Everyone in movies is mesemerized by it, Ken Auletta's eye-opening Dec.16, 2002 New Yorker profile of Miramax Pictures boss, Harvey Weinstein, a person so willfully abrasive and abusive that even canine Hollywood has been offended by his behavior. Weinstein, who cooperated for the story, told Auletta that his temper is "the thing I hate most about myself." If that's true, he spends days and nights spinning in self-loathing. While acknowledging Weinstein's artistic and business talents, the article swirves from one Weinstein in-your-face altercation to another, involving filmmakers and film executives. Only Gwyneth Paltrow, star of seven Miramax films and the in-house shiksa princess, seems to have escaped Weinstein's boiling-over wrath.
A too-typical tale is of Weinstein's fights within Miramax over the edit of Frida, directed by Julie Taymor. After a New York test screening, when Taymor rejected some of the audience's criticisms from a handed-out questionnaire, Weinstein (so Auletta reports) ripped up the hand-outs, called Taymor "the most arrogant person I ever met." He threatened to sell the film directly to HBO without a theatrical release, and moved toward Taymor's life partner, Elliot Goldenthal, saying, "Why don't you defend her so I can beat the shit out of you?"
Here's my Harvey story, concerning the only time ever we, sort of, exchanged words. For me, it was like turning a corner at Pamplona and facing a snorting bull.
Cut to: the Berlin Film Festival a few years back, and after a successful premiere screening of a Latin American film about the kidnapping of an American ambassador, a party to celebrate the movie. And rumors of a bidding war for American distribution, Miramax versus several other parties. Anyway, there I was eating away and getting tipsy on wine, and there came a time for a pee. I staggered out of the restaurant and into a back hallway leading to the men's room. In front of me: a small circle of high-power looking guys, and something significant happening in the middle of that circle.
I pushed my way in for a look, and this was my seedy thought: someone is getting a blow job!
Wrong. Someone's pen was lifted to a paper napkin. What was on that paper? Before I could find out, a behemoth man with a linebacker neck leapt in front of me, put his intimidating mug up against mine and shouted, "WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?"
"I'm Gerald Peary. . . of the Boston Phoenix," I gulped.
At that, Weinstein jumped back a step. Whoa! The working press! A film critic! Someone who reviews Miramax films! I'm sure he thought all those things in a split second. And in that mini-moment, I grasped what that circle was about: a person representing the film had just signed an informal (yet binding) contract, giving the movie over to Miramax before Miramax's rivals could make an offer. Smooth!
Weinstein stepped again toward me and stared hard into my eyes. "I want you to promise never to reveal what you saw here tonight," he said.
"I promise," I solemnly replied.
(Phoenix - January, 2003)