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The Emperor Miramaximus

Harvey Weinstein's empire is a place of beauty (Gwyneth Paltrow, The English Patient), of bullying ("These all suck, and you're morons for designing them"), of talent, bluster, muscle, and paranoia. He's definitely the largest (in all senses) cultural force in the city. But do his ends justify his means?

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There are many busy, self-regarding people running around Madison Square Garden on the day before the Concert for New York benefit, but none as frantic as the multitasking behemoth trailing a posse of cell-phone-wielding functionaries.

Sound checks are taking place, featuring rock's most durable luminaries, but he has no time to listen. Someone from VH1 tells him that Elton John has agreed to donate the piano he's playing for the auction. Lorne Michaels stops by, followed by the Capitol Records executive who asks him to tell Paul McCartney to play MTV's Total Request Live, even though the former Beatle has no idea what the show is. The manager for the Who jokingly suggests he still owes the band money from his days as a concert impresario. Mick Jagger floats in, wearing a very rock ensemble of mostly lavender. Did he talk to Keith? A phone rings and a question comes up about the trailer for an upcoming movie. And then another phone rings and it's learned that although Nobu will provide sushi backstage, they plan on delivering it as opposed to making it on-site. Everything stops.

For the next 35 seconds, Harvey Weinstein is completely focused. "It's the Nobu presentation that makes it sooooo important," he all but coos into the phone, waving off the person who walks up to tell him that U2 is canceling for sure. "Think of it. Backstage. Movie stars. Your staff making food for some of the most important, glamorous people in the world. I know you're short of people, but it really is the presentation that is so winning. Okay. Good." He hangs up the phone and rejoins Jagger.

September 11 changed everything. well, almost everything. Before ground zero became ground zero, Harvey Weinstein was ground zero. And since the center has shifted, he has moved to reclaim a piece of it. While other people struggled to regain equilibrium, Weinstein got busy calling his shortlist of fabulousness to throw a fund-raiser. He got Sir Paul McCartney to say yes, along with a Blockbuster's worth of Hollywood stars. Now, 24 hours before the lights go up, he is brokering the end of the show, standing in a dressing room as McCartney strums a guitar while Jagger and Pete Townshend listen.

On the following night, Miramax co-chair Harvey Weinstein, along with John Sykes of VH1 and James Dolan of Cablevision, which owns the Garden, puts on a five-hour glamfest that includes a smashing performance by the Who, some speeches by smashed firefighters, and the junior senator from New York getting smashed flat by lusty boos from same. Some $30 million is raised for the Robin Hood Relief Fund, and all of it will go to victims of the attack since the Robin Hood foundation board members underwrote all the costs of the event. "I'm no fan of Harvey," says someone who works in the music business. "But there is no one else—no one—who could have pulled this off."

At the after-party at the Hudson Hotel, Weinstein sits at a long table. Sheryl Crow greets him with a squeeze; Harrison Ford stops by. Sitting next to his wife, Eve, Weinstein has three Diet Cokes on standby in front of him and a smile of accomplishment. Four months earlier, when I told Weinstein I wanted to write about him, he said it was a bad idea. "You'll get fifteen people to say I'm a genius and fifteen people to say I'm an asshole. What's the value of that?" Tonight, he looks over what he has wrought and decides there is a message in it for me: "I am not an asshole."

There's one spot left in Miramax's cramped waiting room on the fourth floor above the Tribeca Grill: a narrow space on a love seat next to Hilary Swank. She's sitting here because she wants to make a movie. I'm here to find out why people like her wait in line to work with Weinstein. She seems nice. I'd like to tell her that her performance in Boys Don't Cry was transcendent, but I offer her a stick of gum instead. She thanks me as I'm beckoned back to see Weinstein.

Like a lot of rooms Harvey Weinstein inhabits, his office at Miramax seems on the small, uncomfortable side. Not that Weinstein isn't friendly. On a day a few weeks before the planes hit the towers just south of his office, he's in a fabulous mood, taking a meeting about Shanghai, a World War II noir that's in development. Hossein Amini, Weinstein's favorite writer—"I know it will get me in trouble, but go ahead and say I said it," he says majestically—is there, along with Colin Vaines, a Miramax development executive.

Weinstein mentions that the protagonist—a broken-down loser who eventually stumbles across the truth—needs to have a job. "He should be a reporter," Weinstein says, giving me a collusive smile.

After stiffing me for months, Harvey Weinstein has been nothing but accommodating, showing me the love as only the padrone of the New York glitzocracy can. He's introduced me to Gwyneth Paltrow—"You're the first person I ever asked her to do this for"—arranged a sit-down with Martin Scorsese, and had his friend Nicole Kidman call. I'm in—kind of, temporarily, a member of the downtown tribe of Miramax.

The development meeting is a convivial scene, but in the midst of it I'm distracted by a Jackie Chan poster over Weinstein's shoulder: le poing de la vengeance. As I silently sound out the poster—Fist of Vengeance—he startles me into the present by proclaiming, "I'm back with a vengeance."

Despite an illness that took him out of the public eye for three months last year, he looks robust, sitting behind a desk in a blue sport shirt divided by a parallelogram of suspenders. The neck is inferred, not seen.

His coal-hued eyes make me uneasy. They reflect—if the dozens of stories I have heard are true—mayhem in abeyance. But his eyes can also spot Zeitgeist long before it comes over the hill. Which is why a city full of incandescent fabulousness pivots around a man who looks like nothing so much as a bean-bag chair with legs.

Like most titans, Harvey has a legendary sense of self, an annunciatory way of speaking and moving that suggests he knows he's a big deal. He wants to make it clear that his illness last year and his other hobbies may have pulled him out of his sweet spot, but he has returned to making a big deal out of small movies. We play cheery peekaboo around his hiatus—"I'm not going to tell you about the insanity thing," he har-hars—

"I'm back full-time with no diversions. I'm doing all the edgy stuff that I want to do, and I am fucking going to hit some out."

It's meant as a promise, a charming one at that, but like a lot of things that come flying out of his mouth, it sounds like a threat.

"You know what? It's good that I'm the fucking sheriff of this fucking lawless piece-of-shit town." Weinstein said that to Andrew Goldman, then a reporter for the New York Observer, when he took him out of a party in a headlock last November after there was a tussle for Goldman's tape recorder and someone got knocked in the head. Weinstein deputized himself and insisted that Goldman apologize. His hubris would be hilarious if he weren't able to back it up. Several paparazzi got pictures of the tussle, but Goldman bet me at the time that they would never see print.

I mailed him his dollar a week later. I'd talk to Goldman about it, except he now works for Talk magazine, which is half-owned by Miramax.

In the wiring diagram of New York, no one's juice approaches Weinstein's. He's got P. T. Barnum's DNA and Walt Disney's billions. Recall that on the night of the presidential election last November, Weinstein co-hosted a party for the Clintons at Elaine's that juxtaposed Stanley Crouch with Sigourney Weaver, Bill Bratton with Uma Thurman, and Michael Bloomberg with J.Lo. What other captain of industry or culture could create those dyads?


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