MICHAEL WINNER: A SOURCE OF INSPIRATION

1935 - 2013

I’m sure even those who enjoyed the late Michael Winner’s abrasive charm and abrasive movies may question the title here. My housemate once met Winner briefly in an art gallery and knowing him only as the ‘Esure advert guy’ asked him to “do the line”, which with deflated bemusement he obliged to do so: “Calm down dear, it’s only a commercial”. But he means much more to me, and I was saddened to hear of his passing on January 21st. Michael Winner is the reason I started making my own films, and upon making those early ridiculous efforts of mine I realised it’s what I’d like to do until the end of my days.

Michael Winner’s most successful and well-known film, Death Wish, is the reason I got into movie making. In fact, it was Death Wish 2, and especially Death Wish 3, that really spurred me on. During high school my chums and I loved watching extreme, quite distasteful films that were often accidentally amusing despite their hard-boiled nature. We jolly enjoyed Death Wish, and it’s quite an intelligent film that should be celebrated for its controversy. Most of us are liberal-minded but most of us have never had real cause for vengeance or hating someone, so it’s interesting to take a liberal character and put him through the ringer until he emerges a conservative, justice wielding vigilante – a process we’re all capable of should we experience what Paul Kersey does.

However, I must admit the intelligence and sincerity of exploring vigilantism goes right out the window with Paul Kersey’s daughter in Death Wish 2 (she jumps to avoid getting raped a second time by a gang, less than an hour after being discharged from a psychiatric ward). It’s rather entertaining though and features one of my favourite pre-murder lines of all time: Kersey approaches a gangster wearing a crucifix and asks “You believe in Jesus?” The gangster says “Yes I do” and Kersey quips “Well… you’re going to meet him” – bang!

Death Wish 3 is even more ludicrous but brilliantly so, a man dies from his arm getting broken (is that possible?), Charles Bronson performs the most unrealistic trip and fall in cinema history and he shoots the main villain point blank with a rocket launcher (wouldn’t that kill them both?). Around age fourteen I had for a while expressed an interest in filmmaking and because the Death Wish series (there’s five of them, though the last two weren’t directed by Winner) provided my school gang with such joy it was decided we should make our own Death Wish film. Death Wish 6: Yorkshire Blood was my debut, where Kersey comes to visit his third cousin in Yorkshire only to find out he was murdered by a local gang. It can barely be considered a film, more like a 40-minute series of outtakes cut together by a chimpanzee in the midst of a fever dream. But we had so much fun and I realised just how much I wanted to make movies.

Our next film was Rambo 4, a huge improvement despite me accidentally editing holiday footage of people ice-skating into one of the major action scenes (editing on VHS is hard). I would have liked to have made my own original idea next but what drew a lot of friends in was the fact that we were making sequels to films they loved. Death Wish was still so popular amongst us that myself and Peter (a best friend and my co-producer/writer throughout all the early endeavours) decided in 2003 to make an epic final chapter in the Death Wish series; Death Wish 7: Attack of the Geordies, which I’m proud to say is as deliriously mad and funny as Death Wish 3, mine and my gang’s favourite trashy movie. We decided to stay consistent with the chronology of the series so Paul Kersey is ninety-nine years old, despite being played by a youthful fifteen-year-old.

The film ran one hour and sixteen minutes, was shot over six months, had a cast of fifty people and had a twenty minute battle sequence where Kersey takes on a horde of Geordies. We killed off Kersey in the climax where he sacrifices himself to save his daughter, so he finally manages to save his family. I hope Winner would approve of this epitaph for his most enduring film legacy.

A film curator loved the movie and one sequence in particular where Kersey fights a Geordie Berserker painted head-to-toe in black and white paint (the Newcastle United colours). This sequence became my first short and that went on to be screened at numerous film festivals. This credibility helped me get accepted onto a media moving image course at York College where I developed the necessary skills to then get accepted into university and so on. If it weren’t for Michael Winner, there might not have been Death Wish, and if it weren’t for Death Wish I might not have started making films, I might never have made a scene that would inspire a short that was successful enough to give me huge confidence, and if it weren’t for that confidence I might not be on this path that seems to be leading to a career in film. If my career does take off I hope I make a film that, despite its flaws and unintentional silliness, inspires someone to discover and follow their dreams. 

WORDS : Alastair Collinson (Sporting his Death Wish T shirt)