The timing for Untouchable, Hulu’s latest documentary about Harvey Weinstein out September 2, is impeccable. The former Hollywood producer’s trial, for the alleged rape of a woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013, is scheduled to begin on September 9. (Although that may change as he’s filed a petition for a change of venue, claiming he can’t get a fair trial in New York City.) It’s the perfect time to shake ourselves out of complacent acceptance, and to hear from his victims, even as he makes headlines.
Weinstein’s name carries more baggage than Imelda Marcos. In the nearly two years since the New York Times and the New Yorker published damning accusations of rampant sexual misconduct and assault, the former Hollywood producer has become a one-man synonym for the renewed #MeToo movement. But the side-effect of such media oversaturation is loss of interest. We’ve heard and read so much about Weinstein’s alleged crimes, including multiple brave testimonies from his victims — can they really still have an impact?
Directed by Ursula Macfarlane, Untouchable doesn’t exactly offer new information. It’s not salacious, nor does it rely on shock value. Rather, what it does best is to put Weinstein’s actions in the context of a long, disturbing pattern, and to give a voice to some of his victims that didn’t make headlines.
Reading about what a bully Weinstein was is one thing. Hearing it from his own lips is another. It was an NYPD recording of the producer pleading with model Ambra Battilana Gutierezz, in which he admitted to groping her, that finally swayed New Yorker editors to go forward with Ronan Farrow’s explosive story. Similarly, some of Untouchable’s most effective contributions are audio recordings of Weinstein, which elicit a visceral response. One damning story comes from New York magazine writer Rebecca Traister, who wrote about her encounter with Weinstein at a party in the ‘90s, during which he used his imposing physique to try to threaten her into not running a story. I read her piece. It was terrifying. But hearing Weinstein’s voice on fellow reporter Andrew Goldman’s recording of the incident, snarling that he’s “glad he’s the fucking sheriff of this shit-ass fucking town,” is bone-chilling.
In another scene, former London Miramax employee Zelda Perkins shares one of 17 or 18 voicemail messages she has from Weinstein, whom she had confronted after an assistant came to her with allegations that he had assaulted her at the Savoy. His pleas are similar in tone and language to those heard in the Gutierrez recording, yet another indication of his behavior as part of a systematic and long-standing pattern.
Those recordings illustrate the two sides of the Harvey Weinstein story: the all-powerful mogul too big to fail, and the alleged predator, just praying he won’t get caught.
More than anything, Untouchable paints a portrait of a culture in flux. We’re past the point of surprise or dismay at Weinstein’s actions, but many who were in his orbit are still trying to reconcile their own roles in allowing his behavior to go on unchecked.
Macfarlane’s interviews with former Weinstein employees are illuminating, especially the contrast in how men and women processed events as they were happening. Kathy Declesis, who worked as Harvey’s brother Bob Weinstein, quit after opening a letter from a former employee, saying she was suing Harvey for sexual assault. Perkins, who quit soon after the incident she describes, remembers the sheer mental exhaustion of constantly having to fend off his advances. And even worse, as a young woman in her early 20s with little work experience, she assumed it was just part of her job, and warned her peers that they too might face similar situations.
Jack Lechner, who worked as Miramax’s head of development, says he thought of his boss as fitting into the mold of Hollywood studio heads of yore — undoubtedly bullies, but whose legendary vision and skill made it all worth it. Former president of Miramax, Mark Gill, openly regrets not leaving when he first found out about Weinstein’s actions, but still couches his description of a “very bad incident” in euphemisms.
Some of the filmmaking techniques are a touch melodramatic. The music, for example, feels pulled straight from a History Channel documentary. Ultimately, the most powerful moments in Untouchable come thanks to Weinstein’s victims, who once more bear the burden of reliving their past trauma in an effort to make a difference. Some faces are familiar — actresses Rosanna Arquette and Paz de la Huerta both appear, among others celebrities — some are not. And while all their stories are equally dismaying to hear, those of women who don’t hold cultural sway are particularly impactful.
One of them is Hope Exiner D’Amore, who met Weinstein as a University of Buffalo student in the 1970s, when he was still a concert promoter, and says he raped her during a trip to New York City. Her retelling of the story is harrowing, but even more devastating are her long silences, showcased by Macfarlane in long steady shots, the camera refusing to cut long past the point of discomfort. She’s allowed the time she needs to finally tell her story, and we must bear witness.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).