These updates are freezing!
Monthly Archives: January 2010
Andrew Exum has a copy up on his blog:
I received a paper copy of this a few days ago and understood it was embargoed so I didn’t post it. But now I’m starting to receive it over email as a .pdf, so I figure it’s out there already and that readers of this blog should get the chance to read it. My first thoughts on this are very positive.
- References to the “Long War” in 2006 QDR: 31, not counting the 10 pages in the chapter titled “Fighting the Long War”
- References to the “Long War” in 2010 QDR: 0
The 2006 QDR was explicitly structured around the concept of the “Long War,” which is essentially another name for the War on Terror. The Long War is more or less defined as follows:
Since 2001 the U.S. military has been continuously at war, but fighting a conflict that is markedly different from wars of the past. The enemies we face are not nation-states but rather dispersed non-state networks. In many cases, actions must occur on many continents in countries with which the United States is not at war. Unlike the image many have of war, this struggle cannot be won by military force alone, or even principally. And it is a struggle that may last for some years to come.
The chapter “Fighting the Long War” then includes references to the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, operations in the Horn of Africa and the Trans-Sahara, tsunami relief, earthquake relief in Pakistan, “stabilization” operations in Haiti, assistance to the government of Colombia, and domestic initiatives such as bio-terror preparedness and civil support. The Long War concept provided a unifying framework for thinking through a multi-continental strategy for fighting “terror,” epitomized not simply in terrorist networks but also in terror-supporting states and in the conditions that allow terror to grow. Re-reading this chapter, I find it striking the degree to which the Cold War could easily be substituted for the Long War, with communists playing the role of terrorists. This is to say that the threats to the United States and its interests were represented in a fashion that’s not quite monolithic, but is nevertheless singular. Rather than responding to multiple, quite different crises around the world, the 2006 QDR wanted us to understand US military operations as part of a coherent strategic response to the threat posed by terror, much in the same way that the various forms of Containment were responses to the threat posed by the USSR and international revolutionary communism.
This is all the more important because Defense Secretary Gates views this as — you may have read — a “wartime QDR.” I’ve been hoping for a long time that the Obama administration will abandon a concept of unending war against al-Qaeda. The master blueprint for the Pentagon? It does that. Farley has two great posts on why this stuff matters.
And why the hell not? It makes sense to defend against capabilities, not enemies, because if you identify what capabilities threaten you, you have a defense against whoever uses them. Someone might object that such a construct neglects the broader struggle against those enemies. But it does no such thing. It just recognizes that those missions aren’t military ones.
I know this is a weird thing for a journalist to write, because it’s better as a default position to be oppositional — better for the country, I mean — but I’m starting to think Robert Gates is the best defense secretary this country has ever had. I’ll think about this for awhile, but I’m having a hard time coming up with a challenge since he arrived in 2007 that he didn’t rise to meet. Granted, the top Pentagon job is a meat grinder, but that just makes Gates’ achievements all the more significant. You can say I’m just greasing sources, but — trust me on this, OK? — I’m never going to have access to Gates and I actually don’t want any, because I don’t want to conduct a sycophantic interview. (Maybe that’s appropriate for a post-retirement review, but not while the dude is in office.)
By and large, progressives don’t care so much about the QDR. This shouldn’t be taken as an absolute statement; every progressive think tank has specialists on defense, there are many progressive journalists who take an interest in defense and security issues, and there are plenty of ordinary progressives who do think regularly about things like the QDR. I’m nevertheless confident, however, in the contention that defense wonkish types are found more often in conservative circles than progressive, that conservative organizations spend more time on defense issues than progressive organizations, and that typical, everyday Joe/Jill Conservative is more knowledgeable on defense and military issues than typical, everyday Joe/Jill Progressive. The central reason for this is not difficult to articulate; conservatives (at least in the current American construction of the term) are more likely to favor the use of force, are more likely to favor high defense budgets, are more likely to focus on military capability as a central component of American identity, and (statistically) are more likely to have served or know someone who has served in the military than are progressives.
