January 2004

Adventures of a Suburban Boy
(Faber and Faber, Inc, 384 pages, $27)
By John Boorman

"Why are people so drawn to movie-making?" John Boorman asks in this compelling memoir. "Why are they ready to endure long hours, privations of cold, heat and boredom...? We are escaping the vague dissatisfactions of safe and comfortable lives. We want to be extended, tested. We need to find the ends of ourselves."

From a war-torn English childhood to dangerous locations for his movies, little about Boorman's life and career could be called safe or comfortable. Nor would he have had it any other way. About 30 years ago, while trying to work out a screenplay for The Lord of the Rings, Boorman recalled that he "once described the filmmaking process as inventing impossible problems for yourself and then failing to solve them."

Boorman has had five Oscar nominations, won the Cannes Film Festival's Best Director Award twice and is the founder and co-editor of the long-running film journal, Projections. His writing skills (he wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for several of his movies) are evident on every page of Adventures of a Suburban Boy. Even if one were not interested in the picture business, the stylish prose would get you.

The book is bracketed by Boorman's reflections on his semi-autobiographical film, Hope and Glory (1987), the story of a young British boy and his family during the early years of World War II. Critic Leonard Maltin said of Boorman (who wrote and produced as well as directed the film), "...no one has captured the experiences of living through the London air raids and bombings so well." He often tells (and sometimes shows through juxtaposing actual family photographs with stills from the movie) the differences between fact and film. "We define ourselves in the stories we tell of ourselves. We hone them; repeat them until we no longer remember the memory, but only the story of the memory."

Boorman credits Point Blank (1968) for launching his career. His travails at getting the film made (MGM boss Bob O'Brien pummeled the script with his fists) and shot (the alcoholism of Lee Marvin, whom Boorman adored, got in the way of, say, the star standing upright) eventually were rewarded. Though "Time magazine called it 'a fog of a film' and other reviewers were irritable at its fractured style ... many critics saw it as a kind of breakthrough for Hollywood. The French hailed it as a masterpiece ... and this reputation reached America." (Film historian David Thomson calls Point Blank "the most authentic film made by an Englishman in America...")

One of the most fascinating chapters focuses on Deliverance (1973). There's the Dueling Banjos story of the scene with the retarded boy who looked right but couldn't play the banjo. Then there were the dueling dangers of the Chattooga River (it smashed up six canoes) and author James Dickey whose towering omnipresence and bizarre interference nearly drove everyone mad.

The vagaries in the life and career of a sensitive man and a searching director might best be expressed on a card from a sneak preview of Where the Heart Is (1990). "John Boorman's movies are unpredictable, subversive and crazed. Tell him to keep making them no matter what."

Review written by Lisa Mitchell


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