Research Seminar: Negotiating Dis-ease: Jewish Women and the Work of Woody Allen

Research Seminar: Negotiating Dis-ease: Jewish Women and the Work of Woody Allen

Stage one, stage@leeds, University of Leeds

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In November 2017, Claire Dederer published an essay for The Paris Review, the majority of which was an attempt to untangle how – given allegations of sexual abuse against him, the scandal of his marriage to his ex-partner’s daughter, and  his valorisation of relationships with very young women in films like Manhattan – she could now watch Woody Allen’s movies and what her responsibilities are as a writer. Are they “to turn away, or to overcome my biographical distaste and watch, or read, or listen? And why does the monster make us—make me—so mad in the first place?” This paper is a response to these questions. It considers how, as a feminist researcher, I have begun to negotiate my anxiety about seeming to either endorse or celebrate Allen’s work in a climate in which actors are daily expressing their regret at having worked with him. These anxieties are compounded when exploring the work of Jewish women performers within cultural products that often marginalise, ridicule, or else blame the characters they play for the problems of the protagonist. There are no easy answers but, by discussing how working with Woody Allen might both be informed by, and calibrate, the “star texts” of performers such as Julie Kavner, Louise Lasser, Scarlett Johansson and Elaine May, more empowering readings of Jewish women might be possible based on their own histories, careers and performing presence.

Roberta Mock is Professor of Performance Studies and Director of the Doctoral College at the University of Plymouth, where she also convenes the Performance.Experience.Presence (P.E.P) research group. Her research tends to focus on Jewishness, gender and sexuality in performance, particularly in stand-up comedy and performance art. She is the author of Jewish Women on Stage, Film and Television. Her most recent practice-research project was a performance of Pearl Williams’ 1961 live comedy album, A Trip Around the World Is Not a Cruise.

Image: Elaine May and Woody Allen in ‘Crisis in Six Scenes’ (2016)