Down and Dirty Pictures

Although Peter Biskind’s title, Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film, suggests that Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival and the Weinstein brothers’ film studio Miramax will receive equal treatment, Harvey and Bob Weinstein dominate the book. For the most part, Biskind has little regard for Redford, whom he considers hard to work with, passive-aggressive, and unavailable. He believes that Redford has created an “Ordinary Bob” persona that is at odds with his perfectionism and uses “Bobspeak,” a language that is vague and even contradictory. Biskind claims that in selecting films for the festival Sundance turned its back on the indies it was created to serve.

Biskind covers the independent film industry from the appearance of Stephen Soderbergh’s sex, lies, & videotape at the 1989 Sundance Film Festival until the early 2000’s, a period dominated by Miramax. The early indie films in this period were about how real people lived, but by 2000 the independent film had become so mainstream that the term “Indiewood” was coined. Much of the book concerns Miramax’s ups and downs, and Biskind even divides the Miramax decade into ages, the Bronze (1979-1986), Silver (1987 to 1993, when Disney bought the brothers out), and Golden (since the buyout to 1999, when Shakespeare in Love swept the Oscars).

Biskind’s cheeky, irreverent tone lends itself to his criticism of the Weinsteins, particularly Harvey, whom Biskind claims has a “scorpion nature” and is his own worst enemy. Padding profits, threatening and cajoling directors and actors, and attempting, through Disney money, to corner the indie market, Harvey is portrayed unfavorably. Bob comes across as a greedy producer of sleazy films. Biskind quotes Bernardo Bertolucci’s description of Harvey as “the Saddam Hussein of cinema” and recounts Harvey’s abominable treatment of the successful Merchant-Ivory team. On the other hand, he also acknowledges Harvey’s skilled cutting of some films and describes many of the 2002 and 2003 films as “children of Miramax.” According to Biskind, Miramax’s success killed the independent film movement by merging independent and mainstream films.