Barry Avrich | 96 mins | streaming | 16:9 | Canada / English
The documentary that Weinstein reportedly tried to stop existing, including discouraging people from participating in interviews. Either he needn’t have worried or really is a complete megalomaniac, because while there is a certain warts-and-all aspect to Avrich’s cinematic biography, it can’t help but admire all that Weinstein has achieved.
Briefly covering his upbringing, to better set in context what follows, Unauthorized tells the story of how Harvey and his brother Bob took their success as concert promoters and applied the techniques to the movie business, moving from simply buying and distributing foreign and indie films, to actually producing them, in the process revolutionising the American film industry for a decade or two.
As a story that’s only recently played out, and arguably isn’t even complete (the film makes it as far as the formation of The Weinstein Company and its early flops, like Grindhouse), I imagine plenty of film fans who lived through this era might find this telling to be an unnecessary recap. As someone who was only a couple of years old when the Weinsteins made their first bids for domination, it’s a period in film history I was only vaguely aware of, and I learnt a lot here. For instance, I had no idea that it’s primarily thanks to the Weinsteins’ buying habits that indie festivals like Sundance went from being barely attended to some of the biggest events on the film calendar.
Even for those who were following film culture through this era, and in spite of Harvey’s apparent efforts, there are numerous interviewees who were there — former Miramax employees, for instance — to offer insight. Thanks to archive footage we get even more opinions, including a fair few comments from Harvey himself. How much of this was available at the time, I obviously don’t know. Even if it is mostly recap, it’s a concise and well-constructed one.
Stopping short of hagiography but fully prepared to acknowledge the huge, and perhaps continuing, impact of Harvey Weinstein on the American film industry, Unauthorized may not quite be essential cinephile viewing, but for those of us a bit too young to be paying attention to the grown up film industry throughout the ’90s, there’s a worthwhile lesson here.