Sunday, June 03, 2007

John Boorman – ‘Adventures of a Suburban Boy’

Is this the ugliest Faber book? Usually they’re so pretty. This one, at least in paperback, uses a tiny font size, has photos in amongst the text on bad quality paper, and the cover, oh dear oh dear. Ugly superimpositions, coloured-in black and white photos, and worst of all – Boorman on the back attempting to pull Excalibur from a stone. Reading it at work surrounded by Sci Fi and Fantasy types, I felt distinctly uncomfortable lest they nod in approval. Talking to one of the more cultured ones last week about the new Pirates of the Caribbean film, he asked what kind of films I liked, and when I said I didn’t like Sci Fi, he assumed I must like Fantasy instead, because what else is there? Perhaps it was just the context of the Pirates conversation that made him think that. And is this why the film is so bad? Because it’s tipped too far away from buccaneering towards Fantasy? Reckon so. There are some OK jokes in there, and Johnny Depp is good of course, but the plot is all spurious mythology and I wasn’t able to hold even a single strand of it in my bored head from one scene to the next.

None of this is John Boorman’s fault. His autobiography is full of interest: funny stories, funny characters, and very nearly a sense of purpose. I’m tempted to say that the earlier sections are more vital, but maybe it’s just my snobbery (see above) kicking in: I couldn’t help feeling disappointed when the Sci Fi dystopian Zardoz crawled into view, and very nearly got followed by The Lord of the Rings. There is still great stuff to come after this point (about two thirds of the way in), like the diary extracts during research for 1983’s The Emerald Forest in which Boorman visits the Kamairan Indians in Brazil (I think it’s Brazil – somewhere in the vicinity of the Xingu river) and finds the tribe as divorced from the modern world as could possibly be wished. Hope and Glory, the last major film to be covered here, also sounds tempting, but the description of its making is not as good as the description of the events in Boorman’s own life upon which it is based. This is the pattern of it, perhaps: an early and untutored sense of the rightness of certain things in nature (rivers, trees, kingfishers), followed by a career attempting to capture this sense on film, through realistic means and fantastical.

The best story here involves Lee Marvin and a roof rack, but there are many others. Marcello Mastroianni eliciting sympathy for all the beautiful mistresses he is obliged to endure, Toshiro Mifune attempting to play Hell in the Pacific for laughs when someone gives him the wrong version of the script, or James Dickey (author of the novel upon which Deliverance is based) in general, being fantastically fake, confiding to everyone he meets that ‘it happened to me, you know’. The balance is all on the side of Boorman’s film career, as might be expected, his personal life being covered in asides or when it relates directly to the films. His attempt to write a film about the breakdown of a marriage after the kids leave home whilst this was actually happening to him, and to actually write it with his daughter, appears to spring from the kind of motivation which drives… I don’t know, Daniel Johnston, Robert Crumb… people who translate their life into art almost directly, with no filter. It’s not a trait one would usually associate with a film director, the cumbersome nature of film making not lending itself to this kind of directness. How could this impulse survive the scrambles for funding, the re-writes, the marketing? In this instance (Where the Heart Is, 1988) it doesn’t, but it sounds as though, in Hope and Glory, it might have made it though. Must see it soon.

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