Given Hollywood’s deathless creative conservatism, it’s no surprise that people still root for the Weinstein brothers; relatively speaking, they’re bold revolutionaries, icons of the heyday of American indie film. After months of silence in the face of media speculation about the stability of the (latest) house that Harvey and Bob built, the brothers have crawled out of the woodwork to tell everyone that yup, by February — when, uh, “Hoodwinked 2” comes out — they’ll either be back big or dead and gone.
David Segal’s New York Times profile of the Weinsteins is many things, most of them interesting. Amid the anecdotes and fuzzy finances, Harvey offers multiple apologies for getting interested in investments in areas he knew nothing about, like cable TV, social networking and fashion, and vows to refocus on movies. “The ship’s riding on the slate,” he declares, threatening to move on to “selling trailers, or refrigerators, or something” if thing don’t get right by February.
Beyond any movie, what the Weinsteins have always been best at marketing is themselves. Journalists love them because their larger-than-life presence has a tinge of old-school big Hollywood glamor. (Compare the NYT piece with Claudia Eller’s LA Times interview with the Universal chairmen, who concede “Funny People” “probably pushed the creative risks a little too far.”) But there’s always the danger of overmythologizing their Miramax accomplishments.
The older Weinstein was so edit-happy he earned himself the nickname “Harvey Scissorhands.” Peter Biskind’s trashy, amusing “Down And Dirty Pictures” includes among its lengthy Weinstein stories the news that even as pro forma a romantic comedy as “Kate And Leopold” was being recut down to the last second, at extraordinary cost for making new prints so close to release. And, as Edward Jay Epstein reported years ago, Miramax may have lost Disney more money than it made: a loophole tying the acquisitions budget and bonuses to a fiscal year’s profitability simply encouraged the Weinsteins to shelve movies that might lose money to make sure the company stayed in the black, at least on paper. (Some never got out: others, like “Pulse” and “Tears Of The Black Tiger,” were released years later by different companies.)
The Weinsteins may be born hustlers and gifted spinners of their own overpolished histories, but their willingness to see a market for fare like “sex, lies, and videotape,” “Pulp Fiction” and “The Crying Game” has been balanced out by plenty of missteps, particularly in the Weinstein Company era. (The article laments the failure of the “quiet, literate” “Miss Potter,” ignoring the fact that “Miss Potter” was dismal and timid.) Time was the Weinsteins flat-out broke the Sundance acquisitions game with overspending and bidding wars that culminated in the pricey failure of “Happy, Texas.” Now, as Segal points out, they’ve only got about ten films left with which to prove they haven’t lost their touch, among them chancy stuff like “The Road” and “Inglourious Basterds,” alongside their big award season bet, the musical “Nine.” Mark your calendars: February could be the end of an era.
[Photo: “Nine,” Weinstein Co., 2009]