Three days ago, The Hollywood Reporter published an article: “Woody Allen’s Secret Teen Lover Speaks: Sex, Power and a Conflicted Muse who Inspired ‘Manhattan’.” In it, the point of view of the adult woman looking back with mixed emotions on the relationship and its unequal power dynamic. The article took me back to my teen years when I was often called a muse by middle-aged intellectuals, was asked to pose for photos and invited to threesomes, just like the woman in the article, Christina Engelhardt. She went on to work for Federico Fellini and notorious pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. She is currently the assistant for producer Bob Evans.
What's made her attractive to these powerful men, both personally and professionally, is asked. The answer is in part what Allen appreciated in the first place: "I was pretty enough, I was smart enough, I was non-confrontational, I was non-judgmental, I was discreet, and nothing shocks me."“
This brief synopsis points to the reasons why I am not working for a Bob Evans and why my life took a very different turn. I was pretty enough and smart enough, yes. Nothing shocks me. That is where the similarities end. In my teens, like Engelhardt, I did fall into the trap of looking up to ugly, middle-aged pedophiles whose culture and clout shrouded their unhealthy and immature sexual preferences.
I was still a teen when I landed in a sexual relationship with my own biological father, an artist. He told me that it was consensual from the moment it started. After I had first broken up with him - still in my teens - I tried to complain to a boyfriend, an actor in his thirties who also knew my father. He said he wasn’t interested in hearing about it. A few years later I tried to complain to a female friend of my father’s, who echoed my father by responding that it had been consensual. There was nothing worse for anyone who wanted to be thought of as intelligent than to condemn liberals’ sexual behavior. Judgment against sexual trespasses was reserved for the uneducated, religious working class, who were supposedly all blinded by the Catholic precepts. If you believed in morals you were considered a fool. Artists had to be free in every way, even if that freedom was always the same boring story of a middle aged male’s promiscuity, threesomes and young girls. Freedom that robs young girls and women of theirs is not freedom at all: it is male privilege.
Recently I watched Meet the Fockers. This comedy brings two families together over their children’s impending marriage, one that sexualizes everything and one where the father is an uptight, retired CIA operative with grave concerns about the loose ways of his future in-laws, the Fockers. He is nicknamed ‘el stiffo,’ while the liberal Fockers make their son cringe with a constant stream of incestuous innuendo and impossibly inappropriate revelations. The premise suggests that the only problem lies with ‘el stiffo,’ who loosens up by the end of the film, seen reacting with interest and excitement to sex advise whispered in his ear by the mother of his new son-in-law. Wink wink. The end.
The brainwashing that morality is for fools and that intelligent people’s open-mindedness means they have to accept everything and anything sexually, is massive. These are the underpinnings of what remains of this man’s world. This is why pedophilia remains the greatest problem today, because most intelligent people are emotionally aware enough to understand that is is wrong, yet are unwilling to accept that they have been played the fool and have unwittingly tooted the pedophiles’ horn.
Like Engelhardt, I had experienced previous sexual abuse which magnetizes a child to attract more predators, infused with sensuality that is projected out in imposed confusion between love and sex, reaching its apex in the mid-teens when hormones rage and the will seeks to manifest itself more strongly. The very desire to rebel led me straight back to my core unresolved issue in looking for myself in the mirror of artistic, exploitative eyes - the reduced essence of a muse.
While Engelhardt met Allen at Elaine’s Restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, once the relationship started, he never took her anywhere. They only met at his apartment, in his bedroom. She imagines how spectacular the view from the window must have been: she never saw it, the curtains were always drawn. She was never allowed to sleep over. He would have his chauffeur drive her in his white Rolls Royce - to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, from where she would have to make her way back to her parents’ house in Matawan, New Jersey. While the Port Authority is safer now than ever, I would never allow my seventeen-year-old daughter to be there by herself at night. I can’t begin to imagine how dangerous this place must have been for a pretty teenage girl in the late 1970’s. It hurts me to think that he might have been too stingy to have her driven all the way home, to keep her safe at least from other predators.
Nothing in the article suggests that Allen cared for Engelhardt in any way. In the eight years they were together, she asked only one thing of him: as an aspiring actress she wanted his help to obtain a Screen Actor’s Guild card. He refused. The unspoken rule was that they never spoke about work.
