Weinstein’s reputation for sexual trespass had started early, when he was a concert promoter in Buffalo. As he aged, his influence waned — the whole movie industry waned — just as he was seeking younger prey, from a cohort that “increasingly spent their free time on social networks like Facebook,” Auletta reminds, “rather than going to the movies.”
After the producer, then in his 60s, lunged from his office couch at Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, a 22-year-old Miss Italy finalist, in 2015 — “when he reached for her breasts like he was at an all-you-can-eat buffet,” as Auletta puts it — she did what many previous women who had been in her position, scared of Weinstein’s towering power, had been loath to do: She called the police. A publicist’s attempt to discredit Gutierrez was met with indignant cries that she was being “slut-shamed.” The fourth wave of feminism had arrived with a big splash, pulling Weinstein and his ilk into the undertow.
And yet the male foreman of the jury that convicted Weinstein, Auletta points out, cited the testimony and behavior of male witnesses, not female victims — “suggesting,” Auletta writes, “that ‘believe women’ may face a steep uphill climb.’” He proposes instead “listen to women”; but one key woman’s voice is cast as soul-crushingly loud.
Searching for Rosebud, Auletta alights, for lack of better explanations, on the Weinstein brothers’ flame-haired and apparently flame-tempered mother, Miriam (for whom their company was named, along with their milder father, Max, a diamond cutter who died of a heart attack at 52). A childhood friend told Auletta that Harvey referred to Miriam as “Momma Portnoy,” after the shrill character in Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint.”
Bob, who somehow avoided growing into a “beast,” as Harvey is repeatedly described here, allows for the possibility of Miriam’s frustration at her life’s limitations. “She could have been Sheryl Sandberg or one of these C.E.O.s of a company. She had that kind of smarts,” he told Auletta. Instead, she proudly brought rugelach to her sons’ headquarters, and had an epitaph worthy of Dorothy Parker: “I don’t like the atmosphere or the crowd.”
As there was a roving “fifth Beatle,” so there were a series of Miramax executives nicknamed the “third brother” — loyalists who helped to enable bad behavior — and, chillingly, a sort of “conveyor system to funnel women” to Weinstein’s hotel suites. If you’re not interested in the NC-17 and often disgusting particulars of what happened in those suites, nor in the headsmacking convolutions of nondisclosure agreements, perhaps you’d prefer one of the disgraced protagonist’s recommendations from the more tasteful era he worshiped, Elia Kazan’s autobiography, “A Life,” or a book Weinstein was often seen carrying during trial preparation: “The Brothers Mankiewicz,” by Sydney Ladensohn Stern. Herman Mankiewicz is credited with the screenplay for “Citizen Kane”; his brother, Joe, wrote “All About Eve.”
Recalling those great movies, and even some from Miramax’s glory days in the ’90s, feels dispiriting, as the pictures, to paraphrase “Sunset Boulevard,” continue to get smaller. Going along for the ride of Weinstein’s slow rise and fall, even with the able Auletta at one’s side, can feel even more dispiriting, like getting on one of those creaky roller coasters at a faded municipal playland.