Michael Winterbottom: ‘Studying English at Oxford University was a mistake’

The director, 62, tells Michael Segalov about vertigo, risk aversion, shouting to get attention and how Steve Coogan makes things easy

By Michael Segalov
I grew up in a small bungalow on a big housing estate on the edge of Blackburn. My mum was a teacher; my dad was a draftsman in a factory that made television sets. Everything about my childhood was ordinary.

Blackburn’s Unit Four cinema was a scruffy place. In my teens, I went to its fortnightly foreign-language film screenings religiously. I was always desperate to escape, and these films briefly transported me all over the world.

During a childhood swimming lesson, Mum noticed I was lying on the bottom of the pool. A teacher pulled me out of the water. I don’t remember anything, but after that, Mum obsessed about me never venturing deep. I still don’t find swimming in the sea relaxing.

Constant pacing is an awful habit of mine, so my family says. I regularly march around the house while dragging my fingers through my hair and talking to myself.

I left school at 17 and travelled abroad for the first time – I went to pick grapes in the south of France. One night I went to a concert with a German colleague who rode a massive motorbike. Driving us back, I realised he was off his face at 100mph. I clung on for dear life, and haven’t been on a motorbike since.

Steve Coogan makes directing far too easy. We’ve worked together a lot. Naturally, he’s constantly doing things that are both funny and interesting. You can just point a camera at him and leave him to it. I’ve never had more fun than working together on 24 Hour Party People.

Studying English at Oxford University was a mistake. I loved reading, but I wasn’t committed to the rigour of it. Halfway through my studies, I came across a cinema workshop in the city. There and then, I knew what I wanted to do.

I suffer from a particular type of vertigo. I’m fine on planes, or whenever someone else is in charge. But if I’m in control? Even short ladders make me feel vulnerable.

Don’t make a short film, make a long one. That’s the advice I give to young filmmakers. Go out there and shoot something yourself. Not lots of 10 minute things, but a proper one. The only way to learn is to do it.

Generally speaking, I’m risk averse, my mum was over-protective of me as a child. I was the same with my kids in the playground. Caution was bred into me, and it’s far too late to change.

If you get a chance to eat, then you should eat: you never know when the next meal is coming in my business.

People say I have a temper. I certainly do shout a lot. It’s not out of anger, just a way of trying to get attention.

Political extremism pushes people to the edge, and violence sees opposing sides become further polarised. My new film, Shoshana, explores this in Palestine under British colonial rule, but it’s still true in the region today, and around the world. In the past 10 years, those divides have deepened.

The film industry wasn’t accessible when I started out, and it’s still not today. Back then it was a union closed shop. Your career hinged on knowing people. Of course, that remains helpful. Now the best way to start is to go out and start shooting yourself, or to work a lot for free. Either way, that requires big money.

I’m entirely unsurprising as a man. Everything about me is, I think, rather obvious and straightforward.

Shoshana + Michael Winterbottom Q&A plays as part of the UK Jewish Film Festival 2023 which takes place in London cinemas from 9-19 November, with a national tour taking place from 9-30 November and a selection of films available online from 20-27 November


Source: Michael Winterbottom: ‘Studying English at Oxford University was a mistake’

‘Hope isn’t just wishful thinking’—an interview with Ken Loach

Director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty
Director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty

Director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty speak to Nick Grant about their new film ‘The Old Oak’

In their 15th film together director Ken Loach and writer Paul Laverty confront a subject that could hardly be more relevant. They thrust us into the dramatic bitterness felt by both an abandoned British community and weary refugees. Set in north east England, audiences watch a group of Syrians arriving in a derelict former mining area.

Right from the start we find a Newcastle United football-shirted bloke bellowing insults at a group getting off a coach. Trying to referee the situation is pub landlord TJ Ballantyne. Loach and Laverty don’t simplify the harsh realities of everyone caught in this situation. Tory and Labour ­governments and councils have taken jobs, education, training and pensions from old and young workers.

The refugees have lost out too—from family members to mental and physical health. Both are short of money and self-respect, loaded down by the most elementary of human needs. Dave Turner as TJ is utterly convincing as the worried, pragmatic manager of The Old Oak pub. He jostles the demands of regulars who carp on about the new arrivals with his wish to give the new arrivals a break.

TJ’s wife has divorced him and his estranged son has left him, so his dog is his only companion. He walks a fine personal and political line to survive. Loach told Socialist Worker that this character is key. “Everything around him shouts out despair,” he said. “From what’s happened to the community, the nature of work, the conscious cruelty to vulnerable people and the uses of hunger.
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‘People were panicking over whether I could do the Ian Curtis dance’: how we made Control

‘The first time we played She’s Lost Control they had around 150 Joy Division fans there. I ran to my trailer and vomited. One guy said to me: “You had better be good!”’

Sam Riley, played Ian Curtis

After leaving the National Youth Theatre, I spent a year trying to be an actor then decided I wanted to be a rock star instead. I did that for three years with my band, 10,000 Things, but with moderate to zero success. We played in a pub called the Primrose in Leeds and, because of my appearance, they billed us as “Ian Curtis fronts the Rolling Stones”. I didn’t even know who Ian was. We got dropped by our record label and I ended up in a retail warehouse folding clothes and working in a bar.

I rang my old agent and said that I would do absolutely anything. Control had nothing to do with a deep love of the music of Joy Division – it was pure chance that they were looking for an “Ian” the week I rang. For the casting, I told work I was going to the dentist, but there were three auditions and I kept having to go back. My teeth never looked any better though.

