John Boorman has been in Cannes with daughter Katrine to talk up “Me & Me Dad,” a documentary about the “Excalibur”/”Deliverance”/”The Tailor Of Panama” director that Katrine filmed over a period four years and that John jokingly says he hoped would never see the light of day. “Did I want to do it in the first place? No,” he says. “I feel very uncomfortable talking about myself. But I endured it.”
While the film offers insights and an overview on Boorman’s 45-year directing career, it’s mostly a Boorman family portrait full of intimate and painful remembrances, including John’s divorce from his first wife (Katrine’s mother) and the death of his eldest daughter Telsche in 1997. Katrine parted company with her first editor on the project. He wanted to focus too much on Boorman’s career and incorporate the various talking-head interviews she had shot with actors and other professional colleagues, even though the family element had become the more significant element for her as the shoot proceeded.
“I chopped everybody out and went with the narrative of the family, which mattered to me,” says Katrine, who left County Wicklow with her mother and siblings after the divorce and saw less of John as he remarried and started another family. “The pleasure for me doing this film was being able to steal my father for myself.”
Looking back on their previous collaborations, as actress and director on “Excalibur” and “Hope And Glory,” Boorman recounts having to snap at Katrine to slow down her line delivery in the “Excalibur” sequence where Igrayne is forced to give up baby Arthur to Merlin. “When you’re working with family, there’s absolutely no patience,” laughs Katrine, who tells her own story from “Hope And Glory” when she was standing on a paving stone as the other actors stood on the grass, even though they’d been told not to. “Then I heard this scream from my father, ‘Get off the fucking grass, Katrine!’… You have to take it on the chin.”
Boorman’s worked with some illustrious actors over the years, including Richard Burton although their collaboration came on an unhappy sequel, “Exorcist 2: The Heretic.” Stories abound that Burton was drunk for most of the shoot, although Boorman insists it’s not entirely true. “I’ve worked with a lot of drunks. Lee Marvin, for instance, was never drunk when we were shooting and nor was Burton, really,” he says. “The problem I had with Burton is that it was all voice and head. He never learnt how to use his body in acting.”
The 79-year-old filmmaker also recounted his flirtation in the early ’70s with adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord Of The Rings” trilogy for United Artists. By the time he’d finished nearly a year of intensive script development, UA had run out of money and other studios passed, forcing Boorman to shelve it (although some elements made it into “Excalibur”). “I think I did a great service to the world by not making that film,” smiles Boorman, who was planning to cast 10-year-old boys as the hobbits and have them dubbed with adult voices. “Peter Jackson might never had made his trilogy if I’d done it.”
So how does Boorman think the films he’s made compares to the visions he was trying to achieve? “In a way, they always fall short of what you hoped,” he says. “It’s a continuous process of disappointment, and the clearer an idea you have of the film you want to make the more disappointing it becomes because you never achieve that. I have in my head versions of all the films that I’ve made that are much better than the films they became.”
And Boorman has no plans to retire either. He’s currently trying to mount a sequel to “Hope And Glory,” his 1987 autobiographical tale of growing up in Britain during the Blitz. He’s also giving Katrine advice on a script that she’s hoping to direct. It will be interesting to see how far “Me And Me Dad” can travel beyond the festival confines, but for anyone who counts themselves as an admirer of this private, occasionally prickly director’s films it’s worth trying to track down. “My father’s a great minimalist – that’s the kind of director he is and that’s the sort of person he is,” offers Katrine in conclusion. “He’s always been about the rational married with the dream state.”