Point Blank with John Boorman
by Brandon Judell
The 1972 edition of Georges Sadoul's "Dictionary of Filmmakers" notes
that John Boorman, that "ex-TV director who attracted attention with the
thriller, 'Point Blank' (1967) . . . has not fulfilled his earlier
promise." Of course, this edition came out too early to include
Boorman's landmark "Deliverance" (1972), along with "The Emerald Forest"
(1985), "Hope and Glory" (1987) and the now much acclaimed "The
Based on the story of Martin Cahill, a vicious Dublin gangster who stole
over $60 million during his lengthy career, "The General" was shot in
startling black and white and is vital proof of a director very much in
control and at the height of his powers.
We caught up with the 65-year-old helmer during the New York Film
Festival where he was being doubly honored with screenings of two of his
pictures. He allowed us some time before running off for a Village Voice
photo shoot. Sony Pictures Classics will release "The General" in New
York today, December 18th.
indieWIRE: Lots of professions have time limits on them. Ballet dancers,
often in their forties or fifties, become teachers. But with directors,
there seems to be no cut-off period. John Huston was directing "The
Dead" while connected to oxygen. Do you feel there's such a thing as
being too old to direct?
Boorman: Well, you mention John Huston in a wheelchair, but for the most
part, directing is a very physical occupation. You're always climbing up
onto cranes, changing positions, and crawling around the floor. So it is
physical, and you do need legs. And not just that. But it's just the
hours and the long length of the days, and the stress is considerable,
so I'm not sure how you . . . I mean there are . . . Who is it? What's
his name? Oliveira is still directing at 86, isn't he? Or 88. It does
happen, but on the whole . . . Huston's late films were very good
from "Prizzi's Honor" almost through to "The Dead." Anjelica said to me,
"The reason they were so good is that he was too ill to go off cruising
and adventuring as he used to do when he finished a picture. He'd just
walk away and let other people finish it. Now he was too ill to do
anything else so he just worked on his movies." (Laughs) So perhaps
there's a lesson there.
iW: So if there's ever a sad time when Mr. Boorman retires, can you
imagine how you'd fill those days up? Books, fishing or . . .
Boorman: Well, I write all the time. I've done it all my life. I keep
journals. I've published a number of books. I do edit this series
"Projections" every year with Walter Donohue, and I have started my
memoirs. So if my physical powers were failing, I think I would make
smaller, very personal pictures that I could handle.
iW: Has "The General" opened in Ireland?
Boorman: Oh, yes.
iW: Was it a major success there?
Boorman: Huge as you'd expect.
iW: With films like "Bonnie and Clyde," some critics with a sociological
bent think it's problematic that the audiences identify with heroes who
are criminals. Do you feel that will happen with "The General"?
Boorman: Oddly enough, of course you know by coincidence "Point Blank"
is playing with "The General" at the New York Film Festival, and both
are about a criminal. So the conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that
you must have a hero you can root for who is a good guy, and you
identify with him.
With Lee Marvin and Brendan Gleeson in those two roles, it's a different
relationship with the audience really. To some extent, you are drawn to
them in spite of yourself in some way. There's a policeman who the Jon
Voight character is based on. He said something very interesting to me
which sort of stuck in my head. He said, "You know people think of
criminals as being a separate species. They're not. They're just like us
except they can make crimes." I think it's easy to push the idea of
criminals away from us. "They're different people." In fact, of course,
they're not, and therefore perhaps it's slightly uncomfortable to see
the criminal possibilities in ourselves when you identify with a
character like that. Remember what happened with "Peeping Tom" and
Michael Powell. Because he made the film so subjective and you were in
the mind of this pervert, it was reviled. It really ended his career.
iW: That's never happened to you, thank God.
Boorman: Well, I've had some near misses.
iW: But how do you keep going on as a filmmaker? All those little things
like financing, studio heads, fighting for editorial control, etc.?
Boorman: I think the tragedy of being a film director is that we spend
more time on the films that we don't make than the ones we do make.
Constantly there are projects which you work on and develop, and they
don't come to fruition for one reason or another. Sometimes, you just
give up on it yourself because it ceases to interest you. I mean I find
that I don't really know if I want to make a film until I've really
gotten working on it. I'm working on the script and if it continues to
excite me and interest me, I'll go on with it. But very often it
doesn't. And if you look at the year, 18 months, or two years ahead of
you of being involved with that project, if it doesn't capture you, it's
very foolish to do it. And there's lots of other things in life that I
like doing. I've made a number of shorts. I made "Two Nudes Bathing," a
half hour film which was in Cannes a couple of years ago, and another
one called "I Dreamt I Woke Up" which is an autobiographical film, an
hour long. Yes, so I'm doing a lot of things.
iW: Are they available on video?
Boorman: Not here, no. Those two films are being distributed in Paris
theatrically in the next couple of months.
[Brandon Judell is currently a film critic for Entertainment Asylum on
America Online and the Metro Guide channel.]