Here is an article I published in a book entitled Perspectives on Woody Allen, edited by Renee R. Curry. The book was published by G. K. Hall & Company and is a compilation of essays that includes movie reviews and thematic analysis. In this article, I show how the psychoanalytic notions of transference and displacement can be used to explain the media swirl around Allen's film Husbands and Wives. This article not only applies Freudian notions to both the film and it's reception, but also shows the pervasive nature of Freudian theory in our culture.
That Obscure Object of Analysis
SOMEWHERE IN the dark recesses of the tabloid press, a lurking version of
“the truth” waits to be revealed about Woody Allen. Or so we would
like to believe. But whether or not that version has to do with the man or
his movies remains to be seen. The on-screen drama of Husbands and
Wives (1992) sent many of its viewers home with self-conscious reflections
about their own lives and loves. But it was the oﬁ-screen drama that
caught the eye of the public, and gave many of these viewers the impetus
to see the ﬁlm. And it was the off-screen drama that became front-page
headlines, from magazines as diverse as Time and .’\'eu'sweek to Vanity
Fair, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and People. The scandal was also covered in
the smaller, more elite publications, such as the New Republic. Macleans,
the Nation, the National Review, and of course, the trademark of main-
stream elitism, the New Yorker. Plastered on newspapers all over the country,
particularly the northeast corridor, where most of his fans reside, Allen’s
photograph was multiplied and made into a fragment of a larger
collage that included photographs of the other participants in his sudden-
ly not-so-private life. Articles next to articles, pictures within pictures—this
postmodern media pastiche soon began to resemble the best of Aliens
ﬁlms. For in his most serious and self-conscious moments. Woody Allen’s
art is all about the multiple enclosures that surround our perceptions of
experience. To explain this phenomenon, and show how it relates to
Allen’s art, I have employed the psychoanalytic notions of projection and
The media explosion swirling around Husbands and Wives highlights
one of the many thematic concerns of the movie—namely. the irony of any
single vision of truth. Stylistically, this point is made through the jittery,
hand-held camera that mirrors the emotional chaos at the opening of the movie.
This device continues throughout the ﬁlm. and becomes more pro-nounced
whenever the plot itself portrays shaky and turbulent emotion.
While reminding us that we are only seeing part of the truth, this shaky
camera also calls attention to the artiﬁcial nature of ﬁlm. The shaky cam-
era, in short, is a self-reﬂexive device used to break the mimetic illusion.
What we are watching is a ﬁlm, and lest we forget, the ﬁlmmaker will
Allen also emphasizes the multiplicity of meaning and truth through the
formal device of the mock interview. At intermittent moments, most of the
principal players appear on screen talking to an unseen, unknown inter-
locutor who seems to be asking them questions. Is this a ﬁlmmaker, thera-
pist, or novelist? Simulating the cinema verité format, with its “realistic”
collection of voices and points of view, this technique is actually meant to
function as a documentary of the movie Allen is making—which has unwit-
tingly acted as a companion piece to the play within the play going on in
the press. Functioning like Chinese nesting boxes that enclose within one
another, this subtext of the making of a movie actually becomes part of the
text, thereby merging the form and content.
With its abrupt stops and starts, the ﬁlm style of Husbands and Wives
mirrors the stops and starts of relationships. It is here that Allen manages
to deconstruct the twin conventions of both marriage and art by exposing
the artiﬁcial nature of both. Allen goes behind the scenes and reminds us
that conventions are socially constructed, that they are not a priori
assumptions, and that they appear so only when framed. By adjusting the
frame, then, Allen unmasks their pretense. The chaos that rushes in is his
movie, Husbands and Wives, which is self-consciously about the making
of a movie—itself. Ironically and eerily, this theme has been reﬂected in
the profusion of reviews about Allen and his ﬁlm. As a collection, these
reviews are really about the making of a story, false frames included. Seen
in this light, the “who is Woody Allen?” question dissolves into “who is
telling which story?,” Woody Allen or his reviewers? This process becomes
evident when we turn to the notions of projection and transference.
Woody Allen and his reviewers can be respectively likened to the
patient in analysis who transfers feelings from the past onto the ﬁgure of
the analyst, thus projecting internalized feelings outward. Like the patient
who tells his story to the analyst, who then retells that story back to the
patient, Woody Allen has been telling his story cinematically and otherwise
in the media. The media has told that story back to him through magazine
articles, newspaper reviews, and editorials. The result, as in analysis, is a
jointly authored tale in which authority ﬂips back and forth between story-
teller and audience.
