It's tough to get to the end of Weinstein's self-assigned centrality, as Democratic candidate Mark Green recently found out. The Friday before Election Day, he hosted a Democratic Unity dinner, with everyone from Bill Clinton to Jon Stewart on the bill. But some Democrats weren't buying. So three nights later, Weinstein was at the Four Seasons trying to engineer a cease-fire. Roberto Ramirez and Al Sharpton wanted people ousted from the Green campaign for what they believed were racist attacks. Weinstein suggested he'd hire a fired aide to work in the movie business with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow. When Green declined, Weinstein tried to cast Bill Clinton as peacemaker, but when Clinton was driven by the Four Seasons and saw the phalanx of cameras, he felt set up. Clinton's car fled down 58th Street, cameras chasing its taillights.
"All I want to fucking do is fucking unite this fucking city, and you won't let me!" Weinstein screamed, according to a Green source. With that, Weinstein called the Republican candidate and offered his support. "Bloomberg was willing to reach out to working-class communities Harvey relates to," says a Miramax spokesperson.
A Green lieutenant saw it another way: "It's what can happen when he doesn't get his way," the source says.
Weinstein is often compared to the moguls of oldthe doughty Jew among Wasp elitesbut the analogies don't do justice to his broader cultural horsepower. Neither indie hustler nor studio boss, Weinstein is a different beast altogether, a New York City behemoth with avid fingers in all corners of the pie. He and his brother run a company that released more movies than any other in the U.S. in the year 2000 and had the eighth-largest box-office receipts. To say that the barbarian is at the gate is to miss the fact that he's already behind the velvet rope and iterating access.
Indie movies, once a quaint province of grad students and industry losers, became a cash machine for the Weinstein brothers. His competition credits him with nothing more than being a skanky bargain shopper backed by gobs of Disney's money. They suggest that after Disney paid $60 million for Miramax in 1993, Weinstein spent his time buying his way to the Oscar platform and getting in touch with his inner thug by screwing over far more delicate artistic sorts.
From Weinstein's perspective, it's spitballs against a battleship. Miramaxlargely on the back of the genre films produced by his brother Bob's Dimension divisionclocked a profit of $145 million in the fiscal year that ended in 2000. The profits have enabled his polymorphous interest in all forms of content. He now owns half of Talk; a piece of Jason Binn's celebrity flip books, including Gotham; a measure of The Producers; the burgeoning Talk-Miramax books division; a menu full of be-seen restaurants; and the attentiveness of both U.S. senators from New York.
Theoretically, Weinstein now possesses the capacity to send product up a single synergistic axisthe Talk-Miramax book is excerpted in Talk magazine and optioned for a movie, with an opening party at Man Ray attended by famous politicians who are featured in Gotham, before it becomes a hit on Broadway. That's the theory, anyway. So far, synergy just means that movie profits are funding a variety of other endeavors.
In becoming a producer of all forms of content, Weinstein has performed jujitsu on the assimilative process. While his antecedent moguls madly strove to become remade Wasps when they traveled to Hollywood, Weinstein believes the world should curve to him. After a decade on the A-list, he is still an unreconstructed Jew from Queens who wears power like a giant pinky ring.
With his wife, Eve, the 49-year-old Weinstein is the father of two young girls. He has houses in Manhattan and Martha's Vineyard and no substantial hobbies beyond running a company that company officials say kicked up $800 million in all of its businesses last year.
His ability to pick winners has allowed Weinstein to do business with Disney without wearing the mouse ears.
"The reason that we've been left alone was because our success was so overwhelming that if they didn't leave us alone, we wouldn't do it," Weinstein says plainly.
His dearest friends admit he can be a tyrant, and one of his many enemies recommends Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as required reading. He's been known to tear marketing posters in half while explaining that "these all suck and you guys are morons for coming up with them." Sometimes he seems to rant just to stay in shape.
