Share this article

print logo

Buffalo plays early role in Frontline's documentary on Harvey Weinstein

A few minutes into Frontline's documentary on disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein, Buffalo News reporter Robert McCarthy notes "it all began in Buffalo."

He was referring to Weinstein's career in entertainment as a concert promoter while he was a student at the University at Buffalo.

But McCarthy's remark quickly has double meaning as Paula Wachowiak refers to sexual harassment she alleges occurred when Weinstein made his first film, "The Burning," in 1980 when she was a 24-year-old intern.

Her description of Weinstein's use of a towel as a prop and his request for a massage is repeated by other women in "Weinstein," a co-production of Frontline and BBC that airs at 9 p.m. Friday on WNED-TV and other PBS affiliates across the country. A non-finalized press screener was made available for review.

Wachowiak first told her story to McCarthy in an October 2017 story shortly after the Hollywood mogul's alleged harassment of scores of women became a national story reported by The New York Times.

To hear Wachowiak tell it, the horrific Weinstein script of using a towel as a prop had been established in Buffalo before he became world famous.

"I didn't think anyone would listen to me," said Wachowiak. "I don't think it would have mattered. I'm not famous. I don't think my story meant anything to anybody."

Her story is quickly followed by the story of another worker on the film, Suza Maher-Wilson, who Frontline reports is telling her story publicly for the first time.

She is one of several people that Frontline notes were interviewed for the first time. They add to the power of the allegations against the disgraced Weinstein in a program that is being carried two days before Sunday's annual Academy Awards.

Harvey Weinstein's Buffalo years: Celebs, pols and a punch in the nose

Weinstein's power is illustrated by clips of all the award-winning movies he has been involved in and by flattering shout-outs by actresses and actors who won Oscars for roles in his films.

I'm sure Meryl Streep, who has said she knew nothing of Weinstein's behavior, would take back jokingly referring him to as God after winning one of her Oscars. To illustrate Weinstein's political power, there also is a shot of him with Hillary Clinton.

The Buffalo portion of the documentary is over in the first 10 minutes before the program proceeds to do a comprehensive and powerful summary of the allegations surrounding Weinstein and the lengths he took to try and keep them secret.

Actress Sean Young is one of the few names in new interviews describing Weinstein's alleged abusive behavior that may be familiar to viewers. Weinstein declined an interview, but denied numerous allegations through a spokesperson.

For anyone following the story closely, there likely will be little new in the program. However, the faces of those alleging Weinstein's harassment give their stories added power.

The most compelling first-time interview comes from Paul Webster, who joined Weinstein's company Miramax in 1995 and acknowledged "I knew I was making a deal with the devil."

Webster's regret comes through in the film, as he acknowledges being part of those who enabled Weinstein's behavior.

"I think we were all enablers," said Webster. "I think we were all complicit."

There also is a compelling interview with an actress, Zoe Brock, who describes a horrifying hotel encounter in Cannes that led to Weinstein apologizing and starting to cry after being rejected.

She added that he said something she has never forgotten.

"In between his tears, (he said) 'you don't like me because I am fat,' " she recalled. "I really felt sorry for him at that moment. I had no idea obviously how dangerous he really was."

New York's AG charges Harvey Weinstein with violating employees' civil rights

Others realized but remained silent for fear of Weinstein destroying their careers.

And some powerful journalists – including Kim Masters of the Hollywood Reporter and Ken Auletta of the New Yorker – who heard the whispers couldn't report it because they couldn’t prove what they were hearing.

"I wish I could have nailed the guy in 2002," said Auletta. "The problem I had was that I couldn't prove it."

Even one of the New York Times reporters who broke the October 2017 story last year, Megan Twohey, was unsure of what impact it would have.

But almost 40 years after the behavior described by Wachowiak, the story had a lasting impact that has sparked a movement that has grown way beyond Hollywood.

Like any good film, the documentary has a strong ending supplied by film producer Cathy Schulman.

"It saddens me that everybody woke up because of Harvey Weinstein," she said. "On the other hand, thank god we have woken up."

Story topics: / / /

There are no comments - be the first to comment