Archive for John Boorman

Bayou Kill Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2021 by dcairns

Fiona’s emotional reaction to Walter Hill’s SOUTHERN COMFORT was so extreme I’m a little scared to show her any other Hill films. From jolting and gasping at each bit of violence, to demanding I hold her hand for the suspenseful climax, this was more the kind of thing I expect from the missus when we’re out at the movies (the loud “SHIT!” during JURASSIC PARK when surrounded by small children was a good moment).

The other reaction I think of is my friend Paul Duane’s, who sees the movie as a brilliant riposte to Boorman’s DELIVERANCE, a film he has big problems with. I can understand those problems — DELIVERANCE’s mountain men can be seen as xenophobic caricatures, unmotivated evil forces embodying a wild otherness in contrast to the citified heroes — but I have a harder time seeing Hill’s film as the antidote.

But let’s consider: Hill’s troop of national guardsmen are a flawed bunch — they’re the cause of their own misfortune, provoking the Cajun backwoodsmen in a number of ways, and escalating the situation at every turn, until it’s too late to back down. True, the two main characters, Keith Carradine and Powers Booth, gradually become very sympathetic, but it’s easy to see their opponents’, admittedly extremely hostile, point of view.

Still, I always felt Boorman was somewhat critical of his macho holidaymakers. They don’t DESERVE their fates, but they seem to be presented as trespassing fools, quite ignorant of the forces they’re trifling with. Boorman is pretty weird — he told Michel Ciment that nobody who was in tune with nature would break his leg the way Burt Reynolds’ character does in this film. I always found that a peculiar attitude: you hit a rock, you break your leg, is the way I see it. But at any rate, Boorman doesn’t wholeheartedly take his heroes’ side, and I never felt he expected us to view the rustic characters entirely through their eyes. Their attitude to the banjo-playing kid is unpleasant: “Talk about genetic deficiencies-isn’t that pitiful?” In fact, he then surprises them with his musical skills, the first of many surprises they’re in for, and the only pleasant one.

Hill and cowriter David Giler go all-in making their national guard goons dumb and nasty, to the point where they risk the viewer disengaging. We were happy to see most of them killed, except it was so unpleasant. And their attitude to their enemy is to persistently underestimate them.

Of course, Hill & Giler set their story in 1973, eight years before its release date, for a reason. It’s a Viet Nam movie that avoids certain controversies by avoiding Viet Nam. But the mistakes/crimes committed by the guardsmen relate quite closely to the mistakes of that war. Going where you have no business going, for a start. Using the locals as a resource, regarding them as subhuman, failing to communicate with them, terrorising them, torturing them. Also, making a war film in which Americans fight Americans is certainly interesting. You could say the film is simultaneously provoking and dodging a series of questions about its meaning.

All this is presented via Hill’s unconventional coverage and cutting, which has a lot to do with the film’s striking intensity. A bear trap is triggered, and snaps TWICE, for emphasis. Hill doesn’t neglect the atmospheric landscape, but he tends to fragment the conversations into disconnected heads — but he maintains coherence. His style seems like a precursor to the later, shittier action films, but looks refreshing now. (You can see Hill’s influence as exec producer on ALIENS, I think, which has a lot in common with this, and the presence of Franklyn Seales also reminds us of Carpenter’s THE THING from around the same time.)

During the film’s last section, the surviving “heroes” wash up in a Cajun town, where the suspense builds around the question of whether they’re safe here. The sequence last long enough that we become pretty sure they’re not, although the prospect of the whole citizenry going 102,000 MANIACS on us is floated then abandoned. In fact, we never see what the reaction of the locals would be to the murderous attacks by the original gang of wild men would be, which is very slightly a cop-out. Having stoked our paranoia about these friendly-seeming but othered folks, Hill leaves the question hanging. Probably they’re fine, but I think it’s best we leave…

SOUTHERN COMFORT stars Wild Bill Hickock; Alexander Haig; Gus Grissom; Jimmy Smith; Nauls; Perfect Tommy; Bufe Coker; Keys; Slug a tough; and Leon Kowalski.

Grail Enquiries

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2019 by dcairns

My line on EXCALIBUR has long been that John Boorman decided, boldly but perhaps unwisely, to make an Arthurian epic as if MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL had never happened.

I came up with a new line today while showing clips to a student who’s embarking on a mythic fantasy short: it’s like Boorman maybe DID know there was such a thing as The Ridiculous, but bet that he could break on through it to the other side. But possibly there’s nothing on the other side of The Ridiculous except more Ridiculous, going on forever, getting ever more ridiculous.

Hopping through the film for frame-grabs though, my God it’s beautiful. Though the muddy bits are the most Pythonesque, and the glossy bits are kind of sixties-hippy-meets-disco, so it’s all silly all the time, maybe it plays better in episodes, or even moments, than as a whole.

