Harvey Weinstein To Banksy: Can You Pass The 'Big Eyes' Test?

Big Eyes is the story of a husband and a wife, and a defining moment in history where art and commercialism intersected for the first time. Before there was Warhol, there was Margaret and Walter Keane. Walter, a con artist, took credit for the true artist, Margaret’s work for years. As a maniacal salesman, he twisted the truth to serve his means, and invented the system of mass art reproduction. The frenzy surrounding the Big Eyes paintings marks the birth of the “pop art” movement, and eventually redefined what it means to be “kitsch.” The historic relevancy alone is enough to pique my interest, but I have a more personal connection to the paintings as well.

When I was a kid, the first piece of real artwork we ever had in our home was a “Big Eyes” print by Walter Keane – or so we thought. My Dad Max bought a Keane print at the corner store on 48th Street around the corner from his office in the diamond district. It was a seminal day for me and a seminal day for our family.

Big EyesNo one in our neighborhood had artwork hanging on their walls – family pictures, yes, but not art. We lived in a place called the Electchester in Queens, which was the next best thing to city housing. We loved our home just the same and with great pride my Dad framed this Walter Keane painting (as it was credited then) in our living room. That’s where it hung until years later when Margaret Keane won her court case, proving Walter was a fraud and that she was the painter behind all those big eyes pictures. My Dad had passed away when Margaret won the case against Walter. The painting that had once been a sense of pride now felt like a mockery. My Mom, in his honor, took the picture down, tore it up, threw it out. She felt she did it on his behalf. So when Tim Burton asked me why the hell I would finance Big Eyes, the answer is twofold. Number one: Tim Burton. Number two: my Dad.

timburton-bigeyes-painting-tsrI watched Tim direct this movie and create a color palate with his cinematographer, Bruno Delbonnel. I had no doubt when signing on for this film that Tim, and only Tim, could tell the Keanes’ story, but he exceeded even my expectations. To see how he dealt with the art world in such a satirical, questioning, ironic and openly liberating way was intoxicating. Even though I’ve had the pleasure of working with many great directors, watching Tim work on this film — a film about art — was incredible considering he’s a world-renowned artist himself.

And then we had the talents of Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz playing Margaret and Walter. It is shocking to me that Amy has not won an Academy Award yet and her skill, which is apparent in every role she has ever played, shines here. Amy became Margaret, and wholly inhabited the character with a quiet nuance brimmed with brilliance. Often it is the flamboyant roles that capture attention, but I have enough faith in the actors out there, that they understand the incredible skill it takes to capture a quiet performance. I’m betting on Amy.

Big Eyes WaltzWhen Christoph Waltz began his performance as Walter Keane, he had to be seductive at first to woo Amy Adams’ Margaret, but then become the over-the-top, maniacal, controlling husband halfway through. During his courtroom sequences, I remember Tim saying, “You have to take it down,” to which our writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski said, “But Walter Keane didn’t take it down.” According to reporters at the 1986 trial, the presiding judge, Judge Samuel King threatened to “take a recess and shackle [him] to a chair”, duct tape his mouth, and even went as far as “I’m going to beat you over the head with a mallet”, he was so outrageous. The judge even accused Walter of having a head full of cement. The things he did, based on the court transcripts, are beyond anything we could’ve put in the movie. Audiences would never believe it. You’re going see Christoph’s performance that you might think seems overstated, but in reality it’s understated. Walter was a con and a clown.

The thought then occurred to me: What if Walter isn’t the only one using this con game. Imagine that, say, Banksy, actually has a Mrs. Banksy locked in a room somewhere who was only allowed out at night, or if the elusive art was actually done by The Family Banksy, or if none of the work “he” claims to create is actually his own.

BanksyA number of years ago my friend and I bought a couple of Banksy pieces. Since I started making this movie, though, I’ve taken them down and locked in a safe. The reason is simple: I’ve never seen a picture of Banksy and I’ve never seen Banksy paint. Maybe there are seventeen Banksys. Maybe there’s no Banksy. Maybe Banksy is just a figment of my imagination (boy is this article going to cost me if that’s all true because the value of my own Banksy works are going to plummet).

So in light of this movie, I would like to offer the real Banksy to come out, come out wherever he or she is, and show the world what a fantastic painter he or she is out in the open. She / he / they can use the walls of my offices in Tribeca as the canvas. They’re perfectly suitable for spray paint. The actor who plays Judge King, James Saito, in Big Eyes is so great and learned so much on set that he can be the judge who Banksy paints for. And if there’s a Mrs. Banksy who has been the talent behind these paintings, I think it’s time to reveal her and give the credit deserved.

