By John H. Foote
Today when we think of Adolf Hitler, we think of the monster responsible for the mass murder of more than six million Jews, we think of the man who wanted to conquer Europe and create one almighty Germany. We think of the strange little man with the odd moustache who somehow brought a nation into his manner of thinking, and waged war for him. We think of the absolute monster of the 20th century, we never think of the man who pulled Germany out of the worst depression in its history. We do not think of the man who united a nation after the decimation of the First World War, we see only the monster.
I am not suggesting for one second that we should celebrate Hitler in any manner, but his accomplishments should at least be considered when attacking him.
In relation to the film industry, film director Roman Polanski was found guilty of having sex with a minor, raping her in the eyes of the law, though she has admitted she was a willing victim. Polanski knew it was wrong and still went through with it. Terrified of the judge he knew was going to throw him in prison for a long time, he fled the United States to live in various European countries with no extradition agreement with the United States. Is he a pedophile? Yes, I think so and a convicted criminal, but his artistry as a filmmaker cannot be denied. Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Macbeth (1971) and best of all Chinatown (1974) are masterpieces of the genre, all made before the charges against him. Despite being guilty, he continued making films, Tess (1980) being a multiple Oscar nominee including Best Director and in 2002 he won the Academy Award for Best Director for The Pianist. So yes, he is a criminal, a sex offender, but should his accomplishments as a director be erased from history?
I think not.
Harvey Weinstein co-founder of both Miramax and the Weinstein Company was sentenced to 23 years in prison today after being found guilty of years of sexual assaults and bullying. Needless to say the film industry is reeling in shock.
Harvey Weinstein changed everything about the inner workings of the film industry, not only how films were green lit, but the distribution and the all-important race for the Academy Awards. Swooping into film festivals such as Cannes, Toronto and Sundance, he and brother Bob, would buy films to distribute them in North America, making box office hits of the most unexpected films, promising Oscar nominations, which they often delivered. He changed the rules because to Weinstein there were no rules, and those that he did see were worth breaking. What must always be remembered about Weinstein is that he truly loves movies, he always did.
His fall from the extraordinary power he once wielded in Hollywood and the city of New York has been well documented by the news media, and written about in a startling Pulitzer Prize winning book “Catch and Kill” written with blunt honesty by Ronan Farrow, the gifted son of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. For more than a year whispers of a story Farrow was on about Weinstein wound its way through New York and Los Angeles, with Weinstein terrified of it breaking, knowing the consequences. NBC would not put the story on the air, but New Yorker magazine worked with Farrow for nearly a year, fact checking every word before running the piece and beginning the ruin of Weinstein. When his fall came, it came virtually overnight.
The name Harvey Weinstein had a different effect on many people. Young filmmakers were awed by his attention should he chose to gaze in their direction or praise their films, established directors enjoyed the freedom at Miramax until Harvey got into the editing room, rising stars hoped for a chance to have his golden gaze turned upon them, but those who worked for him openly feared him. He struck genuine terror into the hearts of those around him, waiters in restaurants, drivers, anyone he considered beneath him in some way, feared the man. Actors often trembled in fear of his volcanic temper, and when angered, his fury spared no one. Even the heads of the other studios were wary of Harvey, a call from him could mean praise for a new film, or a venting for daring to release a film the same weekend as Miramax. And pretty young women? They would have an entirely different reason for fearing Harvey Weinstein because through the years he became a vile, sexual predator who used his immense power and money to silence them.
Harvey Weinstein is a rapist.
Plain and simple the man is a bully, always has been, and with his size, his girth, his ferocious temper, booming voice, he is a most intimidating presence. More than once Harvey has left people quaking with the mere raising of his voice. I never met him but saw him a few times at TIFF and he was a big man, an imposing figure, not particularly attractive, but said to be whip smart, and without question movie savvy. He was treated as a man of importance, because in the film industry there were few more important than he. His positive gaze on your film could mean a real career, awards attention and a move to the A list.
And, again, he is a rapist. A predator, an unapologetic abuser of women. He would lure unsuspecting young women to his hotel room with promises of movie roles, or producing their films, and he would emerge from the washroom in a robe, sometimes naked, wanting a massage, and before they could get out of the room, they were thrown on the bed and raped. Some got out, some fought him off, others did not.
How many through the years? Hundreds? It seems so.
