R.I.P. Miramax, indeed. With the news that the shell of a company once responsible for many of those “Down and Dirty Pictures” that Peter Biskind referred to in his entertaining if unreliable book (and soon to be a motion picture), is now officially dead, there was a lot to think about.
Of course, even before Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the company’s founders, left in 2005, they were more or less out of the business of acquiring and releasing small and deserving films; they were busy trying to resurrect the old-fashioned Hollywood prestige movie, some of which — “Cold Mountain,” “The Aviator” — weren’t bad at all. But you know this, and you surely know of the run of movies they released from the late ’80s through the ’90s, which reads like a history of indie film during that period.
Yet after notoriously picking up “Happy, Texas” for $10 million in 1999, the Weinsteins seemingly threw up their hands and moved into the production business; the rest is history. But there’s no denying that where a major festival movie went in the ’90s, the Weinsteins were there too: overpaying, perhaps, or burying the movie in their vaults, or recutting, or generating all kinds of bad blood, but they were still there.
So who fulfills that role now? The first company that came to mind was, er, the one resembling the masthead up there, which looks all kinds of suspicious, but I get my paychecks from a separate division. Sony Classics and Magnolia are also strong labels in terms of acquiring notable festival titles, as is former Picturehouse prexy Bob Berney’s Apparition, which seems to be on the same wavelength as Miramax in midstream, where they can pick up movies like “Bright Star” and have a production pipeline of films like “The Runaways.” Indiewood’s Focus Features and Fox Searchlight appear to be more focused on production than pick-ups, despite the fact that Focus just bought the rights to Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are Alright” at Sundance. Otherwise, smaller independent films are spread out all over a diaspora of even smaller companies that can fold and leave their libraries in a mess at the slightest notice. ‘Twas ever thus, obviously; the recent shuttering of New Yorker Films, for example, left a valuable library cut adrift.
The dream of Miramax — if often not the reality — was to have at least one place where valuable arthouse films of the ’90s could all be found and accessed. And we now know, for all kinds of reasons, that this simply will never be possible. One more symbolic nail in the coffin.
[Photos: old Miramax logo; “Happy, Texas,” Miramax, 1999.]