Moreover, I suspect that there’s broad agreement among people who self-identify as progressive that the current defense budget of the United States is wildly oversized relative to the threats that the United States faces. In this context, arcane discussions about preference for this weapon over that, or this capability rather than the other, or the elimination of this platform in favor of that platform, seem like debates either over the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin, or the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic. For the former, the QDR and the precise makeup of the defense budget are part of an unfortunate reality of American politics, the details of which aren’t particularly relevant. For the latter, the imperial proclivities of the outsized defense establishment and the negative effects of the military-industrial complex on American life make micro-discussion of defense issues essentially beside the point. In both cases, valuable time required for digestion of detail is better spent on other, more important and perhaps more contingent issues.
Both of these perspectives get much more right than they do wrong. Nevertheless, let me suggest two reasons why progressives should pay much closer attention to statements of strategy such as the QDR than they do. The first reason is that debates about the makeup of the defense budget and the construction of the QDR happen whether progressives are involved in them or not. There is something to the idea of granting too much legitimacy to the abjectly idiotic idea that the United States needs to militarily outspend the rest of the world, but check it out; the US outspends (or very nearly outspends) the rest of the world anyway. Progressive engagement with the finer aspects of the defense debate can hardly make things worse. The second reason is that the details really do matter. The 2010 QDR is quite a bit different than the 2006, which was quite a bit different than the 2000. The precepts set forth in the QDR are often honored in the breach, but they nevertheless help structure what the military will look like, and consequently what the military will be good and bad at for decades to come. You could argue that the 2010 QDR pays only lip service to climate change and to the humanitarian potential of military capability, but this lip service will be replicated in policy in ways that will affect how the US military is structured, behaves, and interacts with the real world. The US military is a huge organization of organizations, and by virtue of its size even small course corrections affect the lives of millions of people.
The idea of the QDR is that it both serves as a statement of intent, indicating what high-level DOD policymakers tend to pursue in terms of budget objectives and resource-allocation, and also that it functions as high-level guidance for career personnel as to what their bosses want everyone to do.
Robert Farley makes the case for why these debates are worth delving into. I’m with Farley that the primary change in overall strategy seems to be that they’ve dropped the totalizing conceit of a “Long War” and not really replaced it with anything. I think that’s the right call. It’s good to have a unifying strategic theme, but it’s not at all good to be so devoted to coming up with one that you embrace an idea that doesn’t make sense. The fact of the matter is that the US Department of Defense is routinely asked to engage in a rather miscellaneous set of undertakings. My preference would be to pare back this set of undertakings to something more modest and coherent, but insofar as that’s not on the table at the moment it’s better to try to be clear-sighted rather than delusional.
In brass-tacks terms, this all seems to be very good news for people who make helicopters.
UPDATE: Robert Farley and Eli Lake at Bloggingheads
Mr. President, I Served With Mr. Spock, I Knew Mr. Spock, Mr. Spock Was A Friend Of Mine. Mr. President, You’re No Mr. Spock.
Jeffrey Anderson at The Corner:
Yesterday’s announcement that the Obama administration plans to scrap funding for voyages to the moon and to Mars, shows how low President Obama’s horizons truly are.
As Charles Krauthammer wrote ten years ago this week:
It took 100,000 years for humans to get inches off the ground. Then, astonishingly, it took only 66 to get from Kitty Hawk to the moon. And then, still more astonishingly, we lost interest, spending the remaining 30 years of the 20th century going around in circles in low earth orbit, i.e., going nowhere.
It’s been ten more years of going nowhere since Krauthammer wrote these words. Obama now proposes another ten to come.
As Krauthammer has rightly noted elsewhere, the most dangerous part of space exploration is leaving and entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The most interesting and exciting part is getting as far away as possible. So, what does President Obama propose? That we stay close to home.
As Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D., Fla.) puts it, “The president’s proposal would leave NASA with essentially no program and no timeline for exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.”
