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

Peter Biskind
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 6 2004
It wasn't so long ago that the Sundance Film Festival was an inconsequential event somewhere in Utah, and Miramax was a tiny distributor of music documentaries and soft-core trash. Today, of course, Sundance is the most important film festival this side of Cannes, and Miramax has become an industry giant, part of the huge Disney empire. Likewise, the directors who emerged from the independent movement, such as Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, and David O. Russell -- who once had to max out their credit cards to realize their visions on the screen -- are now among the best-known directors in Hollywood. Not to mention the actors who emerged with them, like Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Ethan Hawke, and Uma Thurman.

Down and Dirty Pictures chronicles the rise of independent filmmakers and of the twin engines -- Sundance and Miramax -- that have powered them. As he did in his acclaimed Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, 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. Biskind follows Sundance as it grew from a regional film festival to the premier showcase of independent film, succeeding almost despite the mercurial Redford, whose visionary plans were nearly thwarted by his own quixotic personality. He charts in fascinating detail the meteoric rise of the controversial Harvey Weinstein, often described as the last mogul, who created an Oscar factory that became the envy of the studios, while leaving a trail of carnage in his wake. As in Easy Riders, Biskind's incisive account is loaded with vibrant anecdotes and outrageous stories, all of it blended into a fast-moving narrative. Redford, the Weinsteins, and the directors, producers, and actors Biskind profiles are the people who reinvented Hollywood, making independent films mainstream. But success invariably means compromise, and it remains to be seen whether the indie spirit can survive its corporate embrace.

Candid, mesmerizing, and penetrating, Down and Dirty Pictures is a must-read for anyone interested in the film world and where it's headed.


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

According to Biskind (Easy Riders, Raging Bulls), most people associate independent filmmaking with such noble concepts as integrity, vision and self-sacrifice. This gritty, ferocious, compulsively readable book proves that these characterizations are only partly true, and that indie conditions are "darker, dirtier, and a lot smaller" than major studios' gilded environments. The intimidating image of Miramax's Harvey Weinstein plows powerfully through Biskind's saga; the studio honcho emerges as a combination of blinding charm and raging excess, a boisterous bully who tears phones out of walls and overturns tables. Former Miramax exec Patrick McDarrah, in comparing Weinstein with his brother and partner, Bob Weinstein, concludes, "Harvey is ego, Bob is greed." These two volatile personalities directly-and fascinatingly-contrast with the book's other protagonist, Sundance creator Robert Redford. Biskind presents Redford as passive aggressive, an invariably polite conflict avoider, but also notorious for keeping people waiting and failing to follow through on commitments. Because of the actor/director's elusive persona and his artistic tastes0which Biskind describes alternately as puritanical, conservative and mushy-the Weinsteins dominate throughout. Biskind brilliantly covers their career hits, from the high-profile acquisition of Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotape through backstories for Cinema Paradiso, Good Will Hunting and Chicago to brutal clashes with Martin Scorsese over Gangs of New York. And Quentin Tarantino's lust for stardom, Billy Bob Thornton's "ornery, stick-to-your-guns" personality and Ben Affleck's frustration about being underpaid are just a few of the other mesmerizing elements Biskind includes. Above all, Biskind conveys a key truth: the Weinsteins and Redford, whatever their personal imperfections, possess courage and a deep, overwhelming love of film.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Entertainment Weekly Dishy, teeming, superbly reported...packed with lively inside anecdotes...[a] juicy and fascinating exposé.

Frank Rich, The New York Times 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.

