Archive for John Boorman

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.

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Film Directors with Their Shirts Off: #165 John Boorman

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , on September 12, 2018 by dcairns

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?

Ugh, Mr. Porter

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2017 by dcairns

OK, so I looked at PAYBACK, Brian Helgeland’s 1996 version of Richard Stark/Donald Westlake’s The Hunter. I even looked at the director’s cut as well as the original release. I’ll do it the courtesy of not calling it a remake of John Boorman’s ice-cool 1968 version, POINT BLANK, because it does go back to the book.

Superficially the film is a lot closer to the novel than Boorman’s take, beginning with our protagonist — Parker in the book, Walker in the Boorman, and the softer-sound Porter in this version — walking across the George Washington Bridge. I’ll say up front that in terms of quality, there’s not much to choose between the two edits of this one. Helgeland compromised Stark’s version of Parker, just as he understandably had to compromise James Ellroy’s characters and ending in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, so the thing would get made. Mel Gibson’s version of his film compromises a bit more, is all.

The film looks gritty — while Boorman colour-coded like crazy, Antonioni-style, Helgeland simply spray-paints the sets, locations, costumes and actors an even gun-metal hue. This might be called ONE SHADE OF GRAY. It makes for a distinctive, consistent but ultimately rather claustrophobic look. Nothing is the colour of nature. Ideally, Helgeland would probably have liked to make his modern noir in b&w, but desaturated digital dye-jobs like this do tend to make us feel “starved of Technicolor” as Marius Goring once put it.

The really pathetic material is the sadomasochistic mucking about between baddie Gregg Henry (Stark’s Mal Resnick, renamed Val Resnick — how to explain this scattershot renaming?) and Lucy Liu. Stark makes his villain truly hateful via his mistreatment of his junky girlfriend/hooker/victim. Here we get a farrago of BDSM with the petite LL exchanging passionate punches with the overblown GH. It has nothing to do with real kink, and it makes an already rather weak villain seem silly.

Gregg H.’s bosses turn out to be a starry bunch, escalating from William Devane to Kris Kristofferson all the way to an uncredited James Coburn. Pat Garrett AND Billy the Kid. (The ’96 release also has an uncredited Elizabeth Berridge — remember her from AMADEUS?)

The original release gives Deborah Kara Unger almost nothing to do and the director’s cut reinstates her key scene, which is nevertheless not as effective as the version in the book or the Boorman — because the filmmakers are determined to soften the hero, even though his ruthlessness is in fact his U.S.P. for anyone who’s read the Parker books. Then Maria Bello turns up, looking too much like Unger, and softens things further by becoming romantic interest.

The 2006 director’s cut has a more downbeat end, where maybe Porter isn’t looking so good, while the Gibson version keeps him healthy-ish but subjects him to some protracted torture because Mel is into that, at least cinematically. Making the villain in the picture a masochist seems like Gibson projecting his own cravings into another figure in order to achieve some distance from them, whereas the hammer to the toes sequence seems like Gibson wallowing in tendencies which have achieved ample expression in the LETHAL WEAPON series, BRAVEHEART, and of course THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST…