Though it had dwindled a bit in recent years, the studio built by Harvey and Bob Weinstein (named after their parents, Miriam and Max) will stand in history as the great drum beater of the modern independent film movement. Beginning humbly as a small family business in 1979, within ten years Miramax had emerged as the go-to haus for hip, outre cinema — their sex, lies, & videotape stormed Cannes in 1989, ostensibly kicking-off the great indie boom of the early '90s. Harvey Weinstein became known as something of a god, feared and respected, capable of terrible wrath but also great artistic passion. He was the champion of game-changers like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh, seeming to possess a near-flawless eye for the hip, the cool, and the awards-bait.
Indeed Harvey's unprecedentedly aggressive awards campaigns not only became the stuff of legend, but were studied and emulated to such a degree that Weinsteinian "For Your Consideration..." onslaughts have become de rigeur from December to March. Miramax was bold and smart and powerful enough to keep its feet in two different camps — it produced artsy independent features but also had a mind toward mainstream profit. Films like Shakespeare in Love, Pulp Fiction, and The English Patient deftly skipped the barren plane of little-seen art house fare and became popular and awards-bedecked hits. Shakespeare, specifically, was the film that famously upset the king of Hollywood himself, beating Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan in the 1998 Best Picture race.
Harvey was never shy about trumpeting his successes or wading into the celebrity-industrial morass with gleeful cunning and ruthlessness. He became something of cigar-chomping parody of himself (an actual parody became a bellicose recurring character on Entourage), while his brother Bob quietly led the studio's more profit-focused arm, Dimension. Mostly the place for cheapo horror and sci-fi, Dimension helped resurrect the slasher genre with the snarkily self-aware smash Scream, again another instance of trusting a mostly unknown talent (Kevin Williamson) and having it pay off handsomely. Miramax had the winning formula, a certain kind of alchemy, and there was no stopping them. Well, for a time.
Purchased by Disney way back in 1993, Miramax eventually began to operate as just a regular old studio, the budgets were bigger and the films more conventional. Latter big-ticket Miramax films like Gangs of New York and Cold Mountain just couldn't catch the Oscar (or box office) heat the studio had once enjoyed. Something was stagnating at the house that artsy built, and Disney figured it was the brothers. So in 2005 they left the company amid a sea of squabbles and rumors, off to found The Weinstein Company, a similarly indie- and awards-focused production hut that has struggled to replicate the gleam of Miramax in its heyday. As feared and, by some, hated as Weinstein is, he does breed loyalty. So he took Tarantino, Woody Allen, and a whole raft of other notable filmmakers with him, leaving Miramax, well, holding its metaphorical dick.
The studio began producing fewer films and saw diminished returns on the ones it did manage to get out of the gate. Successes like No Country for Old Men were shared with other studios, and shoulda-been-hits like Blindness failed to connect with audiences or critics. There have been rumblings, or plain cold knowledge even, of Miramax's demise for some time now, but today it's become official.
Eighty staffers will lose their jobs and a half-dozen movies awaiting release will be put on the shelves and forgotten once the lights have been turned off and the doors have been closed. What voices will echo through those halls then, distant memories of a time when the word "indie" hadn't yet become trite or cliched or too generously applied. A time when kids like Kevin Smith and little Matty Damon could plant their flag on Hollywood's dusty foothills, borne up on the shoulders of the great Weinstein boys. Sure there are far better indie houses these days — the elegant and tasteful Focus Features springs to mind — but Miramax was where it all began. And for that we say thank you.