Bob, Harvey and Quentin Unchained

My lesson from Alisa Perren’s Indie, Inc: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s was two-fold: I learned that the Weinstein Bros. made Miramax the enormous success that it was and that they are also responsible for kick-starting Quentin Tarantino’s now sensational career. Considering their current cult following, it seems odd to recall that Reservoir Dogs and  Pulp Fiction were independent films. Perren dedicates a few paragraphs to this matter in chapter 2, explaining that Miramax took a major risk in taking Reservoir Dogs on. Tarantino was an up-and-coming auteur at this point and had little clout in the industry. The film’s buzz was almost entirely thanks to its warm reception at the Sundance Film Festival, but it hit roadblocks when brought to the greater public. Tarantino unsuccessfully attempted to get the attention of several studios, including Universal and TriStar (Perren, 52). The film, labelled as a gangster/caper movie, was ultra-violent and Miramax alone was willing to take on the widespread distribution and release. Ultimately, this gamble did not pay off in the short-term for the company as Reservoir Dogs only found moderate success at the box office and underperformed to projected forecasts. Though Perren addresses the film in a context of Miramax’s questionable future, my takeaway is that the company’s cultural capital outweighs its financial successes by and large. Miramax was just the backer that Tarantino needed in order to continue making the movies he wanted to; the studio was a catalyst for this man’s entire career and jettisoned him into A-list territory.

The success of newcomers like Tarantino is what fascinate me most about Miramax’s market domination in the 90s. Because the studio threw itself behind a diverse range of filmmakers and films, we continue to benefit from the decisions made mostly by Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The Weinstein brothers were hyper-competent businessmen and executives foremost, a point which Perren makes early within the text. With an initial gamble on Tarantino through Reservoir Dogs, the brothers chose to back the young indie auteur yet again with Pulp Fiction through Miramax. Knowing the demographics for both art house and mainstream cinema, the two managed to market the film with both audiences in mind to increase revenue as well as critical acclaim. Between the two stylized, ultra-violent movies, Miramax and Tarantino were both credited with creating the cinema of cool, a genre of film which was centered around aesthetics and mise-en-scène more so than dialogue or conventional story-telling. In short, their gamble paid off in a huge way. Whereas Reservoir Dogs fared modestly, Pulp Fiction found much larger financial success and also gained a similar cult following.

Graphic featuring some of Tarantino’s most popular films and characters. Artwork by Mondo.

Perren alludes to the reality that Miramax’s success was a complete anomaly, a stroke of both genius and luck never to be recreated. This was another aspect of the reading which caught my attention as the triumphs enjoyed by Miramax were based on a peculiar yet perfect marriage of high risks and great talent. I doubt that Quentin Tarantino would be a household name today had it not been for the patience and good faith from the Weinstein brothers. Together, these players made a crucial shift to independent films, transporting them from a small, elite space to one more receptive to the tastes of popular and mass culture. The indie movement as we know it was propelled by this circle of ambitious misfits and Tarantino continues to ride on the curtails of the Weinsteins, from the Disney acquisition to their departure from Miramax and creation of the Weinstein Company. His most recent films, Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds, are very much in the same, bloody, cool vein as his earlier work from the 90s, but there is one considerable difference. His style is now refined and the storylines much easier to follow. The two films are also based in historical milieus. From very humble beginnings with Reservoir Dogs and a $3 million total of box office earnings, Tarantino, nurtured by the Weinsteins, is now a force to be reckoned with, drawing $425.4 million from Django. Indie films and their auteurs certainly have been changed in Miramax’s wake.

Pictured, left: Harvey Weinstein and right: Quentin Tarantino. Photo credit unknown.

Sources:

Indie, Inc.: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s.: University of Texas Press, 2013. Print. Texas Film and Media Studies Series

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