And not just women who worked for him or wanted to be in the Miramax business but famous actresses, such as Anabella Sciorra, Ashley Judd, Asia Argento, and especially Rose McGowan, and so many others who feared coming forward. When the damn burst and women began accusing him, armed with proof, they followed one another, their fear gone, their anger growing, their shame washed away by their courage.
He is by all accounts a monster and deserves to be locked up for the rest of his life. Yes, the death penalty crosses minds to be sure, but the worst punishment for this man who loved the high life is for it to be taken away in every way. Locked in a cell, with a toilet and bed, a TV (more on that later) and nothing else. No more first-class flights, limos, five-star hotel suites, fine dining, the junk food he inhaled, red carpets, movie premieres, front row seats at the Academy Awards and that endless supply of money, all gone. Let him never gaze on a woman in the flesh again, ever.
The television in his cell? Let it be on a loop to Entertainment Tonight so he can see the business he is no longer a part of, let him see red carpets, the lovely women, the state of the movie business, let him be forever reminded of what he is no longer a part of. Believe it or not, doing those things to him is a greater punishment than even death.
As repellant as Weinstein might be, as horrific as his acts of sexual violence against countless might be, one is a fool if they do not acknowledge his contributions to the film industry. Think of where cinema would be without sex, lies, and videotape (1989), My Left Foot (1989), The Crying Game (1882), The Piano (1993), Pulp Fiction (1994), Jackie Browne (1997), Good Will Hunting (1997), Shakespeare in Love (1998), Chicago (2002), Gangs of New York (2002), The Kings Speech (2010), and The Artist (2011) and so many other great films. Through distribution, finding these films and getting them into theatres, or production, making them, he altered the fabric of cinema in North America. He will be forever remembered for his crimes against women, what he did for cinema will not matter when he dies, nor for that matter now.
And yet in the film industry he accomplished so much, leaving his mark on the independent industry, championing new filmmakers, he revolutionized campaigning for the Academy Awards, and his two studios Miramax and The Weinstein Company were nominees and winners of countless Academy Awards. Consider this above all else, without Weinstein, Quentin Tarantino might not have a career.
That was the hook though wasn’t it? Work with Harvey and dance close to the Oscars. Work with Harvey and be made. He promised Oscars and he could deliver Oscars, most of the time, there were promises often broken. Famously he wanted Martin Scorsese to win Best Director for Gangs of New York (2002) a Miramax film on which the tiny director and gigantic producer fought bitterly over the final cut, though Scorsese, as expected won out. He did not though, for despite Weinstein’s best efforts, win the Academy Award which had long eluded him. It was felt that just because Harvey thought Scorsese should have an Oscar, and he should have, did not mean he was going to dictate the winner to the Academy. The Academy was still reeling that Weinstein had won an Oscar for producing Shakespeare in Love (1998) beating out the favourite and greater film, Saving Private Ryan (1998). If you watch the acceptance of the award, Weinstein pushes his way to the microphone to speak, pushing the others aside like a football player. Harvey had won, not them, this was his shining moment. A bully cannot be denied a chance to shine, can they?
Even when Disney bought out Miramax and folded the brothers into their company under the Miramax label, they continued to excel. But when Disney wanted them gone, indeed, gone they were, off to create the Weinstein Company, which very quickly jumped into the Oscar game, winning consecutive Best Picture awards for The Kings Speech (2010) and The Artist (2011). Among the films nominated for Best Picture produced by The Weinstein Company were Django Unchained (2012) which won actor Christoph Waltz his second Supporting Actor Oscar, Silver Linings Playbook (2012) which won actress Jennifer Lawrence Best Actress, Philomena (2013), and The Imitation Game (2014), with other major films being Carol (2015), Lion (2016), The Hateful 8 (2015) and Meryl Streep’s Oscar winning performance in The Iron Lady (2011). I suspect Weinstein will be dreaming of those long-ago Oscar parties when he rubbed elbows with his betters, after bullying the Academy into giving his films and performances awards.
The upside of Weinstein being brought to justice, is that women might be a little safer, knowing potential predators might think twice. The downside is that it has created a guilt by accusation community not unlike 1692 Salem in which once accused, it becomes nearly impossible to prove your innocence.
That said Harvey Weinstein was not innocent, not at all. And he has 23 years to think about the harm he did to those poor women. On one hand, going to a man’s’ hotel is a recipe for danger, but no always means no. The problem with Harvey was that no ever said no to him, at least he never heard it.
The only thing to make this complete would be he share a cell with Polanski.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.