Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence by Ken Auletta – review | Biography books
OThat kind of barbaric creature was Harvey Weinstein, who punctuated business meetings by throwing marble ashtrays against the wall, ripping off a smoke alarm in Concorde’s bathroom so he could smoke a cigarette in the middle of the Atlantic, ordering dissatisfied employees to jump to their death from a high window, and considered sexual abuse or rape the equivalent of a job interview for young women who wanted to appear in the films he produced?
In Ken Auletta’s meticulously reported account of his downfall, people attribute Weinstein to one of many alien species. Everyone agrees that he was a pest and a predator; the survivors also call him an ogre, a monster, even a demon. Strange glimpses of his fiery-haired, acid-tongued mother suggest he was “raised by wolves”. A studio executive he threatened to knock off a terrace into the sea in Cannes describes him as “that gorilla,” like King Kong in an ill-fitting tuxedo. Exhausting all options, Weinstein’s estranged brother Bob, a former Miramax partner, concludes, “There’s no real human being there.” Perhaps Harvey was a humanoid, programmed with technical skills but devoid of emotion. His temper tantrums in the editing rooms where he wildly re-edits films despite the protests of their directors earned him the nickname Harvey Scissorhands, a less endearing twin for the unfinished mutant played by Johnny Depp in the fantasy of Tim Burton.
Feared but never loved by others, hated or disgusted by himself, Weinstein adopted another nickname during his obese teenage years, when his jokey alias was “the Gru”. He later aggressively exhibited his cruelty by parading naked in front of the women he demanded what Auletta calls “sexual access.” These coercive sessions usually began with his request for a massage, after which he displayed a back that was hollowed out with cystic acne and covered in blackheads. When he settled in for a kiss, remnants of recent meals could be seen on his spiky, half-shaved jowls, which reminded an observer of “chewed gum rolled in cat hair”. An actor for whom Weinstein took out his penis told him to put it away “because it’s really not pretty”. Another reported he had no testicles – they apparently imploded after a bout of Fournier’s gangrene – and added that he ‘smelled like poo’.
Such scenes turn Auletta’s narrative into a twisted fairy tale about a beast ravaging a succession of traumatized beauties. Assistants followed Weinstein with paper bags containing hypodermics to treat his erectile dysfunction, then returned after intercourse to clean semen from furniture and collect used condoms, but sexual relief mattered less to him than dominance and domination. control. His goal was to degrade and defile women, and then leave them feeling so ashamed or unnecessarily guilty that they couldn’t bring themselves to speak out against him; as an added precaution, he intimidated and bribed them to keep quiet with nondisclosure agreements.
Similar tactics caused the emasculation of the men he dealt with. Subordinates he considered incompetent were forced to write “I’m a moron” 100 times on a board, sign it and erect it as an ersatz pillory. A marketing discussion with Ismail Merchant turned from verbal abuse to street punches. On the set of New York Gangs, Martin Scorsese had mirrors installed on the video monitors he used so he could see the hated overseer closing in on him from behind. A rival producer retaliated by sending Weinstein 27 cartons of gift-wrapped cigarettes to hasten his death from lung cancer.
The sordid dealings in hotel rooms and the screaming rows in corporate offices were for Weinstein parables of raw power and his monopoly on it. When an aspiring actor recoiled from his unpleasant private parts, he shouted, “That’s how the industry works!” He was right about that, at least in the past: for producers and casting directors or for male viewers out there in the dark, women on screen were hired, like prostitutes, to fulfill fantasies. .
The wider world, as Weinstein saw it, worked the same way. He liked to be called a magnate and behaved like a potentate or a pasha. He claimed an affinity with Ariel Sharon, “a lion in the desert” who set opponents on fire, while Bernardo Bertolucci called him “little Saddam Hussein”. At a wedding in Rome, he found the church uncomfortably hot and said he would speak to the pope about having it air-conditioned. He accepted Bill Clinton’s hospitality at Camp David, but balked at the food and conscripted a Navy guard to drive him to Wendy’s for a burger. Later, he employed Barack Obama’s daughter as an intern and received a letter from the President thanking him for the favor.
Dejected, Weinstein groaned to the sentencing judge that he had been martyred by the new McCarthyism of a #MeToo lynching mob. Then he turned to his furious accusers in the courtroom, reminisced about the “wonderful times” they had had and hoped their “old friendship” might be rekindled. This lack of self-awareness prompts Auletta to classify him as a narcissist and sociopath, free to trample on others because he was incapable of empathy – the same accusations that are usually leveled against Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.
Yet these tidy labels fail to take into account Weinstein’s rages, his rapacity and the voracious appetite that drove him to gulp down M&Ms, sips of Diet Cokes and chain-smoking Marlboro Lights while chewing on the people he persecuted and spitting them out. Film historian Peter Biskind describes it as a “cauldron of insecurities… battered equally by relentless waves of hubris”. Although that sounds a bit too grandiose, Biskind’s images prompt Auletta to compare Weinstein’s temper to a volcano, with swearing like lava. Yes, the man was a Krakatoa blubbery, and in the end he just exploded. It’s a crude and gruesome story, but its outcome – bankruptcy, blasphemy, and 23 years in prison – suggests that there might be a vestige of morality in our shaky universe after all.
End of Hollywood: Harvey Weinstein and the culture of silence is published by Penguin Press (£25)