top of page

APROPOS OF NOTHING book review by Victoria Alexander

Woody Allen’s Apropos Of Nothing is very skillful and purposeful. Disarmingly forthright, Allen insists he is not the man the public believes it knows. He claims to have played no part in the creation of the Woody Allen persona. He is certainly not an elitist since he grew up as a Brooklyn Jew. In fact, his childhood was free of books, art and culture. Without acknowledging his physical limitations, short with poor eyesight, a lifetime of unruly hair, and meaningless features, Allen was blessed with meeting people who guided his career. Everyone Allen ever met was wonderful – except one person. He showers compliments on a litany of people. For a man who claims to save nothing, he found an excellent researcher to hunt down names, dates and how they helped shape his career.

No one was ever mean to Allen. He glided smoothly from sending in gags at 16 years old, to writing for TV, a stand-up career and then to making films. Why in the world did he insist on starring in most of his films? Apparently, no one ever questioned his constant casting of himself in romantic leads. Only a very determined ego would defy the sanctity of Hollywood leading man requirements, no matter how small the film’s budget.

Allen insists his life in therapy has not helped him one iota. Of course, a realized man does not need changing. The real purpose of celebrity therapy is to use the therapist as a modern day “whipping boy” who is bound, professionally, to keep secrets. Confidentiality is an integral part of psychology's code of ethics. It’s dumped spouses, cheated business partners, delusional ex-girlfriends and jealous friends who fuel all public downfalls.

Allen spends most of the book doing what his devoted fans want - a totally honest evaluation of each of his films. He never saw the work he did in other people’s films. He admits to not seeing all his films after production ends. Most of his comments are how disappointed he is in them. He is not an auteur. He claims that after 68 films, he knows nothing about lighting, camera angles and directing actors and actresses. He only requires one take* and does not bother with coverage, a master shot and close-ups. It’s a satisfying, productive day if he is home by 5pm. He has never made a great film. (*Managing Editor aside: long ago as a student at the School of Visual Arts in NYC, one day I walked into directing class to find it empty as did the students coming in behind me. Someone rushed in: "Woody Allen is directing at Madison Square Park!". So off we went and sure enough there was a small crowd of gawkers - to be enthusiastically absorbed into the gestalt by yours truly - roped off with the usual PA's, assistant directors, Winnebago's, extras being sent in each with his own coach to push him off at the appointed moment to walk past Woody and Mariel Hemmingway casually. The movie was Manhattan. The shot was a master shot. He shot. And he shot. And he shot. One master take. Over and over. After an hour or two Allen retreated to his Winnebago - which is his right - and returned 30 minutes later, and he shot and he shot and he shot. One scene. One angle. That same master shot. 30 takes? 40? Who can remember? It's been a long time. The scene was not particularly complicated, with no camera dolly or crane moving, no complex choreography. Just a static camera shot of Mariel Hemmingway walking out of a hotel to a cab as the attendant put her character's suitcase into the cab and Woody walked up and they quietly spoke his words too far away for any of us to hear. But one thing is for sure: he certainly didn't shoot one take! With a crew 10 times larger than necessary and about 1,000 miles of cable and reflectors and lights for a scene which ultimately looked on the screen like a pretty but low-budget production, I am forced to surmise from that day in which he shot that one angle all day long, that despite what he says about his creative methodologies, that Allen, whose work I very much like, did not shoot his different scenes in one take per camera set-up. After what i saw, I'm surprised he is not still down there getting the inflection right. ~ David Rosler)

We are lulled into a fresh, sincere portrait of simple, ordinary, non-creative Woody. He spends a great deal of time on his wives, especially the crazy one, Louise. He’s innocent of any evil. Throughout his career - in one of the most venal, ruthless, sadistic businesses in our society - he has never taken advantage of anyone.

Human sacrifice was more humane.

Woody’s life has been filled with wonderfully creative people who hid his gross imperfections. He luxuriated in being propelled, undeservedly, into the world of talented, famous people. Allen has met everyone! Then meeting them, he would run away. He never spoke one word to a famous actress who starred in two of his films. What was Allen doing, directing traffic on Lexington Avenue?

Allen’s world is filled with kindness and beauty. Tales of Hollywood excesses and brutal executives are missing. He has no grudges or scores to settle – except one. The only demon in Woody’s life was, is and remains Mia Farrow. At 84, Allen has two objectives in Apropos Of Nothing: crucifying Farrow and portraying Soon-Yi Previn as a masterful, warrior woman. Soon-Yi is a true goddess who structures his life, gives him an allowance and permits him to indulge her every whim. His goal for all the years they have been married is to make Soon-Yi happy.

I have many objections to Allen’s side of the notorious scandal that enveloped him, Mia Farrow and Mrs. Allen. Two parts of this fascinating Shakespearean saga makes me furious.