Patrick Goldstein, Los Angeles Times Sensationally entertaining. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Inside the Dance July 12 2004
Format:Hardcover
As someone who has been relieved by the rise of indepenedent film in recent years, Peter Biskind certainly reveals the spirit behind that rise but also the spit behind the walls of the leading independent producers, the Weinsteins and Mr Redford.
If you are a lover of film, you will greatly enjoy reading the behind the scenes manouvering and infighting behind scripts, endings, and actors. Biskind's brilliant research and matter-of-fact writing will reveal much of the business in his chapters, so if you do not want to know too much and like to enjoy just the film itself, keep walking by this book.
However, if you do like to know the decisions that create film, and especially independent film, this is the book of the year. Soderbergh and Tarantino feature prominently, along with Hawke and Damon. Good Will Hunting is looked at closely, as the script of two young men, their first, rose to Oscar fame through Miramax's direction.
The books prominent questions include: is now the time for a new indie movement with the Weinsteins and Redford becoming formulaic and looking for hidden blockbusters, more than hidden art; and who will fill the void if these two studios do go for bigger-grossing goals; and should the men and women behind films suggesting humane themes be of a certain moral character?
In the end, the accomplishemnts of the indies are explored and they are amazing: sex, lies..pulp fiction, good will...Biskind, being a believer in the force of film, plays the gadfly to hopefully protect genuine indie enthusiasm and creations and their futures. The book is as provocative as it is historical. I highly suggest it for lovers of the medium.
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Format:Hardcover
Down and Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind is an excellent look at the world of independent films. To an outsider, this might not seem like a terribly interesting or important subject. However, Biskind makes it clear that independent films is where most of the creativity in filmmaking is nowadays and also this is the most consistently profitable area of movies today.
There have been numerous ultra low budget indie flicks that were bought by Harvey Weinstein's Miramax and turned into monster hits. These include Reservoir Dogs, sex lies and videotape as well as The Crying Game. Weinstein is the true kind of both Holloywood and of the independent film sector.
Biskind paints both Weinstein and his chief competitor, Robert Redford as being profit-crazed would-be moguls whose activities threaten to turn the world of independent films into just another facet of the mundane Hollywood culture.
Down and Dirty Pictures is an excellent book about an under-publicized area of the film industry by a longtime entertainment reporter. It is recommended reading to everyone who is interested in the world of movies.
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Format:Hardcover
Although I really loved Peter's narrative, I couldn't help thinking how well does he really know the people he is describing. I loved his story telling of the indepentent movie arena in the 90's but quite frankly his portrayal of the Weinsteins, I found off the mark. A much more honest appreciation of the moguls can be found in Looking For Harvey Weinstein. The funniest and most positive book I've read this year.
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1.0 out of 5 stars HO HUM July 1 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
If you are not in the business of making movies this long exposition on the politics of the industry is a total dud.
Who cares ( outside of the industry ) about the machinations of deal making, money raising, back slapping and back stabbing in the indie film world. In fact, I have close friends and relatives ( in the film making business ) who were also bored to tears. Thumbs down.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Who's the sellout? June 26 2004
Format:Hardcover
Yes, it's hard to put down. Yes, it's entertaining. Yes, it reads like a high brow version of the National Enquirer. This book is fun, but it's a hack job. Biskind is notorious for taking massive liberties with his material, and he's clearly out to ruffle feathers -- though that's arguably half the fun. And no doubt, I'm sure the beating Harvey W. takes is well deserved.
The ultimate tragedy of this book is its misguided focus. One could easily come away from Down & Dirty Pictures with the impression that indie film is all about business. Big business. Really big business. Pages upon pages upon pages are spent investigating the finer details of acquisition and distribution. Pages upon pages upon pages are spent following the rising and falling careers of various unlikable executives, and their bad-boy behavior. But what about the films? What about the filmmakers? What about the passion associated with the original indie movement? What about films truly made outside the Hollywood system?
Biskind blows by the formative years of indie film in the introduction. Hardly more than a mention of filmmakers like Cassavetes, Jarmusch, Hartley, even Spike Lee. And folks like Caveh Zahedi, forget it. We do however hear about Robert Redford, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon. We hear about Weinstein and Katzenberg. We hear about Universal and Disney and Fox.
The book is subtitled, "the rise of independent film" -- but it's not about independent film at all. It's about studios. It's about executives. It's about MONEY. This book is about selling out. And in the end, the biggest sellout of all is Peter Biskind.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, detailed, yet ...
Biskind has written another fascinating book about the film industry, again focusing on a few colourful personalities to drive the narrative. Read more
Published on June 8 2004 by samizdat7
4.0 out of 5 stars Too much of a pretty good thing...
Peter Biskind writes in great detail and depth about the rise and bladning out of Mirimax Pictures. Oh, also notes a little about Sundance, Alliance and October films. Read more
Published on June 7 2004 by D. H. Richards
5.0 out of 5 stars FANTASTIC!
Biskind has topped his previous book and that one was great. In this book he exposes the reader to the behind-the-scenes stories behind Miramax, Sundance
and the indie film... Read more
Published on May 31 2004 by Michael D. Lang
1.0 out of 5 stars Bias
Harvey Weinstein likes to tell people he will do them bodily harm. He likes say these things in loud voices while breaking things. Read more
Published on May 13 2004 by N. Siefers
5.0 out of 5 stars the scoop
The inside scoop about how Miramax and Sundance operate and the pros and cons of robert redofrd and harvey weinstein. Read more
Published on May 13 2004 by William D. Tompkins
5.0 out of 5 stars A Dynamic View of What it Takes to Make a Film
This book was written by Peter Biskind who was the executive editor of Premiere Magazine and is also the author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Read more
Published on May 11 2004 by Edsopinion.com
1.0 out of 5 stars File under BUSINESS, not MOVIES
Do you love movies, or do you love backroom business gossip about the movie industry? If it's the former, skip this book. Read more
Published on March 24 2004 by Mike Spearns
1.0 out of 5 stars Biskind Lies Now Proven
As the truth has leaked out, we have discovered that Biskind did not talk to most of his subjects; misquoted them; didn't contact them at all. Made up fictions. Read more
Published on March 18 2004
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