John Boorman (born 18 January 1933) is a British filmmaker who is a long time resident of Ireland and is best known for his feature films such as Point Blank, Deliverance, Zardoz, Excalibur, The Emerald Forest, Hope and Glory, The General and The Tailor of Panama.
Boorman first began by working as a dry cleaner and journalist in the late 1950s. He ran the newsrooms at Southern Television in Southampton and Dover before moving into TV documentary filmmaking, eventually becoming the head of the BBC’s Bristol-based Documentary Unit in 1962.
His feature debut was Catch Us If You Can (1965), about competing pop group Dave Clark Five, a rip-off of Richard Lester’s ‘A Hard Days Night’. Boorman was drawn to Hollywood for the opportunity to make larger-scale cinema and in Point Blank (1967), a gritty, powerful and brutal film, he brought a stranger’s vision to the decaying fortress of Alcatraz and the proto-hippy world of San Francisco. Lee Marvin gave the then-unknown director his full support, telling MGM he deferred all his approvals on the project to Boorman.
After Point Blank, Boorman re-teamed with Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune for Hell in the Pacific (1968), which tells a fable story of two representative soldiers stranded together on an island. Returning to the UK, he made Leo the Last (US/UK, 1970). The film won him a Best Director award at Cannes.
Boorman achieved much greater resonance with Deliverance (1972), the odyssey of city people played by Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty as they trespass into the Appalachian backwoods and discover their inner savagery. This film became Boorman’s first true box office success, earning him several award nominations. He followed with the cult film Zardoz (1973), starring Sean Connery, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi piece, set in the 24th century.
Boorman was selected as director for Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), but the resultant film was widely ridiculed and regarded by many as a failure. The film is set four years after The Exorcist, and centers on a now 16-year-old Regan McNeil who is still recovering from her previous demonic possession.
Exorcist writer/producer William Peter Blatty and director William Friedkin both had no desire to involve themselves in an Exorcist sequel. According to the film’s co-producer Richard Lederer, Exorcist II was conceived as a relatively low-budget affair: “What we essentially wanted to do with the sequel was to redo the first movie… Have the central figure, an investigative priest, interview everyone involved with the exorcism, then fade out to unused footage, unused angles from the first movie. A low-budget rehash – about $3 million – of The Exorcist, a rather cynical approach to movie-making, I’ll admit. But that was the start.”
Playwright William Goodhart was commissioned to write the screenplay, titled The Heretic, and based it around the theories of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (the Jesuit paleontologist/archaeologist who inspired the character of Father Merrin when Blatty wrote The Exorcist). Boorman was unhappy with Goodhart’s script, and asked Goodhart to do a rewrite, incorporating ideas from Rospo Pallenberg. Goodhart refused, and so the script was rewritten by Pallenberg and Boorman. Goodhart’s script was being constantly rewritten as the film was shooting, with the filmmakers uncertain as to how the story should end. Actress Linda Blair recalls “It was a really good script at first. Then after everybody signed on they rewrote it five times and it ended up nothing like the same movie.”
British filmmaker Boorman signed on to direct, stating that “the idea of making a metaphysical thriller greatly appealed to my psyche.” Years before, Boorman had been considered by Warner Bros. as a possible director for the first Exorcist movie, but he turned the opportunity down as he found the story “rather repulsive.” Boorman, however, was intrigued with the idea of directing a sequel, explaining that “every film has to struggle to find a connection with its audience. Here I saw the chance to make an extremely ambitious film without having to spend the time developing this connection. I could make assumptions and then take the audience on a very adventurous cinematic journey.” He should have left it alone…
Boorman returned with Excalibur (1981), a retelling of the Arthurian legend. For the film he employed all of his children as actors and crew and several of Boorman’s later films have been ‘family business’ productions.
The Emerald Forest (1985) saw Boorman cast his actor son Charley Boorman as an eco-warrior, in a rainforest eco-adventure. Hope and Glory (1987, UK) is his most autobiographical movie to date, a retelling of his childhood in London during The Blitz. The film proved a Box Office hit in the US, receiving numerous Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations. However his 1990 US produced comedy about a dysfunctional family, Where the Heart Is, was a major flop.
Boorman won the Best Director Award at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival for The General, his black-and-white biopic of Martin Cahill. The film is about the somewhat glamorous, yet mysterious, criminal in Dublin who was killed, apparently by the IRA. Released in 2006, The Tiger’s Tail was a thriller set against the tableau of early 21st century capitalism in Ireland.
In 2004, Boorman was made a Fellow of BAFTA.