he fall of Harvey Weinstein: It'll likely make for a seriously rancid biopic someday, though Harvey Weinstein is unlikely to produce it. He wouldn’t be right for the material anyway. He’s too close to it.
If this were a movie, “The Fall of Harvey Weinstein” (working title) is a grim cautionary tale about twisted male privilege and a powerful, Oscar-winning movie mogul who fancied himself a ladies’ man but was brought low, at long last, by deeply sourced accounts in The New York Times and The New Yorker alleging decades of abuse, with first-person accounts of Weinstein’s behavior from a long line of actresses, assistants and colleagues.
“The story sounds so good, I want to buy the movie rights,” Weinstein said in a statement published in Variety and other news outlets before the Times’ first story earlier this month.
Now, Weinstein has been removed by his (all-male) board and kicked out of the family business. His wife reportedly is leaving him. He’s seeking counseling. He’s working on it. He wants a second chance.
I say we give that second chance to someone, anyone, other than Harvey Weinstein. Someone who knows what it means to be humiliated, bullied, sexually harassed. Someone harboring a Weinstein story of her own. Such a person may still be looking for a first chance, as opposed to a second — a way up, and into, the world of the dinosaur men.
Who knows? The worst excesses, the most galling behavior, may change because of this. Things may change a little less slowly, grudgingly, because of the Weinstein scandal.
Maybe over time the movie industry will enable fewer dinosaurs. Maybe a few more men in power will realize that dinosaurs (Weinstein has characterized himself as one, or at least one of his advisers, Lisa Bloom, did) went out for a reason.
The New Yorker account included an audio clip from a 2015 New York Police Department sting operation, put into motion (and ultimately shelved) after model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez reported an alleged Weinstein assault that March. At the Tribeca Grand Hotel, Gutierrez wore a wire and secretly recorded her hallway exchange with Weinstein. The dialogue has the nervous, sweaty air of the truth: sleaze verite.
Weinstein’s in his hotel room. The door is open. Gutierrez is trying to stay in the hall. “I’m gonna take a shower, you sit there and have a drink,” he says. She declines. Nevertheless, he persists.
Then a shift in tactics: shaming the reluctant woman, making her feel like a hysteric. “Don’t embarrass me in the hotel, I’m here all the time,” he mutters.
In Clifford Odets’ “The Big Knife,” a play and a subsequent movie about venal doings in Tinseltown, the character Charlie Castle asks his wife: “Am I the worst oaf in the world?” Her reply: “The world's a big place. You're the worst one in my life.”
I’m speculating, but Weinstein surely has had his moments this week, wondering to himself: Did I miss my time? In the old days, studio heads like Louis B. Mayer and Harry Cohn got away with so much when it came to women, especially women on their payrolls. In her memoir, “Child Star,” Shirley Temple Black alleged that MGM producer Arthur Freed, responsible for several of the greatest musicals in history, unzipped his fly and exposed himself to her in a closed-door meeting. She was 12.
Weinstein’s victims were older. And numerous. Actresses and filmmakers among others, from Rose McGowan to Angelina Jolie to Asia Argento, have come forward and spoken on the record about their encounters with the man behind the money behind “Pulp Fiction” and “Good Will Hunting” and “The King’s Speech.”
As a result, Hollywood and the industry took stock this week, though many men (and some women) were slow to criticize, or acknowledge what a scumbag they had in Harvey. This wasn’t bad-boy behavior. This wasn’t “locker room talk,” to use our current U.S. president’s defense for the sexually assaultive language he used on the “Access Hollywood” tape.
Prior to the first Times report, Weinstein chalked up his behavior to having come of age “in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.” Oh, well. What’s a predator to do?
The karmic timing of Weinstein’s fall is remarkable. It came a year, nearly to the day, after Trump’s “grab-’em” audio. That became the scandal that wasn’t, the non-scandal that may, in fact, have helped him get elected. Just one of the guys. No class, and not even trying. That’s one trait, among others, shared by the desperately pathetic movie producer and the desperately unprepared politician: no class, not even trying.
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.