Everybody is lying and covering up the truth of what they did.

Let’s begin with Soon-Yi. Finally, she decided to give an extensive interview that was published in New York magazine (September 2018). Soon-Yi talked about her life as an abandoned and starving five-year-old in Korea. Life had been so hard that Soon-Yi ran away. “I was running around the streets, going through the garbage looking for food. And I ate a bar of soap. The soap was the worst-tasting — I could think of it now, it was just disgusting." A woman fed her and turned her into the police, who in turn sent her to an orphanage. After getting sent to a second orphanage, Soon-Yi was later adopted by Farrow and Andre Previn. I am sure when an American movie star comes to an orphanage (think Madonna in Malawi), the children are well aware their life could change immediately.

If Soon-Yi had not been adopted by Farrow, who used her status and influential friends to change the law for international adoptions, who knows what fate had in store for her? There were not too many opportunities for Korea’s unwanted children.

Does Soon-Yi know that her profile in New York magazine was disastrous, and in her own words exposed how ungrateful and cold she is? Her lack of feeling for Farrow from the moment she met her set the stage for what would come. Her unwillingness to thank Farrow and Previn for rescuing her from the harm that could have befallen her living on the streets of Korea, establishes a ruthlessness that was previously hidden from the public. Coming forward was a colossal mistake. She has done herself a lot of harm in describing her defiant hatred for Farrow.

Okay, I’ll take the leap. Soon-Yi might have been the architect of destroying Farrow’s creative and romantic life with Woody. Did Soon-Yi want to replace Mia? It could have been a brilliant way to hurt Mia. Was it Soon-Yi who intentionally left the nude photos in plain view? What a thrill it would have been as Soon-Yi waited for Mia to arrive at Woody’s penthouse. If only it was true, what a great second act twist.

Soon-Yi would have preferred staying in the orphanage instead of being dragged away to be the daughter of a movie star and a world famous composer.

I should say “adopted daughter of a movie star” since Woody’s mantra identifies Soon-Yi as not a real daughter, no matter what the law says.

Marie Osmond famously said, “Some of my children are adopted, but I can’t remember which ones!”

Ultimately, Soon-Yi realized she was not adopted as a “daughter” but as a permanent “live-in maid”! The nerve of Mia! Is help that hard to get?

Soon-Yi has completely ignored the fact that while Mia was window shopping for an abandoned child to adopt, her husband, renowned Andre Previn, also adopted her. Soon-Yi hit the jackpot! She was given a prestigious name. Or was Andre just a convenient pawn?

Despite her adoption, Soon-Yi felt uneasy from the start. She told New York magazine, that “There was a big excitement and hoopla around her. And she came to me and she threw her arms around me to give me a big hug. I'm standing there rigidly, thinking, Who is this woman, and can she get her hands off of me? She didn't ring true or sincere."

Now that’s a skill unique for a six or seven-year old. She sized Mia up immediately. Everyone was thrilled she was chosen. Oh, to hunt down her orphanage friends and see what life gave them. She could have grown up in the orphanage but would have had to work really hard and taken care of other children.

Instead she was chosen for a life of privilege but it quickly became apparent to Soon-Yi that her savior was Mommie Dearest. Soon-Yi’ believes her adoption had only one purpose, she had to take care of her brothers and sisters. The worst offense was that she had to iron Mia’s bedsheets when Woody came over. Did Soon-Yi ever consider that the other children were, like her, unwanted and it was very hard for them to be adopted? After accusing Mia of lacking love, she bluntly admits she disliked Mia, resented doing chores and caring for her brothers and sisters.

In Woody Allen’s book, Apropos Of Nothing, he repeats this comical nonsense.

“She spoke well of the orphanage to me. The nuns were kind to the kids. Then one day Mia showed up and adopted her. This was years before I knew Mia, but Soon-Yi remembers it well. Soon-Yi had no say in the matter. One would think of this as great good fortune but Soon-Yi, then seven, did not. She took an instant disliking to Mia, who showed up, plucked her from a life and friends she had gotten used to and liked, and showed no warmth nor empathy. Mia then took her out of an environment she had bonded with and on a tour of other orphanages, where Mia browsed for new orphans like one goes through the remaindered bins in a bookstore. Failing to find a human she fancied, Mia moved on.”

Excerpt From Apropos of Nothing by Woody Allen. This material may be protected by copyright.

The words Woody chooses, “browsed”, “remaindered bins” and “fancied”, paint a very nasty portrait of Mia.

No one ever told Soon-Yi that most Americans have grandparents, or great-grandparents that came from big families of 8, 9 and beyond children. Everyone had to help out. It is what one does when part of a big family.