Remember Hawks’ “I don’t know how a pharaoh talks”? Remember also that Fritz Lang was offered the chance to remake DIE NIBELUNGEN at the end of his career, and turned it down on the basis that the dialogue would be impossible. EXCALIBUR would make a great silent movie.

I had just watched Daniel Aronofsky’s NOAH, which has some nice fake time-lapses but otherwise was not entertainingly bad as I’d hoped, but kind of depressingly bad, and I’d also shown clips from Polanski’s MACBETH, and the thing all three films have in common is really mannered performances. EXCALIBUR looked particularly ropey, except for Nicol Williamson who has the benefit of a sly wit. You can’t not think of LORD OF THE RINGS (which Boorman had wanted to make), and my feeling is what makes that movie/series watchable in spite of all the excesses (which are its ARCHITECTURE), is it has lots of interesting actors who can step outside the clichés of the Epic Style. Peter Jackson has always liked big, ALL-CAPS, cartoony performances, but there are understatement specialists and eccentrics dotted all through LOTR and yet there’s also an acceptable house style that keeps things just unified enough.

But one can’t help but dream of what a Boorman LOTR would be like. Like a Jodorowsky DUNE or a Ken Russell CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

The Best Lack All Conviction

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on September 13, 2018 by dcairns

When John Boorman’s THE GENERAL first came out, I declined to see it, mainly on account of it title, which I regarded as the property of Buster Keaton. One could argue that Boorman’s film, a biopic of a real man who was really nicknamed “the general,” has a stronger claim on the name than Keaton’s, but Keaton was first. And when a film regularly turns up in top tens, I think it’s disrespectful to reuse the title. There’s too much ignoring of film history going on as it is.It’s an engaging film, though. Brendan Gleeson gives one of his most winning performances — he appears to delight in making characters seductive who just shouldn’t be. Jon Voight startles with an Irish accent that sounded pretty convincing to me though I’m no expert. Though not as beautiful as POINT BLANK or DELIVERANCE — or CATCH US IF YOU CAN, the director’ last b&w film, the movie looks good, and the director seems fully engaged in what he’s doing, which I haven’t always felt was the case in e.g. THE TAILOR OF PANAMA. I recall hearing that the film was shot in colour and Boorman decided on b&w in post — the scenes where that really pays off are the claustrophobic, noir jail cell scenes.

And it’s another of Boorman’s Owl Creek Bridge occurrences — he talks, in Michel Ciment’s august career overview, about several of his films perhaps flashing through their protagonists’ minds at the moment of death. POINT BLANK is the key one, I think, for that. But THE GENERAL actually starts with the character’s for-real demise (though Boorman omits to show that Martin Cahill wa returning a VHS tape of DELTA FORCE 3 to the video store when he was shot — apparently he can celebrate the life of a gangster but not an aficionado of shit movies) and then goes into reverse, enveloping the biopic within the moment of doom.

Crime movies have always been in love with their criminals… the difficulties arise when they lose perspective altogether, or when they fail to make us feel enough of their own starstruck admiration for the godfathers and gunmen. Cahill is portrayed as both a charming rogue and a dangerous psychopath — he’s entirely transactional in his relations with the world, amoral to the core but able to feel fully justified in any action that benefits him. And glib with it, so he can come up with reasons if called upon to do so. This all makes him unpredictable and wildly entertaining, but fortunately we’re not called upon to wholly admire the bastard. Though we might suspect Boorman does, a little too much. The real Cahill burgled Boorman’s house and stole the gold disc he got for Duelling Banjos (a moment recreated onscreen) and Boorman was apparently more amused than angered.Inviting us to share the character’s world is fine. I don’t think Cahill’s use of a car bomb to attempt to murder a forensics specialist, and torture against a suspected traitor (crucifying him on a pool table) — the techniques of terrorism applied in a purely self-serving way — are meant to be admired. (Although Boorman is WEIRD – he may find Cahill “commendably uncivilized,” like Zed in ZARDOZ.) My only real objection is to the film’s music. Firstly, because I find it poor quality as music, cheap-sounding and cheesy (opinions may differ), but secondly, because it dramatizes everything the way Cahill would want it, and with the sensibility of a true DELTA FORCE fan. When he’s shot, the music is sad. When he does a heist, the music is exciting. There’s no irony, just a mediocre stab at emotional enhancement. We can watch Boorman’s filming of Boorman’s script and not see it as endorsing this vicious bandit. But whenever the music comments on the action, it totally tips the balance.

Other than that, though, yeah, it’s a compelling Boorman. You can’t look away. Not sure how it fits in with his other works. Makes me want to see his second film with Gleeson, THE TIGER’S TAIL.