Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film

ISBN: 0684862581
ISBN 13: 9780684862583
By: Peter Biskind

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About this book

DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES chronicles the rise of independent filmmakers and of the twin engines the Sundance Film Festival and Miramax Films that have powered them. Peter Biskind profiles the people who took the independent movement from obscurity to the Oscars, most notably Sundance founder Robert Redford and Harvey Weinstein, who with his brother, Bob, made Miramax an indie powerhouse. Candid, penetrating and controversial, DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES is a must read for anyone interested in the film world."In DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES, Biskind takes on the movie industry of the 1990s and again gets the story....Peter Biskind captures his era as John Dunne did that of the Zanucks." Frank Rich, The New York Times"Dishy, teeming, superbly reported and packed with lively inside anecdotes...[a] juicy and fascinating expose." - Entertainment Weekly

Reader's Thoughts

Bookmarks Magazine

Trust Biskind. You don't know half the story behind the movies you see. In this gossipy, titillating expose on the marriage between Sundance and Miramax, Biskind vilifies everyone: Redford, the Weinsteins, those greedy little actors just trying to earn a modest living. It's a fascinating read--even if you don't believe every word. Nor should you. Biskind dishes out insider's tales of lost dreams, treacherous motives, and thuggish corporate warfare. But Down and Dirty is repetitive and rife with errors, and many of his subjects (like the slandered Redford) refused to speak with him. (Weinstein, on the other hand, did.) Despite these flaws, this book will remind you that "there's no business as dirty as show business" (Miami Herald). This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.


As with Pierson's "Spike, Mike..." I was expecting something more about the film side and less about the industry, but Biskind is way more thorough than Pierson & his 500 pages pick up (more or less) exactly where the former ended. Even though the book is more about Harvey & Bob Weinstein than the filmmakers themselves, it does a great job framing the indie film industry as a continuum/narrative, placing the genre's directors/writers in a real-life context with one another, and examining -- with hard numbers -- the desegregation of the multiplex.


I read Easy Riders, Raging Bulls when I was a kid, a million years ago. You'd think this book would do for the kinda great '90s quasi-independent film renaissance what ERRB did for the Altman, Scorsese, Coppola era in the '70s, and you'd be mistaken. This is much less about filmmakers than it is about the sleazebags filmmakers work for - mostly just Harvey Weinstein from Miramax. They could have just as easily put a picture of his ugly mug on the cover and called it "Harvey," but who would have copped it? Not even his own mom. (Dude's madd ugly.) It gets redundant real quick; Weinstein has one main trick that he uses to scam people out of money, and he does it over and over again until it doesn't work as well anymore, and then the book ends.The best part, about the making of Good Will Hunting, was excerpted in Vanity Fair a long, long time ago and is available somewhere on the Internets. Check Longform maybe.


After 100 not really interesting pages, here arrives the true Indie figures of the American cinema : Tarantino, Soderbergh, Coen brothers, David O. Russel, etc... And the book becomes suddenly much more intense, and we can easily relate to all the adventures of this bunch of idealists who thought they could build a New Hollywood, or at least make the films they wanted to make. However, there was a big obstacle : Harvey Weinstein. He is truly the Hero of this book, both the good, the bad, and the ugly. And in the end, we cannot help admiring him and fearing him of course, for all his misdeeds. On the other hand, we have the more polite and sleek Robert Redford, the opposite of Weinstein : the one who had a big ambition for Sundance but which ambition never truly materialized, because of his doubts, his self-consciousness, his unreliability, and in the end... his total lack of interest in the true independance of filmmakers. A good sequel to EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS, even if this book talks less about art and filmmakers, sometimes, than producers and budgets.

Hunter Duesing

Like 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls', this book is VERY entertaining to read and hard to put down. However, this book as a whole amounts to far less than the sum of its parts, and most of the book is comprised of anecdotes designed to convince me of something that I was already convinced of prior to reading this book, which is the fact that Harvey Weinstein is a greedy, mean-spirited sack of douche. While 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls' at least did a good job of chronicling an era, this book is really coming at us way too soon, as we need a bit more historical distance to properly analyze the American indie cinema boom of the nineties. Most of the filmmakers the book looks at are still prolific today, unlike the filmmakers analyzed in 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls', most of which have gone out to pasture, so it's difficult to give a proper and definitive assesment of their careers. If you enjoyed 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls', you'll definately enjoy this book on some level.