Furthermore, at a time when the president claims his focus is on jobs, scrapping these programs — on which we’ve already spent nearly $10 billion — would cut public spending in one area that actually creates jobs.
You know those great pictures of Earth from outer space, showing our planet suspended against the blackness, a beautiful blue ball? No one has seen that view since the Apollo program ended 38 years ago. No astronaut has seen that view since then. We’ve all just seen the pictures.
Now, unless Congress rejects the president’s recommendations, the next people to see that view will likely be the Chinese.
Whether it’s tax cuts or defense spending; or whether it’s the courage, ambition, and sense of wonder that combine to lead great souls to great feats of exploration and discovery; one can surely say this much about Barack Obama: Mr. President, you’re no Jack Kennedy.
Roy Erdoso at Village Voice:
You’d think conservatives would be pleased that there’s at least one big-ticket item Obama won’t finance. (Ann Althouse is.) But many of them are sick of sharing this planet with littlebrains and looters, and consider Obama’s NASA cut part of his dastardly plan to deny them escape.
“Obama hates science, hates human achievement and panders to junk science,” says Peoria Pundit. “We will never get to the stars until we learn how to live off of this rock.”
“NASA will become a bigger cog in the wheel purposed in fooling the American public and Western nations into believing the global warming hoax,” says Brutally Honest. Imagine — trying to fix this dump instead of going to the moon, where we might find oil and gold!
21st Century Schizoid Man is enraged that “all that money saved will be wasted on government programs that make the problems here on Earth, that ‘need to be solved,’ all that much more worse.” But he sees an opportunity in the crisis: America could allow untaxed entrepreneurs to take up NASA’s slack. “Let the pioneer spirit return, financed by crazy old men with stars in their eyes. It worked for Heinlein.”
“In yet another blow to progress and achievement and the advancement of man, Obama aims to ax moon mission. *sigh*,” says Atlas Shrugs. “The age of the Philistine. It’s hurts the heart, this rapid deterioration of conditions where free men produce, invent, prosper because of government taxation and regulation,” which is an odd way to mourn a big government program, but whatever.
Everything is Backwards thinks it’s even bigger than that. “Obama has stripped young Americans of a very big dream,” he says. “He’s done a disservice to every science teacher in the country. He’s robbed the Treasury of untold mountains of tax revenue.” Wait — the moon was going to be a high-tax jurisdiction, like Oregon? Better to leave it to the Russians, then!
Are conservatives really upset about this? I would have thought it’d be grudgingly approved as an unfortunate yet necessary sacrifice to fiscal responsibility, but the Village Voice cobbled together an entire article a few days ago from angry reactions of righty bloggers to news that the mission was on the chopping block. On the one hand, we’re knocking The One for his laughably puny spending freeze, and on the other, we’re knocking him for not shoveling billions towards NASA for yet another hoparound on the big rock in the sky? I don’t get it.
[Note: KLo offered me some space at The Corner to rebut Jeffrey Anderson’s post, but it hasn’t gone up yet and I’m not sure when it will. But since it’s just a blog post, and not a paid NRO article, I assume there’s no problem with cross posting here.]
While I’m not a conservative, some of my best friends are, and I am sympathetic to that philosophy, so it pains me to see such an inadvertently unconservative post on space policy appear in The Corner from Jeffrey Anderson. I responded briefly at my blog, but I’m grateful to Kathryn to allow me some space there for a more proper rebuttal.
Short version, human spaceflight policy is one of the few things that Obama seems to be getting right, at least from a conservative standpoint.
The Bush Vision for Space Exploration, announced a year after the loss of the Columbia, in January 2004, was a good goal, and it got off to a decent start. Unfortunately, once he replaced Sean O’Keefe, the NASA administrator, with Mike Griffin in 2005, the wheels started to come off. As the Augustine Panel pointed out this past fall, there was little prospect with the current plans of getting back to the moon on the stipulated schedule, and in anything resembling an affordable way. Unfortunately, once they’d hired the rocket scientist as the new administrator, the White House had simply put it on autopilot, because they had understandably higher priorities. For those interested, I wrote a long essay on the history of the human spaceflight program last summer at The New Atlantis, right up to present day minus five months or so, that explains why NASA in its current form isn’t an institution that a conservative should support at all (in fact, per Jonah’s new formulation, it arguably even has fascist aspects to it), but many do as a result of the historical contingencies of Apollo. I know that it’s become popular of late for conservatives to laud JFK (who admittedly wouldn’t recognize, or probably even be allowed in today’s Democrat Party), but it’s important to understand what Apollo was, and wasn’t. It was a victory in the Cold War over the Soviets, but because we were at war, we waged it with a state socialist enterprise. What it was not was the first step of opening up the frontier to humanity, and was in fact a false start that has created a template for NASA and a groove in which we’ve been stuck for over four decades now, with many billions spent and little useful progress.
Part of the mindset that grew out of that era was that Space = NASA, and that “Progress in Space” = “Funding NASA” and that not funding NASA, or adequately funding NASA, or changing NASA’s goals, is a step backwards. But as I noted at Popular Mechanics yesterday on the 24th anniversary of the Challenger loss, that event had a good outcome, in that it allowed private industry to start to become more involved, a trend that continues (and that the Bush/Griffin administration did support, albeit with paltry funding, in the form of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to pick up slack in delivering cargo to the space station after Shuttle is retired this year or next). We have been in fact developing, though far too slowly, the sort of private-enterprise (and more intrinsically American than Soviet in nature) space program that might have evolved more naturally had we not been side tracked by Apollo in the sixties.
What the administration is doing is to finally end the model that the government will have a state socialist design bureau to build a monopoly transportation system for its own use, at tremendous cost, but politically supportable because of all the pork it provides to Alabama, Florida and Texas. It proposes to expand the COTS program to provision of crew changeout in addition to cargo delivery, encouraging competition, and providing a robust capability that won’t put us out of business when the government rocket fails (as has happened twice with the Shuttle in the past quarter century, for almost three years each time). Instead of a program projected to cost many tens of billions over the next decade for a NASA-owned-and-operated new rocket (Ares I) that will cost billions per flight of four astronauts, it is going to invest six billion dollars in developing private capability, with multiple competitors, and do it on a fixed-price, pay-for-performance basis, rather than the wasteful cost-plus model that inevitably results in overruns due to the perverse incentives.
Alex Massie on Anderson:
Now, space exploration is grand but it’s hard to argue that it’s a pressing priority in times of fiscal difficulty. And committing billions simply so a handful of astronauts can see a pretty picture of the earth seems a reasonably extravagant use of the public purse. For that matter, if the idea is that visiting Mars represents a triumph of the human spirit and mankind’s boundless curiosity then the nationality of the astronauts doing the exploring can’t matter very much except in terms of national chest-swelling…
Finally, not being Jack Kennedy might be considered a point in Obama’s favour…
Daniel Larison on Anderson:
Massie is answering this post, in which one Jeffrey Anderson complains that Obama is insufficiently willing to waste taxpayer money on fruitless exercises in sending a handful of people to uninhabitable, dead worlds. For good measure, he puts in a plug for all the jobs these useless programs provide that are now in jeopardy. Just so we’re clear, stimulus spending is unnecessary and wasteful unless it goes to the Pentagon or NASA to be frittered away in more dramatic fashion.
Anderson finds Krauthammer’s 10 year-old call for a return to space exploration worth citing. For whatever reason, Krauthammer has been preoccupied with the limitations of our space program for years. It seems that every year he has to register a complaint that we are not living out the dream of Airplane! 2. The long article for The Weekly Standard from ten years ago was just the fullest expression of this.
Perhaps nothing else captures Krauthammer’s imagination like outer space, which he dubbed “an arena for splendid, strenuous exertion.” If there is one thing that runs through all of Krauthammer’s writings, it is the longing to have government led by willful men who will impose heavy, unnecessary burdens on the public to engage in projects of collective self-glorification. Apparently it brings back memories of the good old days when the government mobilized massive resources to embark on large-scale projects of minimal benefit to the public. Of course, absent competition from the USSR and the associated desire to demonstrate American technical abilities, there would have been little or no interest in the program and similarly little political support for massive government outlays to pay for it. If there had not been some strained geopolitical argument for the space program, it would probably have never been developed as much as it was.
