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Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film Hardcover – January 6, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (January 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068486259X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684862590
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #240,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Biskind is the author of five previous books, including Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'n' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood. He is a contributor to Vanity Fair and was formerly the executive editor of Premiere magazine. He lives with his family in Columbia County, New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Friedman on January 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Peter Biskind has in recent times become one of my favorite writers on the movies, alongside Roger Ebert, Peter Travers, and David Ansen. His latest, Down and Dirty Pictures, is good but it has a couple of things working against it from the outset. First, it will always be in the shadow of Easy Riders Raging Bulls, Biskind's seminal book on 70's Hollywood which was an excellent work from start to finish. Second, because most of what Biskind chronicles is fairly recent memory, it seems a bit like overload. Diehard film fans will simply be rehashing old news (for them), whereas the stories in Easy Riders were far enough in the past to be almost new again.
The book clearly has elements that are anti-Miramax and, to a lesser extent, anti-Sundance but it shouldn't change your opinion if you are, say, a big Robert Redford fan. That isn't to say that Redford and the Weinsteins don't deserve some criticism, but the intelligent reader should be able to read between the lines and understand that Biskind's perspective is not the last word on the subject. The movies are the thing, after all, and both Sundance and Miramax have produced great ones. What bothers me most is Biskind's grudging praise and all-too-easy condemnations. A few years ago he wrote a negative piece on Sundance for Premiere Magazine - now it seems he's trying to nail the coffin.
I enjoyed this book a lot and I do recommend it, although it is a bit dense and can take some time to get through.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Westley VINE VOICE on December 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Peter Biskind's last book, "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," was a tremendously fun read; "Down and Dirty Pictures" is a sequel of sorts. Whereas "Easy Riders" traced the rise and fall of 1970s film auteurs (Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman), "Down and Dirty" examines the next wave of potentially great filmmakers - the independents of the 1990s. After a fallow period in films during the 1980s where bloated epics ruled the Oscars and vapid blockbusters predominated, the indies of the 1990s were welcome relief, and the story is quite interesting.

Biskind commences his story in 1989 with "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" winning awards at Sundance and Cannes film festivals. Although a few indie movies scored some success earlier in the 1980s, "Sex, Lies" marked a turning point whereby general audiences started to take these films more seriously. Of perhaps greater interest, Biskind argues that these indie directors are the direct descendants of the 1970s auteurs in that they also wrote and directed their films from their own personal vision, albeit on a more modest scale. His thesis is seemingly valid and helps place the rise of indie film into historical context. The book traces the ups and downs of a number of these directors, including Steven Soderbergh ("Sex, Lies"), Todd Haynes ("Safe"), Todd Solondz ("Happiness"), and of course wunderkind Quentin Tarantino. Their accounts are quirky and often compelling.

However, the book focuses primarily on two figures - Mirimax and Sundance. Harvey and Bob Weinstein are the ostensible stars here - as they found Mirimax pictures, develop the career of Steven Soderbergh, and then make Tarantino the poster boy for indie film.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By on November 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book was written by Peter Biskind who was the executive editor of Premiere Magazine and is also the author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. It is a very readable history of the independent film business from its beginnings as sub-titled foreign movies in art houses to the development of American films made outside of the studio system. Central to this story is the rise of Miramax and the Sundance Institute, Festival and Channel. Sundance was formed to help new talent develop their projects and give advice on script development, shooting and editing problems. Miramax began as a marketing company.

They and others helped some filmmakers complete and market a feature length movie. Also at this time other people from film schools developed feature length pictures using their own resources. Usually these pictures were made with the film makers own funds or funds borrowed from their friends or parents

Miramax a distributing company that bought films and released them in the United States began buying these pictures usually at the cost of production with a promise of back end participation if the film made money. Harvey and Bob Weinstein ran the company. Harvey would take a budding auteur's artistic vision and recut it to make it more commercial. This usually was done after first screening it before a preview audience and a sometimes bitter consultation with the artist. The result was that suddenly pictures which had no chance of recovering their production expenses began to turn a profit after Miramax bought the picture and bore the expense of post production, publicity and advertising. Miramax then took on the awards ceremonies spending the money and time to get nominations and awards for their most worthy actors, directors and pictures.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Stamper VINE VOICE on January 23, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Peter Biskind's deft prose is on the scene once again even if his subject matter doesn't live up to his classic work EASY RIDERS RAGING BULLS. The young maverick filmmakers of the 1970s make a decent parallel to the young maverick independents of the 1990s, the problem the author runs into is that today's directors lack the personalities of the old timers. Without the outrageousness of guys like Coppolla, Evans, and Hopper, Biskind has to rely on the megalomania of Harvey Weinstein to carry the whole book, and it almost becomes his biography in the process.

The story begins with Robert Redford's troubled Utah ski resort and his attempts to drive business to that remote location. At first, moving the U.S. film festival there does no good and Redford is ready to dump the whole enterprise after nearly ten years. Steven Soderbergh then puts the festival on the map with his inexpensive indie hit SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE and suddenly Redford is a genius. Biskind goes on to show how poorly Soderbergh is treated by Redford from then on, even to the point of letting Soderbergh develop QUIZ SHOW only to step in and direct it himself.

Redford is a selfish control freak, but Biskind cannot really develop this through the book, because Redford is so colorless that too many stories on him would put us to sleep. Instead Biskind uses Harvey Weinstein to keep us awake with his love of movies and bombastic style. Harvey is a throwback to the days before the EASY RIDERS when studio heads were tyrants and tyrants are always fun to read about even when they're horrible to work for.

A few other characters are interesting for the short time they're profiled.
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