Harvey Weinstein is a tough businessman. This also just in: The sun is bright.

It feels like every year at this time, someone «discovers» that Harvey Weinstein is a tough businessman with a temper as large and legendary as his passion for cinema. Whoa. Stop the presses.

This also just in: The sun is bright.

With Sundance ’04 well under way, this week marks 10 years since I was given a golden ticket into the film biz. The usher who brought me down the aisle and showed me to my seat was the supposed «Terror of Tribeca» himself, Harvey Weinstein. So right off the bat, you might consider everything I write with a grain of salt, as without Harvey, I’d still be jockeying a register in a New Jersey convenience store (which I’m sure, for some, is yet another reason to hate him).

But rather than jump on the recent bandwagon of unloading a character assassination sniper rifle into the Kevlar-tempered hide of perhaps the only truly interesting Suit (or, in this case, Suspenders) in the film biz, I’d like to defend a man I respect, love, and would take a bullet for: the last, great movie mogul.

As a guy whose first flick («Clerks») was dirt cheap and looked like it was shot through a glass of milk, I’ve been called a «sellout» by those who feel a move to 35mm ruined my artistic integrity (like I had any to begin with). «Sellout» is the cry of the garage band fan who wants to keep a good thing to himself; the kinda folks who’d govern your growth by insisting you never diversify.

But when Harvey (and by extension Miramax) is labeled a sellout for making «Cold Mountain» solely because the budget was almost 10 times that of «Pulp Fiction,» one has to wonder if the labeler forever quaffs from half-empty glasses. A sellout would have dumped that picture when their studio partner pulled out. A sell-out doesn’t assume the entire, risky budget just so that one of the family can bring their vision to life. Had Harvey & Co. been the half to go south, leaving MGM alone atop the «Mountain,» would we ever have gotten to see how clean Nicole Kidman looked against the dirty south background of the Civil War? I think not.
Would a sell-out bother to release «The Magdalene Sisters» or produce «Dirty Pretty Things»? Because last time I checked, Vatican-denounced hot potatoes and organ-harvesting pictures were not boffo box-office bets. But it’s easy to overlook the type of commitment to niche filmmaking it requires to put out a movie about Armenian genocide («Ararat») when you’re ignoring the details and easy-gunning the misbegotten casualties of growing pains like «Duplex» (which even I haven’t forgiven Harvey for). When it comes to the pursuit of cinematic excellence, some folks remain stationary, and others bring us «The Station Agent.»

Can Harvey be a brute? God, yes. I’ve seen tantrums firsthand that have been so outlandish, I was sure I was being «Punk’d» by Alan Funt. But in almost every case, Harvey was ultimately right. Turned up to 11, yes, but right nonetheless. This is the making of art (or, at the very least, movies) we’re talking about; passions are bound to fly.

I’ll take the shouter over the eerily soft-spoken, cold, bald studio exec who once invited me into his office for a meeting simply to tell me I wasn’t good enough to make a movie at Warner Bros. (when I never even asked to do so in the first place) any day of the week. Given a choice between a clock-puncher with his hand on the rip cord of a golden parachute and a guy who, with his brother, set a tone every studio’s tried their hand at mimicking, I’m happy to wear a spit guard on occasion.

And how weird is it when filmmakers and folks who’ve worked for the ‘Max come out of the woodwork to eviscerate the hand that fed them? Most of these cats never would’ve had the opportunities they did unless Harvey gave it to them. You see any other studio bigwigs following his example and offering former assistants the chance to exec produce films? How many folks were beating down the door to distribute «Citizen Ruth»? Jeez, what ever happened to gratitude? Ah, what am I talking about? It’s the movie biz, Jake.

Bottom line, you can love a meal, and hate the chef — but only hate the chef if he spits in your food. Based on the quality of the quantity he distributes annually, Harvey can never be accused of doing that (unless you count that «Pinocchio»). Most critics of Harvey would step on their mothers’ necks to be as successful as he’s been at creating something from nothing — to build, rather than inherit; to innovate, rather than follow.

So he blows his top inappropriately from time to time (alright, several times a day)? Big deal. He’s the only non-actor personality in this business I know who people will still be telling stories about generations from now, marveling at his repertoire.

In the dysfunctional family that is the movie biz, I couldn’t ask for a better father.

And while I can’t put words in the man’s mouth, I suspect Harvey would sum up everything I’ve written above thusly…

«Jersey Girl. In theaters everywhere, March 19.»