Krauthammer’s explanation always comes back to questions of will and resolve. This is his constant and favorite theme. In the 2000 article, he asked plaintively, “Where is the national will to explore?” In reply I would answer, “What is to be gained by exploring that anyone should want to do it?” Let’s understand something about exploration here on earth: the reason that governments subsidized overseas expeditions during the 15th and 16th centuries was to find trade routes, markets, resources and sources of revenue. Space exploration might theoretically offer access to untapped natural resources, but acquiring and transporting these resources would be prohibitively expensive and absolutely not cost-effective. As far as anyone knows, there is no one with whom we could trade even if we could reach them in a reasonable amount of time. There are no habitable worlds within the practical range of our spacecraft, so there is not even a realistic argument for promoting human colonization of other planets. There is no definable public interest in returning to the moon, much less sending some poor souls on a long, dangerous journey to the frozen Red Planet. This is why advocates for moon and Mars landings are reduced to appealing to nostalgia and sentiment.
#1 State Of The Union Address
#2 Obama and the GOP’s Q & A
#3 GDP shows growth
#4 Toyota recall
#5 The arrest of James O’Keefe
Meet the Pelosi family! Using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, Judicial Watch uncovered thousands of pages of travel documents related to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s use of military aircraft.
What hasn’t been revealed so far is that military aircraft are being used to shuttle Pelosi’s kids and grandkids between DC and San Francisco without any Congressional representatives even onboard! Put simply, the United States Air Force is serving as a multi-billion dollar chauffeur- and baby-sitting service for Nancy Pelosi’s kids and grandkids — presumably because commercial travel is beneath the families of the autocrats.
Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:
Taxpayers are not just paying for Pelosi’s expensive booze and food, they’re paying for the military to play taxi with her kids and grand kids, too.
Noel Sheppard at Newsbusters:
As NewsBusters reported on several occasions this month, CNN’s Jack Cafferty has been blasting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for refusing to address the profligate spending by members of Congress at December’s climate change summit in Copenhagen.
With this in mind, Cafferty should take a look at a report published Thursday by Judicial Watch claiming the Speaker has spent over $2 million flying on the taxpayer aboard military plane
And once the Congressfolk got to Copenhagen they stayed in the lap of luxury in hotel rooms costing over $2,000 a night. You would think that they would be able to get a better deal on Priceline! Here’s a sample of the expense voucher. More at CBS.Com.
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin
Paul Boutin at Venture Beat:
Go to Amazon.com. Search for any publication by Macmillan, one of the world’s largest publishing firms. The Prince of Silicon Valley, perhaps, or Sarah’s Key. Or last year’s huge #1 bestseller The Gathering Storm.
Gone, mysteriously gone. We found Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, but his new novel Makers and his popular debut, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, have been removed. Robert Jordan’s entire Wheel of Time series of fantasy novels is gone, except for 2005’s The Knife of Dreams.
You get links to other sellers. But Amazon has stopped carrying them.
Brad Stone at NYT:
I’ve talked to a person in the industry with knowledge of the dispute who says the disappearance is the result of a disagreement between Amazon.com and book publishers that has been brewing for the last year. Macmillan, like other publishers, has asked Amazon to raise the price of electronic books from $9.99 to around $15. Amazon is expressing its strong disagreement by temporarily removing Macmillan books, said this person, who did not want to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Macmillan is one of the publishers signed on to offer books to Apple, as part of its new iBooks store. Its imprints include Farrar, Straus & Giroux, St. Martins Press and Henry Holt. The publisher’s books can still be bought from third parties on the Amazon site.
Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing:
* If true, Amazon draping itself in the consumer-rights flag in demanding a fair price is even more farcical. Though Amazon’s physical-goods sales business is the best in the world when it comes to giving buyers a fair shake, this is materially untrue when it comes to electronic book sales, a sector that it dominates. As mentioned above, Amazon’s DRM and license terms on its Kindle (as well as on its Audible audiobooks division, which controls the major share of the world’s audiobook sales) are markedly unfair to readers. Amazon’s ebooks are locked (by contract and by DRM) to the Kindle (this is even true of the “DRM-free” Kindle books, which still have license terms that prohibit moving the books). This is not due to rightsholder-demands, either: as I discovered when I approached Amazon about selling my books without DRM and without a bad license agreement for Kindle and Audible, they will not allow copyright owners to modify their terms, nor to include text in the body of the work releasing readers from those terms.
Concentration in media is nothing new — as far back as the eighties, activists have been sounding the alarm about mergers and acquisitions in publishing and bookselling (and, of course, in film we have the antitrust decisions of the 1940s). In the eighties, we worried that mergers would create corporate giants that would dictate unfair terms in distribution, sales, contracts with writers, pricing, and so on.
But today, we have a deeper worry. For no matter that a giant distributor or a massively agglomerated publisher could distort the market to the detriment of readers and writers — we could bounce back, through competition and new technology and innovative marketing and sales (and we did, by and large).
Of the links above, I think Doctorow makes the most sense. Some reactions of my own follow:
1. There’s a lot we ordinary readers don’t know about the sequence of events here. The NYT’s Bits blog says Macmillan “asked” to increase the price of some of their Kindle books to as much as $15. Other sites say Macmillan “demanded.” Apple’s courting of Macmillan for their planned iPad bookstore plays in somehow. (Apple is luring publishers partly with the promise of higher price points.) For the cheap seats out here in reader and business-observer land, sorta-yanking Macmillan’s books seems pretty extreme for an “ask,” less so for a threat.
2. People are rightly passionate about books, which can obscure the fact that this is fundamentally standard corporate hardball, likely to be revised one way or another fairly quickly. That’s not guaranteed – corporate honchos are people mammals eukaryotes too. Their emotions can get the better of them and get into a downward spiral of pride and vindictiveness. But the truth is that from time to time producers and distributors get into arguments that lead to the producer temporarily withholding or the distributor temporarily deleting a set of products.
3. Amazon hasn’t stopped direct sales of all Macmillan titles. (You can get Pirate Freedom as of Saturday morning.) In particular, they haven’t taken down third-party sources of Macmillan titles, which they could surely do. This is a slap in the face, not a murder attempt.
4. It’s also a negative-sum game. In the short term, Macmillan and Amazon are both losing sales because of the move. Both have an incentive to settle.
Ben Parr at Mashable:
Amazon’s clearly worried, which is why it’s launching an app store and used its earnings report to remind us that the Kindle is far from dead. But if publishers decide to abandon the Kindle, then Apple will have won the war by default.
That’s why Amazon decided to use its biggest weapon, Amazon.com itself, against Macmillan to send a message to every publisher: If you don’t play by its rules, then you can’t be in its store. While a publisher can likely survive without the Kindle, the same cannot be said for Amazon.com. Publishers simply cannot afford to leave the world’s largest online retailer.
The Kindle and the iPad offer different experiences. The Kindle’s battery life and e-ink are strong selling points for the device as a reader, but the iPad offers so much more. Apple’s banking on those extra features and its undeniable reach to turn the Kindle into an endangered species.
Publishers now have to either choose a side or walk the tightrope between the two companies. The end result will be a long, drawn out war that will both help and hurt consumers. How it will end is anybody’s guess.
Obviously, this clip from Pulp Fiction is rated R.
Sharon Waxman at The Wrap:
It’s been a slow death, but Miramax dies on Thursday.
The New York and Los Angeles offices of the arthouse movie studio owned by Disney will close.
Eighty people will lose their jobs. The six movies waiting distribution — “Last Night,” “The Debt,” “The Tempest” among them — will be shelved, to gather dust, or win a tepid release.
