Even though last rites have yet to be performed, things are looking troublingly grim for Miramax, the once-vibrant, artist-friendly haven for scrappy, innovative independent film making founded by Hollywood heavies Harvey and Bob Weinstein in 1979.
While earlier reports this week — spurred by news of massive lay-offs and the apparent closure of Miramax’s New York and Los Angeles offices — painted a bleak and depressing picture of parent company Disney all but burying the indie studio in a shallow, unmarked grave, this appears to not quite be the case.
In a retraction printed at The Wrap’s Wax World show-biz gossip column, the Mouse House, via a spokeswoman, delivered a meager reassurance to film fans, promising that the studio “is not dead” and that “Miramax will consolidate its operations within Walt Disney Studios, and will be releasing a smaller number of films than in previous years. But it will continue to operate within the Walt Disney Studios.” As I said, hardly a comforting promise.
However, it’s tough at this point to feel particularly mournful over the potential passing of the industry giant, as its golden years really officially ended with the departure of the controversial Weinstein brothers. The duo, notorious for their ruthless business sense, but brilliant at discovering and nurturing new talent, as well as spotting potential hits on the festival circuit worth distributing, were the heart and soul of the company (indeed, the studio was named after their dear parents Mira and Max Weinstein) and ultimately irreplaceable.
While it took them roughly a decade to find their Tinseltown power-player sea legs, the Weinsteins finally made their presence truly felt in the last year of the 1980s, with the release of the provocative adult dramas “Sex, Lies and Videotape” (directed by Steven Soderbergh) and Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” (which they also produced), as well as “My Left Foot” — Jim Sheridan’s Oscar-nominated film which won actor Daniel Day-Lewis his first Academy Award. These films provided a more sophisticated entertainment outlet for cinephiles weary of conventional mainstream film making.
Over the following few years, the company continued to build up its catalogue of pioneering, fresh finds, exposing audiences to intelligent, unique movies such as “The Grifters,” “Delicatessen,” “Kafka,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Enchanted April,” “Strictly Ballroom” and “The Crying Game” — drawing rave critical notices and industry respect.
They also began to create, through Miramax and Bob Weinstein’s Dimension Films imprint, a launching pad for some of the decade’s most gifted young storytellers — voices destined to eventually lead the way for modern movie-making as we know it. Aside from aiding Jim Sheridan, Steven Soderbergh and “Strictly Ballroom” director Baz Luhrmann in gaining further success, the Weinsteins also drew in names as dissimilar and brilliant as Quentin Tarantino (whose “Pulp Fiction” would, in 1994, be largely responsible for taking the indie scene – and by extension Miramax – mainstream), Jane Campion (of “The Piano), Kevin Smith (of “Clerks”), Danny Boyle (of “Trainspotting”), Robert Rodriguez (of “From Dusk Till Dawn”), Alex Proyas (of “The Crow”), Doug Liman (of “Swingers”), Peter Jackson (of “Heavenly Creatures”), Atom Egoyan (of “Exotica”), David O. Russell (of “Flirting With Disaster”), Anthony Minghella (of “The English Patient”) and many, many more. This impressive track-record for drawing new talent would later persuade numerous major cinema masters, such as Woody Allen, Wes Craven, Gus Van Sant and Martin Scorsese, to set up shop on the fruitful Weinstein lot.
Yet, as all good things must come to an end, the brothers decided, in 2005, to leave the flourishing studio — which had, since 1993, operated under the Disney umbrella — to mount The Weinstein Company, a new venture largely free of massive corporate ties. Ultimately, this decision had a critical effect on both parties, with Disney gradually losing interest in the indie giant, and the brothers’ new endeavor failing to gain a fraction of their former company`s financial triumphs.
Personally, this sad news fills me with nostalgia and deep affection and appreciation for the voluminous filmic wonders which escaped from the Miramax distribution and production offices over the course of my cinephile infancy. While I, like many, found Tarantino and Smith`s works, along with several of the titles I’ve referenced above, to be hugely influential on my own developing tastes, it is actually Billy Bob Thornton’s astonishing “Sling Blade” which had the greatest impact on me and remains one of the most emotionally powerful and unforgettable viewing experiences of my life. I also deeply cherish having had the privilege to be able to see Krzysztof Kieslowski’s remarkable “Three Colors” trilogy, Damien O’Donnell’s “East is East” and Wayne Wang’s very funny “Smoke.”
Though the Weinstein brothers were hardly without their considerable faults — including, but not limited to, their penchant for bullying directors in the editing room, producing bland prestige pictures simply for awards and, similarly, employing shameless bullying tactics and obnoxious campaigning blitzkriegs during Oscar season — their stamp on these past two decades of film making is impossible to dispute. They were a cathartic rebel yell breaking through a barrier of often suffocating conformity, an inspiration to not only myself and untold legions of fellow film-lovers, but, more importantly, to the current phase of aspiring cinematic storytellers, who will hopefully continue to carry Miramax’s proud, radical, devil-may-care spirit into the next decade and beyond.
For a list of Miramax’s complete cinematic out-put, check out its IMDB page and take a second or two to reminisce.
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Follow Cam Smith on Twitter at http://twitter.com/camspcepisodes.