It started, just after Labor Day, with eruptions about has-been internet movie reviewing pioneer Harry Knowles and undenied allegations from the professionally (Hah!) unpleasant reviewer/programmer Devin Faraci.
But that was followed by the A-bomb that the Harvey Weinstein story has become. It gets worse with every passing day.
A century after “the casting couch” was invented by Fatty Arbuckle era “dinosaurs” who led the way in “I may look like a gargoyle, but if I get enough power in the movie business, I’ll have beautiful women under my thumb in no time,” and Hollywood is shocked SHOCKED to discover they’ve got a sexual abuse problem.
Well, sure. Guys get into the movie business for the same reason they strive to become famous as jocks or rock stars. For access to women out of their reach. You think Tom Petty finds a mate outside of a trailer park without that guitar? It’s an equalizer for the unattractive. For piggish critics, too.
FYI, I’ve chatted with Knowles a few times (seemed mild-mannered, not the sniggering perv he’s being painted as by accusers), quoting him in stories, and I seem to recall getting flamed by Faraci once or twice. Who hasn’t?
Movies have been made about this unholy “understanding” hard-wired into movie-making lore, movies packed with scenes of the “compromise” made by aspiring actresses (and actors) and writers willing to risk too much by meeting with the wrong sort of producer, a known-lecher director, a compromise that is not a compromise at all.
It’s been treated as a joke, “a game” everybody who wants to work there plays. How many absurdly good-looking screenwriters, assistant directors, producers or agents can you think of? They arrived wanting to be actors, because they were prettiest/prom king in high school. It didn’t work out, so they “settled” for the other side of the camera. Maybe they didn’t “submit” to the right compromise.
How many times have you seen a movie business gnome — Valenti or DeLaurentis or Katzenberg and Swify Lazar — with a bombshell on his arm?
It’s a business that runs on and trades in sex appeal, and that gets one and all in trouble.
The horror stories coming out of the Weinstein scandal and the Knowles and Faraci and Affleck gropings/assaults-humiliations are earning justifiable disgust. But all up and down the line, people are trading on looks and sexual allure for access to power and a career. Some are willing to cross a line that others are not. The grunting boors in charge aren’t bothering to see a difference.
It cuts-both-ways as an affront to women, consisting of not just the assaulted but the whispered-about. Not just crime victims, but beauties of marginal talent make one inevitably wonder what happened to jump them to the front of the line. It’s not fair to anybody, but broken meritocracies are like that. Take away the brutish “leverage” men in power can wield over others and those doubts evaporate.
And yeah, ask me about the screenwriter who attached himself to the older woman director and his frantic phone calls to try and remove that part of the “transaction” from a profile. I was writing. The “transaction” swings that way, too, if more rarely.
One troubling aspect of all this is the braying “Why is X, Y or Z being SILENT on all this?” Right wing media, perhaps worried that the NY Times reporting on Weinstein is merely setting the table for a major take-down of the sexual harasser/assaulter in chief, are screaming this the loudest.
Some, like the Afflecks, live in glass houses and really shouldn’t be the ones to speak out.
Rose McGowan has long let one and all know that someone in power in Hollywood (she took hush money from Weinstein) raped her, and has exploded on social media over everybody who isn’t speaking out now (after not taking her seriously then) on this. She took Harvey’s money, refused to break her non-disclosure agreement to the NY Times or The New Yorker or NBC (where Ronan Farrow’s expose, which the Times learned about and then scooped), and is now trying to take the high ground that she in fact refused to help build.
And McGowan and Fox News are ignoring the obvious, this “speaking out” thing is tricky. Without witnessing abuse first hand, what you’re dealing with is just an ugly rumor. Lots of ugly rumors. I’ve met and interviewed lots of producers — Weinstein, Sean Daniels Sr. and Jr., Parkes, Lasker, Kennedy, Silver, Rudin and on and on. Many of them, but not all, have horrible reputations as bullies. People will say the worst things about any of them — grudges, grievances — so you don’t know what to believe. Is it easier to believe something about Weinstein, Knowles or others simply because they’re obese, physically grotesque? Is that why Woody Allen gets a pass? Polanski?
When does somebody scream “Jealousy” as a defense, or anti-Semitism? And how often?
At premieres and interview/junket weekends in New York or Los Angeles over the years, one couldn’t help but notice how young, pert and beautiful the Miramax and later Weinstein Co. publicists were, veritable replicants in their matching short black dresses. And when you notice you wonder about the office culture that demands they comport themselves like that. You rarely saw the same crew more than four or five times. A regular rotating carousel of young, pretty and deferential to the men in charge underlings passed through.
And an “It’s no big deal — everybody does it” attitude that Weinstein gruesomely voiced isn’t just a lame excuse, it’s a face. Whatever court papers show about Roman Polanski or Woody Allen, they keep getting money to work. Victor Salva’s career didn’t end after prison. The turn-a-blind eye toward anything sexual got Casey Affleck his Oscar, or so it would seem.
One thing Hollywood can’t abide is a drunken anti-Semitic tirade, even though Mel Gibson is working again. Russell Crowe was “difficult” before he threw that phone. And audiences — female ones — were a lot harder on Kevin Costner for winning Oscars and changing wives than they’ve been on Woody Allen. Weinstein-level crimes and lesser violations have been tolerated, both by Hollywood and especially by the now-outraged public.
Where do you park yourself on the “Believe the accusers” vs “Rights of the accused” spectrum? We should fear a “conviction by accusation” culture that has twitter hunting up a bad Jason Momoa joke or quick to label anyone/everyone a “monster,” “sexist,” “racist” and get a result by rounding up an online mob willing to swallow that, facts be damned.
And what do you do with the rough “sex play” abusive gay/bi comic book superhero whispers, the oft-discussed director (also gay, BTW) who takes liberties (assaults) with young men trying to get a start in the movies? The long-repeated story of an ex-Madonna boyfriend who grabbed a studio publicist “Trump style,” in front of reporters, to “get her attention” at a studio junket? Where do you put that?
So it’s been going on forever, a dirty big secret that puts everybody in the position of “What did you hear and when did you first hear it? Hilarious to see Bob Weinstein’s predatory role in the destruction of his wayward sibling. As if he didn’t know.
For everybody else, “Silence” is, perhaps, understandable. Nobody wants to be sued. Nobody wants to unjustly accuse the merely unpopular –outside of the little dears at Gawker/Gizmodo media. Why speak up until it’s actually out in the open, and until you’re ASKED?
Yeah, I saw the late Don Simpson of Simpson/Bruckheimer derail a busy day of interviews with his every-20-minutes bathroom breaks, followed by intense nose-rubbing afterwards. I recall waiting for a once high and mighty (short, actually) star holding up a concert/film premiere for his own “bathroom break,” insulting his more talented co-star, who was about to perform. Similar nasally fixated.
If you don’t have proof, it’s just “rumors.” And “rumors” not only don’t equal proof, they don’t demand an end to “silence.” Try to work in or around the movies and avoid every unpleasant, creepy SOB and see how far you get. It’s rampant.
But as any journalist breaking a controversial story can tell you, there are few things more reassuring than arm-twisting sources, getting that story out there, and then having legions of the silent come forward, even belatedly, to verify it. That’s happening now. It’s snowballing, “a tsunami” an unnamed source told The Daily Beast. I’m just not betting money on anything in Hollywood changing because of it.