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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Director John Boorman: The last of the steely Brits

    John Boorman has had more comebacks than Sinatra. Bob Flynn meets the director of Deliverance and Hope and Glory

    Published: 01 June 2007



    He has been turning money into light - to paraphrase John Boorman's own words to describe the alchemical process of making movies - for more than 40 years. In that time, the veteran British director, writer, producer and self-archivist has made 21 films, including unalloyed classics such as Point Blank, Deliverance and Hope and Glory, along with some forgettable failures like Zardoz and Beyond Rangoon. He may be an erratic talent, but he is one of British cinema's true visionaries, and who has also written some of the most elegant, insightful essays on the alluring, brutal, egotistical world of movies and their makers.



    Yet Boorman slips unnoticed though the foyer of the hotel where we meet. A slight, silver-haired, 74-year-old, Boorman shakes a greeting with his left hand and looks a little fragile as he sits in the hotel's bustling bar, gingerly nursing his right wrist, which he sprained badly at his home south of Dublin. But despite the injury he is on lively, articulate, self-effacing form.



    The Tiger's Tail, his latest film, is a parable about his adopted homeland, centred around a soured prince-and-the-pauper tale of doppelgangers exchanging lives in the midst of the Irish Republic's raging "Celtic tiger" economic boom. "The title comes from the so-called economic miracle that took Ireland from poverty to wealth," says Boorman. "There's a moment when one of the characters says: 'We have the Celtic tiger by the tail; if we let go it's gonna turn and bite us in the arse.' That's what the film's about; being bitten in the arse by economics."



    A survivor of the bright lights and hard knocks of the film business, he has constantly injected his concerns about society, the environment and the destruction of individualism into his work. With his new, disapproving, embittered comedy, he reflects his alarm at the encroaching tide of a modern, ultra-materialistic world.



    At 74, he is already planning his next project, an adaptation of Marguerite Yourcenar's bestseller Memoirs of Hadrian, recreating the life of the Roman emperor. "It's a daunting prospect. The book is almost too good, but has some fascinating parallels with the present American empire," he says.



    Daunting prospects are Boorman's speciality. One of the last of the steely British film-makers who played Hollywood at their own game, he is the closest, I imagine, that you could get to meeting his old, departed, friend, David Lean. The similarities are striking: the clipped English accent, the conservative appearance and dry wit, the old-school reserve disguising a mind boiling with epic cinematic visions. Born and raised in Surrey in 1933, Boorman's accent and reserve are still there, but his 38-year residency in Ireland has made its mark. He speaks softly but there are flashes of a tough, prickly side to Boorman, too. He was one of the few British directors to keep afloat in Tinseltown's shark-infested infinity pools.



    The Tiger's Tail is a polemic against a cultural sea change in the new, wealthy, republic. It is his fourth film with Brendan Gleeson, who starred in his 1999 biopic of the iconoclastic Dublin gangland boss, Martin Cahill, who was allegedly assassinated by the IRA. After a series of flops, The General, one of a lengthy catalogue of Boorman "comebacks", won the Best Director award at Cannes. In the new film, Gleeson takes the double lead role of a ruthless property tycoon, Liam O'Leary, and his mysterious, homeless, doppelganger, who begins to take over his luxurious life.



    Some Irish critics have derided Boorman's dystopian vision of a callous, ultra-materialistic Ireland. But he is used to criticism. Written off as a spent force in the late Seventies, he returned triumphant with 1981's Excalibur. With the exuberant retelling of the Arthurian legend, Boorman restored his reputation, as well as giving Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson and Patrick Stewart their first movie roles. "My demise has been constantly exaggerated," he laughs. Indeed, when detractors once again consigned him to the cutting-room floor in the mid-Eighties he delivered Hope and Glory, a massive critical and commercial success based on his childhood.



    The director has lived in Ireland since 1969 but was born in Surrey in 1933. His first film was Catch Us If You Can, in 1965, ostensibly a vehicle for the then hugely popular Dave Clarke Five. But Boorman, who had trained in BBC documentaries, made it into a strangely morbid take on the swinging Sixties' sensibilities. "I made this rather pessimistic journey through England in the Sixties and it wasn't what people expected of a pop movie. But Pauline Kael [The New Yorker's film critic] praised it inordinately, and that launched my career in America. That's how I got Point Blank."



    Invited to Hollywood in 1967, he made Point Blank, with Lee Marvin as a wronged gangster; an implacable, inexorable anti-hero. Studio heads were perplexed when Boorman delivered a technically complex, non-linear narrative. But Marvin opened the door to an initially sceptical Hollywood, and the tortured ex-marine with a difficult reputation became Boorman's unlikely guardian angel. "He wasn't difficult at all," Boorman says. "When we were filming in Alcatraz, I kind of blanked out and couldn't think what to do next. Lee saw this and suddenly started roaring and staggering around and the production manager said: 'We can't carry on with him like this.' I managed to collect my thoughts. I signalled to Lee and he made this amazing recovery from drunkenness to sobriety and we continued to shoot. That's the kind of guy he was."



