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Winkler, Irwin

WINKLER, Irwin



Producer. Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 28 May 1931. Attended Columbia University Business School, graduated 1955. Career: Mailboy at William Morris Agency; secretary; projectionist; formed management agency with Robert Chartoff; 1966—produced first film in partnership with Chartoff, Double Trouble; 1985—independent producer. Award: Academy Award for Rocky, 1976.


Films as Producer with Robert Chartoff:

1966

Double Trouble (Taurog)

1967

Point Blank (Boorman)

1968

Blue (Narizzano); The Split (Flemyng)

1969

Leo the Last (Boorman); They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Pollack); The Strawberry Statement (Hagmann)

1971

Believe in Me (Hagmann); The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (Goldstone)

1972

The Mechanic (Killer of Killers) (Winner); The New Centurions (Precinct 45: Los Angeles Police) (Fleischer); Thumb Tripping (Masters); Up the Sandbox (Kershner)

1973

Busting (Hyams)

1974

The Gambler (Reisz); Spies

1975

Breakout (Gries); Peeper (Hyams)

1976

Nickelodeon (Bogdanovich); Rocky (Avildsen)

1977

New York, New York (Scorsese); Valentino (Russell)

1978

Comes a Horseman (Pakula); Uncle Joe Shannon

1979

Rocky II (Stallone)

1980

Raging Bull (Scorsese)

1981

True Confessions (Grosbard)

1982

Author! Author! (Hiller); Rocky III (Stallone)

1983

The Right Stuff (Kaufman)

1985

Revolution (Hudson)

Other Films as Producer:

1985

Rocky IV (Stallone)

1986

Round Midnight (Autour de minuit) (Tavernier)

1988

Betrayed (Costa-Gavras)

1989

Music Box (Costa-Gavras)

1990

Rocky V (Avildsen) (co); GoodFellas (Scorsese)

1991

Guilty by Suspicion (+ d + sc); Night and the City (+ d)

1992

Basic Instinct (Verhoeven) (orig pr)

1995

The Net (+ d)

1999

At First Sight (+ d)

2000

The Shipping News

Publications


By WINKLER: book—


Guilty by Suspicion (screenplay), Warner Bros., 1991.


By WINKLER: articles—

Positif (Paris), no. 307, September 1986.

American Film (Washington, D.C.), vol. 15, no. 1, October 1989.

Films in Review (New York), December 1989.

Time Out (London), no. 1092, 24 July 1991.

Time Out (London), no. 1311, 4 October 1995.

Fade In (Beverly Hills), vol. 2, no. 3, 1996.


On WINKLER: articles—

American Film (Washington, D.C.), vol. 2, no. 3, December-January 1976–7.

Stills (London), no. 20, June-July 1985.

Positif (Paris), no. 307, September 1986.

American Premiere, May/June 1991.

Segnocinema, no. 61, May/June 1993.

DGA (Los Angeles), September-October 1996.


* * *

The career of producer Irwin Winkler is so involved with that of his long-time partner Robert Chartoff—in 1983 screenwriter William Goldman described them as "best friends forever, and partners for damn near as long"—that though the business relationship ended in the 1980s, it is still difficult to consider them separately.

Chartoff and Winkler left New York for California in the early 1960s. They shared with fellow east coast emigrés Mike Nichols, Sidney Lumet, and Arthur Penn a taste for liberal themes, but in attempting to turn this preoccupation into profitable films the producers singularly failed. Two edgily intellectual thrillers with English directors, John Boorman's Point Blank and Gordon Flemyng's The Split, puzzled the American audience, as did Boorman's eccentric Leo the Last, while Stuart Hagmann's Believe in Me and The Strawberry Statement, the former an anti-drug story, the latter one of many miserable attempts of the time to transmute student revolt into salable cinema, also foundered. However, Sidney Pollack's version of Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? with Jane Fonda and Gig Young did briefly gain Chartoff and Winkler the critical respect they craved.

