Wednesday 13 December 2017

Boorman pens debut at 83 to laugh at lunacy of Hollywood

Fiction: Crime of Passion, John Boorman, Liberties, pbk, 224 pages, €9.99

Racy romp: Boorman's debut novel includes a possible contender for the Bad Sex Awards
Racy romp: Boorman's debut novel includes a possible contender for the Bad Sex Awards
Crime of Passion

Hilary A White

His fifth film and undeniably his career zenith, Deliverance (1972) marked something of a sea change in process for filmmaker John Boorman. He would now produce as well as direct all his projects and, in most cases, write them as well. The old adage says that the producer makes it happen while the director makes it good. Looking at the undulating fortunes of Boorman's output ever since, from the well-received (Hope & Glory, The General) to the disastrous (Exorcist II: The Heretic), perhaps it is too much to saddle oneself with both.

The 83-year-old's debut novel (he has penned two non-fiction works - Money Into Light: The Emerald Forest: A Diary and the biographical Adventures of a Suburban Boy) is as much a look inside the myriad (and understandably exhaustive) practicalities and compromises that go into making a motion picture as it is a soap box for Boorman to laugh at the lunacy of it all. For both these reasons, it will make for engrossing reading for anybody with an interest in the medium and the wizards behind its curtain.

He splits himself into two good friends, Jack and Daniel. The producer and director, respectively, understand that, unless you are M Night Shyamalan, there is only so long you can last in Hollywood without a commercial hit. The pair decide to find a decent script and make a straight-up genre film with enough sex and violence to ensure that the popcorn-guzzling hordes turn up in great numbers.

As they lurch from meeting to meeting during the development phase, there is virtually nothing of artistry or vision in the discussion. Crime of Passion, a steamy thriller, is brainstormed into life for maximum impact and before anything can happen, the numbers must be crunched thoroughly. There are P&A (print and ad) costs, distribution fees, bank loans and interest payments to be totted up before Jack and Daniel have even considered finding the right actress to play their tough and sexually liberated heroine and a famous male lead. It's hard to get anything done, mind, when every waiter or limo driver is handing you a terrible script to read.

The action moves from Cannes (where a "notoriously provocative" third-person depiction of the author is referenced) to Tinseltown to the UK. Bella, Jack's partner and mother of his son Orson (of course), is shadowing the pair with a view to writing a book about film-making. Hope, Daniel's fed-up other half, is having an affair in front of his face. The two parallel relationships begin to cross-pollinate and the changing inclinations - evoked with both racy and sensitive cadences by Boorman - start to work their way into Daniel's directing of Crime of Passion.

Sex and its violent manifestations has cropped up in Boorman's work over the years, from Zardoz to Excalibur to Beyond Rangoon. Boorman still seems fascinated by the subject. There is one contender for the Bad Sex Awards here and lots of carnal themes in the dexterous dialogue as the production gestates. Echoes from the set of Deliverance surely feed into the shooting of Crime of Passion's gruesome rape-revenge finale as everyone fusses absurdly to depict the violation of a human being just right. Sex is possession, recreation, power and weaponry, Boorman considers through the central quartet of characters and leading lady Amanda.

It's bemusing at times to watch references to Truffaut and Fellini woven into such a functionalist creative process and some Woody Allen-like mockery of the industry.

He has clearly been around these blocks a few times and this novel's blend of sighing resignation, cinephilia and vigorous human soap opera feels like another worthy chapter in an illustrious storytelling career.

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