You've heard the rumors. The film industry is filled with ruthless executives who think nothing of brow-beating their employees, of using creative accounting to cheat filmmakers, and re-cutting a director's vision into a soulless crowd-pleaser. Well, it turns out those rumors are often true--at least according to Peter Biskind's highly entertaining Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film
. Packed with industry anecdotes and history, the book chronicles the growth and eventual mainstreaming of independent films and offers the back-story to seminal works including sex, lies, and videotape
and Pulp Fiction
among others. Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood
, divides most of his time between Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford and Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein. Biskind simultaneously credits these two as fostering, though ultimately ruining, the purity of indpendent film. Other indies are largely left out, although the now-defunct October Films appears prominently in the role of noble failure. Biskind has serious points to make, but he's not stingy with the war stories, either. (One particularly amusing scene involves October executives chasing Robert Duvall's agent through a Sheraton Hotel in an attempt to stop him from making a deal with Miramax to distribute The Apostle
.) Those who have only a passing interest in the movie business may tire of Biskind's oft-repeated themes (Weinstein is an evil genius! Redford is a passive-aggressive control freak!) but for those who truly love film industry gossip, Down and Dirty Pictures
is a feast of insider stories--each tidbit juicier than the last. --Leah Weathersby
From Publishers Weekly
According to Biskind (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls), most people associate independent filmmaking with such noble concepts as integrity, vision and self-sacrifice. This gritty, ferocious, compulsively readable book proves that these characterizations are only partly true, and that indie conditions are "darker, dirtier, and a lot smaller" than major studios' gilded environments. The intimidating image of Miramax's Harvey Weinstein plows powerfully through Biskind's saga; the studio honcho emerges as a combination of blinding charm and raging excess, a boisterous bully who tears phones out of walls and overturns tables. Former Miramax exec Patrick McDarrah, in comparing Weinstein with his brother and partner, Bob Weinstein, concludes, "Harvey is ego, Bob is greed." These two volatile personalities directly-and fascinatingly-contrast with the book's other protagonist, Sundance creator Robert Redford. Biskind presents Redford as passive aggressive, an invariably polite conflict avoider, but also notorious for keeping people waiting and failing to follow through on commitments. Because of the actor/director's elusive persona and his artistic tastes0which Biskind describes alternately as puritanical, conservative and mushy-the Weinsteins dominate throughout. Biskind brilliantly covers their career hits, from the high-profile acquisition of Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotape through backstories for Cinema Paradiso, Good Will Hunting and Chicago to brutal clashes with Martin Scorsese over Gangs of New York. And Quentin Tarantino's lust for stardom, Billy Bob Thornton's "ornery, stick-to-your-guns" personality and Ben Affleck's frustration about being underpaid are just a few of the other mesmerizing elements Biskind includes. Above all, Biskind conveys a key truth: the Weinsteins and Redford, whatever their personal imperfections, possess courage and a deep, overwhelming love of film.
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