‘We’ve been together ever since’ … Sam Riley and Alexandra Maria Lara.
‘We’ve been together ever since’ … Sam Riley and Alexandra Maria Lara. Photograph: Momentum Pictures/Allstar

My life was a mess in Leeds. I wasn’t in good shape. But I got the job on my 26th birthday and the movie saved me: just by coming to the set, having a purpose, being relied upon, being Ian. Samantha Morton, who played Ian’s wife Debbie, was incredible and led rehearsals. In one scene, she improvised and talked me into a corner. I burst into tears at the end of it. I thought, “Wow! This is acting.” I fell in love with Alexandra Maria Lara, who played the journalist Annik, and we’ve been together ever since, living in Berlin.

I think Anton Corbijn, the director, ended up remortgaging his house because when people heard his lead was some pub rock singer from Leeds, everyone wanted to run. I knew how much he was risking and didn’t want to make any mistakes. Before we started shooting, he asked me to do “the Ian Curtis dance” for him again. Some people were panicking over whether I would do it right.

The concert scenes were insane. In all my previous gigs, I had never had anyone in the audience look at me like that. The first time we were going to play She’s Lost Control, they had around 150 Joy Division fans as the crowd. I ran to my trailer and vomited. As I came out, a guy in his 50s said: “I saw Ian about 10 times. You had better be fuckin’ good!”

Ian was a torn personality: a young, married father and a rock star being pulled towards America and glory, dealing with epilepsy and the side effects of medication. He was just a boy. I wonder if that’s what I was like: confident on stage, insecure in life. Maybe that’s why Anton hired me.

During rehearsals, we went to see New Order play. That was strange. Backstage, all the actors playing band members sought out their corresponding musician – and I obviously couldn’t.

Anton Corbijn, director

‘I didn’t believe I was capable of it’ … Anton Corbijn.
‘I didn’t believe I was capable of it’ … Anton Corbijn. Photograph: Stephan Vanfleteren

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New on DVD: The Night Porter

By Graham Fuller | the Arts Desk

The Night Porter depicts the consuming sadomasochistic love affair of an SS officer, Max (Dirk Bogarde), and the Catholic woman, Lucia (Charlotte Rampling), whom he both tortures and protects when she is a teenage concentration camp inmate, and who becomes his partner in a protracted liebestod when they meet by chance in Vienna 12 years after the war’s end. Think of it as the anti-Casablanca.

in 1957, Max is the eponymous hotel employee, ashamed of appearing in daylight, and Lucia is the decorous wife of a famous American conductor. They are drawn together again by mutual desire and guilt, but she is emotionally stronger now than he is, and serene in the notion that their story can only end one way.

Their love may have begun with a monstrous male gaze – posing as a white-coated camp doctor, Max filmed Lucia in close-up as she shuffled with other naked female prisoners toward “the showers” – but by the end it manifests purity and tenderness. That doesn’t mitigate Lucia having warmed to her role as Max’s rescued Nazi slut or Max having smirkingly gifted her, Salome-like, the head of her camp bully during the notorious cabaret sequence. Yet director Liliana Cavani does hint at joint redemption in their final act.

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Derry Girls creator says movie is “definitely something we’re talking about” and reveals first details of Season 3

Derry GirlsDuring a recent interview, Lisa McGee chatted about Derry Girls Season 3 and the potential of a film being made. Expect a few more guest stars too

After that uplifting and sweet ending to Season 2, which culminated in Bill Clinton’s visit – we’ll always love James saying “I’m a Derry girl” at the end and a voice in the background saying “you’re a fucking prick, that’s what you are!” – fans have been eagerly awaiting what’s in store for Season 3.

Well, relax because the gang are coming back and during a recent interview, the show’s writer/creator Lisa McGee teased a few details about what’s in store.

“They’re still eejits and they still get into a lot of trouble, but they’re certainly going to grow up a little bit,” McGee told Red Carpet News.

“There’s definitely a very personal journey that they go on, as well as a political one. It’s an exciting time for them because they’re just on the cusp of adulthood,” said McGee.

While we’re supremely confident that Ma Mary, Granda Joe, Sister Michael, Aunt Sarah, Da Gerry and everyone’s favourite boring bastard, Uncle Colm, are all returning for Season 3, one of the main joys of Derry Girls is the wealth of supporting characters and guest stars.

Thankfully, Season 3 is going to be brimming with new faces and characters too.

“There’s lots of new guest characters, as always. In every episode, we have a new big guest star come in. That’s really exciting, writing those (roles). That has been good craic, looking forward to shooting all of that,” said McGee.

During a previous interview with JOE, McGee said that she does have a very specific event that she’d love to depict in the show, the Good Friday Agreement.

“Obviously, the political timeline is a bit tricky and I’d need to do a lot of sitting down and thinking about how to work the plot out,” McGee told us.

“I’d love to get the story up to the Good Friday Agreement but that’s tricky. You know, we’ve ended Season 2 with Clinton’s speech in Derry that took place in ’95. It’s a bit of a way off but I just need to work all that out. I’d definitely want to cover the Good Friday Agreement . It was the biggest moment in my lifetime and it was huge for Northern Ireland. It would be a shame not to try and tell that story,” she said.

We know that Season 3 is definitely coming, but the talk of a Derry Girls movie is showing no signs of going away. It appears, in fact, that talks about a movie have already started.

“That’s definitely something we’re talking about and something I’d like to explore. It’s just if the story is right. So, it’s about me figuring all that out… at some point!” said McGee.

Source: Derry Girls creator says movie is “definitely something we’re talking about” and reveals first details of Season 3 | JOE is the voice of Irish people at home and abroad