In addition to this dialectic between Allen and the press, there is the
other dialectic between the media and the consumers of the media. As
patients, we have looked to the press as an authority on Allen’s life and
ﬁlm. In the transference, however, it is we who have become the authori-
ties. We have pieced together our own story lines and offered interpreta-
tion, just like the analyst. And just like the analyst, our interpretations have
taken the place of fact. From Allen to screen to media to us, we have inter-
nalized this multiple chain of projections, often forgetting that the real
object has receded from sight. As in Freud’s seduction theory, where a real
or imagined event is displaced by affect, here the real or imagined Woody
Allen has been replaced by media-assisted interpretation and projection.
The “who is Woody Allen?” question becomes a house of cards, built
around shadows, obscured in opinion.
Husbands and Wives opened with a bang because of the hype sur-
rounding Woody Allen and Mia Farrow’s personal life. “Discovered” to be
involved with his longtime lover’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, Allen
was suddenly catapulted into the public eye and used as a vehicle to
explore the roots of moral corruption1 and the nature of incest? His fami-
ly saga was laid out next to reportage of the Republican National
Convention, whose call to arms was the decline of family values. And for
those who were looking to vilify psychoanalysis in the discussion of the
national health crisis, his folly was offered up as evidence of the abuse that
permeates the mental health profession: “Just how many sessions of psy-
chotherapy should be paid for in the coming national health plan?”5 This
press response is interesting on a number of levels.
Socially, the response is indicative of the way in which Woody Allen is
being used as a moral and ethical scapegoat in order to discuss the prob-
lems that plague our country. Richard Dyer, in his 19'»'9 book. Stars,‘
emphasizes the important hold that celebrities have on our lives. one
important enough to generate an intertextual media war on who is actual-
ly going to deliver the “goods” on Woody Allen. Psychologically, the
response shows just how much we have internalized Woody Allen's own
projections, and in turn, project our own life dramas onto his.
In the midst of his troubles, Allen gave a news conference and
appeared on “Sixty Minutes.” In a prepared statement regarding his rela-
tionship with Previn, he summarized his situation: “In the end, the one
thing I have been guilty of is falling in love with Miss Farrow’s adult daugh-
ter at the end of our own years together.”5 This rendition then gives way
to analysis, like any good story: “I didn’t ﬁnd any moral dilemmas whatso-
ever.”6 The ﬂat-out denial here highlights the irony of the situation. Forced
to defend himself to a not-so-adoring public, Allen becomes the patient in
analysis who justifies his life, gives his version of the story, and employs
defense mechanisms to ward off unpleasant feelings. And like the
patient/child, he has come to resent that authority: “I never cared, and
don’t care to this day, if I ever made another film in my life.”7
What we have here is an act of aggression, mirroring the Hegelian-like
struggle between patient and analyst. As the analysand progressively
appropriating his/her own life story, Allen can be shown as attempting to
rein in his narrative. Roy Schaeffer has written that in analysis “the
analysand becomes coauthor of the analysis as he/she becomes a more
daring and reliable narrator.”8 Allen as analysand is ironically coauthor and
object of analysis here, a situation that highlights the supreme irony of the
transference. How can the analyst—in this instance, the media—be more
of an authority on Woody Allen than he is himself? And taking the matter
one step further, how can we, the audience, really pinpoint the focus of
our responses? Is our transference to the man or the media?
For her media version of these events, the more demure Farrow chose
an upscale, cosmopolitan magazine known primarily for its interest in the
personalities of famous people; The choice of Vanity Fair accordingly
offers a sharp contrast to the “strictly news” approach of Allen’s———one that
humanizes her rendition and gives it a softer edge. Vanity Fair is also
known for its coverage of the latest trends in art, including ﬁlm, theater,
and literature. Farrow’s story then, is set within a publication that rein-
forces the art of her tale, which ironically mirrors the play within the play
theme in the press, as well as in Allen’s movie.
“Mia’s Story” alerts us to the artiﬁce of its subject and construction mere-
ly by its title. An obvious fictional construction, since it was written without
the beneﬁt of direct quotations from Farrow, this story paints a sympathetic
portrait of a woman cruelly wronged by both her daughter and her lover.
