A Life in Movies: Stories from 50 Years in Hollywood

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro on the set of “Raging Bull”, 1980 | Chartoff-Winkler Productions

Robert De Niro warming up in slow motion on the sound of Cavalleria Rusticana in Raging Bull remains one of the best opening sequences in cinema. A scene that foreshadows the entire film. And it almost did not happen. Martin Scorsese was initially reluctant about using the opera music that one of the assistants had cut into the opening credits by mistake, considering it too romantic. But he finally kept it and the rest is movie making history. Raging Bull is one of the greatest cinematic works of all time.

Every film has a story, even those that don’t get made, says film producer Irwin Winkler in his book, A Life in Movies: Stories from 50 Years in Hollywood, released today worldwide. And he has many stories to tell. He takes us backstage to some memorable films (he is a long-time collaborator of both Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro) and walks us through five decades of making good movies in Hollywood: Point Blank, Goodfellas, Rocky, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, True Confessions, The Wolf of Wall Street, Silence.

“One of the best parts of making movies is the development:
taking an idea, studying it, researching it, and finding
the characters and incidents that make a movie.”


”A Life in Movies: Stories from 50 Years in Hollywood” by Irwin Winkler | photo: Classiq Journal

Irwin Winkler started producing films in the late 1960s, a time of significant change in Hollywood filmmaking, when a new, counter-culture breed of directors, through both subject matter and stylistic approach, breathed new life into the American cinema. The great directors of the golden era of Hollywood were just about gone and the New Hollywood was born. It was the time of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, William Friedkin’s The French Connection, Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, Terrence Malick’s Badlands, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, Alan Pakula’s All the President’s Men, Sydney Lumet’s Network.

”Bob (Chartoff) and I were known in the ‘new’ Hollywood
as producers who worked hard, knew good material,
and could get pictures made.”

A Life in Movies paints an intimate, straightforward, complex portrait of what it is like to be a producer in Hollywood and of how movies get made. But Winkler is not just another producer. He is the kind of producer who has always fought for an idea, for a screenplay, for artistic freedom. The kind of producer who thinks on his feet, but encourages and believes in visionary talent. He has a natural instinct in finding fresh, current, good subjects and turning them into good films, but he would forgo commercial success for a character-driven film, not shying away from making films against the Hollywood blockbuster, big-budget mentality. The films he has directed himself are often politically- and socially-charged, taking on controversial and challenging stories – his directorial debut, Guilty by Suspicion (1989), with Robert De Niro in the leading role, is a stirring evocation of Hollywood’s condemnable blacklisting era, De-Lovely (2004), starring Kevin Kline, is one of his most distinctive works, a musical biography of legendary composer Cole Porter, and Home of the Brave (2006), with Samuel L. Jackson, is about the return of US soldiers from the war in Iraq.

Kevin Kline in “De-Lovely”, 2004, directed by Irwin Winkler | Winkler Films, MGM

Irwin Winkler is a producer, writer and director, but he is a storyteller above all. And it his passion for storytelling that comes through in this book. As a storyteller, he has been equally fascinated by producing and making films that are a product of their time, of the social context, and artistically courageous films. I think it’s a combination of the two that keeps any cinephile’s interest in cinema alive.

“I believe that Silence will stand alongside some of the best
Ingmar Bergman, Fellini, and Pasolini films. I’m so glad we hung in,
faced down all the naysayers, and made it, no matter what.
That’s what filmmaking should be about.”


A Life in Movies: Stories from 50 Years in Hollywood, published by Abrams,
is out today, 7 May


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