If you haven’t grasped it by now, Harvey Weinstein is a very difficult figure in film. There is no denying his impact on the US movie industry, especially as a promoter of specialty and indie films, and his role as one of the central figures in the politicization of the Academy Awards. But he’s also got a reputation among filmmakers—has had for years—as a cut-happy editor who will gleefully slice your movie to ribbons in order to make it more marketable. Harvey Weinstein is a genius, Harvey Weinstein is a menace.
This year has been an active one for ol’ Harvey Scissorhands. He cut Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster from its original 130 minutes to 108, he edited Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, he’s been embroiled in a battle all year with South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho over Snowpiercer, and now he’s fighting with French director Olivier Dahan over the final cut of Grace of Monaco. Said Dahan in a recent interview:
“There are two versions of the film at present, mine and his, which I find catastrophic.”
This has to be at least part of the reason the movie was pushed back to 2014—Snowpiercer’s US release date has also landed in limbo after Weinstein started after it with his scissors in hand.
Film is a collaborative art, and the key to Weinstein’s troubles seems to be the notion of collaboration. In the case of The Grandmaster, he worked closely with Wong, with whom he has a long-standing relationship, to edit the film, but the US cut is not better than the original. It isn’t bad, precisely, it’s just definitely less than Wong’s untouched original and it is pedantic at times (Weinstein seems to think that the moo-cows in Middle America are incapable of remembering who characters are over the course of a two hour film).
The problem for Weinstein is that with Dahan and Bong, he has unwilling participants in his process. It’s especially bad in Snowpiercer’s case because people have already seen the movie and loved it—it’s a huge hit in South Korea. It’s also not overly long or meandering; what Weinstein wants to do is take the “smart” out of “smart action movie”. Snowpiercer, if the story developed long enough legs and Bong decided to get really vocal about it, could turn into a PR nightmare for Weinstein.
But he isn’t likely to get the same kind of flack over Grace. The movie already has some bad buzz thanks to its conspicuous absence from the fall festival circuit followed by its move to the un-Oscar-friendly spring 2014, plus that crap first trailer that everyone compared to a perfume commercial, and Dahan doesn’t have the kind of international standing that Bong does. Still, there are now multiple directors on the record saying they do not want and are not participating in Weinstein’s edits. His attitude is “who gives a sh*t” —well the filmmakers do, for one. And so the fans who wait for these international imports only to receive them in dumbed-down form.
There’s an easy solution to Weinstein’s problem. Cut the movie all you want, Harv, just so long as you also release the original edit on demand. Is that too much to ask?