The ambitious New York Newsday, however, managed to acquire a letter
that Farrow wrote to a close friend: “I have spent more than a dozen years
with a man who would destroy me and corrupt my daughter.... I can think
of no crueler way to lose a child or a lover and with them a treasured part
of my life.”9 This account lacks the aggression characterizing Allen’s
clipped, succinct, and tidy narrative. Allen’s ﬂat and reductive conceptual-
ization, in fact, stands in sharp contrast to Farrow’s version—which sug-
gests strong feeling. Her account is sweeping in its melodrama—and tear-
fully evokes a vain and wasted past. In short, Farrow’s account calls up
images of love, loss, and possible revenge, like a romance novel. Her
account paints her as the victim of a cruel triangle. Previn, the supposed
victim in this sprawling tale, gave her version of events in Newsweek. As in
Allen and Farrow’s choice of magazines, Previn’s selection of Newsweek
makes a statement similar to Allen’s. The events should not be clouded
with affect and implication: “I'm not a retarded underage ﬂower who was
raped, molested and spoiled by some evil stepfather.... I’m a psychology
major at college who fell for a man who happens to be the ex-boyfriend of
Mia. I admit it’s offbeat, but let’s not get hysterical.”‘° This rather ﬂippant
account represents Previn in the transference as a patient attempting to
appropriate her life story from the media, like Allen. And like Allen’s, it is
an account that appears designed to reduce an inherently complex situa-
tion into a linear, simple narrative. Her protestations come across as hostile
and aggressive. Implications of incest are ignored. Her current lover is
referred to not as her siblings’ father, but as her mother’s ex-boyfriend.
Nonetheless, this rendition is still a rendition. Whatever the tone, whatever
the angle, it is just one more piece of the entire picture—which can be
judged neither in isolation nor at face value.
It is here that we see how context becomes just as important as con-
tent. It becomes, in fact, part of the content—and illustrates how placement
becomes part of the meaning. What I refer to is the actual layout of
the article. Previn’s version appears as a news item in a news magazine, on
the page following an interview with Allen. It is framed within a collagelike
assortment of pictures—a current photo of herself, a baby picture, a photo
of her mother, and one of Allen. Above her statement there is a chronolog-
ical rendition of events entitled “The Days of Their Lives.” This pictorial
media collage acts as a mirror to the familial collage of the principal play-
ers. It reinforces the drama of the situation by presenting itself as a con-
structed work of art in which linearity and simultaneity exist side by side.
And most importantly, it brings the Freudian romance to life.
Again and again we have intertextual references to other lives and other
shows (television as well as movies). Again and again we have the play
within the play echoing Allen’s self-reﬂexive cinematic preoccupation. And
like Allen’s growing repertoire of films, which are redeﬁned each time a
new ﬁlm is made, each voice in this drama accents and speaks to every
other voice. We can say, in fact, that Previn’s statement is like a repository,
her voice containing traces of everyone else’s voice, her statement rising to
prominence only in relation to the other lines of the principal players.
Previn’s story is not without reverberations. One family acquaintance,
in fact, refuses to believe that Soon-Yi knew what she was saying in the
comments in Newsweek: “Soon-Yi doesn’t know half those words. what
they mean.”“ The obvious target, of course, is Allen, who is indirectly
being accused of ventriloquism. Is Soon-Yi the dummy? And if so, why has
Allen stolen her voice?
Whatever the answers to these questions, we must remember that they,
as well as the questions, have been presented to us by the media for our
unscrambling. The implications that we draw, the pictures that we put
together have not much to do with the stated object of analysis. We our-
selves become the “dummy” when we take the press versions as authentic
mirrors of the situation. Thus, the speculation on whether Previn could
have possibly known what she was saying becomes unimportant, high-
lighting the more important fact that this intertextual banter has every-
thing to do with the Construction of a good story.
When Previn’s tutor is quoted as saying that Soon-Yi “misinterprets situ-
ations,”12 the inference that situations exist for interpretation deconstructs
the tutor’s argument. It is here that the poststructural emphasis on self-
reﬂexivity becomes a useful lens. Jacques Derrida and his following come
to mind in the discussion of texts that ‘call their own realities into ques-
tion. The content of these dialogues is not the issue, but instead the sim-
ple fact that these dialogues have been published as accurate mirrors.
Rather than renditions that reveal and refer outwards, these renditions
conceal their reference points and refer back to themselves; they are
steeped in paradox because they betray a belief in an outside, stable truth,
while at the same time revealing skepticism. These renditions have long
ago ceased to be about Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, and Soon-Yi Previn. As a
collection, they tell their own story, and form accounts caught in the cross
ﬁre of mimesis-—an aggressive battle, a lost cause.
