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Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film Want to know how horrible a person Harvey Weinstein is I mean, apart from being a rapist.Harvey s always been a right bastard and so has his brother Bob.Favorite part was the segment on the Weinstein Billy Bob Thornton feud. DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES Chronicles The Rise Of Independent Filmmakers And Of The Twin Engines The Sundance Film Festival And Miramax Films That Have Powered Them Peter Biskind Profiles The People Who Took The Independent Movement From Obscurity To The Oscars, Most Notably Sundance Founder Robert Redford And Harvey Weinstein, Who With His Brother, Bob, Made Miramax An Indie Powerhouse Candid, Penetrating And Controversial, DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES Is A Must Read For Anyone Interested In The Film World In DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES, Biskind Takes On The Movie Industry Of The S And Again Gets The StoryPeter Biskind Captures His Era As John Dunne Did That Of The Zanucks Frank Rich, The New York Times Dishy, Teeming, Superbly Reported And Packed With Lively Inside Anecdotes A Juicy And Fascinating Expose Entertainment Weekly Here s a summary of Down and Dirty Pictures 1 Harvey Weinstein acts like a lunatic because of some movie deal2 Another either repellent or uninteresting Hollywood exec has a bad business experience because of some movie deal3 An either repellent or uninteresting actor or director has a bad creative experience because of a movie deal4 Repeat above for 12 chaptersPossibly the most interesting thing about the book is how the author, Peter Biskind, somehow manages to bring himself across as equally repellent as his characters despite not even being part of the story He s the type of know it all who feels the need to interrupt his reportage about the distribution of Life is Beautiful to rattle off the titles of six obscure Holocaust movies he thinks are better.Despite all that, DaDP is surprisingly readable, assuming you don t actually have any interest in Nineties independent movies Biskind assumes you ve seen them all, even the ones that were forgotten months after they came out This book isn t about great food it s about how that food makes it s way through assholes that shit it out into the world. You know why I started to read this book in October 2017 And having liked Peter Biskind s Raging Bulls about 70s moviemaking, I should have read this sooner But I had heard that Down and Dirty Pictures was sloppily written, could use tightening up by a good editor and was ultimately depressing All true But I listened to this as an audiobook where the lack of tightening up means you can miss a sentence or two while the water is running when you re doing the dishes and still come away with the essence of the thing The essence of the thing is that Harvey Weinstein was abusive, cruel, sadistic to every person who worked for him, male and female Sometimes stories of sexual abuse and harassment seem so at odds with the deference with which a man treats his male colleagues and subordinates Then you can only attribute his behavior to the triumph of patriarchy, male entitlement, and sexism If you read this book, you will view if you didn t before Harvey W s abusive behavior with young women as a seamless extension of his abusive behavior with competitors, peers and underlings behavior intent on humiliating and dominating them and making life a misery for them Biskind s portrait here completely supports the Harvey W we hear about now Kudos to Barry Diller who around 2000 called him out as a bully to his face and to Spike Lee who anticipated that God don t like ugly and that one day Harvey s heinous behavior would come back to bite him in the ass that s a mild paraphrase and they were hardly alone The book is supposed to be equally about Robert Redford and the rise of Sundance But that story is such a bland tale of Redford s egotism and egocentricity anyone who has read a Vanity Fair dispatch from Sundance can write that subplot in their own head on their own But it is fascinating to read about the rise of Harvey knowing the fall that lay ahead And fascinating to see how Harvey set his own trajectory in motion He even admitted to behaving badly after being particularly violent and abusive, pledging to go into therapy to become a better man his initial defense this October.It is a wonder the fall took so long According to Biskind, Harvey s powers were on the wane and his movies were losing money despite the suites at the Peninsula Hotel even at the time of the book s publication in 2004 A slew of film people had already vowed never to work with such an abusive, unethical bully again But the book was also criticized for being a hatchet job on Harvey Pretty sure Harvey s forces had gone into overdrive to undermine its credibility If I were Biskind and his publisher, I would retrofit the book to be about the rise of Miramax, cut the lackluster Sundance story, and add a hundred paged epilogue Edit well and send back out to the world The book as it is is no sacred text But the story is an important one that should be read and learned from And it stops in the second act, just as Harvey s trajectory begins to enter its long and then sudden decline. Biskind researched the crap out of this book and the portrait of Miramax is even terrifying than you can believe I kept wishing they d come out with one flop at the right time to finally doom them but the book also convinced me that every other straight white male in the film business also admired their relentless misogyny, homophobia and starfucking