Critic's Notebook: The Harvey Weinstein 'Frontline' Doc Is a Sickening Horror Show
This co-production with the BBC powerfully chronicles the decades of abusive behavior by the legendary producer and the complicity of those surrounding him.
Frontline weighs in tonight with the first post-scandal documentary about disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein. A co-production with the BBC, Weinstein details accusations dating back nearly 40 years with a wealth of interviews. We hear from a wide range of people involved with the case, from accusers to former colleagues at Miramax and The Weinstein Company, from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to journalists who broke the story.
It's a terrific documentary, which does an excellent job of summarizing the events in a concise 52 minutes. But there's one big problem: It's not long enough. To fully chronicle the massive scope of its subject's alleged crimes you'd need nothing less than a miniseries. In fact, a limited series. No, make that a full season.
By now, of course, anyone following the horrific story even casually is familiar with its basic outline. There are no truly striking revelations in the film, but it's one thing to read about Weinstein's predatory behavior and it's another to hear first-hand accounts from women he abused and those who enabled him. (The quotes below are taken from a press screener of the documentary, not the final version.)
Hollywood bowed to Weinstein's power for decades. But listening to many of the interview subjects, one is struck by how utterly pathetic he is. Zoe Brock, an actress he attacked in his Cannes hotel room and who locked herself in his bathroom until he finally gave up, says that when she dared to emerge he broke down in tears and said, "You don't like me because I'm fat."
Journalist Ken Auletta recalls that when he confronted Weinstein in 2002 about his numerous non-disclosure agreements, the producer first reacted belligerently until he began weeping and pleading. ("I wish I could have nailed the guy," Auletta now says, but at the time he was unable to get any of the accusers to go on the record.) Who knew that Weinstein, so feared for so many years, was such an insecure crybaby?
Weinstein was apparently abusive from the get-go. A woman who worked as an intern on his first film, 1980's The Burning, describes him coming out of the bathroom naked except for a hand towel and asking her for a massage. This turns out to be an enduring MO. Actress Sean Young, who worked with him on 1992's Love Crimes, says that he exposed himself to her. She told him to put it away, adding, "It's really not pretty."
The documentary, co-directed by Jane McMullen and Leo Telling, brings out the infuriating "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" complicity of those who were aware of Weinstein's behavior but did nothing to stop it. Paul Webster, a former Miramax executive giving his first television interview, says, "Working at Miramax was like being in a cult. The cult of Harvey. I knew I was making a deal with the devil." He adds, "I think, looking back, that I did know. And I chose to suppress it. I think we were all enablers."
While no one currently working at the Weinstein Company agreed to talk to the filmmakers (no surprise there), the documentary does include an interview with a former executive, Tom Prince, who says, "Harvey was a dictator." He relates how Weinstein would fly young actresses halfway around the world for roles requiring one or two days of work. It wasn't cost-effective, to be sure, but Weinstein clearly had more than just casting in mind.
To stay ahead of the accusations, Weinstein employed a variety of techniques. Among other things, he hired powerhouse lawyers, public relation firms and private investigation agencies. He also made many financial settlements, always with NDAs attached. An NYU professor describes these as an "enabling factor." The film thus makes a strong, if indirect, case for the prohibition of such silence-buying arrangements.
A montage of award acceptance speeches provides a disturbing reminder of Weinstein's industry clout. Accepting an Academy Award, Meryl Streep refers to him as "God." Gwyneth Paltrow, who won her Oscar for Miramax's Shakespeare in Love, was allegedly assaulted by Weinstein. Commenting on Paltrow's silence at the time, The Hollywood Reporter editor-at-large Kim Masters points out, "It's a hard choice to make. She could take him on, or have her career." Masters also relates how she confronted Weinstein years ago, telling him, "I heard you rape women." He wasn't even taken aback by the accusation.
And so it went, for far too long, until the story finally broke last year thanks to actress/model Ambra Gutierrez, an Italian model who reported Weinstein's behavior toward her in 2015 to the New York Police Department, and courageous journalists Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker and the New York Times' Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor. The film ends with recent footage of Weinstein getting into a car during his current exile. When a reporter asks him how he's doing, he says, "We all make mistakes. Second chance, I hope."
Keep hoping, Harvey. You're all out of chances.
Airdate: 9 p.m. Friday, March 2 (PBS)