Cinequest Honors
Director John Boorman

Director John Boorman will be honored and screen his final film at this year's Cinequest
SWAN SONG: Bill Rohan (Callum Turner) and Ophelia (Tamsin Egerton) embrace in 'King and Country,' which John Boorman has said will be his last film.

The thrilling, dangerous visions of British director John Boorman include some of the most distinctive films of the last half of the 20th century.

In Point Blank (1967), the rock-faced Lee Marvin prowls a pop-art California. Boorman's hit Deliverance (1972) is one of the definitive statements of American fantasies of violence. Zardoz (1974) is au courant enough to be the subject of a full-sized Burning Man effigy—there, inside the Playa-clay cranium of Zardoz, a one-couch capacity theater played the 1974 film in an endless loop. Boorman's later work is just as vital: the multi-Oscar nominated Hope and Glory (1987), the ripping adventure Beyond Rangoon (1995) beat The Hunger Games to the punch and is one of Patricia Arquette's best films. Le Carre meets farce in The Tailor of Panama (2001), and the nimble, ridiculously entertaining The General (1998) is one of the finest films ever made about Ireland.

Boorman opens this year's 25th annual Cinequest film festival with Queen and Country. The festival will also honor the director, along with actress Rosario Dawson, with the Maverick Spirit Award.

Via telephone, Boorman claims this sequel to Hope and Glory will be his last film, though critics are trying to convince him otherwise. "I've been encouraged to do another one—I'm 82," he says. "I think Clint Eastwood is 84, and Manuel de Oliveira is 100-something years old. That makes me a spring chicken."

I'd swap American Sniper for Queen and Country in a fast minute—discarding Eastwood's movie-derived idea of military life in favor of the fresher, wiser anecdotes of Boorman's own stint in the National Service.

Boorman's surrogate, Bill Rohan (Callum Turner), is praying like hell not to be shipped to fight in the Korean War. On base, he deals with sardonic officers: Richard E. Grant and David Thewlis among them. Boorman being Boorman, the women in the film are loaded with personality: Dawn Rohan as Bill's wild sister and Tamsin Egerton as the self-destructive upper-class student Rohan romances.

Like Rohan, Boorman was indeed charged with "Seducing a Soldier from His Duty." "This boy was the son of Ian Mikardo, a prominent Labor MP—after having listened to my lectures, the son decided he wasn't going to go to Korea," Boorman says. "Mikardo threatened to raise the matter in Parliament. It was a big scandal."

Boorman filmed in Romania, since he couldn't find a period British Army base to shoot in; however, the riverside house at Shepperton is an existing location, not far from the spot where Boorman lived when he was a young escapee of the London Blitz. There he watched movies being filmed at the nearby studio. Seventy years later, it's by the Thames that Boorman indicates his career is closing. "At the end of Queen and Country, you see a camera winding down—it's my signal to the world that this is my last movie."

After a noteworthy career in British TV, Boorman worked on a documentary on D.W. Griffith. Both Hell in the Pacific (1968) and Leo the Last (1970) were informed with a silent film aesthetic. Boorman's studies of the impact of the silent cinematic image may have helped make the penultimate shot in Deliverance powerful enough to be stolen by dozens of films. It's a surprise cut to a shocking image, after everything seems peaceful and resolved: a dead arm thrusting out of the water. The graveside finale of Carrie (1976) copied it; a last popup is now mandatory in every horror film. "Jon Voight's nightmare," Boorman explained, "is that the body of the man he killed will come to the surface and betray him. That image comes out of Arthurian legend, and I used it in Excalibur—the arm of the Lady in the Lake. This, to me, is an image of an idea coming out of the unconscious. "

Boorman was a great admirer of the writing of Deliverance author, James Dickey. "We had wonderful times together," Boorman says. "But he had a macho view of how the experience on the river made the Voight character into a man. My view was that it didn't do that all, that it actually diminished him.

"When I first met Dickey, he said 'I'm going to tell you something that I've never told a living soul. Everything in that book happened to me.'

"I was in shock! Dickey made me promise not to tell anybody, so of course I couldn't wait to tell someone. I pulled the production manager aside and he told me, 'Jim has told that story to everybody.'" Dickey's canoeing skills, or lack of the same, made Boorman doubt the truth of the author's river ordeal at the hands of hillbillies.

Boorman puzzled over the incident. "He was a fantasist. Later, his biographer interviewed me and I exclaimed 'The man had nothing to prove! He was a fighter pilot in the Korean war.' The biographer explained Jim had made that story up, too. That someone could imagine the story of Deliverance just proves what a wonderful writer he was."

Deliverance's fever-dream settings seem to unhinge its stars. Burt Reynolds' memoirs claim that Reynolds personally saved Ned Beatty from being actually sodomized by his erect and slavering co-star Bill McKinney. "Burt is a one man show," Boorman says smoothly. "I can tell you Burt wasn't called to the set that day."

JOHN BOOJOHN BOORMAN: The British director of 'Deliverance' and 'Zardoz' will be honored at this year's Cinequest film festival.

Having made this masterpiece of rural menace, Boorman wasn't above joking about it in The General; Brendan Gleeson's Martin Cahill enjoys T-shirts emblazoned with cartoon pigs, and one is captioned "Squeal Like a Pig." Boorman couldn't remember whose idea that joke was, but the ghastly meme was a more acceptable substitute for the original dialogue, "I'm going to fuck you blind!"

"The studio was nervous about that line," Boorman recalls. "Warners had such little confidence in the film that they cut the budget. I had to put up some of my own money for the composers. I eventually decided to have the soundtrack just be variations on "Dueling Banjos," and that was more successful than if it had been orchestrated. Limitations make you inventive."

Zardoz is Boorman's wildest vision. In 2393, the immortality of a few has brought on sterility and barbarism for the world. It's such a straight-faced satire that many of the time didn't get it. Boorman was inspired by G.B. Shaw's Back to Methuselah. "I was very frightened of death when I was young, and I observed the rich and the poor were becoming farther apart; the rich were getting richer and living longer with access to modern medicine. I guessed that if I just projected that into the future, medicine would overcome the decaying of the body, and I wondered what would happen."

The film proposed crystal storage of data information, which has come to pass since. Much of Zardoz's comedy eluded the audiences of the time, even though the magician/prankster Arthur Frayn explains his purpose at the beginning of the film. Though dressed in a burnt-orange dhoti, star Sean Connery clearly understands the satirical side of the movie he's in. "Sean was a fearless actor—within his range, he'd do anything," Boorman says.

Had anyone mistaken the scowling bearded head of Zardoz for Karl Marx? "When it was about to open in France, some journalists asked me if indeed it was a satire of Communism, and I said it wasn't. They were afraid I was lying to them, so they asked me to sign a paper stating that I wasn't taking the piss out of Karl Marx.

"I just got a call from Fox, and they're doing the restoration of Zardoz in preparation for a Blu-Ray issue. I was surprised to learn how much call there was for the movie—as it's said, my film went from failure to classic without ever passing through success."

John Boorman Presents: 'Queen and Country' Feb 26, 7:30pm, $6-$11 California Theatre, San Jose

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