In 1996, The English Patient won Best Picture, setting off a delirious celebration at the Mondrian among the Miramax folks, many of whom had worked 24/7 to push the movie over the top. "We worked for five days straight, we were really busy, and finished by throwing this huge party," recalls someone involved in the effort. "Finally, at five in the morning, four or five publicity assistants were sitting in the lobby exhausted with our shoes off and Harvey came through and said, 'Don't you people ever fucking do anything?!' "
But all the legendary bad behavior cannot obscure an objective fact: Harvey Weinstein is a cultural good. Pulp Fiction, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and Shakespeare in Love have all become a part of the national narrative, framing the way people dance, talk, and fight. More people see more good films because Harvey and his brother Bob left Buffalo to taste-make for the snootiest moviegoers on the planet. Unlike his precursors in moguldom, Weinstein has exquisite sensibilities, an ability to be just enough ahead of the curve to make edginess and transgression sell. But just when you cozy up to his soft spot for tiny French movies, you notice that his M.O. is more like that of one of the cartoonish bad guys in an action movie. Like the titans he emulates without admitting as much, he chooses ends over means, and God help you if you happen to be standing between him and something he wants.
"Is this man a son of a bitch? Yes," says someone who worked closely with Weinstein. "Does he make fantastic movies? Yes. Is he willing to do whatever it takes to win? Yes. Is he unbelievably hard on staff? Yes. He has a hungry, massive ego that cannot be sated. I don't know what he is making up for, but he wants everything. I think that for all his dysfunction . . . his brilliance intoxicates people."
Weinstein pleads guilty to being a son of a bitch but says he's in recovery.
"I used to blow my stack, the first five years in Miramax. I was a complete, you know, moron," he says. "I've gotten better and better and better. But there are still moments . . . I always rationalize it and say it's the insanity of the industry, the tension of day, but . . ."
Harvey makes nice to his staff in the meetings at which I'm present. But after saying good-bye one afternoon, I glance over in the direction of his office. He has a phone jammed to his ear and is summoning his assistant with explosive, thunderous snaps of his meaty fingers.
The Weinstein brothers' show began during their college years in Buffalo, where Bob renovated the dilapidated Century Theater and booked concert films while Harvey hustled as a concert promoter.
Patrick Lyons, who owns a string of restaurants and nightclubs in Boston, was running a nightclub in Buffalo in the seventies when he caught Weinstein, whom he describedreallyas a "tall, thin, handsome man" putting flyers on cars in his own clubs' lot for a competing show.
"I collared him and explained that he couldn't do that, but he could talk a hungry dog off a meat bone," Lyons recalls. "We ended up doing business together."
In 1979, the brothers moved to New York, stumbling along on the edges of the movie industry, a business they were just learning. They got a huge bump from the timely purchase of the concert film The Secret Policeman's Ball, produced a number of small films through most of the eighties, obtained timely funding with the success of sex, lies, and videotape, and went on steroids after The Crying Game and Pulp Fiction. Largely on the surprising success of the genre divisionDimension did $350 million in box office in 2000 while Miramax did $157 millionMiramax is a major studio. No one knows the tendencies of the academy better than Miramaxin just two decades, it's had 42 wins and 159 nominations.
But Weinstein is finding that making a living as a cultural outrider is complicated when you know the Man on a first-name basis. The little indie that could now confronts a problem of scale. Dogma, a cherished project from Miramax franchisee Kevin Smith, was kicked to the curb fairly quickly when the Catholic community was not amused by the prospect of its release.
Remember that Weinstein was an enthusiastic supporter of the Gore-Lieberman ticket. Actor-director Tim Blake Nelson had the misfortune of delivering M O, a bloody, teen-inflected update of Othello, at the same time as Columbine and right in the middle of the campaign. According to a now-sealed complaint filed by the producers of O against Miramax, Eric Gitter, one of the producers, met with Weinstein in the Peninsula Hotel in March 2001. "Harvey Weinstein overtly threatened plaintiff that unless plaintiff agreed to allow Miramax to assign the Film to a third-party for release . . . he and his brother, Robert Weinstein, would see to it that the Film was released on 1000 poorly venued screens at inopportune times with no public relations support," it states. The suit has since been settled.
Shortly after beginning work on this profile, I stumble across a trip wire that fires conspiracy and fomentation. Something in his unalloyed nature brings out the storyteller in people, as long as no name is attached. It's all sex, lies, but no videotape.