My favorite Woody Allen movie is Annie Hall. A banal sentence with a bad meaning.
Like many survivors of child abuse, I have always sought comfort and escape from my own life in the lives told in fiction—especially movies, in my case. A safe and scripted portrait of growing up, fucking up, falling in love—one that links you with the other people around you and is available for purchase as a six-disc box set on Amazon—is so much more appealing than an unreliably remembered reality that you are too traumatized to relive and too scared to retell for fear that the response will be “I don’t believe you.”
Andy Warhol once said that he likes everything to be exactly the same: identical pictures of happy movies stars faces printed over and over again. I found this comforting predictability in my Woody Allen DVDs. His world made me feel things—sad things—I didn’t necessarily want to feel in the real world. Unclouded by trauma or humiliation, the memories he created in the collective consciousness were clearer than my own, which are constantly being rewritten to jibe with my current, ever-changing self. But his movies were more reliable than real life. You could just a buy them in a shop and fast-forward to a particular scene, and it would be exactly as you remembered. There were no tricks.
This trick does not work for me anymore.
It’s been a long time now since Dylan Farrow told us exactly what her father, Woody Allen, did to her. Since that time, my thoughts have tossed and turned, settling most recently on what it means to love work by terrible people. It’s easy to dismiss an artist’s work if you never cared for them in the first place, if you never had a chance to form a relationship with them in your head before you learned the horrible truth about them. If I didn’t watch Annie Hall on repeat after my house was robbed and all that was left was a cheap TV and a couple of Allen’s movies, watched over and over again to stave off the depression that threatened to swallow me whole. If I hadn’t transcribed, by hand, the dialogue from Hannah and Her Sisters on a card sent to a friend with cancer. If I hadn’t watched that scene from Hannah where Woody Allen goes to the movies after a failed suicide attempt and decides not to die every time I wanted to die, and if it hadn’t stopped me every time from going to the kitchen, opening the knife drawer, and slitting my own throat.
Now, I don’t know how I feel about these memories, about these feelings, about Woody Allen, about myself. To think that the source of my escape from abuse could have been responsible for ensnaring someone else. How do I reconcile my solidarity with other survivors, with all girls whose innocence, like mine, was stolen when we were in our single digits, with the fact that Woody Allen’s movies have, quite literally, saved my life on numerous occasions? I do not know. I am scared and confused. My stomach hurts and I feel faint.
I remember staring at pictures of Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby in my grandma’s TV Guide and thinking she looked so cute, long before I’d ever even seen the movie by Roman Polanski, who, a decade after making it, drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl. I remember the summer when all the pictures I uploaded to Facebook were washed-out imitations of photos by Terry Richardson, who I thought was a really cool photographer. That was before I learned of the myriad accusations of sexual harassment and exploitation made against him by young models he’s worked with.
I feel silly now to have thought that movie theaters and DVD collections (not to mention books, video games, iTunes, etc.) were safe spaces that child abuse—an affliction as common as the cold—could not enter. Are there other terrible things in my DVD collection that I skipped over, erased from my memory, because the crimes of their creators don’t apply to me, personally? If I hadn’t been abused as a child, could I do the same with the work of Allen, Polanski, and Richardson?
Most of all, I keep returning to the same question: With its illusion of cosy comfort, in his funny face flickering from the screen onto mine as I lie in bed, his work told me more about letting people know you than anything in my lived childhood ever did. What do I make of those memories now? Which ones should I hold on to, and which can I erase? ♦
Bethany Rose Lamont is an MA student at Oxford University and a graduate of Central Saint Martins. Her art and writing have appeared in cool places like BuzzFeed, The F Word, the British Library, Hackeny Citizen, and The Ardorous. She blogs here and tweets here.