Secretly securing a job as an extra on the set of Stardust Memories, Engelhardt describes how she dreamed that the director, her boyfriend, would notice her and pull her out from the crowd. She never saw him and never told him she was there.
Though she was initially extremely uncomfortable with the idea, he plied her to have threesomes with other young girls. Eventually, he shocked her by saying he wanted to introduce her to his girlfriend. She had, of course, believed she was his girlfriend, but it turned out the real girlfriend was Mia Farrow, with whom she also was made to engage in threesomes.
Engelhardt was manipulated into a relationship that was entirely on Allen’s terms, receiving nothing. She was a slave bound by invisible chains, caught in a cult called Western civilization. Allen was the perfect spreader of its deceitful messages, stoking audiences’ feelings through visually rich portrayals that vaguely hint at deep loss while perpetuating the normalcy of pedophilia. Engelhardt points out in the article that Allen’s alter-ego in the film Manhattan, Ike, can conduct a relationship with a teenage partner, able to parade her in public and among friends in a fantasyland devoid of any disapproval,” and notes how it contrasted with her own enforced seclusion. "I was kept away," she observes. The author of the article adds: “The ethical milieu Allen establishes among the rest of the adults in the film is striking. Without exception, they're either amusedly ambivalent or outright supportive of the pair's relationship. Indeed, Ike's own perpetual hand-wringing about its appropriateness — as though such hand-wringing were tantamount to absolution — is brought into even sharper relief by its absence elsewhere.”
The brainwashing accomplished en masse by Allen’s movies was as profound as it was upon his young victims. If it would have been generally frowned upon for middle-aged men to parade their teen partners in public, even in the more liberal and intellectual circles, the influential film certainly helped to change that, paving the way for Allen himself to openly have a relationship with Farrow’s daughter. If he helped to normalize incestuous sex with teens, incest with a seven-year-old child is still taboo. When his daughter Dylan came forward about the sexual abuse she suffered at his hands in her childhood, she was widely attacked, and shunned by the actors who worked with Allen, who protect him to this day. Even the MeToo storm that blew over from Hollywood barely made a difference: from among the hundreds of actors who worked with Allen, only two have publicly distanced themselves.
So, what would drive a man to be drawn to children? What is the mindset of a pedophile?
Much art arises from the depths of the artist’s personal pain, but very often, the core trauma remains unconscious while the need to create offers escape from the world as it is, made too hard to live in through the trauma. This also affects the artist’s behavior. If he were to “behave,” or live in the world as it is, trying to respect himself and others, he would not be comfortable: the boundaries imposed by morality would force him to look behind his unhealthy desires and impulses. While most movies bring to life the shadow side of their creator through fear and violence, the artful ones bring a wider range of repressed feelings to the screen, of a child’s love along with the pain of betrayal and loss, felt in the hearts of observers. In this way, no one has to feel their own pain, and no one has to own their story.
Intellect can do much to overcompensate for an underdeveloped emotional intelligence. Trauma emotionally stultifies its host. These men are all acting out, literally or symbolically, past trauma in the role of the abuser who had the power when they were the powerless victim. Someone as totalitarian in their need for power as Allen certainly has suffered a terrible childhood. A rampant pedophile such as the billionaire Jeffrey Epstein comes from vast trauma to inflict as much trauma on as many victims as he did. When children are made to feel powerless, frustrated in their basic emotional needs, there is an adult whom they love causing the trauma. If the abuse is so severe that the adult remains too big and too powerful in the eyes of the child, this person will continue to protect the original abusive adult and remain stuck in the trauma - when their emotional growth process was frozen. Privilege has helped no man, because it encourages him to perpetuate his unresolved pain on all those less privileged instead of confronting himself.
Liberalism today has come to represent the lack of feeling imposed by the emotionally impaired influencers. If open-mindedness goes in the direction of extending sexual boundaries, where, then, is it, when victims of powerful abusers speak out? Now is the time to explore the emotional landscape based on empirical knowledge from personal growth. Personal feeling work yields true wisdom. Only trauma healing can create empathic and peaceful solutions on the large scale. If we don’t, we will perpetuate the role play of little girls looking up to Great Men, while those Great Men need to manipulate real children in order to feel that they are the adults everyone believes them to be.