I had the pleasure of seeing Michael Winner at the BFI last Summer, in what must have been one of his last public appearances. Despite being poor health, he took to the stage after a screening of his 1970 film The Games and delivered one of the most enjoyable Q&A sessions I have ever seen. He had a wealth of anecdotes and stories which he told in his own inimitable style. He responded to the audience well, who like myself were duly entertained. You can say a good many things about the man but he was an undeniable personality and a true showman.
Michael Winner’s leaves behind a varied and interesting body of work, including comedies, westerns, action movies and horror films. However, he always knew that he would be remembered for Death Wish. It was a seminal piece of seventies cinema that became part of the pop culture of the time. Not many directors can claim to have created such an iconic picture. He worked with many of the true Hollywood greats such as Marlon Brando and Burt Lancaster and in close partnership with Charles Bronson and Oliver Reed. His also showcased early performances from now established character actors, such as Jeff Goldblum and Christopher Walken.
For me, one of the things that made Michael Winner different from other larger than life personalities was his accessibility to fans. He would often reply personally to correspondence and in recent years was a great exponent of twitter. He took the time to read peoples twitter profile and would address them by first name when replying. It’s was old school touches such as these that set him aside from the competition, not that there really was any. How many British directors can claim a comparable resume?
So we bid farewell to another great bon viveur and raconteur. Michael Winner’s sad death also closes another door upon the “golden age” of film making (which some maintain was the early sixties through to the late seventies). Perhaps now more of his movies will become available on home media. In the meantime perhaps the most fitting tribute fans can pay is to “Calm down, Dear” and watch one of his movies. I would personally recommend Hannibal Brooks, a truly unique World War Two drama with excellent performances by Oliver Reed and Michael J Pollard. Only Michael winner could take Britain’s greatest underrated actor as well as an Elephant and make a comedy anti war film.