Nationality: British. Born: Shepperton, Middlesex, 18 January 1933. Education: Salesian College. Military Service: Sergeant in British Army, 1951–53. Family: Married Christel Kruse, 1957, one son (actor Charley Boorman), three daughters. Career: Film critic for BBC Radio and for Manchester Guardian, 1950–54; film editor, Independent Television News, 1955–58; head of documentaries, BBC Television, 1960–64; directed first feature, Catch Us If You Can, 1965; moved to United States to make Point Blank, 1967; chairor, National Film Studios of Ireland, 1975–85; governor, British Film institute, from 1985; founder and co-editor of Projections, published annually in London since 1992. Awards: Best Director Award, Cannes Festival, for Leo the Last, 1970; Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres, 1985; New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Director and Best Screenplay, for Hope and Glory, 1987; Cannes Film Festival Best Director, London Critics Circle ALFS Award for British Director of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Award, Ft. Lauderdale (USA) International Film Festival Jury Award, Evening Standard British Film Award, and Boston Society of Films Critics Best Director Award, all for The General, 1998. Agent: Edgar Gross, International Business Management, 1801 Century Park E., Suite 1132, Los Angeles, CA 90067, U.S.A. Address: The Glebe, Annamoe, County Wicklow, Ireland.
Films as Director:
Catch Us If You Can (Having a Wild Weekend)
Hell in the Pacific
Leo the Last (+ sc)
Deliverance (+ pr)
Zardoz (+ sc, pr)
Exorcist II: The Heretic (+ pr)
Excalibur (+ pr, co-sc)
The Emerald Forest (+ pr)
Hope and Glory (+ pr, sc)
Where the Heart Is (+ sc, pr)
I Dreamt I Woke Up (+ role)
Two Nudes Bathing (+ sc, pr); Beyond Rangoon (+ pr); Lumière et compagnie (Lumière and Company) (contributor of short piece)
The General (I Once Had a Life) (pr, sc)
Target of an Assassin (The Long Shot) (role)
Dream One (pr)
By BOORMAN: books—
Zardoz, London, 1983.
Money into Light: The Emerald Forest: A Diary, London, 1985.
Hope and Glory, London, 1987.
The General, London, 1998.
By BOORMAN: articles—
"Playboy in a Monastery," interview with Gordon Gow, in Filmsand Filming (London), February 1972.
"Conversation with John Boorman," with L. Strawn, in Action (Los Angeles), November/December 1972.
"Zardoz," interview with Philip Strick, in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1974.
Interviews with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), March 1974 and February 1978.
"Director John Boorman Talks about His Work," in AmericanCinematographer (Los Angeles), March 1975.
Interview with J.-P. Le Pavec and D. Rabourdin, in Cinéma (Paris), March 1978.
"The Sorcerer: John Boorman Interviewed," by D. Yakir, in FilmComment (New York), May/June 1981.
"The Technology of Style," interview with J. Verniere, in FilmmakersMonthly (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), June 1981.
"The World of King Arthur according to John Boorman," an interview with H. Kennedy, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), March 1981.
"Jungle John," an interview with G. Fuller, in Stills (London), November 1985.
"John Boorman en quête de mythologie," an interview with C. Blanchet, in Cinéma (Paris), 19 February 1986.
"Christopher Isherwood: Stranger in Paradise," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), October 1986.
Interview in Positif (Paris), November 1987.
"Worshipping at the Shrine: Los Angeles in the Season of the Oscars," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1988.
"Gardening and Parking," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1988.
"Bohemian Rhapsody," an interview with Brian Case, in Time Out (London), 1 August 1990.
Interview with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), no. 355, 1990.
Interview with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), no. 411, 1995.
Interview with Gavin Smith, in Film Comment (New York), vol. 31, no. 4, 1995.
Interview with Isabelle Danel, François Gorin, and Marie-Élisabeth, in Télérama (Paris), 24 May 1997.
"Return to Zero: The General," an interview with Philip Kemp and Xan Brooks, in Sight and Sound (London), June 1998.
Interview with Alain Masson and Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), December 1998.
On BOORMAN: books—
Piccardi, Adriano, John Boorman, Florence, 1982.
Holdstock, Robert, John Boorman's "The Emerald Forest," New York, 1985.
Ciment, Michel, John Boorman, Paris, 1985; London, 1986.
On BOORMAN: articles—
Farber, Stephen, "The Writer in American Films," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1968.
Brown, John, "Islands of the Mind," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1969/70.
McGillivray, D., "John Boorman," in Focus on Film (London), Autumn 1972.
Dempsy, M., "Deliverance/Boorman: Dickey in the Woods," in Cinema (Beverly Hills), Spring 1973.
Legrand, Gérard, "Hommage à Boorman," in Positif (Paris), March 1974.
Stair, Bill, "En travaillant avec Boorman," in Positif (Paris), March 1974.
McCarthy, T., "The Exorcism of The Heretic," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1977.
"Exorcist II Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 February 1978.
Sineux, M., "Un Héraut de notre temps," in Positif (Paris), October 1981.
"John Boorman Section" of Positif (Paris), July-August 1985.
Comiskey, R., "Man, Myth, and Magic," in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), November 1985.
Camy, G., "John Boorman, l'enchanteur moraliste," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), November-December 1985.
"John Boorman Section" of Positif (Paris), November 1987.
Stanbrook, A., "Is God in Show Business Too?" in Sight and Sound (London), no. 4, 1990.
