Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film is a long, chaotic, sometimes over-the-top read, with lots of interesting characters, soundbites and a glut of interviews. It’s the story of how the gritty, realistic view of indie film in the 1990s became a staple of a moviegoer’s diet. By Peter Biskind, the book chronicles how indie films cemented its place in our cultural consciousness and ripped the cover off the business of producing and promoting movies, exposing its seedy underbelly.
For a time, all I could think of during a movie was how many scenes got left on the cutting room floor, whose fault it really was if it turned out to be a steaming turd pile, and who had had to be wined and dined to actually get the film promoted. In the end, if Biskind is to be believed, indie film isn’t nearly as independent as it professes to be.
He shone the spotlight on a number of major movie players, including a non-confrontational, passive-aggressive Robert Redford – pilloried as an irresponsible diva – and Quentin Tarantino, who comes off as the world’s greatest attention seeker, but the limelight is grabbed straightaway by Harvey Weinstein, gigantic both in person and persona.
For anyone with a finger on the pulse of pop culture, it’s hard not to know who Harvey Weinstein is. He was the head honcho of Miramax and later, The Weinstein Company, known for aggressively going after movies made at the price of chaff and spinning it into movie gold like some sort of bullish Rumpelstiltskin. The movies he produced were almost always guaranteed to have a presence at the Oscars and other movie award circuits and featured actors and directors who would inevitably end up as household names, if they weren’t already.
His track record was so good that after a time, to be in a movie produced by Harvey Weinstein was to gain instant cachet. And so the brash businessman from Queens became a Hollywood power player, one of the most powerful producers to play in present day La La Land.
And play he apparently did. Biskind saw him as a chain-smoking, gutter-mouthed businessman who clawed his way out of the relative nothingness of Queens, and as someone who unfortunately believed all the hubris he spewed about himself. As honestly as the author wrote about Harvey Weinstein, not even he exposed the events that have taken over the news cycle since the Times published its explosively damaging expose.
How can a man who seemingly had it all – success, fame, wealth, a gorgeous wife, family – have acted as heinously as he did? Why invite aspiring actresses to hotel suites under the pretext of a job interview and proceed to act like an uncivilized pig? We may never know.
We do know that exploiting aspiring actresses by offering prospective job offers in exchange for some action is a tale as old as show business itself. The old Hollywood “casting couch” is something of an open secret that no one really talked about, until the downfall of Harvey Weinstein. It’s an extreme example of how those in a position of power abuse their clout. Unfortunately, harassment can be a part of any workplace.
If there’s any good to come out of the dumpster fire that is the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it’s that it’s at least encouraged victims to come out and speak about their experiences. No one should have to expect to be demeaned just to get a job, or to keep one. Our tolerance for misogyny, sexism and harassment is at an all-time low. It’s just not acceptable. Not for these supposedly enlightened times.
Portions cribbed from Co-Dependent, on WagYourWingWang