One of the points I have been trying to emphasize here is the conﬂation
that has gone on in the press between Allen the man and his art. Over and
over, countless reviewers have refused to make the distinction that Allen
has said he wants to be made. Asked about how the turbulent events of his
life may have related to the script of Husbands and Wives, Allen ﬂatly
denied any real connection. “People tend to think these things reﬂect my
life in some way. . .. But basically, they don’t reﬂect my life.”13 Yet, most of
the reviewers have compared the on-screen failing marriage of Gabe and
Judy Roth in Husbands and Wives to the off-screen failed relationship of
Allen and Farrow. Take, for example, a review of the movie in New York
magazine: “T he scenes between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow lack the min-
imal degree of illusion necessary for ﬁction. . .. Farrow looks beaten, her
head down, her shoulders turned in.” Eluding this reviewer is the fact that
even reportage of the “facts” is itself created. There is no way to know
whether “Farrow was attempting to portray a depressed woman or was
genuinely depressed.”” Reportage is always ﬁltered.
The philosophical concern thus begging to be explored here has to do
with the epistemology of knowledge. How do we know what we know?
From Kant to Derrida, this question has been deﬁned as one that is insepa-
rable from the act of interpretation. For Kant, all knowledge is itself inter-
pretation. With Derrida, we go one step further. Reacting against all forms
of rationality, reﬂecting the nihilism and relativity of our century, all truth
is reduced to ﬁction.
It is exactly at this point that the search for “truth” regarding Woody
Allen becomes important. Whether we agree with the Kantian notion that
all is interpretation, or the more extreme Derridian one of ﬁction, the fact
remains that we are left with mediation. Even the Kantian notion itself, or
“noumena,” is interpretation. Trapped within the double representations
of language and media, we are left with what philosophers call the
hermeneutic circle—meaning that we can never escape from interpreta-
tion. Concentration on the “truth” of the real-life events surrounding
Husbands and Wives, therefore, has been a red herring, a tantalizing dis-
placement of a focus that belongs elsewhere—namely, on the act of inter-
As in most spectacles, the real focus of this media-propagated event has
been obscured. Accordingly, Allen’s character has been scrupulously dis-
sected in the press, and picked over for answers. And interest in his sex
life has given this sought-for nakedness an added visual dimension. From
accusations of child abuse to speculations on the details of his conduct
with Previn, newspaper headlines have attempted to lay Allen bare. Take
the New York Post’s headline: “DYLAN: I WATCHED AS DADDY AND
SOON-YI HAD SEX.”15 Aside from being an example of a false search for
Kant’s notion of noumena, this is also a wonderful example of voyeuristic,
sexual curiosity—a Freudian bedroom scene. Says an outraged Allen, “I’ve
had to actually go on television myself and talk about my private life, and
really the sexual part of my private life.”16
\Vhat we have here is yet another example of the way in which the
media has colluded and continues to collude in the interpretation that has
posed as truth. And we can also see the impact of poststructuralism in the
way textuality and intertextuality have pervaded this whole affair. The 31
August 1992 issue of Time magazine offers a brilliant example of this post-
modern Derridean phenomenon.
Time cunningly makes reference to Allen’s 1989 ﬁlm with the mini-
headline “Hollywood Babylon: Crimes and Misdemeanors.” contained
within a larger, more glaring headline, “Scenes from a Breakup." which is
itself contained inside the magazine’s front cover, “Cries and Whispers,”
with its obvious reference to Allen’s mentor Ingmar Bergman. The layout
alone is a visual example of the chaos pervading the content of events.
And the articles within articles also echo the mirroring that occurs in
Allen’s ﬁlms. Also emphasized in the layout are the multidimensional
points of view, reinforced by the many stories included within the one,
The article compares Allen to Charlie Chaplin. Errol Flynn, Fatty
Arbuckle, and Roman Polanski, who were all involved in sexual scandals.
And like the Freudian repetition compulsion. this drawing of parallels
points to the unconscious desire for sameness on the pan of the review-
ers. It is also a good illustration of Derrida's notion of difference, which
claims that no concept can ever be understood in isolation. Since Time is a
mainstream, pop magazine, we see just how pervasive the themes of post-
structuralism really are.
The Time article is a postmodern pastiche in both form and content.
