John Boorman has remained an enigma throughout
his four decade-long career as a director.
The British-born filmmaker has never been pigeonholed by a style
or genre, so it is fitting that the title of the retrospective
that the BAMCinematek is mounting from Sept. 20 to Oct. 5 is
"The Adventures of John Boorman."
"Festivals are mounting retrospectives of my films all over
the world," the director said via e-mail from Italy, where
he headed the jury during the recent Venice Film Festival. "Perhaps
these are gentle hints to tell me to stop."
His tongue, of course, is firmly in cheek.
While BAM’s title may seem a bit of a generic description of
Boorman’s filmmaking history, that’s the point, it seems. Boorman
as a director has been all over the cinematic map: he’s made
comedies, thrillers, mysteries, science fiction, historical dramas,
autobiographical dramas, even the infamous first sequel to "The
Exorcist." (There have been two since then, you may or may
not know.) Put all those different types of genres on a director’s
resume, and you end up with "The Adventures of John Boorman."
The 11 films in the BAM retro range from 1965’s "Catch Us
if You Can," his debut feature starring the Dave Clark Five,
a faddish British Invasion band that rode the crest of the Beatles’
wave in the early ’60s, to 1995’s "Beyond Rangoon."
(His most recent feature, the riveting 1998 gangster pic, "The
General," will not be screened.)
The series – which also includes his nervy, unsettling adaptation
of James Dickey’s novel "Deliverance" (1972) – is bookended
by his two strongest pictures, opening with his World War II
reminiscence, 1987’s "Hope and Glory," and ending with
another WWII-era film, the riveting Lee Marvin-Toshiro Mifune
mini-psychodrama, "Hell in the Pacific" (1968).
Boorman’s films often have a curious history; in several instances,
they were critically drubbed upon release, only to see their
reputations grow over time, not unlike the films of Stanley Kubrick.
His strangely compelling fictional biopic "Leo the Last"
(1970), starring Marcello Mastroianni; his futuristic epic "Zardoz"
(1974), with Sean Connery; and, most outrageously of all, "Exorcist
II: The Heretic" (1977), with Richard Burton, have all seen
initial boos turn into bravos as the years go by.
Boorman himself is perplexed about this development.
"I can’t explain why some of my films have grown in reputation
as time passed, except that all films either grow or diminish
with time," he said. "Probably the films you mention
[’Leo the Last,’ ’Zardoz’ and ’The Heretic’] are unconventional,
even original in style, which is always disturbing to audiences.
Time magazine called ’Point Blank’ ’a fog of a film’ and many
people found it perplexing. When it was revived years later,
all those problems seemed to have disappeared. The film had not
changed, but the audiences had."
That goes double for "Exorcist II," which found critics
reaching for their thesauri to condemn the movie as vociferously
as they praised the original William Friedkin classic. Boorman
defends his work on that film by returning to the source material:
William Peter Blatty’s best-selling novel.
"I was offered ’The Exorcist’ but turned it down."
he insists. "I found it repulsive as a book: it was all
about torturing a child. I saw ’The Heretic’ as a riposte to
the [original]; the healing and burgeoning of that child and
her redemption, which is why I wanted to make it. The audience
rejected it because they wanted more shocks and blood [like the
Along with his films – which are unanimously praised for their
varied location shooting – Boorman has kept the art of cinema
moving forward by serving as director of the British Film Institute
and the co-editor of the excellent "Perspectives" series
of film anthology books.
One recent development that every director must now deal with
is the ascension of DVD to a level now surpassing that of initial
theatrical runs. Boorman sees it quite rightly as a necessary
evil, but hopes to subvert its seeming preeminence over the actual
"Directors are now required to do a commentary for the DVD,"
he says matter-of-factly. But, he happily admits, "I have
never added in extra scenes [for the DVD, where ’deleted scenes’
have become a standard marketing tool]. I have always had final
cut [on my films], so for better or worse the released version
Now, as he’s about to enter a fifth decade making features, Boorman
shows absolutely no signs of slowing down, and "The Adventures
of John Boorman" shows a versatile director who still calls
"The Adventures of John Boorman"
runs at the BAMcinematek (30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place
in Fort Greene) from Sept. 20 to Oct. 5. Tickets are $10, $6
for seniors and students with a valid ID. For a complete list
of films, screening dates and times, call (718) 636-4100 or visit
the Web site at www.bam.org.