Everyone in movies is mesmerized by it, Ken Auletta’s eye-opening December 16 New Yorker profile of Miramax Pictures boss Harvey Weinstein, a person so willfully abrasive and abusive that even canine Hollywood has been offended by his behavior. Weinstein, who cooperated for the story, told Auletta that his temper is "the thing I hate most about myself." If that’s true, he spends days and nights spinning in self-loathing. While acknowledging Weinstein’s artistic and business talents, the article swerves from one Weinstein in-your-face altercation to another, involving filmmakers and film executives. Only Gwyneth Paltrow, star of eight Miramax films and the in-house shiksa princess, seems to have escaped Weinstein’s boiling-over wrath.
A too-typical tale is of Weinstein’s fights within Miramax over the edit of Julie Taymor’s Frida. After a New York test screening, when Taymor rejected some of the audience’s criticisms from a handed-out questionnaire, Weinstein (so Auletta reports) ripped up the handouts and called Taymor "the most arrogant person I ever met." He threatened to sell the film directly to HBO without a theatrical release, then moved toward Taymor’s life partner, Elliot Goldenthal, saying, "Why don’t you defend her so I can beat the shit out of you?"
Here’s my Harvey story, which concerns the only time that we ever (sort of) exchanged words. For me, it was like turning a corner at Pamplona and facing a snorting bull. Cut to: the Berlin Film Festival a few years back, after a successful premiere screening of a Latin American film about the kidnapping of an American ambassador, at a party to celebrate the movie. There were rumors of a bidding war for American distribution involving Miramax and several other parties. Anyway, there I was eating away and getting tipsy on wine, and the time came for a pee. I staggered out of the restaurant and into a back hallway leading to the men’s room. In front of me: a small circle of high-power-looking guys, and something significant happening in the middle of that circle.
I pushed my way in for a look, and this was my seedy thought: someone is getting a blow job!
Wrong. Someone’s pen was lifted to a paper napkin. What was on that paper? Before I could find out, a behemoth man with a linebacker neck leapt in front of me, put his intimidating mug up against mine, and shouted, "WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?"
"I’m Gerald Peary . . . of the Boston Phoenix," I gulped. At that, Weinstein jumped back a step. Whoa! The working press! A film critic! Someone who reviews Miramax films! I’m sure he thought all those things in a split second. And in that mini-moment, I grasped what that circle was about: a person representing the film had just signed an informal (yet binding) contract, giving the movie over to Miramax before Miramax’s rivals could make an offer. Smooth!
Weinstein stepped toward me again and stared hard into my eyes. "I want you to promise never to reveal what you saw here tonight," he said.
"I promise," I solemnly replied.
LARRY MEISTRICH, founder of the late Shooting Gallery distribution company, was in Boston in November making speaking appearances at BU and Harvard, where he pushed the innovative new film-business venture of which he is CEO. It’s called the Film Movement, and it’s a mail-order DVD-of-the-month club: instead of getting a carton of Florida oranges each 30 days, the Film Movement will supply you at home with a brand-new independent film. That movie, often foreign-made and with subtitles, has been selected from festivals around the world by Meistrich and the Film Movement’s all-star programming board,whose members include Richard Peña, program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center; and Robert Hawk, exhibition coordinator of San Francisco’s Film Arts Festival.
I watched videos of the first three films to be offered to subscribers, and I was mightily impressed by how adventurous and emotional the choices were. I’m talking about: (a) Achero Mañas’s El Bolo, an award-winning Spanish feature influenced by The 400 Blows about a nice young boy whose stabs at happiness are plagued by his physically abusive father; (b) Nabil Ayouch’s Ali Zaoua, a work of poetic neo-realism set in Casablanca’s city of lost children and featuring a cast of Moroccan street kids; (c) Richard Lowenstein’s He Died with a Felafel in His Hand, a slacker farce following a blocked young writer as he struggles to produce a manuscript while residing in weirdo-filled shared apartments all across Australia.
The cost is $189 per year. For subscriber information, call (201)-791-8188, or go on-line at http://www.filmmovement.com./
Gerald Peary can be reached at email@example.com