by Tony Dayoub
Directed By is a series of occasional articles dedicated to highlighting great directors and their notable films.
In recognition of St. Patrick's Day, I decided that the best filmmaker to launch this series would be English director, John Boorman, who resides in Ireland. Boorman's films are often distinguished by the theme of man at odds with his environment, literal or figurative. This usually takes the form of the protagonist being alien to the culture or milieu he finds himself surrounded by.
Frequently mistaken for Irish because of his love for Ireland, Boorman got his start in TV documentaries. After the success of A Hard Day's Night, starring the Beatles, he soon got an opportunity to do a similar movie starring The Dave Clark Five called Catch Us If You Can (Having a Wild Weekend in the U.S.). From there he went on to direct what is arguably his most influential movie.
Point Blank (1967) - Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Vernon - The existential plot of a loner seeking revenge on criminals who wronged him has become a staple in cinema. It has influenced filmmakers from Don Siegel to Steven Soderbergh. Marvin's character, Walker, is a brutish man flailing like a fish out of water in the world of the now corporatized mob on which he wreaks vengeance. In the DVD's commentary Boorman recounts how Marvin promised to do the film only after he threw the original script out the window. He then jokes that he imagines that Mel Gibson must have been walking by that window, picked up that script, and used it for the remake, Payback. Based on the Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake) novel, The Hunter.
Hell in the Pacific (1968) - Lee Marvin, Toshirō Mifune - Marvin and Mifune play WWII-era soldiers - one American, one Japanese - stranded on an island in the pacific who must learn to work together to defeat the challenges of their forbidding environment. However, when faced with the immediacy of returning to civilization, they revert back to their societal roles as enemies. With very sporadic dialogue, the movie is still fascinating as a study in primal behavior as portrayed by two actors with different approaches to the art.
Deliverance (1972) - Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty - Boorman and the film were nominated for Oscars. Beatty debuted in it. And Reynolds, who had been acting since the late 50's, finally shot to superstardom as survivalist Lewis Medlock. The film illustrates how man can revert to a primal state, capable of violence, under the right circumstances. With the main characters, four Atlanta men on a weekend jaunt to ride white-water rapids, up against hillbillies in the North Georgia mountains (and with Beatty's humiliation at his violation by one of said hillbillies), the ingredients for the proper circumstances are there.
Excalibur (1981) - Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, Nicol Williamson - Boorman failed to mount his attempt at The Lord of the Rings, so instead, he decided to film the myth of King Arthur with some of the sets he had already prepared. Arthur (Terry), king of all the land, is very much tied to the land. As his health wanes, so does the land. In keeping with his themes of man versus his environment, it is actually Merlin (Williamson) who is alienated from his surroundings. He is from the land of dreams, visiting Arthur's world. Williamson's odd line readings help to convey that. And Mirren is a very sexy Morgana, with one foot in each world... or neither.
The Emerald Forest (1985) - Powers Boothe, Meg Foster, Charley Boorman - Bill Markham (Boothe) moves to Brazil with his family to construct a dam. His son Tommy is kidnapped by one of the native tribes known as the Invisible People. After searching for him for ten years, Markham finds that his now seventeen year-old son (Charley Boorman) is fully assimilated into the tribal culture. Borrowing an earlier subplot from Deliverance, and bringing it to the fore, the director explores how the building of the dam will not only destroy the environment. It will mean the end of a way of life for the indigenous tribes that depend on the land. Meanwhile, Markham may need to accept that his son is now an outsider to civilized society.
The General (1998) - Brendan Gleeson, Jon Voight - Voight reunites with his Deliverance director, and Irish actor Gleeson makes his first film with Boorman as Martin Cahill. Cahill, a high profile criminal in the 1980s, actually stole Boorman's gold record for the score of Deliverance from Boorman's home in Dublin. This is reenacted in the film. See the film in its original black-and-white version.
The Tailor of Panama (2001) - Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, Jamie Lee Curtis - Irish actor Brosnan plays a washed-up spy punished by his superiors to a post in Panama. He is manipulated by a tailor (Rush) into believing he's got information to trade regarding Panama's plans for their canal. The tailor uses the spy's unfamiliarity with his new found locale to extort him for money to pay off his debts. But Brosnan's spy is no James Bond. Once he discovers he's being toyed with, the spy goes after the tailor AND his family.
Still unreleased in the US is The Tiger's Tail (2006). Boorman is currently directing Antonio Banderas in an adaptation of Memoirs of Hadrian for release later this year.
For more information on films not selected for this posting visit John Boorman's entry in the Internet Movie Database.