The director also talks about Excalibur, “the ultimate film before the CGI”, to be seen again this evening on Arte.
In June 2017, John Borman was in the spotlight at the Cinémathèque Française, his work being the subject of a retrospective. On this occasion, First was able to meet the great filmmaker to decipher the cult scene of “Dueling Banjos” of Issuanceprototype of the survival modern, and to talk about some of his most important films. Flashback, waiting to (re)see Excaliburthis evening on Arte.
Duel in the Pacific (1969)
“I only do storyboards for action scenes. My working method is to have a meeting on Monday with the filming schedule for the week, and that’s it. The only time I’ve done a storyboard is was for Duel in the Pacific because there was no dialogue, it was a silent film. We spent three months storyboarding with Tony Pratt. So the storyboard was the script for the film.”
Leo the Last (1970)
“In my opinion, leo the last is my most underrated film. Very experimental, very inspired by the montage theories of early Russian cinema. Marcello Mastroianni who observes with a telescope: it is a very experimental cinema idea, which confused the public. The proof, Léo the last was a failure everywhere. Except in France, who knows why…”
“Before Issuance I was already working on the adaptation of Lord of the Rings and that inevitably nourished Issuance. Which is the first “Boormanian” film, if you will. With the central, essential theme of the river. By reading the manuscript of the novel I knew exactly how I was going to shoot this film. I did a lot of canoeing in my youth. And at 12 I fell into a lock, I almost drowned. I let myself be carried away by the violent current. It was a painful but mystical experience. Merge with the river. But that’s not the subject of Issuance. The central idea of the novel was these city dwellers, tested by nature, who become real men. I did not agree with this philosophy at all. That’s why in the end Jon Voight is haunted by terrifying nightmares. Afterwards, James Dickey, the author of the original novel, tried to remake the film, closer to its text, with its script. Obviously no studio wanted to do it again. Over the years I’ve been sent quite a few scripts for sequels – like Drew’s adult children coming back to the river to find out what happened to their father – but that never interested me. Issuance is a perfectly complete film. Everything is resolved in the end.”
“Issuance was a turning point. A huge success that gave me the freedom to do ZardozThen Excalibur. Zardoz was a flop but every year the cult around the film grows: it went from failure to classic without going through the success box. (laughs) Incredibly, no one told me about a remake. For the moment.”
“The hand that emerges from the water at the end of Issuance announces that ofExcalibur. Under the water of the lake there is the chaos of the unconscious, the sword Excallibur represents the energy which orders and concentrates this chaos. The Arthurian myth is so deeply buried that everyone knows about it. It’s fascinating. All the effects ofExcalibur were made in front of the camera. Nothing in post-production. Today digital special effects make us cynical: “oh, you did that with a computer”. Excalibur was the last movie before the CGIs. I met Peter Jackson before he filmed his Lord of the Rings. After seeing the movies I asked him “how are you still alive? It should have killed you!” Well, that would have killed me. He made a great work of art. The Sistine Chapel of cinema. Luckily I didn’t. Lord in my time, he would never have been able to do his! I wanted to take children to play hobbits, stick fake beards on them and double them with adult voices…”
The Emerald Forest (1985)
“I can’t separate the shooting of the film from the film itself, the experience of the result. I wrote the shooting in a book, Money Into Light. The book is actually better than the movie. Before making the film, I lived in a tribe, the Chingu, which were only discovered by Westerners in 1947. All the members of the tribe who were over 40 could remember the time when they thought they were alone in the world. They lived in the Stone Age. It was extraordinary. Our world insists on individuality. It’s alienating. Tribesmen are not individualists, by definition. They are part of a tribe. It’s a good way to live. I learned a lot with them, about our world. I believe that deep down we are tribal beings. It is our nature. But we no longer have tribes. We have families, we go to football matches. The notion of tribe is vaporized everywhere. We express this by war, it is a deep need (“a deep need for warfare”) which resurfaces from time to time. The tribal effect is there permanently, but it is not understood, not recognized. This is the story my films tell. Find this lost desire. Experiencing a movie in a movie theater, not in front of your TV, restores that tribal feeling in the audience. Netflix is alienating: it makes the cinema experience individual and not tribal.”
The Emerald Forest, John Boorman’s jewel