Allen v. Farrow Episode 1 Recap: Conduct Inappropriately Serious
The new HBO documentary series takes another look at Dylan Farrow's claims of sexual harassment against Woody Allen, her adoptive father.
On Sunday night, the first episode of the four-part HBO docuseries "Allen v. Farrow" premiered, offering a fresh review of Dylan Farrow's decades-old sexual harassment claims against her adoptive father, the filmmaker Woody Allen.
She accused Mr. Allen of sexually assaulting her at the family's Connecticut country house on Aug. 4, 1992, when Ms. Farrow was 7 years old. In a bitter custody dispute between Mr. Allen and Mia Farrow, the Hollywood power couple who made 13 films together, Mr. Allen has long refuted the charges, which were front and center.
Also central to the series is Mr. Allen's friendship with the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow, Soon-Yi Previn. Mia Farrow found nude photos of Ms. Previn, then a first-year college student, in Mr. Allen's apartment about seven months before the day that Dylan Farrow says her father raped her.
In the midst of the custody dispute and inquiries by the authorities in response to Dylan Farrow's story, there were several years of concentrated media coverage on the family beginning in 1992. Mr. Allen has long maintained that, after learning about his relationship with Ms. Previn, whom he married in 1997, Mia Farrow had coached Dylan to make the accusations. While a Connecticut state attorney refused to prosecute Mr. Allen, claiming he wanted to save Dylan from the ordeal of a courtroom, he said he believed she had been abused.
"In a statement on Sunday night, a spokesperson for Mr. Allen and Ms. Previn said that the series was a "shoddy hit piece" and that the claims of Dylan Farrow are "categorically false.
Since the allegations surfaced, almost three decades have passed, but the dynamic saga has returned regularly and become the topic of controversy, most recently during the #MeToo campaign.
This series features detailed interviews with Dylan and Mia Farrow, as well as Dylan's siblings and family members, produced by the documentary filmmakers Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering and Amy Herdy. This includes videos of Dylan Farrow asking her mother, who is behind the camera, what she claims her father did to her in August 1992 at age 7, a videotape that was never publicly released before.
In the first episode, which discusses the origins of Ms. Farrow's relationship with Mr. Allen and thoughts on how Dylan became the target of "intense affection" towards her father, the footage does not appear.
Here is a rundown of what we saw on Sunday evening.
'Most of the time, idyllic'
The series begins at a press conference in New York's Plaza Hotel in 1992, at which Mr. Allen defends himself against the accusations of harassment and accuses Mia Farrow of instigating them.
But the episode quickly switches away from Mr. Allen's story, who did not take part in the series but whose viewpoint is also captured by audio snippets of his latest "Apropos of Nothing" memoir. It turns to an adult Dylan Farrow, now 35, who is seen flipping through a family picture album.
Dylan Farrow, who was born in Texas and adopted as a child, tells of a childhood that was "idyllic, most of the time," explaining what it was like to be the child of a popular Hollywood actress and director: memories of stumbling around movie sets as a child, being on private planes for family vacations, swimming in "posh" hotel pools, all demonstrated by Ms. Farrow's home video footage.
But things were complicated below the surface of this bustling, unorthodox family—nine children, taken care of by unmarried movie-star parents.
The couple with Hollywood strength
The episode rewinds to the early relationship between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, beginning in 1979 when they first met at Elaine's, the Manhattan Restaurant. Ms. Farrow remembers how from their apartment windows, which were visible to each other from across Central Park, the pair would shine their lights at each other. She said the signal was a way of saying, 'I love you.' "Hanging out the window with a red towel meant, "Love you giantly.
She said she acknowledged that Mr. Allen told her that he had "zero interest in children," despite the fact that Ms. Farrow already had seven children, three biologically with her husband at the time, André Previn, and four of them adopted.
But eventually, at home in Connecticut and at his apartment in the city, Mr. Allen started spending more time with the children, forming an especially close bond with Moses Farrow, whom Ms. Farrow adopted after her divorce from Mr. Previn.
