Harvey Weinstein: ‘I can make or break your career. So show me your breasts’
A new documentary on Weinstein gives some of his victims a first chance to speak on camera
Harvey Weinstein exits court after an arraignment over a new indictment for sexual assault on August 26th, in New York. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Towards the close of Untouchable: The Rise and Fall of Harvey Weinstein (BBC2, Sunday, 9pm and Monday, 11,15pm), a disturbing, slickly made documentary on the decade’s signature comeuppance, Ronan Farrow, the journalist who helped pull away the curtain, reminds us that it is a short time since nobody felt able to say a word against the movie mogul.
The film lays out what would happen if you tried. At a party many years before the fall, Andrew Goldman and Rebecca Traister, two rising journalists, provoked Weinstein’s ire by asking the mildest of questions.
He threw the C-word at Traister (a term of abuse largely reserved for women in America) and screamed: “It’s good I’m the fucking sheriff of this fucking lawless piece-of-shit town.” That was New York.
When Miramax, the company he founded with his brother Bob, was at its height, he was also the mayor of Hollywood and – during late spring – visiting royalty in Cannes.
More than one century seems to have passed since then. This is not the first TV documentary to summarise Weinstein’s loud rise and grubby decline. Two months ago, David Mamet’s Bitter Wheat, a variation on the story, opened in the West End with John Malkovich in the central monstrous role. More is to come.
Yet, astonishingly, it is less than two years, since Farrow’s piece for The New Yorker confirmed that Weinstein had been a serial sexual abuser for decades.
It says something about the scope and squalor of the accusations that few will be surprised by the stories told in Untouchable. Weinstein’s modus operandi was to press vulnerable women into visiting his hotel room and demand they massage his naked torso. Worse often followed.
The tales have already been told so often that they have become defining nightmares of the age. The current film does, however, allow some of the victims a first chance to speak on camera.
“Do you know who I am? You know I can make your career or I can break your career?” actor Nannette Klatt says. “I can make it so you will never work in this business again. So show me your breasts.”
Erika Rosenbaum tells a gruesome story about, some time after escaping Weinstein a first time, being persuaded back into his lair to find him fuming and bloody beside a broken lavatory seat. The image tallies with employees’ depiction of a rampaging egoist who was as happy to throw a weighty marble ashtray at male colleagues as sexually abuse female workers.
Ursula Macfarlane’s film is largely about the victims, but it also spends time teasing out the wider corporate culture. This involves a lot of middle-aged men (who, to be fair, didn’t have to go before the camera) shuffling feet and running hands through hair as they make excuses for not seeing what was right under their noses. It is probably no coincidence that the employee who slung her hook earliest was a woman.
Kathy Declesis, assistant to Bob Weinstein, talks about coming across a letter that laid out one of the earliest accusations against Harvey. “You either swallow it, ignore it … Well, I’m not that person, I can’t do that” she says. She was impressively frank with her boss: “I quit and your brother is a pig.”
The former Miramax executives do offer some insights on the pathology behind Weinstein’s outrages. Mark Gill, once president of the company, sees his ex-boss as a man who was always trying to fill “a hole” at the centre of his being. Elsewhere, it is suggested that a man who prided himself on breaking the rules in business was always likely to defy mores in personal interactions. It’s an interesting notion, but it feels a bit too close to cod psychology.
Besides, as Farrow notes in the closing minutes, we know that thousands of similar abusers still function in all classes of work environment. Many are otherwise respectable men who play by the rules. Some are in boardrooms. Others are in corner shops and garages.
There is, as we hear in Untouchable, a danger that if you “pick out the most grotesque” you give the impression that you’ve dealt with the problem. The most important lesson of this sorry business should be that the problem is still everywhere.