Monday 10 December 2018

Television review: Breaking silence on Weinstein

  • Working with Weinstein (Channel 4)

Monster of the movies... legacy of Harvey Weinstein
Monster of the movies... legacy of Harvey Weinstein
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

It was the film producer Stephen Woolley, speaking on Working with Weinstein, who identified some of the structural issues which enabled the abuses of a Harvey Weinstein, issues which are embedded in the very nature of showbusiness.

Woolley, best known for the films he made with Neil Jordan, including The Crying Game, spoke of how Weinstein did the bullying that decent people could never do, bullying in the broadest professional sense, whereby he would lean on members of the Academy to vote the right way at Oscar time, or just generally throw his weight around in order to turn your film into a hit.

According to Woolley, you'd be glad Weinstein was doing this, because it meant you didn't have to do it yourself - and this in essence is how things get done in the industry of human happiness, something we have intuitively known all our lives, something we have accepted too, without really wanting to know too much about the darker monstrosities which may lie within.

On the sexual bullying side of things, this programme told us that Weinstein was as horrible to the "ordinary" women who worked for him, as he was to the famous ones whose testimonies are now well-known. Two women in particular who worked for Weinstein, Laura Madden and Zelda Perkins, knew back in the 1990s the truth of Courtney Love's assertion that the best advice she could give to anyone in Hollywood, is "if Harvey Weinstein ever invites you to a private party at the Four Seasons, don't go."

Madden is from Monaghan, and first came into Weinstein's world during the filming of Into the West. She came across powerfully as a young woman who had been full of optimism, delighted to find herself working in this great industry, only to be hideously disillusioned by Harvey and his grotesque carry-on.

And yet for all those who knew the damage he was doing, there were others - sometimes the same people, indeed - who knew he could get things done, things that were beyond the capabilities of any normal person. And in showbusiness, at the very heart of the business they call show, there is an ancient acceptance of a Weinstein as a kind of a necessary evil. With the "necessary" bit usually winning out in the end.

So perhaps there is a danger with the Weinstein story, that it somehow leads to the conclusion Harvey was uniquely twisted, that he was the first great monster of the movies, whereas in fact he would seem to be just one of a long line, so long indeed it probably stretches back to the silent era. Silent in every sense.

In the last year, we have seen various artistic bodies, be they well-known theatres or film companies, putting out statements that the thing which matters most now is the safety and well-being of the people who work in these institutions.

Which, frankly, would be an entirely new development. Because there is a kind of an ideological opposition to this otherwise laudable ideal, an opposition so deep it has rarely even had to be stated - and that ideology is telling us that the thing that has always mattered most, the thing that has mattered to the extent that it makes all other things seem quite trivial, is success.

Be it artistic or commercial success, or preferably both, in the pursuit of that insatiable ambition, all things are tolerable, all things if not quite forgiven, are conveniently forgotten. It is an ideology which is expressed even by good-hearted people such as the esteemed songwriter who was asked about songs of his which might be upsetting for those who are close to him - a love song about an old girlfriend, for example.

"There is nothing or nobody I would not give up for a great song," he said.

There is a basic ruthlessness about art and about money. And when you put them together you can get a Weinstein, who worked in that margin in which everything is all right, if you get the right result.

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