Indie, Inc.: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s. AlisaPerren. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012. 320 pp. $60.00 cloth.by Peter C. Kunze

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Year
2013
DOI
10.1111/jpcu.12043_7
Subject
Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous) / History / Literature and Literary Theory

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Indie, Inc.: Miramax and the Transformation of Hollywood in the 1990s. Alisa Perren. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012. 320 pp. $60.00 cloth.

What would Hollywood cinema have been in the 1990s without

Harvey Weinstein? The shrewd, tempestuous mogul behind Miramax (along with his brother, Bob) was a staple and frequent honoree at major awards shows as well as the shepherd behind the production and/or distribution of such esteemed films as Cinema Paradiso, Pulp

Fiction, Il Postino, and Shakespeare in Love. The media could not get enough of Miramax, the Weinstein Brothers, and their alleged saving of Hollywood cinema, largely due to their championing of such “indie” directors as Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, and Quentin

Tarantino. Of course, all of this excessive praise began to falter by the end of the 1990s, and by 2005, the Weinstein Brothers departed their beloved company, which since 1993 had been a subsidiary of

Disney. In her book Indie, Inc., Alisa Perren masterfully explores the myths and realities behind the Weinsteins’ rise, their cunning selfmythologizing of their enterprise, and the subsequent decline of the company’s cultural influence and commercial viability.

The scholarly study of the media industry has proven to be a lively area of investigation in film and media studies in recent years, with valuable work by Paul McDonald, Thomas Schatz, and Janet

Wasko. Perren, coeditor (with Jennifer Holt) of the indispensable

Media Industries: History, Theory, and Method, provides another sizable contribution to the field with this thorough and engaging study of

Miramax. Rather than celebrating or dismissing Miramax’s pervasive presence and influence on Hollywood cinema, she offers a detailed examination of the company’s marketing strategies, including its masterful manipulation of the media and the rhetoric of artistic independence, to demonstrate not only how Miramax changed Hollywood, but how those changes were actually emblematic of larger industry-wide shifts resulting from Reagan-era conglomeration and an increasingly globalized marketplace. Countering the gossipy, damning portrait offered in Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures:

Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film, Perren’s revisionist history of Miramax moves away from character studies by positioning Miramax as a lens for understanding the commercial

Book Reviews 687 interests and business practices in Hollywood at the end of its first century.

Indie, Inc. is organized chronologically, beginning with the Weinstein Brothers’ start as promoters in the late 1970s through Disney’s sale of Miramax in December 2010. To illustrate the rise and fall of the distribution giant, Perren discusses in detail key films that represented or triggered shifts in Miramax’s marketing strategies, commercial interests, or business practices, including sex, lies, and videotape (Soderbergh 1989), The Piano (Campion 1993), The English Patient (Minghella 1996), and La vita e bella [Life is Beautiful] (Benigni 1996). One of the book’s many strengths is its illuminating discussion of Harvey Weinstein’s admittedly “Robin Hood” approach (136): through the production and distribution of genre films through its

Dimension brand, Miramax was able to fund and promote foreign imports and art cinema. Despite this romantic vision Weinstein tried to cultivate, Perren challenges his self-congratulatory narrative by underscoring how, unlike Sony Picture Classics, Miramax’s “foreignlanguage imports often were the most classical in style, unambitious in structure, and conservative in politics” (192). Indie, Inc. refuses to dismiss Miramax’s integrity completely, however, as Perren credits

Miramax’s battles with Disney for autonomy and artistry over such films as Priest (Bird 1994), Kids (Clark 1995), and Dogma (Smith 1999). (Though the Weinsteins did distribute the first two films, they eventually relented on Dogma, which was released by the fledgling

Lions Gates Entertainment.) Herein lies the strength of her analysis: an insightful, comprehensive examination of Miramax’s triumphs and failures without fear of celebrating or criticizing its decisions.

Undoubtedly Indie, Inc. will fuel further examination of Miramax, as the study opens the door for studies of the distributor’s artistic interventions on their films. Equally worthwhile is further critical work on the hybrid “studio-based independents”—Gramercy, Sony

Picture Classics, Fox Searchlight—which produced and/or distributed independent films from within the major studios of conglomerate Hollywood. Perren usefully extends important work by Geoff

King and Yannis Tzioumakis to illustrate “the process by which a three-tier structure of independents, indie divisions, and big-budget studio distribution arms developed and then subsequently declined” (15). In addition to the book’s substantial contribution to media industry studies, Indie, Inc. effectively argues for a more complex 688 Book Reviews understanding of so-called American independent cinema by not only challenging the focus on the United States (especially with her analysis of Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game), but the increasingly strained notion of “independent” in the contemporary film industry.

Peter C. Kunze

Louisiana State University

Reimagining Marginalized Foods: Global Processes, Local Places.

Ed. Elizabeth Finnis. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2012. 175 pp. $50.00 cloth.

This book is quite timely. In September 2012, Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton introduced ‘Culinary Diplomacy.’ In her remarks, she noted that “Food isn’t traditionally thought of as a diplomatic tool, but sharing a meal can help people transcend boundaries and build bridges in a way that nothing else can.” In this new initiative, officially the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership Initiative, some of the nation’s top chefs will help promote American food and culinary traditions around the world through the new American Chef Corps which was launched jointly by the Department of State and the