It’s a film-related blog entry today rather than the usual clothing/shoe/rap babble. As a child of the video rental and regional late night movie selection, Michael Winner has long been a figure of fascination to me. Later in his lifetime, Winner trolled the nation by using his News of the World column to moan about Boots screwing up his negatives while getting a second set of photographs developed, and bragged about his lavish lifestyle with a remorselessness and regularity that was presumably tongue-in-cheek, but his film career had substantial share of moments, despite his reputation for hackery. Winner’s Death Wish trilogy had a huge impact on me, installing a love of the vigilante b-movie that I’ve never quite shaken. While I got my hands on Glickenhaus’ The Executioner and Lustig’s Vigilante (both referenced here a great deal), the first Death Wish eluded me for decades, with only Death Wish 2 screened on UK TV (in which Charlie looks at his most stylish in the beanie and sweatshirt combo) and part 3 being my video store rental of choice for its all out stupidity.
Why a slightly edited Death Wish 2 was deemed acceptable over the other two remains a mystery — with its gratuitous duo of rapes and sleazier atmosphere (Larry Fishburne’s bad guy ‘Cutter’is significantly more vocal than Jeff Goldblum’s ‘Freak #1’ in the first film). The Death Wish films were sheer exploitation, but all my favourite films of the era can be summed up succinctly with those two words. Michael Winner (alongside Frank Henenlotter and seemingly every alleyway scene in every NYC film between 1979 and 1987) had me assuming that on a brief trip to New York, you’d have a switchblade pulled out on you by a garishly dressed, sunglasses, jive talking, ragtag, multiracial gang before you’d even exited JFK. How was I to know that Death Wish 3 wasn’t even filmed in Brownsville? It was shot in London, as Bombin’ would later educate me, with Brim being spoken to by Michael Winner as if he was a toddler halfway through that classic hip-hop documentary. Brim was right about the film’s negative portrayals, but Death Wish 3 is still my flu bed flick of choice — starve a cold, feed a fever and treat both with exposure to Charlie blasting perps via bazookas and Gatling guns.
Beyond Charlie Bronson shooting fleeing perps, Winner’s early works — after a start shooting random documentaries and teen craze cash-ins — with Oliver Reed, like the moddish The System and I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname bear a certain Britishness and mild subversiveness (the latter got into some censor issues for its use of the word “fucking” while the former had Nicolas Roeg on cinematography) shine among the unfunny comedies (which he’d later echo with 1990’s slapstick monstrosity Bullseye!). The Nightcomers with Marlon Brando is nigh-on unwatchable, but as a lead up to The Turn of the Screw it seemed to preempt the wave of horror flick prequels by a few years. Winner evidently had a knack for westerns — Lawman is pleasantly vicious in a post Wild Bunch kind of way and Chato’s Way brings Charles Bronson to the fore for a superior First Blood style revenge scramble.
The Mechanic is a lean, muscular movie that, as the remake proved in its anaemia, has that 1972 grit that comes as standard and is tough to replicate. The Big Sleep with Robert Mitchum in the lead isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation indicates, but Winner’s final non-Bronson standout is 1977’s The Sentinel (which you can watch here) that sits alongside The Omen as a grand, star-studded spectacle that goes further than Tod Browning’s vengeful misfits by casting real life people with deformities as denizens of hell, but has some Christopher Walken and Sarandon weirdness, and genuinely disturbing goings on.
Worthy of mention just for its blend of soap opera style production values and performance with random bursts of phenomenally poor taste, 1984 home invasion thriller Scream For Help (available to watch here) also has John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin (after Jimmy Page, who scored Death Wish 2 couldn’t do it) on soundtrack duties. No matter how much time passes, Winner’s later work like Dirty Weekend and Parting Shots remain unwatchable. He was no Ken Russell, but the eclecticism of his work (some might cruelly call it hackery and argue that it had a constant in its mediocrity) meant Winner’s work is deserving of attention. Even more bizarrely, he was lined up to direct Captain America back when Cannon had the rights in 1984 (which eventually ended up being made by Albert Pyun and released in 1990 with JD Salinger’s son Matt as the lead). This incident, as recounted by Jim Shooter from that period casts a dark shadow on the whole thing though. Still, they don’t make them like Michael any more and, given the tidal wave of appalling January film burials hitting the cinema over the last few weeks, it’s a good time to reevaluate Winner’s contribution to the industry. Right wing, reactionary, sexist and condescending traits are bad things at a dinner party but good when you’re panning for scuzzy b-movie gold.
I’m still waiting to see that Bad Brains documentary, A Band in D.C. (which seems to have annoyed Darryl Jenifer), but in the meantime, the Afro-Punk documentary from 2003 is up on YouTube in its entirety. It’s a solid depiction of racial identity in a realm perceived as whiteboy central.
Because there wasn’t enough imagery in this entry, here’s two ads for tiger stripe camouflage from around 1969, when the Vietnam conflict had somehow sold it to outdoors types as a hunting aid.