In September 2003 I am sitting at an outdoor café in Montecito when Jonathan Winters walks out of the café entrance. He is wearing his baseball cap, a Churchill-like scowl, cigar in mouth, and coffee cup in hand. I suddenly remember being with my parents in front of the television and howling with laughter at his antics. Grateful for all the joy he brought to my life, I blurt out, “thank you, thank you, thank you.” He turns to me, his face changing into Maudie Frickert, his old lady character, and he says in her sweet voice, “you’re welcome, you’re welcome, you’re welcome.” He then sits down and talks to me non-stop for an hour and a half.
For the first half hour I scream with laughter; 45 minutes in I want him to shut up, as I am hurting physically; after 90 minutes I am hooked by one of the most complex minds I have ever encountered. Talking with Jonathan Winters is like talking to a man who has his brain inside out. All is revealed and nothing is sacred. His bright intelligence and deep feelings combine in comic riffs that struggle between creativity and sanity, love and hate, fame and infamy. It is an unbelievable performance that suggests a rare form of documentary jazz. He tells me that he is a serious painter with a show about to happen at the prestigious Andrew Weiss Gallery in Beverly Hills. His dream is to hang in the Museum of Modern Art. He shows me his paintings and I am very excited. He’s a wonderful painter: a cross between Miro and Dali, with a sprinkle of Caldwell.
When I can get a word in edgewise, I tell Jonathan that I have directed two features, teach film directing, and ask him if I can shoot a feature documentary about him as an artist. He says yes, we sign papers and my partner Richard Marshall starts shooting.
At first the shooting is straightforward, conventional documentary. We’d shoot Jonathan in his house in Montecito talking about painting and art. The camera lens inspires hilarious improvisations from Jonathan, and we realize that this is going to be a most unusual documentary. Jonathan’s bi-polar craziness is like the dada art movement. Maybe we’re making a dadamentary.
-Jim Pasternak, Director