With news of the closure of Miramax—the independent arthouse outfit that infiltrated Hollywood’s circle of major players in the 1990s—and the loss of roughly eighty jobs in its Los Angeles offices, Mickey Mouse became a villain to film fans across the world. Though Miramax’s output has been considerably downscaled since the departure of founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein in 2005, their official closure marks a sad day for the film industry. The company, which thrived with the financial backing granted by the Walt Disney Empire since being bought out in 1993, had been plagued with financial struggles of late and, as such, the Mouse House finally decided to lower the axe on January 28th, 2010. Kevin Smith was (surprise, surprise) among the first to give his two cents, championing the studio’s halcyon days as “[not] just a bad-boy clubhouse, it was a 20th century Olympus… And for one brief, shining moment, it was an age of magic and wonders.”
His words aren’t far off the mark. When we look at their productivity from Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) onward, the place was practically a factory for cult hits. What’s more, they had a knack for turning their filmmakers into indie icons: Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith were launched to megastar status after their success under the Miramax banner. And let’s not forget about the awards either. Infamous for their ardent Oscar campaigns, the studio shook up the awards season by giving smaller productions a fighting chance at those coveted gongs (securing a Best Picture win for Shakespeare In Love in 1998).
In the mid-’90s, the Hollywood blockbuster was forced to take a backseat; mass audiences were now equally enamoured with intimate storytelling and niche genre films, and it was these films which made the real impact on popular culture. Though Pulp Fiction (1994) may not have performed as well as True Lies and Speed at the box office, how many people were lining their walls with replicas of the theatrical poster and images from the film? The human touch of Miramax’s output connected with filmgoers in a way that eluded the big-budget flicks, and their emphasis on the pragmatic elements forged a new outline for what films were deemed marketable.
This isn’t exactly a shock murder though; it’s more akin to switching off a ventilation machine after months of ill health. Since Bob and Harvey left after incessant disputes with Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner, releases from Miramax (and especially releases worthy of note) have grown increasingly sporadic. The only feathers in their cap over recent years have spawned from co-productions with Paramount Vantage—the Coen’s Oscar-winning neo western No Country For Old Men (2007) and Paul Thomas Anderson’s oil boom epic There Will Be Blood (2007).
However irregular their bankable hits may have become since the acrimonious split between its founders and newfound owners, Miramax will be remembered for its brazen assault on mainstream cinema in the ’90s. Hollywood was hit by a wave of alternative filmmakers and alternative filmic principles, a craze that infected public consciousness and created a new standard for audiences. Would Tarantino have reached his deific status without their investment in new talent? Would independent pictures have as much clout come awards season without their feverish lobbying? Of course, we can never say for certain, but one gets the impression that the Weinstein’s little arthouse studio has—in one way or another—changed the shape of Tinseltown and the global film industry.
Huw Jones is a post-graduate from Cardiff University, where he studied Journalism, Film & Media