Last night, the Arlington theater was packed to celebrate Cate Blanchett who was named as Outstanding Actor of the Year from the Santa Barbara Film Festival. It was a cold night in Santa Barbara, but that didn’t stop the many party-goers and restaurant-hoppers crowding up and down State Street. Perhaps the familiar site of homeless men and women camped out in the corners had been mitigated by the weather. The night had a strange aura to it. Earlier in the day the news had broke that Dylan Farrow had called out Cate Blanchett, every actor who has ever worked with Woody Allen, Hollywood in general, and even us for continuing to honor a man who violated her at the age of seven. It wasn’t just the one incident, she explained. There was a pattern. Now, Woody Allen lives with Soon-Yi and their two adopted daughters. Farrow feels guilt for this too.
Nonetheless, there was the tribute, there was Blanchett, and there was her incomparable work as Jasmine in Woody Allen’s masterful Blue Jasmine, his best film since Crimes and Misdemeanors. Perhaps it was easier to turn a blind eye and let Dylan’s life alone when Woody’s films were mostly being panned by the critics. But when Midnight in Paris was rewarded with Oscar nods, and now, with Blue Jasmine, the Golden Globe tribute and the Daily Beast defense — Ronan Farrow’s outspoken protests against his father have now escalated to all out war. It’s us or them, Dylan says to us, including a photo of herself as she is now, staring back at us with questioning eyes, the pain from everything she’s gone through plainly visible. I myself was thinking about whether or not to attend the tribute. I had the inner dialogue going — does this make me complicit? Does it invalidate Blanchett’s work? Our behavior as fans, and the entire Hollywood industry, has done what dysfunctional families often do in the wake of a scandal — go on as though nothing has happened. That is, of course, why the courts must be involved. Why there is due process and why, had I been Mia Farrow, I would have done everything in my power to make sure Woody Allen paid for any crimes the courts found were committed.
As it is, she declined to continue pursuing the case to protect Dylan. That didn’t help matters as Dylan turned that pain inward and tortured herself. She’s the victim here either way. If she’s telling the truth, she’s had to live in a world that denied her veracity, and must live with the guilt victims often feel, the ugly pain of it all, for years. If she’s not telling the truth, living with that lie would be almost as bad. She loses either way. To my mind, trying this case by public opinion makes it even more torturous for her. I understand why they are doing it — surely it’s to defend Ronan Farrow for his defending his sister. They are standing up for what’s they feel is right, as Mia Farrow and Ronan Farrow often do. When the Daily Beast slagged Mia, that sent her children once again into defense mode — to protect Mia’s reputation. Why does it always feel like it’s about Mia when it should be about Dylan and the other children, yes, including Ronan and including Soon-Yi.?
Many people are angry that Woody Allen did not pay. They are angry that no one really believes he did it. They are angry that the awards keep flooding in. We are conflicted, confused and not sure how to respond. The sanctimony on Twitter is beyond tolerable. The comments that automatically side with Woody equally intolerable. This is why we have courts at all, so that this kind of mob mentality can be avoided. Unfortunately, though, the system appears to have failed Dylan Farrow.
Blanchett seemed confident but a little shaken up when she took the stage, draped in a glittery mid-calf length dress and a long coat. Pete Hammond did the q&a – it was not expected, nor appropriate to my mind, to bring up the news of the day. Whatever Woody Allen’s crimes may be, he wrote one of the best films of the year about immorality in our financial system. Call it hypocrisy of the highest order but the simple truth is, Blue Jasmine is a great film. Cate Blanchett’s performance in it one of the best she has ever given, if not the best. To watch this artist at work is to see a seamless transformation from Blanchett to an inwardly contorted drug addicted maniac. Jasmine has had to live alongside a Bernie Madoff character, someone who deceived the public and got away with it. He ends up killing himself in prison while she has to go out and try to live a normal life among the rabble. It is Blanche if Blanche weren’t blameless. Living with a crime you can’t admit to is something Woody Allen could clearly know something about. That paranoia, that disease within is embodied perfectly in Blanchett’s work.
At one point Hammond directs a question to her about why there was visible sweat under Jasmine’s arm. She said that with some people you can’t immediately see how they are imploding — but that their body begins to breakdown even before they do. She said she made the conscious choice to be sweating as a way to illustrate that.
The night featured clips and a montage by this most exquisite actress, who has played so many different parts so well. She was Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator — she was the exotic, intoxicating ballerina in Benjamin Button, exploded outwardly in Notes on a Scandal and we know she’s one of the definite Blanche DuBois.
After the q&a the MC announced a very special guest. Rooney Mara draped elegantly in black took the stage to present Blanchett with her award. She talked about how she’s become a little disillusioned with the way Hollywood works, how she’s found little inspiration in its treatment of women. But that she revived her faith by going to the movies and looking up to watch Cate Blanchett’s work on the big screen. This first happened to her when she was 13. But it happened to her recently when she went to see Blue Jasmine. There, because of, it must be said, Woody Allen’s writing, one of the only offerings for the whole year of a complex, vibrant full spectrum character who happened to also be a woman.
Earlier in the day I attended a women’s panel of producers. These women were motivated to make great films. They did not talk about the limitations but most of them didn’t really talk about developing or fortifying roles for women either. They didn’t do this because they know what Rooney knows, what I know, what you know — it’s nearly impossible to get films made at all. Those that star women have to take a backseat to those they know can sell. Alfonso Cuaron and Sandra Bullock defied them with Gravity. Even harder to find movies like Blue Jasmine, that really are about a woman’s inner world.
Now the Best Actress race seems to be removing, little by little, all of the complex characters from the race — like Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks. Streep has been marginalized, too, for August: Osage County. That leaves Judi Dench in Philomena, Sandra Bullock in Gravity and Amy Adams in American Hustle. But I’ll say this for the Oscar race, if anyone doesn’t vote for Blanchett for any reason other than her performance ought to be tossed from any group that pretends to give out awards for the best. It doesn’t help that her character isn’t likable, but neither is Amy Adams’. That is what complexity often affords — the opportunity exhibit more than just one color. All the same, Bullock and Dench are exceedingly likable characters, both in Best Picture contenders. Is the Best Actress race suddenly up in the air? Not the way I define it but I would put nothing past the Academy.
After the ceremony, a parent allowed his daughter to sit on the stage. The mob had dispersed from taking pictures of Blanchett and Mara. The VIP party was about to start. The little girl basked in the light of adoration briefly, illustrating a familiar pull to be known and noticed. We shuffled out of the room and into the VIP party, where once again they passed around food and drink. Blanchett was feted, branded with the festival’s sponsors even, before being confronted by Jeff Wells. She handled it like a pro, and a mom, even though this night was not supposed to be like that. She acknowledged their pain and hoped for a resolution.
These are the stories we tell that shape the Oscar race in a given year. The narrative overtakes common sense, hysteria leads the way. What’s left as we look back on the Oscar season we’re living through is that story. To understand the win is to remember the story. Otherwise, all you’ll be seeing is something that looks like it’s supposed to make sense but something about it seems off kilter.
Like a fog that settles over a beachside vacation town on the coast of California, so does a story often blur the outlines of what we already know is there.