Whether you know Winkler’s name or not, you are bound to have seen one of his films. His production credits include the “Rocky” / “Creed” series, “Raging Bull”, “Goodfellas”, “The Right Stuff”, “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “They Shoot Horses Don’t They” and he directed “The Net”, “At First Sight” and “Night And The City”. Winkler sets out his career chronologically, taking each film in turn. The anecdotes come thick and fast, the book full to the brim with the names of stars he worked with, and it’s a who’s who of industry “names”.
Some films get a few paragraphs but others a detailed description. His first major success is an example of the latter – “They Shoot Horses Don’t They” – where Winkler relates the power struggles over casting, writers who want to direct but can’t, how he was fired but got himself re-instated, stars last minute demands, the post preview screening edits. It’s a powerful description of just how stressful and challenging getting a movie made can be and the resilience required to succeed. “Guilty By Suspicion” also gets the longer form treatment but is done in diary format which doesn’t work as quite as well.
At times there’s a slightly superficial air to the description of some of the films – many invoke a torrent of names, interesting when it’s the actors who were considered for but didn’t get roles (Tom Cruise and Madonna are proposed by Warner Bros in the roles Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco finally took in “Goodfellas”), but less compelling when it’s the studio heads who passed on financing.
He’s open about the things he got wrong – when developing “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight” he decided Coppola wouldn’t be suitable to direct a gangster movie -and his anxieties about whether he can cut it as a director suggest he was significantly less egotistical than many in Tinesletown.
Refreshingly he also names some names in an even-handed way. Weinstein the bully is a safe target, but describing how Kevin Spacey gave a million dollars back goes a little against the zeitgeist. Demi Moore is a diva – shot only from left with sets designed accordingly, prone to a tantrum when her private jet was too small but qualified against her first class delivery and work ethic. The story of United Artists attempts to undermine “Rocky” is just astounding.
We learn very little about Winkler as a person – he’s married and has adult children within the first few chapters and although his love and regard for his wife Margo shines through, other than her name, few further insights are shared. Similarly his long relationship with Robert De Niro shows Winkler’s deep respect and affection and De Niro’s commitment as an actor– funding his own research trip to Italy for “The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight”, learning the saxophone for “New York New York” to a professional standard but there’s no further insight. I suppose the clue is in the title – it’s all about what was up on the screen.
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One thing you’ve learned
Blockbuster refused to carry “The Last Temptation of Christ” and a church group offered Universal $10m to destroy all the copies, whilst John Belushi wanted to make “The Right Stuff” as a comedy.