John Boorman, the intellectual British scribe and director, has written an autobiography just as cerebral as expected. But what makes “Adventures of a Suburban Boy” an especially good read is that he’s leavened all the observations about pan shots, revisions and Hollywood production hell with delicious tales about stars, producers and some odd personal experiences.
Fans of his many fine pics — chief among them the autobiographical “Hope and Glory,” “Deliverance,” “Excalibur,” “Emerald Forest” and cult fave “Point Blank” — will read this to understand how those films came together. You find out why “Zardoz” wasn’t quite as good — it had a shoestring budget, and Boorman says he wasn’t paid for his two years of work.
But, let’s face it, much of the joy in reading such a work is in finding out about the larger-than-life characters directors must deal with, and that may be the most entertaining part of “Adventures.”
The helmer’s link with one of those, Lee Marvin propelled him from TV work into films. Book has some great anecdotes about the thesp: Marvin (whom he described as “both Prospero and Caliban”) welcomed him to his apartment, then said he would work with him on “Point Blank” on one condition. Boorman agreed — and Marvin threw the script out the window. And there was the time Marvin, on one of his legendary benders, couldn’t remember where he lived and bought a roadside map of stars’ homes.
But this usually reads more like a writer’s autobiography than a Hollywood one, as Boorman depicts the confluence of his work and life. His boyhood experience in the Blitz in WWII resulted, late in his filming career, in “Hope and Glory,” which included the strangeness of knowing his mother was fooling around.
He was obsessed with Arthurian myth, and considered making “Lord of the Rings” before directing “Excalibur.” (Charitably, he thinks the first of the trilogy was a terrific work, better than he could have done given the state of effects back then.Similarly, he thought “Godfather” was better than “Deliverance” and deserved its best picture Oscar. His nuanced view of the civilization-vs.-nature conflict left us with a couple of pix with depth, “Deliverance” and “Emerald Forest.”
Boorman’s achievements are elevated by the fact that he rarely had a huge budget to work with — more often, he made do with indie-like numbers. He’s philosophical about his bad luck yet recognized his good fortune as well: Meeting a skeptical Warners producer about “Point Blank,” he feared the worst until a phone call from David Lean cheered the exec enough to give him the greenlight.