Harvey Scissorhands

If there has been one ego to overshadow those of recent American film directors it is that of Harvey Weinstein.

Weinstein’s legacy will be his almost obsessive penchant to interfere in his director’s projects, most notoriously and emblematically re-cutting the pet-opus of America’s most prominent auteur, Martin Scorsese. Scorsese was the one New Hollywood filmmaker who had escaped the bloated ambition and consequential downfall that befell his contemporaries. Cimino, Coppola, Altman, Polanski, Beatty, Bogdanovich, Spielberg and Friedkin had all made their epic flop by the mid-1980s. Scorsese had already conceived of his by 1977, but he did not get around to making it until 2002. It was Gangs of New York. Read on...

Scorsese has said that he is not going to bother releasing a “director’s cut” on DVD. Therefore, we will never know what Scorsese’s original vision would have looked like. Would it have been better than Weinstein’s cut? Or could it have been worse? Either way, Weinstein effectively gave the New Hollywood its final deathblow by stripping Scorsese of his final cut, a privilege that had been taken from all the others long ago.

From the perspective that this column sets forth – that we are better off without auteurs – one might argue that Weinstein did us all a favor. Indeed, the role that Harvey Weinstein has played in the 1990s has been one of championing the mid-size movie (at least until the end of the decade when he started championing the big-size movie) and simultaneously one of interfering with the director’s vision. Like “creative producers” from the classical Hollywood era, Weinstein was involved in every detail of production. According to Miramax’s former publicity Vice President, Marcy Granata, he “knew what the leading lady should wear. He produced everyone else to produce. It was Selznick!” In fact, Weinstein took tactics employed by Selznick during the classical Hollywood era and utilized them ad infinitum, subjecting Miramax’s productions to endless test screenings, reshoots, recuts, and reconceptualizations.

Weinstein makes no secret of his admiration for classical Hollywood, imagining himself a reincarnation of Selznick and Irving Thalberg: “While I grant the ‘70s were a golden era of moviemaking, 1939 kicks the entire ‘70s’ ass in one year. It fucking blows all those movies from the ‘70s completely fucking away. From Citizen Kane to How Green Was My Valley." In order to market himself as a new Selznick or Thalberg, Weinstein often tries to paint himself as a cinephile, most commonly recounting his experience seeing The 400 Blows with his mother. Of course, Weinstein’s cinephilia is at least partially shrouded behind a puff of smoke that is easily seen through, even simply by noting that neither Citizen Kane nor How Green Was My Valley was released in 1939.

Nitpicking aside, there is a substantial difference, if not between Weinstein and Selznick, then certainly between Weinstein and Thalberg. The difference lies in the credit attributed to each producer. It was unusual in the classical Hollywood era for a “creative producer” to receive much credit at all. Thalberg never put his name on any of the films to which he contributed. Selznick, on the other hand, did. In today’s film industry, it is rare for studio executives to take a producer’s credit. Weinstein does. The line to be drawn is one between creativity and egomania.

While Weinstein has successfully challenged the reign of the film director, he has only vaguely complicated the notion of the auteur. Peter Biskind explains that when Miramax films did not test well, they would be shortened or even reconceived “as the film that Harvey himself would have made – in fact, the film that he will now try to make, recut, revoice, rework in every respect, additional footage added if needed – with himself as the auteur.” Weinstein cannot be an erosion of authorship because he himself has become a version of the auteur.