I loved the presence of Spike Lee in this book, constantly goading Miramax and all of the film studios, calling the Ws Satan and that fat rat fucker, as well as Christine Vachon and Todd Haynes managing to make Far from Heaven by telling W to fuck off But the overall portrait is of independent film as the same old shit, nothing but a con to get directors and actors desperate for exposure to sign over all of the money in their movies to Miramax or Sundance Robert Redford is as bad as the brothers and getting nothing if they break or flop I held back a star because this book could have held back 15 20 superfluous W anecdotes You know by the 10th one that he will scream at people, hit them, throw stuff, and act as a sexual predator and will get away with it for decades and decades because the movie business is completely rotten I would have loved interviews with Spike, with Todd Haynes, with Christine Vachon, with Kimberly Peirce, with Jane Campion, or Cheryl Dunye Soderbergh and David O Russell are also overexposed and are not nearly as talented as they think they are. 12 13 18 Still a completely addictive read And who knew that Harvey Weinstein would turn out to be even of a complete monster than this book had already painted him as Oy veh A quasi sequel to Biskind s Easy Riders Raging Bulls, which I re devoured recently, Down and Dirty Pictures illuminates how the seeds the 70 s filmmaking mavericks planted sprouted a decade or so later It is less about independent movies themselves as it is about the complicated process of how they are funded, how they get made and how they get distributed or not distributed as it turns out It starts in the mid 80 s but really gets going with the 1989 release of Steven Soderbergh s Sex, Lies, and Videotape, the game changing hit launched at Sundance that kick started the independent film scene into the glory days of the 1990 s, when Miramax films rose to prominence and Sundance was cemented as the annual launching pad and studio acquisitions feeding frenzy for indie films that it remains today It s a fascinating, juicy read, but also rather depressing The main players are Harvey Weinstein, the man who with his brother Bob founded Miramax Films, and Robert Redford, the movie star who launched Sundance Problem is that Weinstein is a massively insecure, volcanically abusive, horrible human being the kind of boss who populates your worst nightmares and Redford is a passive aggressive control freak milder mannered and well meaning, but no less of a nightmare Between them and their studios and organizations they did the world of independent film a whole lot of real good and a whole lot of terrible bad The genuine indie films funded outside of the studio system and made out of passion and love above all other concerns, including monetary were eventually supplanted by bigger budgeted quasi indies There is a world of difference between genuine zero budget films like say, Jim Jarmusch s Stranger Than Paradise 1984 or Rose Troche s Go Fish 1994 , and such relatively big budgeted, Oscar winning indie mainstream hybrid fare like Shakespeare in Love 1998 Once the big studios got involved in indies after all, Miramax et al proved there was big money to be made the former kind of film became the extreme exception and the latter the norm as usual, the little guys got almost entirely squeezed out Today the extreme polarization is evident 75% of the year the mainstream Hollywood movies available are mainly a wasteland of superheroes, sequels, franchises, and retreads, while late in the year we are offered the mid budget independent efforts, which sprout up just in time for Oscar season luckily we haven t yet devolved to the point where shitty, bloated, empty blockbusters like Man of Steel are Oscar bait for anything other than technical awards In short, the entire situation further marginalization of the work of artists in favor of expensive corporate junk pretty much sucks But I digress Back to the book, Biskind is a fine writer, with a talent for film analysis as above, the book is about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking but Biskind occasionally editorializes, and his pithy observations are to my mind generally spot on Bravo, I say regarding his contempt for the borderline offensive Roberto Begnini starrer Life is Beautiful 1997 and to his praise for excellent but all but forgotten films like L.I.E from 2001 He is also adept at explaining the rather convoluted progression regression of the indie film scene, keeping it all compulsively readable, hard to put down, and all those other clich d phrases But as I said earlier, it s a pretty depressing story By the way, Down and Dirty Pictures was published in 2004 I d be very interested in reading an updated version. I finally polished off Peter Biskind s Down and Dirty Pictures, the saga of the rise and fall of independent film in its Sundance and Miramax incarnations, from sex, lies, and videotape to the big budget, mainstream not really indie flicks Miramax now supports Kate and Leopold She s All That I m a big fan of Biskind s gossipy dissection of the golden age of 70s cinema, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, and Dirty Pictures shares the same dedication to movie minutiae, the same exhaustive sourcing, and the same penchant for titillating tales although this time around instead of sex and drugs we get frequent updates on both Harvey Weinstein s temper and his inhalation of various foodstuffs In fact, the anecdotes about Harvey s rages frequently attributed to anonymous, no doubt fearful sources grow tiresome Enough We get it The man s a pitbull Now tell me about the movies Truthfully, this seems