Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams’s bantamweight volume, part of Manchester University Press’s “British Film Makers” series, is the first book-length study of Michael Winterbottom’s whirligig universe, a film-by-film primer that’s a model of concision and (for the most part) clarity. Odd that it should have taken so long for someone to burrow into this indefatigable innovator’s rich body of cinematic work, considering the quality and breadth of his output. Then again, Winterbottom is a tough character to pin down. Reviewers seem awed by his peripatetic pace and impressive generic range, noting their admiration for individual films like Wonderland or 24 Hour Party People, but just as often express bafflement at what exactly the connecting points might be. As the authors point out, “One detects an ongoing struggle to link Winterbottom with a particular style or approach to filmmaking; even the notion of an oeuvre is seen to be at odds with his eclectic use of genre and different modes of realism.”
True enough. These days, anyone writing on a single filmmaker has to contend with auteur theory, whether the idea is to build a case (as Chris Fujiwara did for Jacques Tourneur) or highlight more collaborative processes (as Stuart Galbraith did for Kurosawa and Mifune). Do the films express a coherent vision attributable to the director alone? How do elements like lighting, editing, cinematography, mise-en-scéne, sound, and performance characteristics reflect this sensibility? McFarlane and Williams address the issue head on in the first chapter but choose to hedge their bets, attempting to reconcile “ideas which have led to the name ‘Michael Winterbottom’ being associated with a particular body of work” and then “turning to those factors which tend to dissipate the idea of Winterbottom as the single source of a world view and style.” Reading this, I thought for certain they intended to challenge the entire notion of directorial authorship, while mindful of the “darting intelligence” they’ve sensed at work behind the films.
Click here to read the rest of this book review at Bright Lights Film Journal.