As the lawyers for disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein keep managing to push back his long awaited sexual assault trial – the latest postponement sees the trial commencing in January next year – a smart documentary by British filmmaker Ursula Macfarlane continues to remind us why Weinstein managed to escape incrimination for so long.
Together with his brother Bob, their Miramax film company achieved an extraordinary breakthrough in the late ‘80s when they would became one of the most influential producers in the American film industry thanks to a string of hits with sex, lies and videotape, My Left Foot and Cinema Paradiso.
While Bob kept a back seat, Harvey became a self-styled visionary and mogul. And, ultimately, a bully and a monster.
In his own words, we hear Weinstein describing himself as “the sheriff of this shit-ass fucking town” before putting a journalist in a head-lock on the streets of Manhattan – witnessed by about 100 paparazzi and press.
The fact that said pictures were never published anywhere proves his words to be true.
He owned the town.
But that was then, and this is now, and his years as an alleged sexual predator have given birth to an emboldened #MeToo generation of women who refuse to be silenced anymore.
Weinstein’s fortunes came crashing down under a barrage of allegations – harassment, blackmail, sexual assault, rape – published in both the New York Times and New Yorker magazine in October 2017.
Premiering at Sundance earlier this year, the documentary’s title is a nod to how Weinstein literally made himself untouchable and was able to bury his unsavoury private life for so long.
Macfarlane’s documentary answers a lot of those questions based on the testimony of former employees, investigative journalists and the courageous female prosecutors.
Untouchable avoids #MeToo’s most famous accusers like Asia Argento or Rose McGowan, focusing on lesser publicised victims Rosanna Arquette, Paz de la Huerta, Caitlin Dulaney and Erika Rosenbaum.
Macfarlane – a former BAFTA nominee for her titles Breaking up with the Joneses (2006) and One Deadly Weekend in America (2017) – also interviews key journalists Ronan Farrow, Megan Twohey and Ken Auletta.
Their testimony is compelling and also shows the audience how Weinstein escaped prosecution for more than three decades by using lawyers to pay off his victims who, in turn, signed non-disclosure agreements. He furthermore hired Black Cube, an expensive private investigation company ran by former Mossad operatives.
Financed by Weinstein’s deep pockets, Black Cube spied on his accusers and hunted down photographs of his victims – looking happy in Weinstein’s company at glamorous parties – to cynically be used as evidence to refute their claims.
Almost as traumatised as his victims are former employees – like Zelda Perkins – who could no longer stay on his payroll after learning the truth. Perkins even outlines how legally binding non-disclosure agreements meant that his victims couldn’t even reveal his abuse to their therapists for fear of retribution.
As early as 1998, one victim was paid US$250,000 in return for her silence while, at the same time, Weinstein was feted as a genius for producing The Piano, Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love.
Since 2017, more than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault or rape. Untouchable reminds us that nobody can escape the truth forever.