Harvey Weinstein And The Human Complexity of Filmmaking

For arguably one of the greatest film-makers/studio-heads of all time, Harvey Weinstein sure tends to take a beating . . . Consider the following (apparently VERY late-night phone exchange) reported by Grantland beween Weinstein and actor/director Billy Bob Thornton concerning Weinstein’s proposed edits to the acclaimed movie Sling Blade — (Note: the broader subject in the Grantland article is Weinstein’s notorious desire to force his creative “partners” into agreeing to significantly shorten films and/or accept unanticipated budget cuts):

HARVEY: I’m a big, fat, hairy Jew worth $180 million and I can do whatever I want! I’m gonna sell the picture to HBO. You’re not gonna get a Best Picture.

BILLY BOB: Ah don’t give a sheet. Ah made the movie fo’ me, not fo’ anyone else, ah’ve seen it and I’ve enjoyed it, so fuck yuh. Ah’m going to stick a fork in yo’ neck, motherfucka. Yuh not so tough, ah’m Billy Bob, ah’m gonna kick yuh ass, take yuh out to the wagon and whup your butt!

HARVEY: You’re a redneck, an ignorant piece of shit!

: Ah’m gonna cut off a horse’s head and put it in yuh bed!

HARVEY: This is because I’m Jewish, right? Tell the truth, Billy!

Impressively, Thornton won that fight in its entirety and Sling Blade went on to achieve significant critical and financial success.

From where I’m sitting, what’s so awesome about anecdotes like that (and believe me - this article is FILLED with them…) is that they reveal one of the key distinctions between film-making and almost all other varieties of art. Painters and authors, of course, get into massive disputes with editors and publishers but you’re still generally dealing with a “one artist vs. one manager” type of situation. Rock bands have it harder where personality clashes almost inevitably lead to break-ups (and/or a series of repeated break-ups…)

But only in film (and, to be fair, theater) do you find such a vast number of artists and production-side executives each of whom arrive with individual agendas and passionately-felt visions as to what the final outcome should be. Thus, merely completing a production (not to mention, getting it up on the big screen) can – and often is – aptly described as a war of all against all.

Hence, when I read a piece like this, my reaction most certainly is not: “Weinstein is crazy.”

Rather it’s: “I’m in awe that the guy has somehow managed to hold it all together for so many years, to revolutionize the world of independent film AND to create such an incredible catalogue of work in the process.”

So salutations to Grantland for a highly entertaining and insightful article – and to the truly great iconoclast that is Harvey Weinstein.

[“The Legend of Harvey Scissorhands, Grantland, 10/15/2013]

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