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Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film

A-DownDirtyPicturesWhat happened to the noble principles that once guided independent cinema? In this expose of the rise of the indie film industry, Biskind shows how, starting with Steven Soderbergh's 1989 "Sex, Lies and Videotape" and continuing with "Cinema Paradiso," "Good Will Hunting," and "Chicago," Hollywood studios co-opted the indie business. Despite differing visions and brutal clashes, Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival and Harvey Weinstein's Miramax Films emerged as "the yin and yang of the indie universe." Movies, despite their lofty artistic goals, are a business, Biskind concludes. And in the vicious fight for indies, "commerce had won."
Simon & Schuster. 544 pages. $26.95.

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"A former editor at Premiere magazine, Biskind has an insider's understanding of the way art, ego and commerce intersect in Hollywood, and how each is inseparable from the other." Rene Rodriguez

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"An entertaining, gossip-packed swim through the shark-infested waters of the '90s independent film boom, Down and Dirty Pictures ... should have been subtitled 'Get Harvey.' ... Down and Dirty is compulsively readable." Chris Vognar

NY Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Down and Dirty Pictures is the best account we're likely to get of how Miramax both jump-started the indie movement and ultimately harmed it with its take-no-prisoners deal-making, aggressive marketing and sometimes, its opponents have charged, ugly Oscar campaigning." Dwight Garner

Providence Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Down and Dirty is a fascinating surgical prying-open of the independent film industry, and the cutthroat producers who take the independence out of it. " Bob Leddy

Washington Post 2.5 of 5 Stars
"It's a sensational book, in the worst sense of the word, and a tawdry autopsy of an area of the culture that many probably presume runs on good faith and artistic integrity. ... In other words, it rises above the level of gossip only if the reader is completely naive." John Anderson

NY Times Book Review 1.5 of 5 Stars
"...Biskind's book, however flawed, must be welcomed for attempting to interpret the entertainment industry with at least some seriousness of purpose. ... Part of the problem is that Biskind goes into detail on many films we couldn't care less about." Sharon Waxman

San Jose Mercury News 1 of 5 Stars
"Unfortunately, Biskind has chosen to tell the story of the indie phenomenon chronologically, which has the effect of putting the least interesting part first. ... In page after page of appalling invective, what becomes clear is that these are not very nice people, who chisel, cheat, lie, and scream at each other for the pure pleasure of doing it, for the thrill of gouging each other's eyes out." Bruce Newman

Critical Summary

Trust Biskind. You don't know half the story behind the movies you see. In this gossipy, titillating expose on the marriage between Sundance and Miramax, Biskind vilifies everyone: Redford, the Weinsteins, those greedy little actors just trying to earn a modest living. It's a fascinating read, even if you don't believe every word. Nor should you. Biskind dishes out insider's tales of lost dreams, treacherous motives, and thuggish corporate warfare. But Down and Dirty is repetitive and rife with errors, and many of his subjects (like the slandered Redford) refused to speak with him. (Weinstein, on the other hand, did.) Despite these flaws, this book will remind you that "there's no business as dirty as show business" (Miami Herald).