    Now recognised as a masterpiece, Point Blank was the template for searching, fractured thrillers to come and Boorman and Marvin became firm friends. "Lee had big influence on the film from the start. I thought the original script was awful and he agreed," recalls Boorman. "He said, 'I'll do this picture on one condition,' and threw the script out the window."



    After Point Blank, Boorman re-teamed with Marvin for Hell in the Pacific (1968), a story of an American marine and a Japanese soldier, played by Toshiro Mifune, stranded together on an island. The film struggled at the box office. But Boorman's next, Deliverance, was an international sensation, a jolting experience to this day, in which backwoodsmen terrorise four businessmen on a weekend canoe trip in South Georgia: a seminal reference-point for any back-to-nature drama of inner-city men looking for their primal self. In Deliverance, all they find is a brutalising ordeal ending in death and male rape.



    "Warner had very little confidence in it and they kept cutting the budget down and down," says Boorman. "That's really how I came to use that banjo-music score, because I had to cut the orchestra and used duelling banjos all the way through. It worked very well, but it was through necessity."



    He aims to carry on making films into his eighties, unpredictable, ambitious to the point of eccentricity, and stubbornly sticking to his visions. "The funny thing is, I just had a call from a major Hollywood studio about remaking The Tiger's Tail in America," says Boorman. "I said, it's a bit like burying the corpse before it's dead. Let the film come out before you remake it!



    "I don't make the kind of films Hollywood wants now anyway. Mind you, I suppose I never did."



    'The Tiger's Tail' opens on 8 June; 'Catch Us If You Can' is out on DVD this month

  2. #2
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    I like his EMERALD FOREST. That and HOPE & GLORY are back-to-back projects for him, and are amazing pieces that remain memorable. And his HELL IN THE PACIFIC is one of my favorite war-tales, or human tales.

  3. #3
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    POINT BLANK is the one for me.



    Even his failures are heroic failures mainly. He's so convinced that EXCALIBURE and ZARDOZ are compelling and visionary, he doesn't seem even aware that they ,ight appear laughable. And that's kind of admirable, in a way, even though Sean Connery in thigh boots, nappy and bandoliers (with a pony tail) is an enduringly absurd image.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Country: Scotland silverwhistle's Avatar
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    I love Excalibur. Still one of the best ever Arthurian movies.

  5. #5
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    Absolutely. It was seeing Excalibur as an 18 year old that opened my eyes to the possibilities of cinema. The sequence where a rejuvenated Arthur and his knights go forth into a blossoming landscape to the sound of Carmina Burana remains one of those goosebump moments for me...

  6. #6
    Senior Member Country: Scotland silverwhistle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by penfold
    Absolutely. It was seeing Excalibur as an 18 year old that opened my eyes to the possibilities of cinema. The sequence where a rejuvenated Arthur and his knights go forth into a blossoming landscape to the sound of Carmina Burana remains one of those goosebump moments for me...
    I think was about 16 (1981, wasn't it?): I think it was the first AA cert that I'd seen at the cinema, and it proved a bit strong for my mother, although Dad enjoyed it!

    And I agree: that sequence with the blossom, and the Orff soundtrack�€� Sublime!

    I also thought it was a bold, but dramatically effective, move to identify Arthur with the Maimed King of the Grail myth (originally a 12C political allegory). I loved the Burne-Jones/Rossetti influenced visual style, too. And Nicol Williamson remains my definitive Merlin.

  7. #7
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    A dream to some....a nightmare to others!!!

    Superb cast....even better now, looking back; many of those involved were making their first films...Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Ciaran Hinds...the sad thing for me that two of the cast died so young; Nicholas Clay and Robert Addie, early fifties and early forties respectively.

    Absolutely right about the Pre-Raphaelite look...absolutely wrong historically, but absolutely the Arthur we imagine in our dreams....terrific.

  8. #8
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    Yes...and the silver-painted disco Camelot, the skeleton stuffed with mince so a bird can peck its eye out (it has an eye but no flesh?), Helen Mirren's Flash Gordon style breast plates, Uther having sex in full armour, and the creepy way Boorman casts his own daughter as the naked girl on the receiving end of that...it's a film of ups and downs.

  9. #9
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    Boorman's family always get in on the act...young Mordred is Charley, also in The Emerald Forest and Hope And Glory, and last seen disapearing into the distance on a motorbike with Ewen McGregor...The Lady in The Lake is another Boorman, another daughter I suppose..it must keep the budget down.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Country: Scotland silverwhistle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by penfold
    the sad thing for me that two of the cast died so young; Nicholas Clay and Robert Addie, early fifties and early forties respectively.

