ex-lover’s family of “cynically using the opportunity afforded by the Time’s Up movement to repeat this discredited allegation”. Allen was criticized for saying he felt “sad” for Weinstein and cautioning against a “witch hunt atmosphere” in which “every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself”.
But, despite being effectively blackballed by Hollywood, he has continued to make films and grace red carpets in Europe, with the majority of his recent movies shot on the old continent. “Coup de Chance,” debuting at Venice, is Allen’s first film in French. Allen told Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia last year that it could be his last movie. “My idea, in principle, is not to make more movies and focus on writing,” he was quoted as saying. — AFP