Jack Gattanella

I read the book and then got audio. One of those books I actually preferred listening as an audio book while I played video games. Some of this could be bullshit, I dunno, but it corroborates a lot of what I've read elsewhere about Harvey Weinstein being a total jerk and asshole with occasional moments of brilliance and goodness (certainly as a self-promoter), and it paints a vivid, high-and-low posit of what the 'indie' scene once was like. Worth it for just the stuff on Steven Soderbergh alone, but also fascinating is the stuff on the guys who ran October Films and how that went down in flames.


Peter Biskind delivers another juicy read, and that goes a long way, even if the book seems relentlessly one-track-minded about painting Harvey Weinstein and Robert Redford in the most unflattering possible light. Biskind must have decided what he wanted to hear before going into any interview, so his extensive reporting merely corroborates his opening thesis -- that Harvey's a boor and Redford's a control freak. Still, it's fun to hear all that dirt, even if (in Harvey's case) it amounts to little more than chain smoking, binge eating and verbal abuse, invariably followed up with some form of apology a day later. There's none of the "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" sleaze here, even though Harvey's reputation is surrounded by revolting abuse-of-power anecdotes in real life (guess the lawyers couldn't clear that stuff).

Josh Cornelius

I enjoyed Biskind's 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls' more, like so many others. It's not so much the writing but the spirit of the game in the 90s that makes this book different. Since this one is so Weinstein-centric and so much of their world revolves around dollars, the book gets pretty dense at times with money talk. Bob is sketched as the Luigi to Harvey's Mario, by which I mean he sits a large portion of the book out, relatively undeveloped. Most of the book is solely dedicated to above and below the line people telling us what an angry, greedy slob Harvey is, giving a lot of backhanded praise lest they need his help again on the way down. Harvey, as written by Biskind, doesn't have a lot of nuance. The real meat of the book for me centers on some of the larger late 90s acquisitions - films like Sling Blade, The Apostle and Good Will Hunting.This book came out in 2004 and doesn't include anything on the Weinstein Company or the recent death of Bingham Ray. Still, it's an important book and tells as much a story about how much Hollywood was shaped by Miramax as anyone could. Biskind is going really important work here, even if the focus of the book, Harvey Weinstein, is relatively loathsome.


To use a bon mot that Biskind apparently liked, someone should have gone Harvey Scissorhands on this. It was way longer than it needed to be, to the point where I started skimming. It was also fairly bitter, as Biskind obviously didn't like either of his main subjects (the people behind Miramax and Sundance). Nevertheless, it did have some interesting behind-the-scenes nuggets, such as alternative casting options (Meg Ryan as Uma Thurman's character in Pulp Fiction? Daniel Day-Lewis as John Travolta's character?).


I'd been loaned Easy Riders, Raging Bulls way back when it came out, and wasn't too crazy about it. The film did a better job condensing that story to its salient points and doing away with Biskind's business-heavy and often trivial writing. So, when I saw this for only a pound in a store, I felt that would be just about the right amount to pay for a second ride on the Biskind train. And I was right.While the tale of the rise and assimilation of independent film, Sundance and Miramax is certainly interesting (to anyone interested in film), Biskind belabours the story with too much jargon, Variety-speak, business technicalities, financial details and far, FAR too many metaphors (most often badly mixed). So, I come away from D&DP with a good story badly told. About half through it, I'd already decided I'd never read it again and so will not be keeping it. It'll be passed on for some other poor body to suffer through.

Andrew Hathaway

Biskind takes a look at the second wave of independent film making but it lacks the hedonistic charge and insights of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Part of it is because so many of the events outlined here entered the public eye as they were happening so the shock of some of the stories is lessened. The other issue is that, well, it just wasn't as interesting a time. It's more stories of inflated egos than creative torment, and watching an artist struggling to create is more insightful than watching a rock promoter finagle his way to the top. Good, but not great.


the book was held my interest b/c all the movies and directors are right in my formative wheelhouse of film-watching. "IF" all the stories about Harvey Weinstein are true, I am amazed that the man's heart is still beating (wait...what heart!?).The book comes in at a bloated 480pgs. There were some stories and interviews that could've been dropped. This book needed an editor like Harvey "Scissorhands" to come in and shave about 100pgs from it. That would have been more manageable. As it was, i was "grinding it out" reading about people and studios that I wasn't familiar with.Highlights: background on Kevin Smith's dealings with Miramax; how little money Matt Damon and Ben Affleck made on films for a long time; interviews with Linklater and Ethan Hawke; stories of the tirades that Harvey would go on.Recommended for films fans of that era.


