I’ve given Amy Ziering, Kirby Dick, and Amy Herdy, the filmmakers behind HBO’s 4-part series “Allen v. Farrow,” every chance to come clean and explain how they manipulated and deceived their viewers while trying to discredit Moses Farrow in their Woody Allen train wreck. They’ve declined to do so. So I guess it’s up to me.
In her opening paragraph, Dylan speaks in detail about an electric toy train set that was supposedly in the attic crawl space where she alleges her father sexually assaulted her by touching her genitalia. “He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me… I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.”
This gruesome scene is surely damning in its specificity. Anybody could allege assault, but to recall the image of that electric toy train, circling around the attic, is downright haunting. The fact that Dylan is still triggered by toy trains is disturbing. What’s more, it makes the scenario all the more credible. Who would ever think to fabricate such a detail?
What remains baffling is that from what I can tell, among all the countless times Dylan had been interviewed by psychologists, police, lawyers, investigators, journalists, and her own mother, subsequent to the “day in question” in 1992, I can’t find any suggestion that Dylan had ever mentioned the electric train set prior to that 2014 essay. Maybe it’s in the police report? If so, no one’s ever brought it to light.
Adding to this mystery is the assertive disclosure found in Moses Farrow’s harrowing 2018 blog post, “A Son Speaks Out,” in which he writes, “It’s a precise and compelling narrative, but there’s a major problem: there was no electric train set in that attic…The idea that the space could possibly have accommodated a functioning electric train set, circling around the attic, is ridiculous… Did somebody suggest to the adult Dylan that such a specific detail would make her story more credible?”
So here we have a classic case of he said/she said over a physical object at the very center of Dylan’s narrative of the alleged assault. If it could be proved there was a functioning electric train set in the crawl space, then Moses’ credibility (or memory) takes a major hit. (I offered Ronan Farrow a donation of $100,000 to the charity of his choice if he could produce any photo of the toy train in the attic. Crickets.) But if there was no such train, it would seem to indicate that Dylan is indeed embellishing her story to make it more credible, or else her memory is faulty, meaning her entire recall of the alleged event is highly dubious, at best. Remember, this wasn’t just a parenthetical reference. It was the opening line of her essay – the dominant image she wants to stick in our head. She’s still triggered by electric trains. (For what it’s worth, Moses was 14 on “the day in question.” Dylan had just turned seven.)
Someone with a press link to the entire HBO series sent me a clip from the final episode in which an excerpt from Woody Allen’s memoir, Apropos of Nothing, restates Moses’ contention that there was no electric train set in the space. Then Ziering and Dick show us an image which is meant to close the case on this key point of contention once and for all. It’s a page from the police files (likely obtained illegally) showing a sketch of the attic crawl space in which there is drawn a slightly ovaled circle. Next to it are typed the damning words: TOY TRAIN TRACK. (Cue ominous music.)
“Checkmate,” you say? Well… not so fast. Dylan specifically recalls the train set “travel[ing] around the attic.” Then why does the police diagram show the track having a circumference of only 4 feet at its widest? Maybe Dylan didn’t literally mean “around” the attic, but around in a circle, in the attic? Maybe we should give her the benefit of the doubt here. But the question remains: was there such a functioning train set in that space? Moses says there wasn’t even an electrical outlet in the crawl space. So was the electric train battery-operated? Is there anyone who can untangle this conundrum at the center of Dylan’s accusation?
In fact, there is.
Kristi Groteke, a nanny in the Farrow household who was on duty that day, testified in the 1993 custody trial, Allen v. Farrow, from which the HBO series takes its name. Groteke appeared as a friendly witness for her employer, Mia Farrow, and was asked about the content of the attic during direct examination by Mia’s attorney, Eleanor Alter. This means Groteke’s answer would have been known by Mia’s defense team prior to questioning her on the stand. (This is the recollection of a 23-year-old woman, less than a year after the alleged event, versus a woman recounting her memories as a 7-year-old, 23 years after the fact.) When asked about the content of the crawl space, Groteke recalls:
“There are some pictures and there is a trunk where things are stored, and there is a train set which the children take out and play with sometimes.” When asked to describe the set, Groteke replies, “They are big, heavy plastic, green tracks and they fit into each other like puzzle pieces, and the train is a train car that is made for a child to sit on and ride.” Alter asks, “Have you ever seen the train set in any of the rooms?” Groteke: “Yes. I have seen it downstairs in the living room, but more recently in the past year in Mia’s room and in the children’s room, through the hallways.” Alter: “So they take it out of the crawl space?” Groteke: “Yes.”
With Groteke’s testimony, suddenly everything fits together like the pieces of a big, green train track, 4 feet in diameter. Moses has described the attic as not suitable for children to play in, with little room to do so even if they had so wanted. From Groteke’s description, it sounds like the train was stored in the crawl space, but taken out and placed elsewhere when in play.
More importantly, how easy is it to confuse the type of functioning, electrical, miniature toy train Dylan describes “circl[ing] around the attic,” with the type of single, sit-on train car described by Groteke? Look at these two images and decide if it’s reasonable to confuse one with the other.
I know that plenty of people will say, “The trauma of sexual assault can bring about unreliable memories. That doesn’t mean the assault didn’t happen.” Granted. But Dylan wasn’t describing this event as a traumatized seven-year-old. She was confidently recalling this memory as a 30-year-old woman, and has steadfastly continued to repeat it for seven years since.
And what does this say about the integrity of Ziering, Dick, and Herdy as filmmakers? Are they really just half-assed researchers who never obtained the full trial transcripts and never read Groteke’s description of the large toy train car? I can’t imagine this to be the case. I’d have to presume they have a full copy of the trial transcripts, as do I. And I assume they would have read it in its entirety. This would mean they actually knew the true nature of the toy train track as illustrated in the police report. But they cynically used the drawing to try to back up Dylan’s narrative and attempt to discredit Allen and Moses. They had it backwards, but thought they’d get away with it because, after all, who else would have a copy of the transcript?
Oops! A slight miscalculation.
For those who believe an innocent man is being publicly pilloried by a family obsessed with revenge and a couple of enabling filmmakers financed by a major cable network (I’m told that HBO shelled out somewhere between $10-15 million for the 4 hours), and don’t know what to make of all the damning testimony against Allen in this series, allow me to reassure you: Though I’m not watching the broadcast, I know several people who are, or have already seen all four episodes. Each person has reported to me that there is no smoking gun here – no new evidence that I or others haven’t already debunked — just a very polished rehashing of the same old song, padded to four hours with lots of beautiful drone shots and interviews with key subjects like Carly Simon. So, I’m not exposing this failed hat trick as the single “Perry Mason moment” that will finally topple the entire Farrow-Industrial Complex, or immediately turn around the prevailing opinion of a misguided public. I offer it as only one small example of the countless editorial tricks being played by dishonest filmmakers “documenting” an unreliable and tragic family narrative. So keep this in mind if you’re watching the series.
And if you think, for a moment, that you are getting the full story, think again.
February 28, 2021
Robert B. Weide is an Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning filmmaker whose documentaries have covered the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, and Kurt Vonnegut. He was also the Executive Producer and director of the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. He tweets at @BobWeide. Despite rumors to the contrary, he is not a meme.