Tuesday, 10 August 2010

A poisoned Farrow may be a deadly weapon

In London in 1975, I went to see a production of Harley Granville-Barker’s The marrying of Ann Leete. Granville-Barker was a contemporary and friend of George Bernard Shaw’s. I’ve seen a couple of his plays and remember little about them except that they felt like Shaw without the wit. Taking the wit out of Shaw is like taking the special effects out of George Lucas, or perhaps the sex out of a porn film – it’s hard to imagine what would be left to hold the the audience's attention.

Anyway, back in 1975 I didn’t go for the play but for the leading actress, Mia Farrow. Did you ever see her in The Great Gatsby, made the year before? She had an ethereal quality that somehow captured all the haunting pathos of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

On stage that night she was the opposite. Stolid. Heavy. Wooden.

In the eighties she starred in a series of Woody Allen films (she also had a part, though we didn’t discover until later how small a part, in his personal life at this time) and her performances in the films contrasted starkly with what I saw on stage. This confirmed, as though confirmation were needed, that with the exception of a small number of outstandingly gifted individuals, an actor just has to be competent and it’s the director who determines whether what emerges is extraordinary or mediocre.

Then in the nineties she came back with her most powerful role of all, to her own script, as an avenging angel in the Farrow-Allen separation saga. Systematically, she set out to wound or destroy the very director who had coaxed performances out of her way beyond what on stage had been revealed as a limited talent.

Obviously Allen’s behaviour hadn’t been exactly exemplary. While in a relationship with Farrow, he’d apparently had an affair with Soon-Yi, her own adopted daughter. In some circles, this might be seen as falling short of the very highest standards of conduct. On the other hand, it was odd to hear her denouncing the relationship on the grounds that Soon-Yi was 22 and Allen was 56. Farrow’s own first husband, Frank Sinatra, was 50 when she married him at 21. Did she think there was some kind of watershed between 29 years and 34 when it comes to age difference?

What was really extraordinary, though, was the venom with which she pursued Allen, proving conclusively the truth of the saying about fury and a woman scorned. She even accused him of child sexual abuse, charges later thrown out in court.

So it’s fascinating to see her back in action again. This time her victim is Naomi Campbell, someone who I find even less fascinating than Harley Granville-Barker. Farrow, however, in the role of inquisitor-in-chief again, has somehow managed to turn what started as a war crimes action against Charles Taylor into the trial of Naomi Campbell.

When she gets her knife into you, she really goes for it, doesn’t she? You can imagine her knitting next to the guillotine and counting the heads of her enemies falling into the basket. You can even imagine her piling up the firewood for the burning of some hapless victim of the Church, though please don’t think that I’m trying to draw any kind of parallel between Campbell and St Joan.

Just what is Farrow’s problem? What makes her prone to such passionate hatred? And why are the media devoting so much time to the Campbell element of the trial? Surely giving blood diamonds to a supermodel is at best only peripheral to the case against Charles Taylor.

The interest in Farrow must be because she speaks to something deep within humanity. It’s that complete certainty of being right, so that anyone who differs by the tiniest margin is wrong, that has driven the great persecutions of history. It's therefore gruesome but fascinating to see the attitude emerging in court today. We feel we're watching, played out in reality, the obsessions that drove Arthur Miller’s characters in The Crucible.

As a result, it occupies so much more media attention than other less fascinating stories, such as floods in Europe, fires in Russia or catastrophe in Pakistan.

After all, even I chose to write about her, and not about them.


Anonymous said...

Your point about her venomous attack on Woody does not necessarily mean that she was making up the case against Campbell. I wouldn't say this in print for all and sundry to read, but I think you could not leave the arrow/farrow pun unturned.

David Beeson said...

If you didn't like my pun on Farrow's name, just be thankful that I couldn't work in the theme of 'quivering' as I'd originally hoped to do

Awoogamuffin said...

Now I want the quiver pun too