Sigh. After reading Biskind's "Raging Bulls and Easy Riders" I'd hoped for great things from this book, which covers the rise '90s independent movies, notably Pulp Fiction and other Miramax fare.But the book can be summed up like this: The Weinsteins are assholes. Everyone says so. Sure, they love movies, but they're assholes.Jesus, Peter, did we need 400 pages for that?My eyes glossed over most of the Weinstein trashing after the first 50 pages, but the book did have some interesting tidbits, usually related to a director (Steven Soderbergh is loved on often) or a C-list star. (It was funny to read Biskind label Christian Bale in 2004 as an actor who "couldn't open a can of tuna, let alone a movie." Oops.)


This book focussed on two distribution companies, Miramax and October-USA-Focus, and the Sundance Film Festival, and aims to understand the independent film movement. This focus might help him deal with something as inchoate as this movement but it is a move away from the focus his last book on the personalities of New Hollywood, that makes the gap between his interest, personality and gossip, and his subject, the businesses and institutions behind the indie movement, a little uncomfortable. Apart from endless anecdotes about Weinsteins anger, you don't get a strong sense of how the Weinsteins struck a balance between art and commercialism, what the logic was behind the line they drew. Clearly, they were in the business of throwing their weight around pointlessly at times, but there must have been some idea of the direction they wanted to be going in. Miramax has a sort of story arc, beginning in The Piano and the Crying Game, interesting films with progressive ideas about sex and gender and a sophisticated sensibility which they picked up at festivals, to Shakespeare in Love and Chocolat, more expensive films they produced that have aged badly and hardly make good on any promise of real or interesting sophistication. October has a similar progression but it involves less personality and is determined by the inexorable forces of the movie market that it couldn't escape. Finally, Sundance is the story of Redford continually being a bad businessman and there's little sense of a narrative there. So maybe these weren't perfect fits as subjects of a chronological account.Certainly this institutional focus might have been a good starting point and where Miramax ends up with films like Cold Mountain and Gangs of New York or even ultimately with the ouster of the two brothers certainly should consistently be kept in mind. Still, it feels a shame that so little was said about Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, David Russell, the Coen Brothers, Van Sant, etc. Maybe their aesthetic contribution has little to do with the industry and how it works but ultimately when the subject moves to how Shakespeare in Love got made, you kinda feel like you've left the independent movement and original film-making voices behind. You come out of the book understanding how the oscars have come to be ruled over by the independents, why studios still bother with auterish types (note how many different comic-book franchises Aranofsky has been attached to) and why there might always be room for innovative and personal film-making but often in a very compromised way. Films like Traffic and Shakespeare in Love still feel a little too compromised by the compromises between commercialism, art, audiences, etc. but that might be the definitive experience of the late 90's. Maybe there's less of a story here than in the 70's: 90's film-making feels a little too governed by the idiosyncratic stylistic tastes of its directors and not by directors with ideas of broad significance for the genre and their environment(Three Kings is held up as the great 90's marriage of studio and auteur, because of its left-wing credentials, an understandable choice but compare Apocalypse Now to it). Otherwise, it could be a case for first in tragedy (70's), then in farce (90's). Whether it's Biskind's fault or not, this is the definitive account of the 90's without doubt but it leaves you a little unsatisfied.

Juan Espinoza

Excelente recuento de una época importante del cine estadounidense. Dos personajes emergen como los más interesantes, por lo menos tal y como los describe Biskind. Uno es Steven Soderbergh, que con su película 'Sexo Mentiras y Video' inicia, por lo menos oficialmente, la masificación del cine independiente y el subsiguiente interés de los grandes estudios por este. El otro es indudablemente Harvey Weinstein, a quien Biskind dibuja como un voraz y violento gangster del cine.

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