Monday, February 1, 2010

Is Miramax dead?

On January 28, 2010, it was announced that, after 31 illustrious years, Miramax Studios' offices were closing their doors. The studio that had pretty much single handedly shepherded the independent film revolution in America during the 1980s and and 1990s, and had brought a whole heck of a lot of foreign films to American cinemas, was seemingly dead.

It had been a short, if exceptional life. Miramax was founded in 1979 by two brash, apparently socially maladjusted movie fans named Harvey and Bob Weinstein. They named their studio after their parents, Miriam and Max, and it was originally little more than a U.S. distributor for overseas films. Their first minor success was distributing a series of concert films to benefit Amnesty International that were called The Secret Policeman's Balls.

Soon, however, they were acquiring both innovative and important foreign releases such as My Left Foot and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, as well as picking up American independent films like sex, lies and videotape. They exploded as a major new force in American film when they released some major hits that truly began the independent film revolution in earnest; The Crying Game, Clerks and Reservoir Dogs.

Their willingness to take a chance on untested films and directors, as well as their marketing savvy, made the Weinsteins the go to guys for independent film makers. They were also legendary for their massive tempers, equally sizable egos, and willingness to re cut foreign (or even home-grown) films to suit their liking.

Still, they managed to release a stunning series of groundbreaking, innovative films. Pulp Fiction, The English Patient, Chasing Amy, Kids, Heavenly Creatures, Shakespeare in Love and Chicago are just some of their most lauded and award-winning films.

In 1993, Miramax was bought by Disney, and many feared that the Mouse would strangle the once fierce iconoclasts. They would clash over the years; the Weinsteins would not use any Disney funds to release and distribute Kids, they created their own special company to release Fahrenheit 9/11 and Disney and the brothers clashed hugely over Dogma. In the end, creative differences did spell the end; reportedly the Weinsteins never found a way to work cordially with Michael Eisner. This clash of personality led to the brothers leaving the company they founded in 2005.

To many, that was the end. The Weinsteins left and took the film maker most identified with Miramax, Quentin Tarantino, with them. They formed the The Weinstein Company, or TWC. As for Miramax, it struggled along, still managing to release some great films (The Queen, Gone Baby Gone, No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, City of Men). The brothers' new company has released some good films that were well-received (Transamerica, The Reader) but aside from the recent Inglourious Basterds, has shown none of their old spark.

So, does the recent closure mean that Miramax is gone forever? Hardly. The studio still has a number of films to release over the next two years, and its library of films is incredibly lucrative and impressive. If there's ever a change over at Disney, and some of the bad taste from days of tussling with the Weinstein's is forgotten, I bet we'll see it get up and running again. But, for now, at least, those days of getting excited at the possibilities of a film just by the sight of the Miramax logo at the top of the trailer seem to be over. More's the pity.

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