Miramax and Defining “Indie”

Courtesy of Wikipedia - the original poster for "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!"

Courtesy of Wikipedia – the original poster for “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”

On page four of Alisa Perren’s “Indie, Inc: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood,” she discusses Miramax’s contributions “to the ever-shifting notions about terms such as independence, indie, and Indiewood” and how “These notions…fed into broader critical, journalistic, and scholarly discussions about the boundaries of both independent and Hollywood film.” She goes on to discuss Disney’s purchase of Miramax as a near instant trend in the film business, as News Corp, Vivendi, Time Warner, Viacom, and Sony all followed suit with purchases of their own niche subsidiaries. “To study the rise and fall of Miramax,” she explained,” is to study Hollywood in transition” (4).

However, it also seems like Hollywood’s first steps at embracing international and independent film culture, though obviously as a business-intellectual decision to benefit all companies (within the Disney family) financially. The irony lies in the low-budget production costs, intentionally niche audience, as well as ultimate legal repercussions that rendered themselves irrelevant.

One of the things I found most interesting about Miramax’s prominence and assistance in the development of “indie” culture was the fact that it stemmed from a high-powered conglomerate and was manipulated purely for control of a particular (hispter) demographic. Even as Miramax’s releases–think: Dogma (1999)Chocolat (2000), Good Will Hunting (1997), and Gangs of New York (2002)–stimulated valuable conversation Pennen admits, “When convenient, the company exploited such discourses for the purposes of marketing and product differentiation.” As the definition of “indie” and “independent” stands now, it seems a far cry from the multi-million dollar successes produced between 1990 and 2005. Ironic that Peter Biskind describes the films as “the taste of barbarians” and “middlebrow” (10).

That being said, Miramax obviously ended up being an invaluable asset to Disney as it “provided the conglomerate with heightened prestige and adult-oriented material at a relatively low cost. For the most part, Miramax product complemented, rather than competed with, the films generated by Disney’s other divisions” (71). Of course, this would be a bonus regardless, since ultimately Disney would be profiting from the (dominating) success of any of their subsidiaries. And today, as the Oscars and Golden Globes all hail “indie” flicks like The Artist and Life of Pi, “niche” and “Indiewood” have become the most financially successful, critically recognized, and sought-after film genres of award season.

I was equally amused when Perren begins discussing the controversy surround X ratings, particularly in the loss of the lawsuit filed when Átame received an X from the MPAA. “Although the court ruled in favor of the MPAA’s decision, the judge also used the case to attack the means by which the ratings board classified films” (44). As a result, the now mostly-defunct NC-17 rating was born as a replacement. Today, it seems as if the rating system is, in many ways, disregarded. Television shows (Law & Order, Grey’s Anatomy, etc.) warn viewers of “graphic/adult content,” but most movie theaters do not request identification from underage attendees, parents are increasingly permissive, and today’s rental methods (Redbox, Amazon Instant) are available to users regardless of age. Many “indie” films are unrated altogether and attract an unfazed, cynical audience. From a millenial perspective, Miramax’s influence on the development of indie, the adjustment in ratings, as well as the population of niche media has rendered its own programs irrelevant.

Courtesy of capslockmack.blogspot.com

Courtesy of capslockmack.blogspot.com

Finally, the production of Kids in 1995 seems to the foundation for much of modern day theater and entertainment.  “[It was] a drama about about a group of drinking, smoking, drug-taking, sexually active teenagers in New York City,” explained Perren (114)…so I instantly thought of RentFame, and Friends – notably similar in title, theme, and description of content. (This was not the case, of course, since Kids featured a plot point surrounding HIV and virginity). Though it “spurred the most widely reported public conflict between Miramax and its company to date” (114), Kids also instigated a media frenzy that promoted publicity and sparked other potential storylines for the next 10 years – storylines that could capitalize on the snowball effect of media and avoid the same uproar regarding morals and television ratings.

(Personal side note: I’d like to briefly discuss/analyze why “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” was so popular, since it was both a foreign movie and one that seemed to glorify stockholm syndrome).

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Comments

  1. Since you end with a personal side note, I thought I’d do the same. I’d love to hear more about the following:

    • However, it also seems like Hollywood’s first steps at embracing international and independent film culture, though obviously as a business-intellectual decision to benefit all companies (within the Disney family) financially. The irony lies in the low-budget production costs, intentionally niche audience, as well as ultimate legal repercussions that rendered themselves irrelevant.
    • One of the things I found most interesting about Miramax’s prominence and assistance in the development of “indie” culture was the fact that it stemmed from a high-powered conglomerate and was manipulated purely for control of a particular (hispter) demographic.
    • And today, as the Oscars and Golden Globes all hail “indie” flicks like The Artist and Life of Pi, “niche” and “Indiewood” have become the most financially successful, critically recognized, and sought-after film genres of award season.
    • From a millenial perspective, Miramax’s influence on the development of indie, the adjustment in ratings, as well as the population of niche media has rendered its own programs irrelevant.

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