BY ANDREW MOODY
British filmmaker John Boorman (CBE) has seen and done it all. The director of Point Blank, Hell in the Pacific, Deliverance, Zardoz, Exorcist II: The Heretic, Excalibur, The Emerald Forest, Hope and Glory, The General, The Tailor of Panama, Queen and Country.
“What a life!” Harold Pinter said, “What a career!” Conclusions continues the story of Boorman’s vast experiences in filmmaking that began with Adventures of a Suburban Boy. Written when he was in his eighties, Conclusions begins with a gentle disclaimer:
In old age, words escape me. If I wait patiently, they float up, and I recapture them. I fear some words will drown and be lost forever. The quest for harmony of word and image has been my life…
The director of the classic horror movie Deliverance (1973) which includes one of the most traumatic scenes in cinema history, Boorman puts paid to a rumour perpetuated by Burt Reynolds on numerous talk shows over the decades: that Ned Beatty’s attacker, Bill McKinney was so caught up in the rape sequence that if Burt hadn’t rushed forward and pulled him off, McKinney screaming “Squeal piggy!” he would have raped him for real. Boorman explains that not only was the rape scene carefully worked out in advance by the two actors, and that Boorman had designed it in terms of what would and would not be seen, but Burt Reynolds was not present on the day the scene was shot; his character does not appear until after the rape scene so he was not called to the set.
Boorman also directed the mega flop Heretic: The Exorcist part II (1977) one of the worst films ever made.
David Lean said to me, “We all have failures. Try not to make a famous failure.” My sequel to The Exorcist certainly was one… the head of the studio, John Calley had asked me to direct The Exorcist. I read William Peter Blatty’s book. As the father of daughters, I was horrified by it. To me it was a story about torturing a child.
Boorman writes that Heretic has developed a cult following over the years, but finds it difficult to watch, even though he believes it contains some of the best work he’s ever done. For this contentious and intriguing conclusion, I would have preferred the author to have explained his experience with Hereric at a greater length than the three pages he devotes to it here.
In some ways, film was at its purest in the early silent era. Everything that has been added since- speech, colour, stereo, CGI, 3D- has also taken something away. The attempt to approximate life is futile. Film is not life and never can be. It is much closer to dreaming than waking.
A meandering, oftentimes melancholy book, written by a man who knows he is making his way toward unknowable death, it would have benefited from a benevolent editor, who would have been able to guide the great director towards the conclusions he is trying to reach. A lapsed Catholic, who remained resolutely atheist as soon as he discovered the glories of women, he also travelled widely, from New York to the Amazon rainforest, where his fascination with trees and water developed. He includes here dozens of metaphysical poems written about water and trees with accompanying sketches of the trees that fence in his Irish estate. For fans of film technique and the cut and thrust of Hollywood, there are some good observations on cinematic craft, from ensuring your screenplay is not perfect, to the personality types that comprise the most suitable Director of Photography for your film and why, as well as insightful notes on how to direct your actors, and how to cast your characters. He writes lovingly about his friendships with some of the greatest directors in Hollywood history, from Billy Wilder, Carol Reed to Michael Powell and David Lean.
My criticisms of Boorman’s memoir remain slight however, I thoroughly enjoyed the gentle ride down memory lane from a man who has clearly lived a full and memorable life. His career in moviemaking contains multitudes, and Conclusions is a worthy epitaph to his often dazzling work.
Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter @VoguishFiction_