The form is collagelike in its seemingly haphazard arrangement of pictures
and stories. In content, it deconstructs by making reference to other con-
structed tales. The opening of the article is itself catchy and familiar, like
fiction: “Woody and Mia. No last names. please. for the king and queen of
Manhattan's glitterati. For a decade they were the wax-doll couple atop a
cake at the wedding of popular art and social responsibility.” The wording
evokes visual landscapes, as well as moral concerns. And it employs many
intertextual references, among them the television show “The Brady
Bunch.” Like most ﬁction, it looks for conclusions and implications: “The
moral: Never believe in the fairy tales movie people create.... Another
moral: Don’t always heed what you read...the facts are hard to determine,
let alone the truth.”17 By making reference to “fairy tales,” this article is
immediately seen in relation to other fictions. By stating the indeterminate
nature of truth, these words throw their own status into question.
A year later, Rolling Stone magazine responds to the Time article by
picking up on the aspect dealing with Allen’s tarnished sexual image.
Rolling Stone also claims to have sorted out the facts from ﬁction, a claim
that immediately throws this version into suspicion. “From being per-
ceived, along with Mia Farrow, as half of the perfect modern couple...Allen
was suddenly a tabloid sensation, no longer being compared with Ingmar
Bergman but Roman Polanski and Fatty Arbuckle. The more lurid aspects
of the story have resolved into cold facts.”18
By responding to a year-old story in another magazine, by claiming to
have discovered the “cold facts,” Rolling Stone offers another example of
the pervasive nature of poststructural intertextuality. The article contains
an interview with Allen himself, and seems to be an extended footnote of a
1992 Rolling Stone review of Husbands and Wives. This in itself is inter-
esting, because it shows an intertextual dialogue in which reference to
another publication is made within a publication, reinforcing the artiﬁce
of both as constructions. It is also interesting because the magazine seems
to be having a dialogue with itself.
Whereas the 1993 article seems more authentic because it is an inter-
view, the 1992 article is more of an obvious construction. Like most of the
ﬁlm reviews, the 1992 review conﬂates the man with his movie. The
reviewer is also very judgmental, and seems to be under the illusion that
he himself has discovered the truth behind the ﬁlm’s dialogue. Combining
ﬁlm analysis with some speculative psychoanalysis, the 1992 author says of
the scenes between Allen and Farrow, “The wrenching intimacy must have
been hard on them. But anyone can understand the pain of releasing long-
suppressed feelings.” The end of this article attempts unsuccessfully to
separate Allen from his work: “Allen may have blown it as a parental role
model but not as an artist. He’s still pushing into perilous frontiers.”19
This conﬂation between Allen and his work has marked all of the
reviews of Husbands and Wives. The events of Allen’s life have added
interest and intrigue to the way in which the movie has been received.
Richard Dyer has speciﬁcally discussed the importance of publicity in the
promotion of a star’s image. That notion is applicable here, because
Allen’s image as a nice. moral, albeit neurotic guy quickly changed when
knowledge of his affair with Previn became public, and especially when
Farrow accused Allen of molesting their daughter. The resulting publicity
thus painted him as an unethical, immoral, and not-so-nice guy. The
resulting publicity, in fact, reﬂected a mad and betrayed public audience.
Says Dyer, “The importance of publicity is that, in its apparent or actual
escape from the image that Hollywood is trying to promote, it seems more
‘authentic”’ (Dyer, 69).
Dyer has hit upon a key point. Enmeshed as we are in Kantian phenom-
enon, it is appealing to think that we are getting the “real thing,” some-
thing beyond appearances. When the newspapers “exposed” Woody
Allen’s conduct to the public, this “exposure” was taken at face value to be
the truth, and seemed to offer the public real knowledge of the situation,
and the bonus of a personal relationship with Allen. Overlooked was the
fact that this gossip, like surface phenomenon, was merely covering, rather
than exposing the real truth of the situation.
Christine Gledhill discusses the perceived promise of genuine informa-
tion about the star’s life: “The star promises what mass society and the
human sciences—sociology, Marxism, psychoanalysis—throw into ques-
tion: intimate access to the authentic self.”2° This promise, of course, is an
illusion, and one that highlights the appeal of publicity and gossip. Thus,
the conﬂation in the press between Allen and his ﬁlm serves to emphasize
the interpretive nature of reportage. It is impossible to separate the man
from his work, just as it is impossible to separate fact from ﬁction. Where
does one end, and the other begin?
Reviews on Allen and his ﬁlm, therefore. must be read as interpreta-
tions—personal visions limited by personal ideologies. Each review
reﬂects both the cultural ideology, as well as the psychology of each
reviewer. As a collection of different voices. each renew accordingly has a
different angle, and a different tone. One thing they all seem to agree on,
however, is the similarity between the plot of Aliens life and his movie.
