Monday, July 04, 2005

Michael Winterbottom Gets Naked - New York Times

Michael Winterbottom Gets Naked - New York Times:

"Sometimes the re-creations get him in trouble. Winterbottom's crew had to hastily flee the Manchester airport a step ahead of the law after one take of a scene in which the actors playing the drug-addled members of the band Happy Mondays licked spilled methadone off the airport's floor. Winterbottom had ''forgotten'' to get the scene approved by the airport authority.

Since then, Winterbottom has taken his realism to more extreme levels. In 2003, he filmed ''In This World,'' a harrowing refugee story with a cast of actual refugees, which won the British equivalent of an Oscar. Still, despite border squabbles and having to smuggle film out of Iran, ''In This World'' was merely a prelude for ''9 Songs,'' a sex story with actual sex. Winterbottom told me that one reason for doing the film was to expose the hypocrisy of the industry. ''You can show people eating and doing normal things, but you can't show two people making love, the most natural of all things,'' he said. ''That's insane.'' "

"Not worrying about dialogue isn't unusual for Winterbottom. For ''In This World,'' Winterbottom and a five-person crew traveled to Peshawar, Pakistan, on the first commercial flight from England after 9/11, armed only with a bare outline telling the story of two Afghan refugees making the highly dangerous and illegal 4,000-mile trek to England. Eventually, Winterbottom settled on Jamal, a teenage boy, and Enayatullah, a man in his 20's, for the lead roles. Jamal and Enayatullah had no acting experience; Winterbottom had them play versions of themselves. He provided them with no specific instructions as they traveled from Pakistan to Iran to Turkey and up through Europe. He simply put them into situations and started filming. When you see Jamal leaving his brother in Peshawar, it is truly Jamal's brother, and the goodbye is real. When Enayatullah looks for work in an Istanbul factory to raise money for the rest of his journey, the other workers you see are doing the same. In the end, Winterbottom filmed 200 hours of footage, largely not knowing what his characters were saying.

''I wasn't trying to do a documentary,'' Winterbottom says. ''The idea was not to make them do something they wouldn't do. We would put them in settings, on a bus, at a border, and just film. I just wanted them to come off as themselves.''"