    Absolutely right about the Pre-Raphaelite look...absolutely wrong historically, but absolutely the Arthur we imagine in our dreams....terrific.
    Am I right in thinking there was a fun fantasy/mystery series that Nicholas Clay was in, on BBC1? There was only one series �€“ I rather suspect that his last illness may have prevented more.



    The Pre-Raph atmosphere was very striking. I'm more into the Dark Age Arthurian material (I love Joy Chant's book The High Kings, and the John Arden-Margaretta D'Arcy plays, The Island of the Mighty, which have more input from Y Troiedd Ynys Prydein), but Excalibur was consciously based on the late-mediæval and 19C version.

  11. #11
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    I've always been fascinated by the Celtic Twilight, with the interaction between the old pagan beliefs and that of the early British Christians...how the belief systems met head on, seemingly negotiated compromise and achieved a working understanding within the national psyche...and I thought that was beautifully conveyed in Excalibur.

  12. #12
    Super Moderator Country: UK christoph404's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by D Cairns
    POINT BLANK is the one for me.
    Even his failures are heroic failures mainly. He's so convinced that EXCALIBURE and ZARDOZ are compelling and visionary, he doesn't seem even aware that they ,ight appear laughable. And that's kind of admirable, in a way, even though Sean Connery in thigh boots, nappy and bandoliers (with a pony tail) is an enduringly absurd image.
    I really like Excalibur, and Zardoz is fun if you surrender to the spirit of the thing which is what Boorman himself says on the audio commentary of the Zardoz DVD. He notes that there were perhaps too many ideas crammed in there and that some of the scenes could seem to be silly and laughable if you chose not too suspend your disbelief. I think he was very aware of of the pretentiousness and silliness in that film and certainly points them out in the audio commentary which I think is very big of him,so not sure if it would be fair to say that he is not aware of their shortcomings, I think ,as you say, he really believes in his work regardless which is got to be a healthy attitude to have.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Look back on anger

    The director John Boorman is 74 – and can still wind up an entire country, Kevin Maher discovers



    John Boorman is bloodied, but unbowed. The 74-year-old London-born director of classics such as Deliverance and Excalibur has been savaged in Ireland for his satirical portrayal of the country in The Tiger’s Tail ( reviewed on page 16). Here Boorman, resident in Ireland for nearly 35 years, depicts the Emerald Isle as a decadent Sodom and Begorrah defined by rampant greed, binge drinking, street violence, suicide, racism and glaring social inequality. Naturally, the natives were none too pleased when the movie opened in November, and Boorman was vilified.



    “I was surprised by the sensitivity of the reaction,? he says, on this occasion safely ensconced in a hotel room in Central London. “All these issues – the binge drinking, traffic jams, collapsing health service and teenage suicides – were being discussed in the press at the time. But somehow when you put them on the big screen it has a different effect. People felt that modern Ireland was a great success story and so they thought, perhaps, that the film was unfair.?



    Boorman has never shied away from controversy. In fact, he says that his outlook seems to be getting more pointedly political with age – recent films such as Beyond Rangoon (1995) dealt with repression in Burma, while Country of My Skull (2004) explored the legacy of apartheid in South Africa. “I find it hard nowadays to make anything that doesn’t have a political context,? he says. “Maybe I’m just an angry old man.? If truth be told, it was never plain sailing for Boorman. A former journalist and documentary film-maker for the BBC, he graduated to big-screen movie-making thanks to his friendship with the Hollywood heavyweight Lee Marvin. When MGM balked at the incessant flashbacks, flashforwards and confusing narrative chicanery in Boorman’s groundbreaking thriller Point Blank (1967), it was Marvin, then a white-hot Oscar winner, who protected his beleaguered director.



    Boorman also butted heads, this time with the Warner Bros brass, when it came to making Deliverance (1972). He had chosen Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando to star but the studio refused to pay the notoriously unreliable Brando’s fee. Undaunted, the director hired the then relative unknowns Burt Reynolds and Jon Voigt and transformed them overnight into marquee names. “The picture was a tremendous struggle to make,? says Boorman. “But then it opened, it became a monster hit, and it took everyone by surprise.?



    These days, he says, making studio movies is even more tortuous, especially if you have any artistic or independent sensibilities. His last big-budget Hollywood movie was the successful Pierce Brosnan spy flick, The Tailor of Panama(2001). And it was, he says, agony. “It was constantly bogged down with bureaucracy, and that has an eroding effect. The studio is on top of you, restricting what you can do. It becomes very difficult to function.?



    Similarly, he says that, having worked with raw-power dynamos such as Marvin, Voigt, Sean Connery and Richard Burton, he finds it hard to get excited by today’s pampered superstar actors. “When I look at the current crop of stars I ask myself, ‘Do I want to work with any of those people?’ ? he says. “Not many of them.?