Another point of agreement is the way in which the movie reflects our cul-
ture——”Life and love in urban America at the end of this very tired. shop-
worn century.”21 Allen’s emotionally charged movie is a good mirror of
our “emotionally embattled times?” His ﬁlm. therefore. reﬁects the chaos
and alienation of our society.
While reﬂecting the existent culture, these reviews are also very psycho-
logically telling. As a whole, most of the reviews have betrayed a real
ambivalence toward Allen and his ﬁlm. The term that best describes this
ambivalence is the psychoanalytic notion of double bind. A double bind
exists when two conﬂicting ideas are uttered at the same time, thus under-
mining the ostensible main point. The Dictionary of Psychotherapy
(1986) deﬁnes the double bind as “a secondary injunction which conﬂicts
with the ﬁrst at the metacommunicative level."23' The conﬂation between
Allen and his work offers the clearest example of this double bind. Where
a reviewer has distinctly stated that Allen’s ﬁlm should not be confused
with his life, that same reviewer has also drawn abundant parallels
between the two. Macleans, for example, spends the bulk of its nine para-
graph article discussing the connections between art and life, which “seem
to have cruelly mimicked each other” in this case.“ “At first,” says the
reviewer, “it is alarming to see the anger engraved on Farrow’s face. She
looks as if she cannot stand to be in the same shot as Allen.” After stating
more of these connections between the film and life, this reviewer ends
his article lauding Allen as a great ﬁlmmaker: “Fortunately art has a longer
shelf life than gossip.” But does it? Clearly, gossip has colored this reviewer’s
opinion of art. And clearly, rather than “serving as evidence that an
artist should not be confused with his work,” the reviewer seems to say
that the artist is integrally bound with his product. This is the sentiment
shared by nearly all of the reviewers of Husbands and Wives.
The next clearest example of the double bind can be found in the
reviews that are overtly negative, yet positive at the metacommunication
level. An article in Commonweal offers a good illustration: “Monotonous
in visual style, predictable in its plot, catering too exclusively to urban
sophisticates who want to laugh affectionately at themselves,..Husbands
and Wives isn’t satisfying. Yet Woody Allen has made an interesting movie
that at least deserves to outlive the scandal-sheet headlines that now serve
as its unofficial advertising.”25 For this reviewer then, the movie is a disap-
pointment. Interestingly enough, there is an implied expectation here that
Allen fails to meet. Instead, his ﬁlm is too narrowly targeted and banal to
be interesting. At the same time, however, it is worthwhile and deserves
attention. Surely, the ﬁlm cannot be that bad if it deserves to outlive the
Two more examples of ambiguity illustrate this double bind. In the
Nation, Stuart Klawans begins his article with reference to the last lines of
Allen’s ﬁlm: “Can I go now? Is this over?”26 One wonders why this reviewer
bothered to watch the whole movie. “As audience member, movie charac-
ter and ﬁlmmaker, all three of us were begging to be released from differ-
ent but related tortures.” Is this reviewer masochistic, or does the ﬁlm pos-
sess some redeeming qualities that he neglects to mention?
The next example, and perhaps the best illustration of this secondary
injunction, can be found in the review by John Simon in the National
Review: “Is there much point in reviewing Husbands and Wives, Woody
Allen’s latest?” After four pages on a ﬁlm that apparently deserves no men-
tion, the author of this article ends his “pointless” review with some reﬂec-
tions on Allen’s interview technique. “What TV show even is low enough
to want to interview these characters about their dreary relationships?
Well, you say, Woody thought them worthy of a whole movie about
them.”27 Obviously, the author of this review thought them worthy of a
whole article. The overt negative tone of these reviews, undermined by
their verbal ambiguity, leads us back to the notion explored at the begin-
ning of this paper, namely, transference. The Dictionary of Psychotherapy
deﬁnes transference as “the process whereby the patient displaces on to
the therapist feelings, attitudes and attributes which properly belong to a
signiﬁcant attachment ﬁgure of the past, usually a parent” (Walrond-
Skinner, ?)64—65). This complex of emotions, involving both love and hate,
allows for the repetition of childhood scripts to emerge and play them-
selves out. Peter Brooks describes the process as “an acting out of past
events as if they were present.”28 The role of the therapist in this regard is
to help the patient remember his past, by making what is unconscious conscious.