Soon-Yi described her childhood with Mia as physically and emotionally abusive: In the article, Soon-Yi illustrated fending for herself and feeling like an outsider all the time. "Mia wasn't maternal to me from the get-go," she said.

Both Soon-Yi and Woody ignore her adopted father, Andre Previn. Mia married Previn in 1970 and moved to London. Their life in London was intellectually stimulating, glamorous and full of children. The couple had three children of their own and they then adopted Vietnamese infants Lark Song and Summer "Daisy" Song, followed by Soon-Yi Previn. Previn and Farrow divorced in 1979. In the aftermath of the scandal involving Soon-Yi and Mia Farrow's partner Woody Allen, Previn said of Soon-Yi, "She does not exist.”

Soon-Yi referred to herself as a "domestic" when she was growing up. "In Connecticut, Lark cooked, and we cleaned the bathrooms, cleared the dishes, washed up, and did the sweeping. When Woody started coming up to Connecticut, I ironed Mia's sheets," she said.

She judged Mia’s parenting skills as a "total breakdown of your spirit."

What is more chilling is that Soon-Yi does not understand that what she said was idiotic to everyone. Let’s defend Mia on this. With Woody only paying Mia $300,000 (before taxes) per film, she needed to give her daughters chores. She could barely pay the rent on her New York City apartment and the house in Connecticut. No wonder two of Mia’s daughters were caught shoplifting lipstick.

Or, did Mia’s secret affair with Frank Sinatra provide much needed extra cash? I was shocked when Mia started floating the suggestion that Woody’s son, now known as Ronan Farrow, was really Sinatra’s son. My respect for Mia, and belief that she was emotionally abused by Woody, plunged.

How could Mia maintain that her relationship with Woody was exclusive when she was hooking up with Frank? She never told Woody she was seeing Frank. What a deception if true. If they had an open relationship, knowing Woody liked young girls, Mia should have kept an eye on blossoming Soon-Yi.

Soon-Yi, 50 years old and having been around movie stars and makeup and hairdressers for over 20 years, does not wear makeup. She blames Mia for not teaching her how to put on makeup when she was a teenager.

Woody was led to believe the child Mia was carrying was his. Woody not only accepted the child as his, he provided financial assistance. Then he adopted two of Mia’s children that he favored. How did the other children feel about this? Any other mother would have said, ‘it’s all of them or none of them.’

Woody never had a DNA test done? Even today it is relatively easy to obtain someone’s DNA. Or is it only TV crime shows that obtain DNA samples from a discarded plastic cup?

Was the Mia and Woody relationship, which was publicly described as a “couple” for 13 years intentionally misrepresented? Why couldn’t it have been crafted as a typical “director and his muse” arrangement like Alfred Hitchcock and Grace Kelly and Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio?

Woody goes to great lengths to minimize his relationship with Mia. They never lived together. He also insists he never had any interest in young women. He fails to mention that in 1976 he embarked on a hidden eight-year affair with a 16-year-old model, Babi Christina Engelhardt. Woody was 41 years old.

The Hollywood Reporter (December 2018) interviewed Engelhardt with the headline ‘Woody Allen's Secret Teen Lover Speaks: Sex, Power and a Conflicted Muse Who Inspired 'Manhattan' by Gary Baum.

Engelhardt has written two volumes of unpublished memoirs, one focusing on her time with Allen. After awhile, Woody began inviting other young girls to join them in bed. Here is the section of the profile that calls into question Mia’s outrage at being deceived by Woody:

“But she felt differently when, after they'd been sleeping together for four years, Allen beamingly announced that he wanted to introduce her to his new "girlfriend." (Engelhardt had presumed she was the girlfriend.) It turned out to be Mia Farrow, who was 14 years older and already famous for Rosemary's Baby and The Great Gatsby.”

“Despite the initial shock of jealousy, Engelhardt says she grew to like Farrow over the course of the "handful" of three-way sex sessions that followed at Allen's penthouse as they smoked joints and bonded over a shared fondness for animals. ("When Mia was there, we'd talk about astrology, and Woody was forced to listen," she laughs.) Engelhardt writes in her manuscript, "There were times the three of us were together, and it was actually great fun. We enjoyed each other when we were in the moment.”

Engelhardt closes with saying she felt that Mia only went along to please Woody.

Woody writes ugly things about Mia. Summing the scandal up, Woody believes his affair with Soon-Yi has been totally misrepresented. Soon-Yi was not Mia’s real daughter, she was Mia’s adopted daughter, so it didn’t count.

This Shakespearean melodrama will continue, if Woody lives long enough. Ronan Farrow should be afraid, be very afraid. The only true way to destroy Mia is through her Golden Child, Ronan Farrow.


bottom of page