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Has Hollywood had enough of the Weinsteins?

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Are brothers Bob and Harvey ‘Scissorhands’ Weinstein now just old relics of the independent movie scene?

Bob and Harvey Weinstein, late of Miramax and currently throwing their weight around as The Weinstein Company, have been fixtures on the ‘independent’ film scene for decades. As producers and executives of the first successful ‘mini-major’ studio, the brothers ushered in the age of the early 90s movie brats – Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino probably owe their careers to Miramax (although with Tarantino it could be argued it’s the other way around). Additionally, the Weinsteins also brought British, European and Asian films to American audiences, distributing such classics as Trainspotting, the Three Colors Trilogy and Chungking Express in the US.

Rumours have circulated that Harvey Weinstein was witnessed harassing a dying Sydney Pollack over movie release schedules

However, despite the Weinsteins’ amazing catalogue of films, the brothers are notorious for being a couple of the shrewdest, crudest and most disrespectful moguls in Hollywood. Their highly dubious Oscar campaigns have verged on bribery, leading the Academy to ban the practice outright. Harvey Weinstein, nicknamed ‘Scissorhands’, is infamous for demanding edits to (primarily Asian) films picked up for distribution; rumours have circulated that he was witnessed harassing a dying Sydney Pollack over movie release schedules.

Now it appears that Hollywood might finally have had enough of the Weinsteins and their antics. The Producers Guild Awards nominations (which are considered a practice run for the Oscars), announced this week, completely snubbed all of the The Weinstein Company’s 2014 contenders. What’s more, South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho is the first Asian director to take action against Harvey ‘Scissorhands’, who proposed significant cuts to Bong’s upcoming sci-fi epic Snowpiercer, which has caused ripples across the filmmaking world.

snowpiercer

When the PGAs were announced, the Weinsteins were noticeable by their absence. The brothers are never too shy to put their names behind shameless Oscar bait (see The King’s Speech) so it does seem a little surprising that their contenders this year, which include Philomena and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, have been ignored at one of the first major awards of the season. Not to diminish the impact of these films, but could it be that the Weinsteins are seeing their influence and awards power diminishing? Could the Producers Guild of America be sending a not-so-subtle message to the Weinsteins that they are sliding into irrelevancy?

Have the Producers Guild of America sent a not-so-subtle message to the Weinsteins that they are sliding into irrelevancy?

With the Weinsteins’ decline comes the rise of a new crop of ‘mini-major’ movie moguls, currently personified by Megan Ellison of Annapurna Pictures, who sees two of her films in the running for a PGA: American Hustle and Her. Ellison is determined to finance films that would otherwise be too risky for mainstream studios. When Paul Thomas Anderson had trouble completing The Master, it was Ellison who swooped in and financed the film, allowing the auteur to realise his vision. In the same year, she produced Lawless, Killing Them Softly and Zero Dark Thirty, all complex films where final cut was given to the directors.

Harvey Weinstein’s obsession with editing many of the foreign films his companies have distributed over the years has been treated as a necessary evil by filmmakers, a sacrifice to make for their film to gain audience exposure. Weinstein’s excuse for all this cutting and splicing would appear to be that he believes foreign films are too lengthy and obscure for the American film market, primarily that of ‘middle America’. Or is it because ol’ Scissorhands himself is a frustrated director who wants to lay claim to a film’s success beyond his usual role as producer or distributor, as some insiders claim?

harvey weinstein

The latest palaver to rise out of this obsession has to do with the Weinsteins’ refusal to release Snowpiercer without considerable cuts. Despite its blockbuster status in South Korea and rave reviews from film festivals, Weinstein wants 25 minutes cut from the film, discarding some of the character development in order to create more of an action thriller, as opposed to the political satire of Bong’s original cut. But unlike directors past, Bong Joon-ho has been more vocal about his distaste for this pointless tinkering; his lawyers are currently attempting to void or change the distribution deal with the Weinsteins to rescue the original version.

Up-and-coming producers like Megan Ellison are showing that audiences don’t need to be spoonfed impure cinema

All is not lost. Bong’s cut has screened in France and now the Berlin Film Festival has a chance to screen it, wrestling it from the Weinsteins’ control and demonstrating the consistent power of film, as well as the waning power of the Weinsteins. Previously, filmmakers had to be content with the brothers butchering their films for no other reason than to make money. Now, up-and-coming producers like Megan Ellison are showing that audiences don’t need to be spoonfed impure cinema and festival organisers are combining their influence to outmanoeuvre the stubborn movie moguls. In the 90s, the Weinsteins were the wunderkinds undermining the Hollywood dinosaurs; now they appear to be the dinosaurs, on the road to extinction.

 

Featured image: Beacon Radio (via Flickr)

Inset images: The Weinstein Company; David Shankbone (via Wikimedia)

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