Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film

Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film

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.

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That said, I loved the book but it goes further than talking about the directors and actors, to the guys who held the purse-strings and the exposure, namely the Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob, who created Miramax and Dimension, and Robert Redford, the movie star who founded the Sundance Film Festival. Redford starts Sundance which then grows, after the initial few years, into a recognisable entity and then comes to be regarded as the place to have your film shown at, given how guys like the Weinsteins go there to buy films. Even Harvey Weinstein agrees to contribute to the book (Redford declines as he holds grudges).

Here's a summary of Down and Dirty Pictures: 1) Harvey Weinstein acts like a lunatic because of some movie deal 2) Another either repellent or uninteresting Hollywood exec has a bad business experience because of some movie deal 3) An either repellent or uninteresting actor or director has a bad creative experience because of a movie deal 4) Repeat above for 12 chapters Possibly 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.

You know why I started to read this book in October 2017. The essence of the thing is that Harvey Weinstein was abusive, cruel, sadistic to every person who worked for him, male and female. 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. But it is fascinating to read about the rise of Harvey knowing the fall that lay ahead. 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.

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. 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.

It starts in the mid-80s but really gets going with the 1989 release of Steven Soderberghs Sex, Lies, and Videotape, the game changing hit launched at Sundance that kick-started the independent film scene into the glory days of the 1990s, 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. 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. 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. 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.

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). As a collaborative and commercial art, filmmaking requires resources, which means inspiration, vision, and talent won't get you across the goal line.

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. 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.

There was an excellent book to be had in the subject matter - it's just that Biskind didn't write it. 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...".

He has published six books: Seeing Is Believing: How Hollywood taught us to stop worrying and love the fifties (1983); The Godfather Companion (1990); Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll generation saved Hollywood (1998); Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the rise of independent film (1998); Gods and Monsters: Thirty years of writing on film and culture from one of America's most incisive writers (2004); and Star: How Warren Beatty seduced America (2010).

  • English

  • Culture

  • Rating: 3.79
  • Pages: 560
  • Publish Date: January 3rd 2005 by Simon Schuster
  • Isbn10: 0684862581
  • Isbn13: 9780684862583