Barely three weeks since Hachette cancelled Woody Allen’s memoir, the book has been published elsewhere, and confirms that Stephen King, among many others, was right to worry about its suppression. The only person who stood to benefit from the silencing of Woody Allen was Woody Allen.
How, without this protracted attempt at self-exculpation, could it have been so clearly established that Allen is, as previously alleged, a man from whom girls and women would be well advised – unless they actually enjoy being objectified – to recoil? If we will never know exactly what happened between Allen and his daughter Dylan, whose accusations of abuse he has consistently denied, we can readily convict him, courtesy of this homemade indictment, of learning as little as Donald Trump from campaigners he calls “#MeToo zealots”.
And maybe, without his filming memories, some actresses might only have suspected that Allen was not merely directing them but perving as he went along. Christina Ricci? “Plenty desirable.” Scarlett Johansson: “Sexually radioactive.” As for Léa Seydoux, “maybe she could play a love-starved lonely housewife and I could play her personal trainer”. Only joking? After he, aged 42, cast 17-year-old Stacey Nelkin in Annie Hall, and “I marvelled as usual at her contours”, the two had a relationship (“jumped into the percales”).
Without his memoirs some actresses might only have suspected Allen was not only directing but perving as he went along
As much as one sympathises with Ronan Farrow, the unmasker of Harvey Weinstein and estranged son of Allen, when he discovered that his own publisher had quietly acquired the Allen autobiography, the new book surely complements, with its queasy deficiencies, Catch and Kill, Farrow’s exposure of gendered predation in the film industry. As for Allen’s reputation, the film-maker seems likely to prove more effective than any reporter to date, in showing himself not just to be a sexist adventurer but weirdly proud of it.
Hachette’s staff protested, in sympathy with Dylan Farrow, against publishing Allen’s book. They could not have anticipated its potential to alienate. If the book’s main purpose is to depict him as a blameless creative and doting father, wronged by a scheming ex-partner, he seems only marginally less determined that readers marvel that he enjoyed what he describes as “romantic adventures” with countless lovely, often strikingly younger women. Some are lucky enough to be distinguished by name – Mariel Hemingway, Farrow, “the three Keaton sisters”. Others can be generically dealt with: “I have had brief dalliances with centrefolds.”
For Allen, you gather, sexual mores have yet to progress beyond the 60s offer of free love and undiluted patriarchy, when men like him “could stroll on the Kings Road and pick up the most adorable birds in their miniskirts”. Other instructive synonyms for women include: “delectable bohemian little kumquats”; “little amuse-bouche”; “willowy lingerie models”; “cute little bluestockings”; “stacked miracles”; “dynamite blondes”. Older women, or ones he dislikes, are, it follows, frigid, mad, ugly, or – ugh – too keen on sex. One ex-wife, writes this unlikely moralist, “never met a mattress she didn’t like and had a cottontail’s libido”.
Whoever was kind enough to leave intact these reminders to follow Allen’s example and never watch another of his films has surely performed a more valuable service, at least for his despised #MeToo zealots, than his non-publication. Unmemoired, Allen might yet have been considered capable of distinguishing female characters, in his better work, from their all-important rating on the Allen fuckability scale.
One excuse for bringing sex into ostensibly improving outings with his partner’s daughter, Soon-Yi, with the pornographic evidence left where her family – and his cleaner – might find it, is that he and Farrow weren’t having sex. “I was very ripe for the plucking.” He and young Soon-Yi, he boasts, lest her estranged family struggle to visualise communion between a 55-year-old and a 21-year-old, “couldn’t keep our hands off each other”.
Now they have, he says, a perfect marriage. One of those dreamy May-Methuselah partnerships where she takes care of the domestic stuff, while senior fantasises about stars he’d like to shag, though not without ’er indoors-style tributes to Mrs Allen. “In a concentration camp,” he jests, Soon-Yi “after two days would have the Gestapo bringing her breakfast in bed”.
If, for years, Allen’s creepiness was in plain sight, what with Soon-Yi, the recollections of Mariel Hemingway, and his weakness for father-daughter age romances, on and off screen, it is still startling to discover no sign of awareness, after his lifetime’s therapy, of anything transgressive. On the contrary, reviewing his relationships, Allen regrets only not responding earlier to “red flags”, warning of troublesome women ahead.
With one wife, it was her messy bedroom. With Farrow, subjected here to extensive character assassination, he tries to convince us that she, from a troubled – red flag! – family, is therefore dodgier than he, with his purloined daughter, enthusiasm for teens, and now, just sayin’ line in slurs. Was there ever any “canoodling”, he faux-artlessly asks, between Mia Farrow and the judge (helpfully deceased) who stopped his visitation rights? Meaning, I think, did she barter sex for an advantageous child protection verdict? “I tend to be naive in such matters.” Since he never witnessed violence, Allen makes do with secondhand allegations, such as a scene when Mia threw a phone (in an earlier account, a chair) at Soon-Yi.
You can see why Ronan Farrow, before Hachette cancelled, asked that Allen’s book be factchecked, as his own book had been. But again, uncorroborated malice can erase trust as a more legalistic approach might not. Allen’s reputation outlived, just about, the hostilities with Mia, Ronan and Dylan Farrow. It may not survive his own book.
• Catherine Bennett is an Observer columnist