like a story told before the time was ripe Yes, since the events described are recent we have the benefit of fresh memories, but genuine insights seem obscurred by the copious details, byzantine deals, and unwieldy cast of characters It s like those Magic Eye mosaics supposedly if you stare long enough you can spy the clipper ship floating beneath the surface flotsam, but I ve never had the patience for those Just draw me the damn picture Still, it s a fascinating book if you love movies or, in particular, if you have ever dreamed of making your own Fascinating and discouraging As a collaborative and commercial art, filmmaking requires resources, which means inspiration, vision, and talent won t get you across the goal line You have to have the means, the opportunity, and the personality to persuade someone with deep pockets to commit to your dream, and you run the risk that the dream will become a pitbull populated nightmare Honestly, there is no truly independent cinema, unless you can make your entire movie yourself Otherwise, you re bound to be dependent on someone to finance the filming and post production, to distribute and market the movie, to put it on the screens and put asses in the seats.Where is the National Endowment for the Arts in all this Are there grants that would enable filmmakers to create without commercial considerations Of course, grants don t necessarily allow greater independence they just enforce different constraints.Yesterday I saw a CNN Money story that posited Newmarket as the new Miramax Biskind pointed out in his book that every new indie October, Grammercy, Focus, et al has been anointed the new Miramax, but only Miramax is really Miramax, in all its profane glory. UGH, FINALLY finished this I have to say that most of the reason that I hated this book had little to do with the research or the author s ability to string together a history narrative I hated reading this book because basically everyone in it is terrible I was indifferent regarding most of the known players in this book the Weinsteins, Redford, etc prior to reading it, but am now in full on loathing for everyone It makes me glad I m not much of a movie fan any because I feel dirty having supported any of these people.Overall, the author did a great job with the subject, up until the last few chapters where it sort of petered out rather than made a strong wrap up And while I get why it did kind of meander to a stop rather than actually conclude events and what happened next weren t KNOWN because the book timeline ended in about 2004 2005, and all of these players are mostly still in the game , it felt really jarring considering the meticulous tone of the earlier chapters Moreover, big players through the first 2 3rds of the book just didn t appear again Most jarring examples are Bingham Ray, who ended up in a coma and wasn t seen again until the last chapter where, whoops He s fine He s working for Universal Just, what Also, Redford, for being a huge presence in the earlier chapters just doesn t exist except for a brief mention in the conclusion chapter.So, while I m glad I read this book as it gave some pretty deep history and insight into the US s independent film movement, I am SO FREAKING GLAD I M DONE WITH IT AND NEVER HAVE TO READ IT AGAIN. Having read Easy Riders and Raging Bulls I thought I d check out the sequel, about indie cinema in the 1980s and 1990s The subject itself seems very interesting and is worthy of being studied in greater depth There was an excellent book to be had in the subject matter it s just that Biskind didn t write it While I can t fault his research and scoring interviews with most of the key people involved, which seem impeccable I didn t find the various machinations and double dealings quite as intriguing as the ones in Easy Riders , which seems a shame, as the 1990s, in their own way, were just as revolutionary as the 1960s had been.The main points I got from the book are 1 The Weinstein brothers, contrary to their working class hero image, seem to be sociopathic thugs not above using outright intimidation to get what they want and 2 Robert Redford is pretty unreliable and fickle.There s other stuff about Quentin Tarantino he likes being famous who knew , Kevin Smith and Steven Soderbergh, but while they ve made some excellent films, they aren t exactly charismatic personae Sure, they re guys you can hang out with, but would you want to At least Biskind does cover some of the women involved in independent film, like Allison Anders, instead of focusing entirely on the boys club of Easy Riders.After a while, I was bored of reading dollar signs and which indie set up was going to score the hit of the year If you re into the business side of the film business, this is the book for you. Very amusing description of the US independent film scene during the 1990s, especially of its business aspects I am not sufficiently familiar with the field to judge each argument on its merits In any case the notion that during the 90s there was an attempt to create a middle ground between the traditional independent film scene and large Hollywood studios, an attempt that eventually failed, makes sense.


About the Author: Peter Biskind

Peter Biskind is a cultural critic and film historian He was the editor in chief of American Film magazine from 1981 to 1986, and the executive editor of Premiere from 1986 to 1996 His writing has appeared in scores of national publications, including Rolling Stone, Paris Match, the Nation, The New York Times, the Times of London, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as film journals such as Sight


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