Says Freud, “We overcome the transference by pointing out to
the patient that his feelings do not arise from the present situation and do
not apply to the person of the doctor, but that they are repeating some-
thing that happened to him earlier. In this way we oblige him to transform
his repetition into a memory.”29 There are two pertinent points here. First,
the transference is not conﬁned within the four walls of analysis. This is an
assertion Freud made more than once. The phenomenon “is merely
uncovered and isolated by analysis. It is a universal phenomenon of the
human mind...and in fact dominates the whole of each person’s relation-
ships to his human environment.”3° In the case of Woody Allen it is impor-
tant to remember this point when reading the reviews/interpretations of
the movie/man because these reviews are always going to be colored by
the individual psychologies of the reviewers. And like the literary text,
these reviews contain all of the behavioral propensities and defense mech-
anisms that characterize the psyche. The ﬁerce interest in Woody Allen’s
personal life, therefore, becomes explainable when we realize that all of
these responses are coming from transference. The intense opinions, the
moralizing, the anger, and the disappointment are childhood scripts being
projected onto the ﬁgure of Allen. All of these feelings have nothing to do
with the real man, since as already discussed. the real Woody Allen is a
tantalizing displacement for the more somber hermeneutic circle from
which we cannot escape.
The second point to remember is the existence of two kinds of transfer-
ence. Freud distinguishes between the positive and the negative, “the
transference of affectionate feelings from that of hostile ones."-‘*1 The nega-
tive transference, with its accompanying hostility. is “as much an indica-
tion of an emotional tie as the affectionate ones" (Freud 1920, 443). This
negative transference exists “side by side with the affectionate transfer-
ence, often directed simultaneously towards the same person” (Freud
The widespread ambivalence found in the host of reviews of Husbands
and Wives is a strong indication of both positive and negative transfer-
ence. As the patient in analysis reenacts the past by staging a play of feel-
ings that replays old scripts of love and hate. the numerous reviews can
also be said to be staging a play. They are also reviving old loves and hates,
and old modes of response. In “The Dynamics of Transference,” Freud
notes that each person has acquired speciﬁc methods of conduct that they
continue to repeat throughout their lives. This is a point picked up by
Norman Holland in his psychoanalytic literary theory, which is based upon
Heinz Lichenstein’s theories of identity.
For Holland, meaning comes from a mingling of self and other. There is
no objectivity. In “Unity Identity Text Self,” he says that “any individual
shapes the materials the literary work offers him—including its author—to
give him what he characteristically both wishes and fears.”32 Holland continues:
“Each reader groups the details of the play into themes that he
thinks important, and if he chooses to press on to a highly condensed cen-
tral theme it will surely be something that matters to him.” This is a point
that must be remembered when we read the numerous responses to
Woody Allen. It becomes evident that “the highly condensed central
theme” of each review is most certainly an individual concern of the
reviewer’s own life.
As Brooks has noted, the transference is “an acting out of the past as if it
were present” (Brooks, 342). The “as if’ here is a key issue, because while
the transference revives the past, it is still a replica. The repressed material,
therefore, that is repeated in behavior is both authentic and unauthentic. It
is authentic in that it is a clear “play” of the past. It is unauthentic in that it
is still a play taking place in the present. This mixture of the past and pre-
sent creates a situation in which “all the patient’s symptoms abandon their
original meaning and take on a new sense” (Freud 1920, 444). What this
“new sense” calls for is interpretation. And it is this process of interpreta-
tion that allows both patient and analyst to collude in their attempt to make
sense of the past, which is now placed in the present.
Knowledge of the patient’s life, therefore, is nothing more than the
interpretation of both patient and analyst in the attempt to make meaning
out of the patient’s random wording. Like the patient and analyst engaged
in the creation of a life story, the literary interpreter is engaged in the
attempt to make coherence of the text. In Narrative Truth and Historical
Truth, Donald P. Spence makes this point: “Just as the analyst must listen
constructively and actively much of the time, supplying his own meaning
to a large part of the analytic ‘conversation,’ so the outside reader must
supply many of his own assumptions when he tries to understand the
transcribed text of an hour or read a published report of a case.”33 The
result is an ordering of events that can be likened to fiction.