The story of Miramax has been told and retold: Scrappy New York brothers name the studio after their parents, wheel and deal to hold their movie company together, bully business partners, seduce filmmakers and spend loads of money on Oscar campaigns.
Then came the sale to Disney. The success, the hubris, the Oscars, the overspending. The loss of identity, the desperate attempts to reconcile with Michael Eisner followed by the bitter divorce, and the quiet takeover by Daniel Battsek.
The final chapter has been short and bitter.
Battsek was squeezed to a smaller and smaller size by Disney, despite releasing some respectable movies including “The Queen,” “Tsotsi” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”
The studio endured endless rumors of its impending closure. On Oct. 2, Disney announced that “Miramax Films will reduce the number of films it releases annually while consolidating certain of its operations.”
Dick Cook, the former chairman of the studio, told me last summer that while reduced in size, the studio would continue.
But by year-end , Dick Cook was gone, and Rich Ross had taken over. Soon after, Daniel Battsek was gone, too.
Remained the final sweep-up — the firing of the remnant staff as part of the Ross reboot of the larger Disney studio, focused on a digital future with great, big, global brands.
Dr. Cole Abaius at Film School Rejects:
Miramax, a beloved studio that’s provided entertainment for just over 30 years, died today. According to several sources, including The Wrap, the Disney arm has succumb to financial difficulties after a long-fought battle.
Ballsy and often brilliant, the films and filmmakers that had a home at Miramax often viewed it as a safe haven from the stormy seas of commercial studios with less gusto and freedom.
The studio is survived by My Left Foot, The Crying Game, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, The Piano, Trainspotting and a cast of thousands left to mourn.
The heart of the studio could be summed up by one schlubby filmmaker who found success there. Kevin Smith wrote this today:
I’m crushed to see it pass into history, because I owe everything I have to Miramax. Without them, I’d still be a New Jersey convenience store register jockey. In practice, not just in my head.”
There’s a chance that the Weinsteins will buy the name back, but for now we should be remeniscing about the past instead of looking into the future. We can leave that for another day.
The “independent movement” turned out to be a different marketing paradigm, with a different cost-and-profit measure, turning out movies that could benefit from the scene’s own brand of hype, aggrandized not for their size or ambition but for their production modesty and “passion.” The Weinsteins, of course, played the game perfectly, and were roundly praised for it (Queen Elizabeth named Harvey a Commander of the British Empire). They drummed up idiosyncratic buzz for Quentin Tarantino, Todd Haynes, and Kevin Smith even as their turnout was mostly a glut of treacly Euro-trash and Sundance yawns.
Miramax lorded over the short-lived heyday of the modest-budgeted alt-film, and of course the company has been dished as often as it’s been hailed for successfully selling what the suits in L.A. would never greenlight. Just don’t call the movies indies. Even as the news cycle loudly laments the “death of the indie,” now that the bullgoose is dead, the indie flourishes — if I had a dime for every genuine MasterCard movie or video doc that hit the slipstream, theatrical or video or online, in the last six months, I could afford the meals that have made Harvey’s waistline so famous.
It’s the Miramax-created “dependie” that’s dead — aging movie stars now look to TV to coolly extend their careers past the sell-by date, not to $5 million heist sagas written by film school grads and shot in the neighborhood gin mills. As much as I may have enjoyed Bruce Willis snapping the samurai sword in Pulp Fiction, or Sylvester Stallone lumbering through Cop Land, I won’t miss their third- or fourth-generational equivalents. It was a mutant form of American showbiz to begin with, born without the genetic tools for survival.
Aylin Zafar at The Atlantic with five best Miramax moments
Dr. Abaius with a list of top Miramax films
Caitlin Brody at Flavorwire with top Miramax films
Vadim Rizov at IFC:
Yet after notoriously picking up “Happy, Texas” for $10 million in 1999, the Weinsteins seemingly threw up their hands and moved into the production business; the rest is history. But there’s no denying that where a major festival movie went in the ’90s, the Weinsteins were there too: overpaying, perhaps, or burying the movie in their vaults, or recutting, or generating all kinds of bad blood, but they were still there.
