Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Weinsteins Versus Merchant And Ivory

(image via NYTimes)

Indie film war! Who in the film industry hasn't, at some point, gone up against Harvey? The Merchant and Ivory Production of Mr and Mrs Bridge is generally regarded, among indie connoisseurs with Masterpiece Theater fetishes, as something of an artistic triumph. The film won scads of awards and award nominations for the Newman-Woodward team as well as the screenwriter, and the director. The final product might have been more "focus-tested" and less indie had Harvey Weinstein got his wretched mitts on the final script.

Harvey, we cannot fail to note, is no stranger to the rough-and-tumble. Epic were his battles with Martin Scorsese over the length and style of "Gangs of New York." Big Harv, an auteur du cinema manque (Weinstein's parents loved artists), seems to relish in fighting with real artists. What would Freud make of that, or, for that matter, the fact that he and his brother named their first pseudo-indie studio after their parents ("Miriam" + "Max," Get it?). From TheWrap:

TheWrap: Miramax and the Weinstein brothers are the big news right now. You made a film, 'Mr. and Mrs. Bridge,' with them. There were rumors of a big fight.
I’ll tell you exactly what happened. It was very tricky. They never bothered us while we were making the film -- the problems began later.

director James Ivory: When we first screened the film for them, both Bob and Harvey got up during the screening and left, and missed the last third entirely. Later on, they told us they’d had a family emergency, and then they told us the film wasn’t quite what they’d expected and that the ending was a letdown. So they were unhappy.

The Wrap: Were they right?

director James Ivory: We also felt that the ending wasn’t quite right, and ultimately we reordered the final scenes and it worked much better. But they wanted a focus group, and some of the questions on the cards were extraordinarily stupid, and then they wanted a big meeting with us to discuss the results.

So Ismail and I went to their Tribeca office, which had this huge glass wall, and they immediately started in about the cards and how this was a highly educated, Upper East Side crowd, and that we should respect their opinions as they were our audience. But I’d studied the cards very carefully beforehand, and I said, 'Their penmanship doesn’t look like that of educated people,' and Harvey went ballistic! He jumped up and began screaming, 'Penmanship? Godammit, I’ll give you f---ing penmanship!' Then Ismail jumped up and said, 'We’re taking the film back! We don’t want you to distribute it!'

The Wrap: Did they actually fight?

James Ivory: They were going to, and Ismail picked up his briefcase and slammed it against the glass wall, which shattered. Then they went down to the street, and I stayed back. But the fight actually never happened, but it was all very dramatic.

Indeed. Eventually, however, Paul Newman -- one of the stars -- backed Merchant & Ivory (according to Ivory), and Big Harv relented. The result? "We didn’t speak for years," said Ivory, "but then we patched things up over 'The Golden Bowl.'" A Hollywood ending.

Much more on director James Ivory and the state of indie film on TheWrap.

Also: New news regarding the Weinstein-Miramax talks, extended through the weekend.

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