Documentary Review: "Untouchable" (2019)
Harvey Weinstein- what does that name make you think of? If you’re around my age (I’m 40, for the record), the name conjures images of the Hollywood mogul who changed the game in the ‘90s and damn near ran the entire show. It also conjures images of a hulking, brutish sleazeball who looked the part of a gangster and operated as one. It’s the perverse, old-school prototype of Old Hollywood, fraught with all of the connotations that come with it.
Untouchable is director Ursula Macfarlane’s attempt to be the definitive story of disgraced sexual predator and Hollywood maverick Harvey Weinstein, chronicling his early days in Buffalo, NY as a concert promoter all the way to his fall from grace. Peppered throughout are interviews with victims both famous and not, former assistants, Miramax executives, and the journalists who raised his ire.
Is it the definitive documentary? I’d say that it’s a little too early in the saga to say for sure. Weinstein doesn’t see the inside of a courtroom until sometime in early 2020; he’s currently free on a massive bail. There are bound to be more revelations down the road. Untouchable does a bang-up job, though, of thoroughly covering what we already know without breaking any new ground in terms of fresh information or bringing new allegations to light.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t hit hard and hit often. The interview with Hope Exiner D'Amore, one of Weinstein’s first victims, is frankly hard to watch. The camera stays steady on her face as the range of emotions run wild, and it is truly heartbreaking stuff. You don’t need a jury to see the truth there, with or without the metaphorical “50 million Elvis fans” weight of the story. Ditto for Paz de la Huerta (Boardwalk Empire) and her brutal honesty about coping by trying to reclaim her confidence and body image through sexy photo shoots and the like. It’s a stark reminder of what rape and sexual assault steals away from the victim. The scope of Weinstein’s power, told through the story of an assaulted reporter and the countless photos of it that mysteriously disappeared, is legitimately chilling.
The horror stories of those who worked for and with him are freakishly fascinating, though. These are the people who’s lives were enriched by the man. Their self-described survivor’s guilt is, in many ways, equally awful to watch. Harvey Weinstein was undeniably a genius of his craft and a passionate master of his particular art who changed lives for good as well as ill. Some of them knew (to varying degrees) what he was; some had no real clue. Many simply thought that these women just slept with Harvey to get ahead. It’s just the way the system worked.
That’s when the horrific size of the truth really hits home- the realization that the system normalized the behavior of an absolute monster allowed to run rampant withing “the system”. It’s the ugly underbelly of Hollywood, our most American of creations. Hollywood literally changed the world, after all, bringing those silver screen dreams to everyone on Earth. It’s an abhorrent and scandalous juxtaposition that we are all having to face in the wake of the #MeToo social awakening. We’ve come to realize that our most beloved American institution…Hollywood!…is far more full of perverted, power-mad despots than we thought possible.
As a kid who grew up in a video store with the theater as his church and the TV screen his muse, the truth about Bill Cosby broke my damn heart. Kevin Spacey was my favorite actor. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was the first album that I bought with my own money! To call it disheartening would be a gross understatement. And still…
Harvey Weinstein opened the floodgates that needed to be opened, and for all its presentation flaws (reliance on overhead city shots and powerful cars prowling the NY streets are the glaring example), Untouchable does an effective job of putting a frankly human face on the catalyst for all this change that we NEED to experience. Growth, after all, is full of ugly realizations.
Holy shit! America is growing up. God help us all.
Untouchable premiered on Hulu on September 2nd, 2019