This point is made by Freud more than once. The Interpretation of
Dreams is all about sorting through the various distortions that occur to
our thoughts at night, and relating them to consciousness. His case histo-
ries involve the search for plausible explanations of behavior. They involve
the selection and ordering of vast amounts of past material. Thus selected,
the material becomes the framework through which the individual life is
viewed. The resulting construction, however, is tricky in that it is neither
just the past nor just the present. Says Robert S. Wallerstein, “Once we have
decided on that particular construction, we come to see and we in fact
determine the past in a particular manner—so that, pushed to its logical
extreme, the verbal construction that we create not only shapes (our view
of) the past, but indeed, it, a creation of the present, becomes the past.”34
By mixing chronologies, the life story becomes an amalgamation of past
and present, just like transference. Dora, the case history in which Freud
claims to have discovered transference is, in fact, written like a story.
Eventhe subtitle of his work, Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria,
attests to the subjective and incomplete nature of this clinical rendition.
Because Dora did not complete her analysis, Freud was left with ﬁlling in
the blank spaces himself. “I have restored what is missing, taking the best
models known to me from other analyses; but like a conscientious archae-
ologist I have not omitted to mention in each case where the authentic
parts end and my constructions begin.”35 Says Freud at the end of his analy-
sis, “Dora came to see me again: to ﬁnish her story” (Freud 1965, 142).
The emphasis on story here is a good way to view the press explosion
on Woody Allen. In sorting out the press reviews, it becomes evident that
these reviews are not as much mimetic reﬂections, as they are collections
of subjective voices. It also becomes clear that I am dealing with not one
story, but with multiple stories and multiple projections. The many ver-
sions of this media scandal, therefore, are no less murky when we com-
pare them to the endless tellings and retellings within the psychoanalytic
dialogue, with all of its slippages and nuances. We are left with an
obscured object of analysis. Woody Allen, the media, ourselves—where
does one end and the other begin?
1. Time, 21 September 1992, p. 64.
2. Time, 31 August 1992, pp. 54-61.
3. New York Times, 18 April 1992, p. 6.
4. New York Newsday, 19 August 1992, p. 5.
5. Richard Dyer, Stars (London: British Film Institute, 1979); hereafter cited in text.
6. Time, 31 August 1992, p. 60.
7. The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, 22 August 1992, p. G8.
8. Roy Schafer, “Narration in the Psychoanalytic Dialogue,” in On Narrative, ed. W. J.T. Mitchell. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 34.
9. New York Newsday, 20 August 1992, p. 6.
10. Newsweek, 31 August 1992, p. 57. .
11. Vanity Fair, November 1992, p. 295.
12. Vanity Fair, November 1992, p. 295.
13. Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, 22 August 1993, p. G8.
14. New York, 21 September 1992, p. 60.
15. New York Post, 13 January 1993, p. 5.
16. Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, 22 August 1993, p. G8.
17. Time, 31 August 1992, p. 55.
18. Rolling Stone, 16 September 1993, p. 45.
19. Rolling Stone, 1 October 1992, p. 72.
20. Christine Gledhill, “Signs of Melodrama.” In Stardom, ed. Christine Gledhill. (NewYork: Routledge, 1991), p. 213.
21. America, 10 October 1992, p. 255.
22. Rolling Stone, 1 October 1992, p. 72.
23. Sue Walrond-Skinner, The Dictionary of Psychotherapy (New York: Routledge andKegan Paul, 1986), p. 102; hereafter cited in text.
24. Macleans, 21 September 1992, p. 53.
25. Commonweal, 23 October 1992, p. 18.
26. Nation, 19 October 1992, p. 447.
27. The National Review, 19 October 1992, p. 57.
28. Peter Brooks, “The Idea of a Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism," Critical Inquiry, vol.
13 (Winter 1987), p. 2; hereafter cited in text.
29. Sigmund Freud, “The Dynamics of Transference,” (London: Hogarth Press, 1958), Standard Edition, vol. 12 (1912), p. 106. (Trans. by James Strachey).
30. “An Autobiographical Study,” (London: Hogarth Press, 1959), Standard Edition,vol. 20 (1924), p. 42.
31. Sigmund Freud, “The Dynamics of Transference.” Standard Edition, vol12 (1912),p. 106.
32. Norman Holland, “Unity Identity Text Self,” in Reader-Response Criticism, edited by Jane Tompkins (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), p. 125.
33. Donald P. Spence, Narrative Truth and Historical Truth, (New York: W. W.
Norton, 1982), p. 30.
34. Robert S. Wallerstein, “Forward,” in Narrative Truth and Historical Truth, Donald P. Spence, (New York: W. W. Norton, 1982), p. 11.
35. Sigmund Freud, Dora: Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (New York:Macmillan, 1963), p. 27; hereafter cited in text.