Williams, L. R., "Blood Brothers," in Sight and Sound (London), no. 9, 1994.
Thompson, David, "Follow the Money," in Film Comment (New York), July-August 1995.
Thompson, David, "As I Lay Dying," in Sight and Sound (London), June 1998.
* * *
"Film making is the process of turning money into light and then back into money again." John Boorman's neat epigram will probably haunt him for the rest of his filmmaking days, not simply because it is so tidy a formulation, but because the tensions it articulates have played such a prominent part in his own career.
Boorman has always been much concerned with the look of his films. In both Deliverance and Point Blank (shot, incidentally, in exquisite 'scope) he went to unusual lengths to control color tones; Zardoz and Exorcist II: The Heretic are remarkable for their pictorial inventiveness; the images of the Irish countryside in Excalibur and of the Brazilian rain forest in The Emerald Forest are carefully imbued with a luminous, almost magical quality; and the extraordinary street of housing built for Hope and Glory (one of the largest sets constructed in Britain since the heyday of the studio system) speaks volumes for Boorman's commitment to a cinema of distinctively visual qualities.
Boorman has certainly proven himself able to turn money into light. Turning it back into money, however, has not always proved so easy, and the commercial weakness of Zardoz and the near total boxoffice disaster of Exorcist II were no help to him in trying to develop his ambitious projects of the 1980s. After all, an Irish-based adaptation of Malory's Morte d'Arthur (Excalibur), a "green" allegory scheduled for location filming in South America (Emerald Forest), and an autobiographical evocation of his wartime childhood (Hope and Glory) are hardly the most obviously marketable ideas, even from a thoroughly bankable director. Yet sell them he did, and if The Emerald Forest doesn't come off as well as either Excalibur or Hope and Glory, two out of three is no mean record for an independent-minded filmmaker with a taste for startling visuals and unusual stories.
Boorman's is a high-risk approach. When it goes wrong, it goes wrong with a vengeance, and both Exorcist II and The Emerald Forest sacrifice narrative conviction in the cause of pictorial splendor and some risible metaphysics. But when his approach goes right, the results are sufficient to justify his reputation as one of the most courageous and imaginative filmmakers still working in the commercial mainstream.
At its best (in Point Blank, Deliverance, Excalibur, Hope and Glory, and The General) Boorman's cinema is rich and subtle, his fascination with images matched by taut story-telling and a nice sense of the opacity of people's motives, his characters constantly made aware of the complex and unanticipated consequences of their actions. In many of his films, strong-willed individualists find themselves embroiled in a clash between established order and disorder, a context within which they appear as representative figures caught up in near mythical confrontations. In Hell in the Pacific, for instance, Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune play two enemy soldiers stranded on an island. As they continue to conduct the war their roles become emblematic, and they play out the tensions between conditioned aggression and common humanity.
In Point Blank, perhaps Boorman's most elegantly realized film, the force for disorder is Walker (Lee Marvin), a man obsessed by what he considers to be his just desserts. Double-crossed in a robbery, he wants only his share of the spoils, a goal he pursues step by step up the hierarchy of a criminal syndicate. The film leaves us little choice but to identify with Walker who is, like Sean Connery in Zardoz, an absolute individualist, a man who cannot be restrained by the hierarchical order on which he impinges so forcefully.
Yet Point Blank somehow transcends the conventional morality of assertive individualism. Walker is ruthless and violent, certainly, but it is his symbolic force to which we respond. The movie creates a paradox in which this unlovely figure comes to represent a more human spirit than that embodied in the syndicate's bureaucratic order. As ever, Boorman provides no easy solutions. After much death and violence it emerges that Walker, too, has been manipulated. Sharing his perspective as we do, we are left with a pervasive sense of impotence in the face of larger impersonal forces.
Deliverance, too, shows us order and certainty revealed as precarious fabrications. It concerns four men on a canoe trip through the wilderness who are forced to recognize that their ideas about morality and their belief in the social niceties are ineffectual constructs in the face of adverse and unintelligible circumstances. After killing a man who had buggered one of their party at gunpoint, they find that the action leads them down a path of lies and death. "There's no end to it," one character observes, close to despair.
Excalibur, perhaps inevitably given its source in Arthurian myth, tells of the imposition of order onto chaos and of the terrible price to be paid when that order is not firmly based. Human frailty destroys Camelot when Arthur finds Guinevere and Lancelot asleep together in the forest; in another of Boorman's inspired cinematic images, Arthur plunges the sword Excalibur into the ground between them. The despairing Guinevere is left curled naked around the sword while the land falls into pestilence and war.
In these three films Boorman ensures that we appreciate how difficult it is to make judgments of good and evil, how tangled the threads of motivation can be, a concern which also informs his later expeditions into apparently more "political" topics in Beyond Rangoon and The General. But he does so not only as a pessimistic observer of human failings; he also has hope. There is a lovely scene in Hope and Glory, his most romantic of films, when young Bill (Boorman himself, for the film is autobiographical) has the "googly" explained to him by his father. When he realises what it involves (bowling a cricket ball so that it turns one way but with a bowling action which suggests that it will turn in the opposite direction) he is both horrified and fascinated. "That's like telling fibs," he says, a child's term for lying which is as accurate to the period as it is precise in its childish evocation of acceptable untruth. In Bill's (and Boorman's) world, people are forever telling fibs; like the googly, things are not always what they seem. But, also like the googly, that complexity can be a matter as much for celebration as for concern.