Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film. Peter Biskind. Simon and Schuster. 2004.

This mostly absorbing book looks at how the business of making independent films grew from small change operations to multi-million dollar deal-making mostly because of the efforts of Miramax, headed by the brother team of Bob and Harvey Weinstein. [Biskind recounts how Nathan Lane joked that he thought the film Monsters Inc. was about the Weinsteins.] Pulp Fiction was the indie that changed the way the world viewed independent films, which once were small and personal and grainy and now became slick, huge, star-driven items with budgets almost as big as a film from the major studios. Biskind also looks at the other independent distributors and producers as well as the independent arms of the big studios, but mostly he focuses on the Sundance Festival, which presented many of these movies and became their first port of call, and on Harvey Weinstein, a colorful, horrible character who seems determined to make people see him like Harry Cohen or Daryl Zanuck or one of the other famous movie moguls of times gone by. The book goes behind the scenes to show how deals are made and discarded, lies are told, fortunes won, careers destroyed, and movies chopped up and ruined by careless distributors and Harvey “Scissorhands” Weinstein. Robert Redford is portrayed as being too busy with his own concerns to make an effective manager of the Sundance Institute and all of its divisions, but most of the quotes about him come from disgruntled ex-employees. Another important part of this book is that it really explains why so many unworthy films and actors are nominated for Oscars, as it's all part of the pressure and wheeling and dealing (and wining and dining) that goes on inside the studios and distribution companies, all of whom use all of their clout to make sure their people better win. Most people watching the Academy Awards couldn't care less which company produced which picture and are unaware that some Oscar nights are merely battles between two or three giant companies trying not to boost art but only to increase their coffers.

Verdict: Quite an eyeful! ***1/2.

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