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Fat and fatter have left the Mouse House. In their wake they leave a filthy trail of Lays potato chip bags, Diet Coke cans, and enough Oscar gold to fund another CIA-backed military coup in Guatemala.
Going into the details (a long, absurd capitalist saga) of the Weinstein brothers’ departure from Disney is useless at this point. Essentially, the nightmare couldn’t have lasted much longer. Money-grubbing ex-nerd testosterone receptacles like Michael Eisner were fated to have a rocky relationship with Bob & Harvey Weinstein. Harvey yelled at or sat on people who irritated him too much, and the folks high up at Buena Vista weren’t going to let the Two Stooges boss them around just because they made tidy profits on over-hyped prestige pictures and Quentin Tarantino’s ego.
But what does this change mean for American cinema? For once, I don’t have a glib yet sophisticated response, one that sums up the problem while retaining a chic distance.
The Weinsteins, and their company, Miramax (whose name and fairly impressive library have been retained by Disney), were a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. Read Peter Biskind’s hilarious and insightful account of their meteoric rise, “Down and Dirty Pictures,” to see what I’m talking about. Miramax revolutionized distribution, foreign film acquisition, and revitalized the importance of award shows, Oscar marketing, the festival circuit, and an “independent voice” in American cinema.
The flip side, of course, is that when I say “revitalized the importance of [insert good deed],” I really mean “revitalized the importance of [good deed] to make an absolutely absurd amount of money, even if you run over everyone in the process.”
That’s not to say Miramax hasn’t done some good for the cinema. Many small films wouldn’t have seen the light of day without the Weinsteins’ liberal view of what could turn a profit, and several big-budget productions deemed too “off-beat” for most studios were saved by the company’s brilliant financial team-up with Disney (“The English Patient,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Velvet Goldmine,” etc.).
Of course, Harvey didn’t like Todd Haynes’ final cut of the brilliant “Velvet Goldmine,” and thus decided to dump it into a few theatres and ignore it–a typical move of Harvey’s if things didn’t go his way.
It’s important to remember while lauding Miramax’s reimagining of “independent” American cinema, the films that have come to define this category make the name seem illusory. For example, if you really think “Good Will Hunting” is an art film, please stop reading and throw yourself off the Mass Ave. Bridge immediately. Actually, don’t do that, I might get sued. Just sniff dry-erase board markers for three hours straight and then wander into the Faculty Club—naked.
Nonetheless, the category they created—which I would define as the big-budget pseudo-indie posing as art—is a better version of Hollywood. Occasionally oppositional, consistently satisfying, and always well put-together, Miramax’s marquee Oscar-bait productions at the very least saved us from the ’80s, in which the only films that could classify as “good” mainstream movies were overblown, revisionist historical epics like “Out of Africa.”
And though their films have gotten less impressive (“Cold Mountain,” “Proof”), they at least started something, and now other companies are doing it better—like James Schamus’s Focus Features for example, who have released “Far From Heaven,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Broken Flowers,” and is currently gearing up for the big gay explosion of “Brokeback Mountain,” which, if pre-release reviews are any indication, is going to be a monster hit. As one IMDB blogger asks on the film’s profile, “Will ‘BBM’ be the ‘Roots’ for gays?”
Ultimately, the Weinsteins were dictators during their years at Miramax—money-grubbing opportunists running a lot of good filmmakers through the mud to make their already inflated asses even fatter. Still, they did some good stuff too, so I’ll stick with ambiguity in assessing their legacy.
But you might have noticed this is old news—the departure happened a month-and-a-half ago. Why bring it up again now? Simple—the first film of their new company, aptly named The Weinstein Company, came out last weekend. That film is “Derailed,” and yes, it totally sucks.
It would be kind of amusing to see them fail. But I doubt they will, they’re too good at playing the Hollywood Game—screwing people over, stealing their money, making them cry, and then justifying it by saying it’s all in the name of art. That last bit is usually said at the Oscars.
—Staff writer Clint J. Froehlich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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