Harvey Weinstein‘s reputation as an overly hands-on producer and distributor has rightfully earned him the nickname “Harvey Scissorhands.” No shortage of directors including Martin Scorsese, Bong Joon-Ho, Billy Bob Thornton, Wong Kar-Wai, and more have tangled with the Hollywood veteran over the versions of their films, and James Gray is on that list too. Back in 2000, Weinstein forced Gray to shoot a new ending to “The Yards” (he didn’t have final cut) for the film’s theatrical release, but the filmmaker at least got his director’s cut released on DVD. But the experience was sour enough that he was not eager to work with Weinstein again, but then the producer snapped up the rights to “The Immigrant,” and the deal took Gray by surprise.
“I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter,” he told The Telegraph.
“So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice!” he added.
“The Immigrant” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was met with a lukewarm reception. Citing the critical response, Weinstein tried to get Gray to change the ending to the film, and even fashioned his own much shorter cut of the movie. Needless to say, that’s where the trouble really started. Gray explains how it all went down:
…with The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film. So at that point the calculus becomes this:
a) Do I change the film, and in my mind destroy it? His cut was 88 minutes, had a Sound of Music-style ending with a soaring camera shot, with Marion [Cotillard] and her sister walking over a mountain in LA, narration saying “I made it, I made it”, soaring music, and all that. The audience doesn’t know that that’s not your idea. You get the blame because you’re the director and the writer of it. So I said, ‘Well, I’m not going to take the blame for that.’ What would happen is that that film would get bad response critically anyway, so then it would get the bad response, the film would bomb, and it’s not my cut.
b) Or, it’s my cut and the film never gets released. And maybe if I continue my career it becomes the legendary movie that I made that nobody could ever see.
So I felt that option b) was way better than option a). And he felt that this was just a totally terrible, obstinate, egotistical view on my part, because he felt his view was more quote ‘commercial’. I think I’m right.
I think actually I’ve been sort of born out. Because when the film came out in the United States, Marion [Cotillard] virtually won every critical prize without any support at all. Harvey could have easily gotten her an Oscar nomination, maybe even won her an Oscar, if he’d put his machine behind her.
But, you know, part of the absurdity of Ayn Rand is this conception that people always act out of self-interest. When in fact we act very frequently out of self-destruction. A lot of times we do very self-destructive things. And Harvey burying the movie was a very self-destructive act, which was basically an extension of the rejection of him. It violated his narcissistic principles. When you don’t do exactly what he wants, it doesn’t matter that it’s in his self-interest to protect the film – he doesn’t see it that way.
Gray is correct. “The Immigrant” wound up with 87% on Rotten Tomatoes and a much better reception overall when it opened, nearly a full year after it played Cannes. The director stuck by his vision come hell or high water and was ultimately vindicated, but it’s probably safe to surmise he’ll do everything possible to prevent his path from professionally crossing Weinstein’s path again.
Gray’s latest film, “The Lost City Of Z,” opens on April 21st.