Harvey Weinstein pays tribute to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, featuring the most eloquent rejection letter in history
The film producer writes about the late Nobel prize-winning author
Internationally renowned film producer Harvey Weinstein has written a tribute to the late Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Here, he remembers how the writer accidentally helped launched his career, always offered the best dinner conversation (with highlights including a heated debate with Bill Clinton about recognising Cuba), and why he elegantly rejected Weinstein’s offer to turn his literary masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude into a film.
Garcia Marquez died on Thursday 17 April, aged 87.
“In 1983 I was a young would-be film distributor in the beautiful aura of the Cannes Film Festival looking to find a movie to make my mark in the movie business. I had gone to film school, I had stars in my eyes and I had studied Godard, Truffaut, Visconti, Fellini, and all the greats.
"I wanted to follow in the great tradition of Don Rugoff at Cinema 5, who was everybody’s idol in the film distribution world. So I sat patiently through Cannes where nobody was spending any time with me at all; trying to go to various screenings and having no connections whatsoever to do anything.
"Fortuitously, I saw William Styron - who was on the film jury that year. Bill knew my wife at the time and her family from Martha’s Vineyard. So I went up and introduced myself to William Styron and sure enough he knew my wife’s family and took pity on me. He said to me, 'Kid, if there was one movie to buy at this festival for what you do, it would be Erendira.'
“So here was a judge giving me a little inside information, as they say. Not as bad as some of those guys on Wall Street, but it was inside information, nonetheless. Anyhow, my mom brought me up well, and I did not make a move on the movie until after the festival was finished. My brother Bob and I were able to acquire Erendira, the Brazilian movie directed by Ruy Guerra, written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and starring Irene Papas and Claudia Ohana.
“Now this was a wonderful movie, and I got to meet Garcia Marquez for about a second. Later, I got to talk to him on the telephone as he was under some sort of criminal investigation and the government was withholding his passport.
“In New York we tested the movie. Erendira was originally a chapter in Garcia Marquez’s iconic novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, which he then turned into a novella, and eventually a screenplay. Our test audience appreciated the beauty of the story, but quite honestly, there were some very slow spots.
"After we spoke to the audience, director Rey Guerra told me he had tried to convince Marquez to shorten the film previously, but Marquez wasn’t sure. He thought it was better that I call. Having been in the business less than two years I was physically shaking on the phone.
“Garcia Marquez: 'Why do you want to cut the movie?'
“Me: 'The director and I thought that the audience was restless.'
“Garcia Marquez: 'How do you know for a fact the audience was restless?'
“Me: 'Well Mr. Marquez, because they started to move in their seats and we could hear noises from their seats.'
“Garcia Marquez: 'If their asses were twitching in the seats, then by all means, we must cut those parts.'
“Marquez always kidded me about the asses twitching in seats and also about the way I marketed and sold the movie: by getting Claudia Ohana – the gorgeous Brazilian girl - to pose for Playboy magazine and Irene Papas to do a big New Yorker piece. It was a perfect confluence of high art and low art: Nobel Prize winner and Playboy Magazine. It worked and the film became an art house hit.
Colombian writer and Nobel Prize Gabriel Garcia Marquez waves to fans, after the inauguration of IV International Congress of the Spanish Language, in Cartagena, Colombia in 2007
“Years later, as an early, loyal, and strong supporter of Bill Clinton, I would see the President on Martha’s Vineyard where we both vacationed. Over his two terms in office, I would screen movies for him and I dubbed myself the White House Chief Projectionist to which the President said, “Lucky for you, it doesn’t require Senate confirmation.” One day, when I was out on Martha’s Vineyard, the phone rang and it was the President inviting me to join him and a group of friends at William Styron's house, which was 2 miles down the road from me. I was directed to the end seat at a long table, and in walked the President, Bill and Rose Styron, Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I couldn’t believe it.
“And if you know President Clinton, you know he can talk about anything – Fifties records to baseball teams you’ve never heard to world history without missing a beat. But I was truly spellbound as he went round for round with Garcia Marquez, Fuentes and Styron about literature. Not only about their work, which he liberally quoted, but the impact of Latin American literature. It was a dazzling display of four incredibly brilliant minds.
“Then it really got fun when Garcia Marquez brought up recognizing Cuba. Then Fuentes jumped in agreeing and then Bill Styron joined the chorus. Three on one, but the President went round for round with the Nobel prize winners and held his own for why he couldn’t do it. To this day, I marvel about that argument and how they disagreed but with intelligence, humour, respect and friendship for each other. Today I find the conversation unfortunately too one-sided. When the lunch was over, the President shook my hand and said, “That Gabriel Garcia Marquez is quite a guy – I don’t see eye to eye on all his politics, but he sure can write.”
Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez was known affectionately as 'Gabo'
“One of the last times I talked with Garcia Marquez was with the director of Cinema Paradiso Giuseppe Tornatore. I approached him on Giuseppe’s behalf because I had screened Paradiso for him and he loved it. I told him we wanted the rights to make One Hundred Years of Solitude a movie. Garcia Marquez replied that we were the right men for the job and that he would be thrilled to give us the rights. And then he added that he had just one condition: that we must film the entire book, but only release one chapter - 2 minutes long - each year, for 100 years.
“So there it was, the most elegant turn-down of one of the greatest properties in the history of literature, done with humour and a master's touch. Not only did he have a twinkle on the page, he had a twinkle in his eye. And while I never knew Gabriel Garcia Marquez as a close friend, every time I saw him he always said something that had an impact on my life and my work. It was his gift to not only put magic on page but magic in the world.
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