So who fulfills that role now? The first company that came to mind was, er, the one resembling the masthead up there, which looks all kinds of suspicious, but I get my paychecks from a separate division. Sony Classics and Magnolia are also strong labels in terms of acquiring notable festival titles, as is former Picturehouse prexy Bob Berney’s Apparition, which seems to be on the same wavelength as Miramax in midstream, where they can pick up movies like “Bright Star” and have a production pipeline of films like “The Runaways.” Indiewood’s Focus Features and Fox Searchlight appear to be more focused on production than pick-ups, despite the fact that Focus just bought the rights to Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are Alright” at Sundance. Otherwise, smaller independent films are spread out all over a diaspora of even smaller companies that can fold and leave their libraries in a mess at the slightest notice. ‘Twas ever thus, obviously; the recent shuttering of New Yorker Films, for example, left a valuable library cut adrift.
The dream of Miramax — if often not the reality — was to have at least one place where valuable arthouse films of the ’90s could all be found and accessed. And we now know, for all kinds of reasons, that this simply will never be possible. One more symbolic nail in the coffin.
Richard Lawson at Gawker:
Though it had dwindled a bit in recent years, the studio built by Harvey and Bob Weinstein (named after their parents, Miriam and Max) will stand in history as the great drum beater of the modern independent film movement. Beginning humbly as a small family business in 1979, within ten years Miramax had emerged as the go-to haus for hip, outre cinema — their sex, lies, & videotape stormed Cannes in 1989, ostensibly kicking-off the great indie boom of the early ’90s. Harvey Weinstein became known as something of a god, feared and respected, capable of terrible wrath but also great artistic passion. He was the champion of game-changers like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh, seeming to possess a near-flawless eye for the hip, the cool, and the awards-bait.
Indeed Harvey’s unprecedentedly aggressive awards campaigns not only became the stuff of legend, but were studied and emulated to such a degree that Weinsteinian “For Your Consideration…” onslaughts have become de rigeur from December to March. Miramax was bold and smart and powerful enough to keep its feet in two different camps — it produced artsy independent features but also had a mind toward mainstream profit. Films like Shakespeare in Love, Pulp Fiction, and The English Patient deftly skipped the barren plane of little-seen art house fare and became popular and awards-bedecked hits. Shakespeare, specifically, was the film that famously upset the king of Hollywood himself, beating Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan in the 1998 Best Picture race.
Harvey was never shy about trumpeting his successes or wading into the celebrity-industrial morass with gleeful cunning and ruthlessness. He became something of cigar-chomping parody of himself (an actual parody became a bellicose recurring character on Entourage), while his brother Bob quietly led the studio’s more profit-focused arm, Dimension. Mostly the place for cheapo horror and sci-fi, Dimension helped resurrect the slasher genre with the snarkily self-aware smash Scream, again another instance of trusting a mostly unknown talent (Kevin Williamson) and having it pay off handsomely. Miramax had the winning formula, a certain kind of alchemy, and there was no stopping them. Well, for a time.
David Edelstein at New York Magazine:
Please accept my heartfelt condolences for the loss of your company. I can only imagine what a shock it must be to you and the artists who are and have been a part of your family. The ones who sired you, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, were not universally beloved, but they changed the course of American film, and in the years since their departure from your world you have soldiered on with honor. Your recent films The Queen and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly were the best of their respective years, and you never made anything as grisly as Nine. You are a symbol of a movement hit hard by a collapsing economy and the rise of “event” pictures that were never a part of your mandate. Others more knowledgeable will trace the course of your life and your last, declining years. But I know this: In the end you had more than a spark of life, and the plug need not have been pulled. We will miss you and the gifted individuals who enriched all our lives.
Sincere condolences to you and to all who love movies,
UPDATE: Adrian Chen at Defamer
UPDATE #3: Heather Horn at The Atlantic