Woody Allen--the New York movie icon who fell from grace after an explosive custody battle with Mia Farrow and child sexual abuse allegations clouded his career--is back in business with Hollywood.
The 58-year-old Oscar-winning writer-director has made a deal with Miramax Films, the distributor of such provocative titles as "The Crying Game" and "The Piano," to release his latest movie, "Bullets Over Broadway," which completed filming earlier this year.
A gritty period comedy about gangsters and showgirls in New York in the '20s, the picture features an ensemble cast that includes John Cusack, Debi Mazar, Chazz Palminteri, Mary-Louise Parker, Rob Reiner, Jennifer Tilly, Tracey Ullman, Dianne Wiest and Jim Broadbent. Allen, who directed but does not appear in the film, co-wrote the screenplay with Doug McGrath.
Miramax, which acquired U.S. and Canadian distribution rights from the film's executive producer, Jean Doumanian, plans to release "Bullets" this fall. Doumanian, a longtime friend of Allen's and former "Saturday Night Live" producer who has a three-picture deal with the filmmaker, raised $20 million in foreign money to finance his film. Foreign rights on "Bullets" have not been sold, though Miramax is in discussions about possibly acquiring them as well.
While Allen was shunned by Hollywood's movie community after his highly publicized courtroom war with Farrow last year, as well as his affair with her oldest adopted daughter, it's no surprise he would team with an unconventional company like the New York-based Miramax, which is in his own back yard and is run by the scrappy brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein.
"Shunned by Hollywood means nothing to Miramax. We're talking about a comic genius," Harvey Weinstein said Thursday. "Chaplin was shunned by Hollywood; so were a great many other international filmmakers, including Fellini--and those are the people who belong with Miramax."
Weinstein was enthusiastic about the film, describing it as "a very funny exploration of the friendship between a young playwright (Cusack) and young hit man (Palminteri)."
Allen, who is currently writing his next movie, was not available for comment.
When asked how the family image-sensitive Walt Disney Co., which now owns Miramax, might feel about associating with Allen (who before the scandal had starred in the studio's "Scenes From a Mall" and "New York Stories"), Weinstein said, "When we contacted Disney and told them, they were thrilled." Miramax operates autonomously in marketing and distributing its movies.
Under the terms of the Miramax deal, Allen gets complete creative control over the marketing of his movie, which could make the new arrangement with Miramax interesting, since the Weinsteins are known for their marketing acumen and have always controlled the campaigns.
Doumanian, speaking by phone from Switzerland, said, "Harvey and Bob have been well advised that Woody has creative control over anything that has to do with marketing, but they are good salesmen so Woody will be very willing to listen to their input."
Weinstein added, "This is a very special movie and our mission is to give it the kind of success it deserves."
Weinstein said Miramax hopes "Bullets" will be the first of many films Allen will make with the studio. "As we try to build our own United Artists (the onetime distributor of other Allen films), we view this relationship with Woody as the cornerstone of what we're trying to do."
Hollywood--which had long clamored to be in business with the iconoclastic Allen despite that his movies generally didn't make money--distanced itself from the filmmaker last year when the public custody battle with longtime companion Farrow revealed intimate details of the former lovers' private lives.
Farrow had accused Allen of sexual abuse of their adopted daughter, Dylan, and of destroying his relationship with his other children by having an affair with Farrow's adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. No abuse charges were ever brought against Allen and Farrow was awarded custody of their three young children.
Questions about Allen's future viability in Hollywood swirled last July when it was announced Allen's production deal with TriStar was ending prematurely with one picture still remaining on a three-picture deal. Allen directed two films for that studio; the second, "Manhattan Murder Mystery," grossed only $11.2 million domestically, and "Husbands and Wives," whose story line bore an eerie resemblance to some of the real-life drama between Allen and Farrow, a mere $10.5 million in the United States and Canada.
Ending his relationship with TriStar, Allen then signed a financing deal with Doumanian, who is also producer of Allen's upcoming ABC-TV movie "Don't Drink the Water," which stars Michael J. Fox. The expected air date is September for the teleplay, which Allen adapted from his 1966 stage play. It was first turned into a movie in 1969; it starred Jackie Gleason and Estelle Parsons.
Doumanian, who has a three-picture deal with ABC, is also co-producing with Julian Schlossberg, a trio of one-act plays written by Allen, David Mamet and Elaine May, which will be mounted Off Broadway next year.