From 1970 the team affiliated with United Artists, supplying films of medium budget and low risk to this studio without production facilities. The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight and The New Centurions, crime stories from best-selling books by Jimmy Breslin and Joseph Wambaugh, were modest successes as were Busting and Peeper, better-than-average comedy thrillers by Peter Hyams. Even Michael Winner and Charles Bronson were coaxed to lift their game with an everyday tale of assassinating folk, The Mechanic. Less successful was The Gambler, by Karel Reisz after Dostoyevsky, though the team did at least freshen their social conscience credentials with Up the Sandbox, a Barbra Streisand vehicle about the trials of a young New York mother.

In 1976, against UA's advice, Chartoff and Winkler championed a $1 million boxing picture starring and written by a minor actor, Sylvester Stallone. To the surprise of even its producers Rocky earned more than $100 million worldwide and an Academy Award for Best Picture. In addition, since the partners had attached themselves to the project, the production company could make no sequels without their involvement. Rockys I to IV made Chartoff and Winkler rich and powerful. They relocated to luxury offices and enjoyed fees from UA labeled by one insider as "astronomical." Success also made them in the words of then-UA vice-president Steven Bach "proud and difficult to argue with. Sooner or later Rocky Balboa's boxing glove . . . would settle any argument. In their minds at least." The team's budgets rose with prosperity but not their success rate. Nickelodeon, Peter Bogdanovich's tribute to the silent cinema, flopped, as did Ken Russell's Valentino. More intent on critical success than ever, they funded a stark 1940s western by Alan Pakula, Comes a Horseman, and bought The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe's sprawling "fraction" best-seller about the Apollo astronauts.

Having financed Martin Scorsese's ill-fated musical New York, New York the partners now also took on his most controversial project, a violent biography of the boxer Jake LaMotta, Raging Bull. Winkler is generally credited with negotiating the deal between UA, Scorsese, and Robert De Niro, a feat which, according to Steven Bach, involved an uncredited rewrite of the script by director and star. Chartoff and Winkler then shepherded Raging Bull to production and saw it become one of the most highly regarded Hollywood films of all time.

Raging Bull was the team's greatest achievement, and its last. When William Goldman delivered the screenplay for The Right Stuff, for which UA had paid the largest fee in its history, and which portrayed the astronauts as symbols of a braver, better America, he learned that director Phil Kaufman now preferred to emphasise the character of test pilot Chuck Yaeger, conceived by Goldman and Wolfe as the loser in the race for space. Goldman has claimed since that Chartoff sided with Kaufman in the resulting dispute and Winkler with the writer. Finally Goldman resigned, his screenplay was shelved and Kaufman wrote his own. Chartoff and Winkler subsequently dissolved their partnership—over, Goldman implies, this disagreement.

As an independent, Winkler has produced Costa-Gavras's anti-Fascist Music Box. He also made his debut as director in 1991 with Guilty by Suspicion. Robert De Niro played a 1950s filmmaker hounded for communist sympathies. Blacklist veterans were cast in minor roles and Winkler used the sets from the covertly anti-McCarthy High Noon for the cheap western De Niro is forced to direct. Most critics found the film heavy-handed, and writer/director Abraham Polonsky further soured the reaction by claiming it cribbed elements from his life.

Neither of Winkler's subsequent outings as director convinces one that he's capable of better. His 1992 remake of Jules Dassin's Night and the City, with de Niro in Richard Widmark's old role as a desperate hustler trying to set up a wrestling match (altered by Winkler to boxing), and running foul of harder men in the process, was long on decor but short on impact. In The Net, Sandra Bullock is wasted as the computer nerd who stumbles on a secret in her job as free-lance programmer, and is harried by unseen enemies who cancel her credit cards, invalidate her driver's licence, sell her house, and all but erase her identity, replacing it with that of a dope-dealing prostitute. A potentially apt film which might have commented incisively on the growing power of those who process electronic information is invalidated by the writers' and director's resort to all the clichés of 1960s girl-on-the-run movies. Winkler learned the lessons of paranoia taught by the McCarthy era, but has so far proved incapable of extending his knowledge beyond simple didacticism. Liberal and intellectual legitimacy seem as far from his grasp now as when he produced The Strawberry Statement.

—John Baxter

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