Big Eyes is a fun and human look at the art world and history. And it’s an opportunity for my dad, who’s in that big arm chair in the sky, to have the last laugh at the guy who took his hard-earned money under false pretenses. For me, it’ll give the world an opportunity for Banksy to read this article, fly to New York, and knock on our office door. We’ll have a canvas ready for him.

Harvey Weinstein in an occasional Deadline contributor.

  1. So, Harvey is an occasional Deadline contributor? Like when, only when he’s promoting his own movie? This should NOT have been a carte blanche column, under the guise of journalism. Pretty lame.

    1. Mr. Weinstein wrote a piece honoring someone who passed away without promotion of a film.Besides, this piece on Big Eyes is fine and I don’t believe writing on it is unethical or wrong. He told a story on how the artist scandal effected him personally.

    2. Actually, it’s pretty cool. Nice to see a big, Hollywood mogul humanized with a very personal story, all while providing some insider movie info for readers, and promoting your movie to boot. And if the call-out to Banksy is unsuccessful, certainly a whimsical movie based on someone’s idea of who Banksy is could be a lot of fun.

  2. Banksy hasn’t conned anyone to sell his art– he (or she) has stayed anonymous because Banksy is a street artist. Comparing Banksy to the Keanes is just you showing you’re an out of touch huckster desperate to promote your own film… When Banksy did make his painting available for $45 each using a street vendor in NYC last year (just around the corner from your office in Tribeca) you nor all your buddies bothered to notice, because to you, it’s not art until someone tells you it is. You’re just a puffed up salesman claiming to know what art is, but, it takes Tim Burton to show you the difference. Stop with the pretense Harvey, just beg us all to go see your movie so you can make more money, that’s what you’re best at.

  3. Would love to see this movie…Tim Burton at the helm makes it all the more enticing. My Dad also worked and retired from 47th St/The Diamond District as a jeweler for many years, I wish he was an art collector as well. Banksy should show his/her face, that would be an extra for all attached to this project.

  4. Never mind BIG EYES, what about how Weinstein is behind the hacking thing with SONY, I’m sure of it. Why not talk about that, yu wasted space on this dumb story, but put it in a related story about SONY being hacked, so Weinstein must be involved. But HOW?

  5. This nonsense over who did what is ridiculous. Who cares who painted the picture if you LIKE the picture? Who cares that Milli Vanilli didn’t actually sing their songs if you LIKED the songs? Yes, it’s good that the right person got credit, but it was silly to tear up the print. It did NOTHING to punish the con artist, nor did it reward the actual painter.

  6. I met Bansky some years ago at Glastonbury Festival. Seemed like a shy unassuming dude.
    There is a film about him called ‘Exit through the gift shop’. It’s worth a look. And yes, that is really him in it.

  7. I like Banky but I prefer street artists such as Pure Evil, David Choe or Romilios because they show their real faces without worrying about the consequences. A true artist should always be proud about his artwork without any fear!

  8. Is nothing sacred? Wherever Banksy is, he/she is scoffing at this proposal. Banksy is the last true urban legend. If there is someone else doing the art that’s not getting credit, that’s their own predicament. Sometimes, it’s just more romantic to believe there is one person doing all of this art him/herself.

  9. It’s sad that someone who claims to have purchased 3 of Banksy’s pieces seems to be so clueless about the artist. Come out and paint in the open? Who cares who Banksy is! I hope no one ever finds out. What it says on his drivers license makes not the slightest impact on his art. Banksy is an idea as much or more than he is a person.

  10. I totally agree with Nasreen and S. Rodhe Hill regarding the buffoonery of Harvey’s ‘challenge’ to Banksy. It doesn’t even make sense and has no corollation with the story of the Keanes whatsoever.
    And as for his father proudly bringing home that print?
    What a load of total bull****!!
    Harvey is completely making up this story, I would almost guarantee it. Certainly the part about Miriam ripping it up in honor of Max. Please! Just like his past stories of his parents being big supporters of Che Guevera and Max stayed oversees after WW2 as an Isreali Freedom Fighter. Just figments of Harvey’s demented imagination.
    I’d bet anything Miriam knew nothing about the story of the Keanes until this movie.
    He is just a lying, Narcissitic huckster who believes he can rewrite reality (such as making up utterly phony ‘human interest’ stories about his own family) to serve his own purposes.

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