Film Directors with Their Shirts Off: #165 John Boorman

The latest in our occasional series on underdressed film directors. Because YOU demanded it! A fully nude John Boorman, appearing in his daughter’s documentary, ME AND MY DAD. Well, he got her to disrobe for EXCALIBUR, so it only seems fair for him to return the favour.

I was initially a bit frustrated with this film. Katrine Boorman starts out knowing nothing about filmmaking, it seems, not even how to set up a tripod straight. The entertainment comes from grumpy Dad’s irritation at her amateurishness, and his inability to stop directing his director. Also, she’s one of those people whose words don’t actually make any sense, but you know what they mean. So, as a storyteller she has a double handicap, but she certainly has access. And some great characters, with her mother, Boorman’s German ex-wife, high on that list. She’s a very sympathetic interviewee, solo, but then a family gathering is staged and the dynamics get really weird… It turns into a mini-version of FESTEN.

But, to my surprise, as the film went on I got over my own pedantic objections and warmed to Katrine’s approach. Her very inexperience works as a brilliant provocation to bring out all her dad’s worst qualities. Though he gets more and more likable too. You wouldn’t always know the man had a very strong sense of humour from his films — EXCALIBUR, in particular, seems to have no notion that any of this sex-in-plate-armour stuff could be perceived as comical. And then there’s ZARDOZ, which is only funny when it’s trying to be serious, and as for  EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC…

(But POINT BLANK still contains some trace of original author Donald Westlake’s sensibility, which finds amusement in everything — his Richard Stark books just conceal the comic plotting with hardboiled deadpan. Curiously, many of the movie’s most Westlakian aspects owe nothing to the source novel. But I think the screenplay, and Boorman’s approach, somehow picked up a little of Westlake’s literary DNA. Plus, I just watched Boorman’s THE GENERAL, which is maybe TOO funny. More on that soon.)

Boorman’s a pretty funny guy, Why haven’t I read his autobio?


3 Responses to “Film Directors with Their Shirts Off: #165 John Boorman”

  1. Boorman seems to be an interesting case in that his worst movies seem to fail because of a super pretentious mysticism…but his best movies succeed because of that same quality! (Deliverance is a perfect combination of The Hills Have Eyes and Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows). I do want to see The Heretic, because

    a) Scorsese’s mad about it, and I ain’t exactly the biggest fan of the original, and
    b) It seems to look exactly like a Michael Powell movie written by Ed Wood!

  2. Tony Williams Says:

    THE HERETIC is grossly underrated since its director wanted to undermine the premises of the original. Max von Sydow only agreed to repeat his role if this happened.

  3. I’m sympathetic to Boorman’s intentions there (except why do a sequel at all?), it’s the execution that lets it down. There are some lovely visuals and some points where the narrative becomes absolutely bonkers in an almost phildickian “what is real?” way. But I can’t sympathise with the musical number, the therapy sessions in glass booths (would YOU want to have therapy while on public display?) and the telepathic brainwave machine that they’ve suddenly invented without telling anyone.

    If you’re going to subvert something, you have to sort of get in sync with it first, i think, and so suddenly making it science fiction seems silly.

    The Making-Of book by Barbara Pallenberg is a fantastic work of absurd bathos and hubris, highly recommended. I should post quotes… oh wait, I did!

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