Culturally and aesthetically, New York and Los Angeles are a continent apart; it’s not surprising, then, that the East Coast and West Coast film bureaus of the New York Times would display similar differences. The current continental divide concerns New York-based Miramax films, as embodied — heftily — in the form of Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the company with his brother Bob. When Weinstein, producer of “Shakespeare in Love,” scooped up the best picture Oscar last March, the Times’ L.A. film guy, Bernard Weinraub, was the conduit of choice for Hollywoodites scandalized when — in their minds — the East Coast nouveau riche walked away with the trophy. The hometown favorite was the good St. Steven, whose “Saving Private Ryan” had practically already been given the best-picture Oscar by Tinseltown’s elite. The Los Angeles Times ran a similar story, making Hollywood’s displeasure plain. Neither Weinraub nor the L.A. Times bothered to note that Spielberg himself wasn’t deemed Oscar-worthy by the academy until very recently.
A few days after Weinraub’s story, the New York Times published a defense of Weinstein — and a derisive attack on Hollywood — from the venerable Vincent Canby, who’s based in New York. “There’s still nothing quite as exhilarating as the spectacle of some of Hollywood’s toughest wheeler-dealers … [taking] umbrage at the shabby behavior of an upstart not yet in their club,” wrote Canby. Weinraub, one got the feeling, must have been smarting. And now New York-based chief Times film critic Janet Maslin, doing a Cannes wrap-up last Sunday, has fired yet another salvo. The story let Weinstein vent against what to his mind were Cannes’ myriad sins against him and his company. The story didn’t ever say exactly what Cannes had done to Miramax — one of the company’s films anchored the closing-night event — but it apparently had to do with not giving Weinstein enough prizes. The good old days when Miramax product like “Pulp Fiction” was taking home the Palme D’Or are long gone.
As a result, Maslin told us, Weinstein has “declared war” on Cannes. He “has long been galled by this event’s elitism and its predilection for dull, irrelevant films. ‘There’s something wrong with Cannes, and it needs to be fixed,’ he said angrily by telephone from the closing night party. ‘The luster of the festival is completely submerged. It’s losing its place in film history. It has the potential to be so much more than it is now, the potential to be so much more serious and less political. I’ve reached the frustration point, and I’m not scared to say so anymore.’”
It sounded like the lustrous Harvey was about to take his cell phone and go home. Indeed, wrote Maslin: “And if nothing changes? ‘Then I won’t come,’ Weinstein said.”
Quel fromage! Maslin, intoning the words “Harvey Weinstein” as reverentially as a star-struck flack at a Manhattan opening, didn’t bother to put Weinstein and his company into context for a lay reader. Nor did she bother to explain how the nefarious anti-Miramax conspiracy on the shores of the Riviera was carried out, whatever it was. And she didn’t ask anyone at the festival why they weren’t giving Harvey any prizes.
We’re sure a lot of the Cannes films were boring, but there are some greater ironies here. In the context of U.S. culture, many of Weinstein’s films inhabit the same vague artsy area that Cannes does, yet Weinstein has made millions by mainstreaming the art-film industry, packaging slightly higher than middlebrow fare to the multiplexes. His success was crowned last year with a best picture Oscar, the very image of mainstream, even vulgar, validation. Now he wants to keep his Cannes’ imprimatur, too. One suspects that a fairly independent-minded person like Maslin would have been more skeptical of his contradictory position, had not the film world’s odd geography temporarily blinded her. When you’re playing for the home team, sometimes a loss looks like a steal.