Freeze frame on the Gold Rush
Peter Mullan nearly died filming The Claim. That's all part of the frontier experience, says director MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM
Words: Tom Dawson
‘We were up against nature.’ says Peter Mullan. 'and that comes out in the performances.’ He’s not joking. The Glasgow actor contracted hypothermia while working on The Claim. Michael Winterbottom‘s Gold Rush movie. He was filming a scene that involved him lying in the snow atop Fortress Mountain in the Canadian Rockies. in high winds and minus-30 degree temperatures. Professional to the last. he stuck it out until it was nearly too late.
It was five years ago that \h'interbottom came up with the idea of making an unconventional Western. ‘The appeal was the idea of doing a story set in the Gold Rush. rather than a Western.‘ explains Winterbottom. who. still in his 30s and with a resume which includes the films Jude. W'lr'mm' '1}: Sara/cm and lVUlltlt’I'lund. is one of Britain‘s most prolific and versatile filmmakers.
‘()ne of the attractions was that when gold was discovered in California. the state had just become part of America and was populated by Mexicans and Native Americans. It seemed just as legitimate for us to make this our subject matter as it was for an American filmmaker. And borrowing from Hardy‘s The Mayor ()f ('(lsn'rln‘irlgr' gave a sense of generational change to the story. We could take the Gold Rush pioneers and immigrants as one generation. and the young generation could be represented by the coming of the railroad and the beginning of civilisation in California. Hopefully. you get a sense of transition from an immigrant mining culture to an American culture.‘
The production of The Claim. however. was marked by a series of set—backs that would have deterred less committed filmmakers. ‘lnitially we were going to make the film in France.‘ says Winterbottom. ‘We spent six months three years ago reccing locations in the Pyrenees and we built the set of the frontier town in London. But we lost the money at the last minute. because the financiers didn't think we had a starry enough cast.‘ Though. with Mullan taking the lead role and Nastassja
26 THE UST 1—15 Feb 2001
‘We were up against nature and that comes out in the performances.’
Versatile Winterbottom turns his hand to an unconventional Western
Kinski. Sarah l’olley. Milla Jovovich. Wes Bentley and Fife-lass Shirley l‘lenderson on the bill you’ve got to wonder about the cast criticism.
‘When we came back to the project.‘ continues Winterlmttom. ‘we decided that Canada would be the safest bet from a weather point of view. as it was hard to find somewhere with guaranteed snow in France. We looked in the Rockies and found somewhere relatively accessible. [ironically named] Fortress Mountain. one hour from Calgary. 7()()() feet above sea level. and the valley there didn’t show much sign of the 20th century.‘
Superny photographed by cinematographer Alwin Kuchler. The Claim is a story that is both historically specific and culturally universal. ‘lt fascinated me that the West was a place that people were drawn to.‘ says Winterbottom. ‘liveryone there was an outsider starting from scratch
and facing stark moral choices. But the film‘s
personal story of a father who sells his wife and daughter and tries to win them back twenty years later. can be placed in any context. lt‘s asking how much you are prepared to sacrifice for something.‘
Winterbottom has already started work on a very different eighth feature. 24 Hour Party I’m/21v. the story of Manchester's Factory Records under Tony Wilson. Is there a secret to his prolific work rate‘.’ ‘I tend to make cheap lilms.‘ he answers simply. “I'lw Claim was the most expensive and took so long to get made. It just comes down to time and iinancing.‘
The Claim opens Fri 9 Feb. See review. Peter Mullan makes a personal appearance at the GFT, Glasgow on Fri 2 Feb.
Lights, camera, action . . .
THE GOLDEN GLOBES have been announced. The annual film and television awards ceremony (set up way back when films were made in black and white) by the venerable Hollywood Foreign Press Association, are second only to the Oscars and act as a good indication of the way the March ceremony will go (if you give much currency to these showbiz mutual appreciation affairs).
Gladiator won best picture, over UK hopeful Billy Elliot while Almost Famous won best musical or comedy; the Globes make a distinction between straight and comedic nominees where the somewhat snobbish Oscars don't, which last year left Jim Carrey holding a Globe but not an Oscar for his top rate performance in Man On The Moon.
Best actor (drama) went to Tom Hanks for Cast Away, which may signal a third Oscar for the Philadelphia and Forrest Gump star. George Clooney picked up best actor (musical or comedy) for 0 Brother, Where Art Thou? which put Jim Carrey, aka The Grinch, completely out of the running this year. Julia Roberts beat Dancer In The Dark’s Bjork to best actress (drama) for Erin Brockovich, but The List thinks the award should have gone to Ellen Burstyn for her devastating turn in Requiem For A Dream. We are, however, happy with Bridget Jones aka Renee Zellweger picking up best actress (musical or comedy) for the riotous Nurse Betty. Though Willem Dafoe’s been garnering much praise for his impersonation of Max Schreck, star of Nosferatu, in Shadow Of The Vampire, it was Benicio Del Toro who took the Globe for Traffic. Kate Hudson continues her ascent to the stars with a best actress (musical or comedy) win for Almost Famous, beating fellow Famous star Frances McDormand to the post.
Though Steven Soderbergh was nominated twice for best director (Traffic and Erin Brockovich), it was Ang Lee who took the award for the already film of the year Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (though Traffic did secure best screenplay for Stephen Gaghan). Unsurprisingly, Dragon also won the foreign film award.
So, nothing for the hot Oscar contender Quills, then. We'll see.
Crouching Tiger, Oscar bound