GEORGETOWN, Texas (Tribune News Service) — Documentary films never merely document. They always convey a perspective or opinion. They have an agenda.
When renowned documentarian Michael Moore was accused of bias in his films, he said, in essence: well, of course. Moore freely admits that he means for his documentaries to express a point of view, to support an opinion, to press an agenda.
The audience for HBO’s recent four-hour documentary “Allen v. Farrow” should keep this in mind. The film emphatically promotes two complementary assertions: Mia Farrow is a saint; Woody Allen is a monster.
The adult Dylan Farrow is a convincing witness, and she’s never wavered in her allegation that on Aug. 4, 1992 — when she was 7 — Woody Allen lured her into an attic crawlspace and sexually molested her. Her pain is obvious. Her story is bolstered by extensive testimony from Mia Farrow and by family friends, sympathizers and experts who assert convincingly that the allegation is true.
Allen declined to be involved, though he is often present in the film in photos and video clips and in excerpts from his memoir “Apropos of Nothing.” He is consistently presented as manipulative, controlling, cruel, predatory and unduly interested in much younger women.
By contrast, Mia Farrow is portrayed as a caring mother of 14 children, a woman devoted to their welfare and struggling with guilt for having allowed a man like Allen into her family. Clips of Allen dodging reporters or enjoying the adulation of fans are juxtaposed with scenes of Farrow reaching out to refugees in Darfur or promoting polio vaccinations elsewhere in Africa.
Anything that detracts from this saintly portrait of Farrow is absent from the film; anything exculpatory of Allen is absent, as well, or quickly brushed aside.
“Allen v. Farrow” is damningly convincing. Much of its audience is likely to believe that when Dylan Farrow was 7 years old she was raped by Woody Allen, a criminal for whom the lowest circles of hell are reserved.
But in one respect, the film suffers from its own success: The stronger the case it makes for Allen’s guilt, the more strength it adds to this nagging question: Why wasn’t Allen prosecuted for this crime?
Frank Maco emerges as a minor hero of “Allen v. Farrow.” Maco was the state’s attorney who declined to prosecute Allen, even though he had the same evidence at the time that “Allen v. Farrow” presents so convincingly.
In 1993, Maco held a highly irregular press conference to announce that even though he had “probable cause” to prosecute Allen, he declined to do so in order to save Dylan from the trauma of a trial.
But this must be prosecutorial malfeasance of the highest order. Maco’s logic could be applied to any victim of child molestation. Further, child molesters usually don’t commit a single act. What was Maco’s obligation to Allen’s potential future victims?
The essential goal of “Allen v. Farrow” is to establish Allen’s guilt. Nothing would accomplish that goal better than a civil suit against Allen, a remedy still available under Connecticut’s statute of limitations. Why haven’t the Farrows filed it?
“Allen v. Farrow” raises another important question: Why?
Why, 38 years after the allegation, produce a four-hour documentary that rehashes mostly old material about a mostly forgotten episode, without the slightest gesture toward impartiality?
I suspect that the answer is that “Allen v. Farrow” suits the zeitgeist of our times. We’re attracted to simple moral tales that bring down the powerful and sympathize with their victims. Thus it’s appealingly easy to lump Allen together with Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein, without troubling ourselves with exculpatory evidence.
And there is a great deal of exculpatory evidence, particularly the Yale New Haven Hospital report that found no evidence of sexual molestation, as well as credible testimony from two of Farrow’s older children, who say that Mia Farrow isn’t exactly a saint and that the allegation against Allen is simply not true.
But our age prefers a simpler, less-nuanced story, as well as titillating television. “Allen v. Farrow” provides both.
John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas. Readers may send emails to email@example.com. © 2021 Tribune Content Agency.