    In the meantime, he says – and notwithstanding the fact that his long-gestating epic about the emperor Hadrian is now in pre-production – he’d rather get on with smaller projects. “I think that I don’t really have any more dragons left to slay,? he says. “I’ve done it all, you know? I could quite happily make a film for very little money that nobody sees at all.?



    He’s not solely defined by his profession, he says. He’s a father and a grandfather and a “planter of trees? in the gardens of his house in Co Wicklow, which he bought in the early 1970s to get away from the “depressing negativity? of England and the insanity of Hollywood.



    Even so, he continues to be inspired by the power of movies, and by film-makers such as the Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, still making critically acclaimed movies at the age of 98. Does this mean that he wakes up impressed by the notion that he’s still an active film-maker with something to say? Boorman chuckles. “These days I wake up and I’m impressed by the fact that I can climb out of bed unaided.?



    Boorman’s milestones



    Point Blank (1967) Boorman’s Hollywood debut featured Lee Marvin as a taciturn avenger out to reclaim $93,000 from back-stabbing mobsters. Arty, violent, and deliberately trippy.



    Deliverance (1972) The movie that launched a thousand stag nights (“Squeal like a pig!? etc). Deliverance, about a canoeing trip that goes badly awry, instantly established Boorman as a heavyweight director.



    The General (1998) The first of four films that teamed Boorman and the Irish actor Brendan Gleeson was a Cannes award-winning depiction of the Dublin gangster Martin Cahill. Jon Voigt, of Deliverance, co-starred.

  14. #14
    Super Moderator Country: UK christoph404's Avatar
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    Thanks for that post DB7, very interesting and informative. I'd totally forgotten that Boorman had directed "Tailor of Panama".

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    Yeah, I kind of hold TAILOR against him. Not an easy book to film, but he cops out at the end.

    Interesting that he now acknowledges that ZARDOZ can seem silly, I should listen to the commentary. My point was that when he was making it (and EXCALIBUR and the truly ludicrous EXORCIST II) he obviously never thought for a moment that anybody would laugh, otherwise he'd never have made all those brave/foolhardy choices. Quite hard to get any convincing humour into an Arthurian movie, I guess, although Nicol Williamson manages to invest Merlin with considerable wit -- if it wasn't for him, the only laughs would be bad ones.

  16. #16
    Senior Member Country: UK Moor Larkin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by D Cairns
    but he cops out at the end.
    Hmmmm. A local review in my town describes the ending of Hope & Glory as 'soapy' (as in soap opera I assume)..... The Emerald Forest had an appalling ending (IMO) and The Hard Way is only let down by a melodramatic shoot-out near the end (albeit the very, very end, in a cemetery, is well done). Is there a pattern emerging here?



    The End




  17. #17
    Senior Member Country: Scotland silverwhistle's Avatar
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    Excalibur has a wonderful ending, though: the boat with Arthur and the Queens sailing off into the sunset, with the Wagnerian soundtrack. Gets to me every time.

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    That is a nice ending!

  19. #19
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    THE HARD WAY is by John Badham, not John Boorman, so we can't blame him for that one.

    HELL IN THE PACIFIC and EXORCIST II have two endings apiece, neither of which is very strong. But POINT BLANK is fine, and I even like the time-lapse ending of ZARDOZ where Connery and his gf age and die: Buster Keaton did a similar deconstruction of the happy ending in COLLEGE.

  20. #20
    Senior Member Country: UK Moor Larkin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by D Cairns
    THE HARD WAY is by John Badham, not John Boorman, so we can't blame him for that one.
    I was referring to The Hard Way (1979) (TV), but to be fair. Mr. Boorman passed the directors duties over to his assistant so you may be right in exonerating him....



    On a less argumentative note I was trying to make my mind up to go to bed last night and flicked to BBC News 24, just to see if I was missing anything and who should be being interviewed on 'Hardtalk' but John Boorman...



    He's a lovely guy!! Eyes sparkling like a thirty-year old.... I wouldn't be moaning about his 'Endings' to his face I'll tell you - he'd chomp me up and spit me round the room!!....



    He'd evidently been talking about his latest movie but I stumbled in as they moved away into more general discussion. He referred to the Hollywood machine being a prisoner of its own Blockbusters and how they spend so much money in order to try and make them but even if they succeed they only just get back what they spent........ Sounds a bit like British premiership football!!



    He touched on his early days in the BBC, making documentaries and had evidently been deeply affected by his treament at the hands of the established BBC people. He was the first there not to have attended university etc.. and felt very excluded in a class-conscious way. That had affected him to such a degree that he had never wanted to live in England again........



    Anyhow I'm off to watch the interview in full...

    BBC NEWS | Programmes | Hardtalk | John Boorman




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