Creating images is Hollywood’s business, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by the allegations raining down upon Harvey Weinstein in the same way Oscars used to.
But then the pictures they like best tend to be formed from bold colour palettes, semiotics, tropes and conventions to push us towards resolutions that, while not necessarily satisfactory, are at least coherent. If the stories they told were as convoluted, confusing and messy as those we experience in real life, no one would watch them.
It’s only as Harvey Weinstein’s carefully cultivated image lists under the weight of a thousand allegations that we realise we’ve been fooled again. Having seen a number of institutions struggle to regain their footing since their complicity in enabling sexual abuse emerged, you’d think we’d be wiser. But we’re creatures who love a narrative, a hero and a series of explicable events. It makes us feel good when powerful figures are altruistic and evildoers are punished. It’s what we have learnt to expect from film and we’re not inclined to process anything that contravenes our expectations.
Even when it’s hiding in plain sight. You might say especially, given that a film capturing the narrative arc of Weinstein’s power plays was made fourteen years ago and has been freely available to watch since then.
Overnight tells the story of Troy Duffy, a bartender who wrote a screenplay during quiet periods at work and managed to sell it to Miramax. Unfortunately for Troy, his self-belief outweighs his talent by a factor of 3/1 and within months of showing his Ma his picture on the front of USA Today and securing a deal for his band The Brood to perform the movie soundtrack, Weinstein had kicked the whole shebang into the long grass. No one was inclined to look for it.
It’s a difficult watch. Duffy’s arrogance and subsequent treatment of his friends and family push the viewer into rooting for the opposition, who in this case is Harvey Weinstein. Scenes of Duffy screaming into the phone – increasingly aware that his rags to riches story is fraying – make us glad when a few moments later it’s revealed that Miramax have withdrawn from the project. His excoriating deconstruction of filmmakers Tony Montana and Mark Brian Smith when they ask if they can borrow against future earnings to pay their rent makes the compromises Duffy is forced to make to his art in order to secure funding for it all the sweeter. A Cannes film festival screening resulting in no studios taking up the option? Glorious.
Weinstein himself is a peripheral figure in the film, at least visually, although his presence looms large over events. In an vulgar display of power, he offers to buy the bar in which Duffy wrote the script after turning up for drinks. He gives Duffy a two-picture deal, a $15m budget to make the movie and cast approval.
But it’s what happens when he decides to withdraw that we see what Asia Argento, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Rose MacGowan and many many others were so afraid of. One moment Troy Duffy is burning with the heat of a thousand suns, the next no one will answer his calls, acknowledge his existence or touch him with a barge pole. No one crosses Harvey Weinstein.
Viewed today, when allegations against Weinstein suggest that this pattern of coercive, controlling, passive/aggressive behaviour was employed in the pursuit of sexual gratification and not just business, it’s a different watch. Troy Duffy, who eventually made The Boondock Saints, secured a distribution deal but failed to ensure he’d be paid royalties from DVD sales, will never be the kind of guy upon whom you wish good fortune if his turn in Overnight is any evidence.
But no one’s creative expressions, whether personal or professional, should be filtered through a few powerbrokers whose main focus is the fulfilment of their own peccadilloes. We consume what they give us. Everyone should be protected. Regardless of how we perceive them.