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by dr andrew cousins

Whining & Dining

Michael Whiner is one of Britain’s most prolific film makers. He is probably best known as the director of the ‘Death Kill’ series of films. He has always been a colourful figure and has enjoyed a rocky relationship with the press. Most of his films have been critically mauled, yet his enthusiasm for making movies remains undiminished.

In more recent years he has achieved notoriety as a restaurant critic. In his ‘Whining and Dining’ column in the Evening Standard he regularly incurs the wrath of chefs and restaurateurs alike with his out-spoken reviews. I was recently invited by Michael to join him and see for myself what the ‘Whining and Dining’ experience was really like. I joined him in the "I’m Spartacus!" Restaurant in the heart of London’s Soho.

AC. How did you get started in film?

Basically, I talked my way in! I had a script that I’d written and made some appointments with some of the studios. You could still do that in those days! I claimed that I’d made training films for the government, absolute rubbish of course, but they believed me. Then they asked me if they could have a look at some of them to see how good I was. I couldn’t of course because they didn’t exist. So I said, "Terribly sorry but they’re classified so there’s no way I can let you see them" They hesitated for a moment but they must have been desperate because they eventually agreed to finance my film. I’ve never looked back since.

AC. Do you see yourself as a film director or a food critic these days?

MW. (Lighting huge cigar) Oh definitely a director, dear boy. I love making movies. I love eating food too, of course, but movies are my first love. I enjoy being a food critic but I do it as a hobby. I always pay for my own food, for example, because otherwise I feel that I haven’t got any right to complain about something that I haven’t paid for. If I had my way film critics would have to pay to see the movies they review. How can they complain about something when they get to see it for free?

AC. You’ve had a rather rough ride from the critics over the years haven’t you?

MW. I can honestly say that I’ve never been worried by a bad review in my life. Critics often seem to complain about a film just because they can. Derek Malcolm once said that he’d hated every film I’d ever made. So I arranged for him to receive a video copy of every single one of them with a card that read, "Happy viewing — love Michael" I find some critics attitude strange because they treat all films the same way. I’ve never claimed that I’m making art. I make films that are designed to entertain.

AC. Barry Norman described one of your films as the "most offensive thing I’ve ever seen" didn’t he?

MW. I think Barry Norman’s hair is one of the most offensive things I’ve ever seen but I don’t go around shouting about it. As I say people just love to complain. Poor old Alan Parker is having exactly the same problem at the Film Council because it hasn’t produced instant results.

AC. Alexander Walker was recently very critical of the Film Council. Do you think he was justified in that criticism?

MW. I think it’s pretty clear that he was wrong in a lot of the things he was saying. How can he expect films to make a profit when they’ve not even been released yet? Frankly, I think it’s rather premature to start being critical of them yet. They’ve only had a short while to start trying to turn around the years of neglect that the British film industry has suffered. I was so incensed that I almost paid for a large billboard to be erected saying, "Alexander Walker wouldn’t know a decent film if it bit him on the arse" in three foot high letters. But my solicitor advised me that it was probably libellous so I decided against it. He once had a go at ‘Death Kill 6’ too.

AC. The ‘Death Kill’ series have been a particular target for the critics haven’t they?

MW. Good grief, yes! I’ve got a scrapbook which contains every single bad review those films have had. It runs to thirty-three volumes. Mostly people complain about the violence. In retrospect, the chainsaw massacre in the Nunnery in ‘Death Kill 9’ may have been slightly over the top but apart from that I would defend every single violent moment in those movies. Some people just seem to have a problem with Charles Bronson running around performing random acts of vigilante revenge. What they forget is that we clearly set up the character so that he has a motivation for what he’s doing - his cat was run over by a truck. The other thing I hear a lot is that we did far too many in the series. That’s just rubbish. Each one had a good, strong storyline. Possibly we were running out of steam a little by ‘Death Kill 17’ but it’s still a damn good film.

AC. You also tried your hand at directing comedy with ‘Crash, Bang, Wallop!" which starred Oliver Reed and Roger Moore.

MW. Yes. I love comedy. Nobody makes really funny movies any more so I thought I’d have a go. The critics hated it, as usual. They savaged poor Roger. Someone wrote that he was "so wooden you can practically see the varnish". They just don’t understand that Roger does most of his acting with his feet so a lot of the performance tends to get lost during the close-ups. Unless it’s a close-up of his feet. People also complained that the film was "too coarse". It was about a pornography ring being run from the library of the Vatican! Naturally, it was coarse!

AC. Your food column has attracted some equal flack hasn’t it?

Apparently Anthony Worral-Thomson has a picture of me on his dartboard. Just because I complained that his lamb was a little bit too well done for my taste. If he can’t take criticism then he shouldn’t be cooking.

AC. I believe you actually said, "The lamb is so tough you could use it to patch an inner tube. Actually I’d probably prefer to eat the inner tube."

MW. (Laughing) Did I really say that? It sounds like one of my more favourable reviews. I was once at a celebrity dinner and they had that bloody awful Jamie Oliver there. He was saying things like, "Awight mate. Liked the last film. Tewwific. Geezer. Fancy some grub? It’s pukka. I cooked it me self, like," I told him to stop talking gibberish and asked him if he’d started shaving yet.

AC. You’re going to be writing a review of this restaurant for the Evening Standard. What do you make of it?

MW. Generally, I can’t complain too much. It’s called "I’m Spartacus!" so that’s got some good filmic connotations. The décor is a bit weird. Lots of cabinets full of bird skulls and odd sculptures. It’s a bit like eating your dinner in the Natural History Museum. Also the name of the restaurant should be reflected by using some sort of theme like putting all the staff in togas or something. As it is the name is meaningless. It’s like Planet Hollywood without Arnold Schwarzenegger. Did you know that Spielberg has a theme restaurant chain? It’s called Dive! Dive! The whole place is done out like a sunken submarine. That’s that kind of effect they should be going for. Also I noticed that there’s no little basket of mints next to the front door. It’s the little details like that that people look for. There’s a reason why the Bernie Inn is so popular.

As for the food. It’s all very well to serve clams with lamb but I think most people would really prefer a nice plate of chips. Did you know that at Little Chef you get unlimited rounds of toast when you get the full English breakfast? Imagine that. As much toast as you want. Where’s the waiter? I want my bill.

AC. Michael Whiner, thank you.

Note: Michael Whiner is currently being sued by Ann Widdecombe for describing her as having a "Planet of the Apes" haircut. The case comes to court next summer.

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