As Ms. Farrow wanted to expand the family any more, she said, Mr. Allen told her that he really did not want any responsibility for his own boy, but that "if it was a little blond girl, he could be more kindly disposed of." Ms. Farrow ended up adopting Dylan, who soon became the focus of the affections of Mr. Allen. Two years later, Ms. Farrow had a son, Ronan Farrow, who was called Satchel in the beginning. (In a 2013 interview with Vanity Fair, Ms. Farrow later indicated that Ronan may have been Frank Sinatra's brother, not Mr. Allen.)
Ms. Farrow committed to a family dynamic in 1991 that would form the legal conflict in the years ahead: Dylan Farrow and Moses Farrow were adopted by Mr. Allen.
A relationship 'inappropriately heavy'
The center of the first episode is a series of interviews with members of the Farrow family and friends, some of whom have never spoken publicly, who say Mr. Allen's conduct towards Dylan Farrow was observed by them, which appeared unacceptable or made them uncomfortable.
Dylan Farrow said she has memories of going to bed with her dad, both of them in their underwear, and he would wrap his body around her "very intimately." A family acquaintance, Priscilla Gilman, who became close to the family while dating Matthew Previn, one of the eldest sons of Mia Farrow, recalled that in that situation she saw Mr. Allen getting out of the bed in his underwear. Ms. Gilman, who also spent time with the kids, said she saw Dylan Farrow sucking the thumb of Mr. Allen, too. (Ms. Gilman said Mr. Allen assured her that his daughter was calmed by sucking his thumb, but now an adult Dylan Farrow sees it as an infringement, remembering that her father had clearly instructed her on how to do so.)
The sister of Mia Farrow, Tisa Farrow, said in an interview that she once saw the hand of Mr. Allen linger "suggestively" between the buttocks of Dylan Farrow while applying sunscreen.
Mia Farrow, who remembered seeing Mr. Allen kneeling in front of her daughter or sitting next to her with his face in her lap, said she had approached him at one point about what she had seen, stating that she was not "comfortable with the way you handle and look at her." She said that Mr. Allen was furious and that she ended up apologizing profusely. But then Ethel Individual, a valued therapist in Ms. Farrow's apartment building, called to inform her that there was something 'wrong' about the way Dylan Farrow was greeted by Mr. Allen. Mr. Allen decided to see a psychologist afterwards.
The psychologist said she saw Mr. Allen with Dylan Farrow being "inappropriately intense." But, Ms. Farrow tells the filmmakers, even though onlookers or the child itself might view it as sexual, the therapist did not think the conduct was sexual.
The changing actions of Dylan
Dylan Farrow says in an interview with the filmmakers that she loved her father but that she got "intense affection all the time"; people around her, including Ms. Gilman and her brother Ronan, found that when Mr. Allen called her over or entered the room, she would always run away or try to hide.
Mr. Farrow said in an interview with the filmmakers, "Over time, Dylan went from being outgoing and effervescent and talkative to her having this sadness and this withdrawn quality."
Mr. Allen denied that Dylan Farrow had ever been sexually immoral or abusive, instead depicting himself as an initially hesitant father in his own writing, who surprisingly fell in love with his daughter and enjoyed showering her with affection. "Mr. Allen wrote in part of his memoir that was included in the episode: "I adored Dylan and spent as much time as possible with her from her infancy on. I bought her countless toys, dolls, stuffed animals, My Little Ponies. I played with her.
The Point of Turn
Then the discovery that changed everything came in January 1992. Ms. Farrow said she visited Mr. Allen's apartment to pick up a coat and found racy Polaroid pictures of her college daughter, Ms. Previn, next to the phone.
Ms. Farrow said she recalled putting the pictures in her pocket and, in shock, leaving. She said she questioned Ms. Previn when she returned home. (In this documentary, Ms. Previn did not participate.)
The therapist for Dylan Farrow told her mother to tell the children about the images, Mia Farrow said. She was hesitant, but she did, and Dylan Farrow said it was the first time she understood she may not be the only one at the receiving end of her father's actions, thinking, "Oh, it's not just me," she thought to herself.