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November 21 - November 24

John Boorman's Primeval Screen

The films of John Boorman (1933- ) masterfully balance classical storytelling with arresting image-making, a profound nostalgia for a lost pre-modern world and a flair for innovative narratives and richly eccentric mise-en-scene. Running throughout Boorman’s films is a sustained critique of modernity and an exploration of the ways that 20th and 21st century rationality has trapped and limited mankind. In contrast to and in defiance of the stultifying forces of modernity are the restless searching heroes of Boorman’s films, loners whose yearning for a realm of freedom outside the ordered world finds its best expression in the arduous journeys that recur throughout the films from Catch Us If You Can to The Emerald Forest.

A resident of Ireland for most of his life, Boorman’s cautious resistance to modernity is informed by the distinctly Irish perspective that grounds his work. In his wonderful memoir Adventures of a Suburban Boy, Boorman explains, “Although hag-ridden by priests and oppressed by the Church, I felt Catholicism was only skin deep [in Ireland], that underneath it was a pagan place. For all its sorrows and suffering, Ireland had at least escaped the brutalizing effect of the Industrial Revolution which, in England, had sucked people from the land to the misery of city slums.”

Boorman’s career began first in radio and then in television, where he eventually became a well-respected documentary director for the BBC. This nonfiction training is an important key to Boorman’s cinema, which reveals a strong attachment to the notions of Jungian myth—increasingly defining a mode of ecological consciousness—yet also retains a firm grip in the material world that avoids any “New Age” wooliness. Boorman’s attachment to narrative cinema— and his deep knowledge of film history— is revealed in his choice of D.W. Griffith as his filmmaking hero, a seemingly eccentric preference that underscores Boorman’s interest in the mode of formally innovative narrative filmmaking which is, after all, Griffith’s main contribution to film history.

Boorman is a true auteur in every sense of the term and is deeply involved in every aspect of his films’ productions, from story development, scriptwriting and art direction to the final editing and sound mix. A product of the intensely fertile period when the the studio era overlapped with the emergence of the European New Waves, Boorman’s films simultaneously channel both traditions to offer that rarest of cinematic experiences: the film that entertains even as it makes us think.

This program is presented in conjunction with the Magners Irish Film Festival. Special thanks: Peter Flynn, Magners Irish Film Festival; Ned Hinkle, Brattle Theatre; Aoife Coughlan, Irish Film Archive and the Provostial Funds Committee.

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Special Event Tickets $10
Friday 21 November at 7pm

The General

Directed by John Boorman, Appearing in Person
With Brendan Gleeson, Adrian Dunbar, Sean McGinley
UK 1998, 35mm, b/w, 124 min.
Print from Sony Pictures Classics

Boorman's career-long fascination with ambivalent or ambiguous protagonists reaches an apogee in the veritable antiheroof The General, a character closely modeled on real-life Dublin gangster Martin Cahill, who in the 1980s managed to run afoul not just of the law but also the Catholic Church and IRA. Boorman himself had a run-in with Cahill, who burgled the director’s house, stealing the gold record for Deliverance’s “Dueling Banjos.” In marked contrast to the large-scale canvases of Hope and Glory or The Emerald Forest, The General’s sober black-and-white cinematography marked a return to the simplicity of Boorman's early BBC documentaries and the unadorned force of Point Blank.

The Magner's Irish Film Festival Excellence Award

The Magners Irish Film Festival’s Excellence Award acknowledges those artists whose work contributes in a significant and lasting way to the representation of Ireland and the Irish on screen. A resident of Ireland since 1969, Mr. Boorman has been a vital and influential figure in contemporary Irish cinema. Besides shooting many of his films in Ireland, Mr. Boorman played an important role in the state-sponsored Irish Film Board in the early 1980s, when he helped launch the career of Neil Jordan by producing Jordan’s first film Angel (1982). More recently, Mr. Boorman has insightfully addressed the country’s social and economic transformations in the highly acclaimed The General (1998) and the controversial The Tiger’s Tail (2006), both starring (2006 Excellence Award honoree) Brendan Gleeson. This ceremony will include clips from many of Mr. Boorman’s films and remarks by the filmmaker himself.

 Listen to this evening's introductions and Q&A.

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Special Event Tickets $10
Saturday November 22 at 7pm

Hell in the Pacific

Directed by John Boorman, Appearing in Person
With Lee Marvin, Toshirô Mifune
US 1968, 35mm, color, 103 min.
Print courtesy of the Irish Film Archive

One of the most inspired casting decisions of 20th century cinema pairs Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune as a United States Marine and a Japanese officer stranded together on a deserted Pacific island during World War II. The initial hostility and distrust brought on by the soldiers' unwillingness and inability to communicate eventually gives way to a fragile, tense relationship forged by their struggle to survive the harsh conditions of the island. For Boorman’s second film with Marvin after Point Blank, the actors and director drew on the Marvin's own hellish experiences in the Pacific War. The typically Boormanian trial by fire undergone by Marvin and Mifune gives way to a reflective variation on the war film, that eschews combat for deeper inner and inter-personal conflicts.

Two Nudes Bathing

Directed by John Boorman, Appearing in Person
With John Hurt, Charley Boorman, Angeline Ball
UK 1995, 35mm, color, 35 min.
Print courtesy of the Irish Film Archive

The painting “Gabrielle d’Estrées and One of Her Sisters” which hangs in the Louvre Museum, is the enigmatic inspiration for John Boorman’s sprightly excursion into erotica. The painting famously depicts two women naked in a bath, one provocatively fingering a nipple of the other. In Boorman’s allegory about the liberatory power of art, a handsome young painter introduces two sisters to the pleasures of the flesh in defiance of their tyrannical father.

 Listen to this evening's introductions and Q&A.

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Sunday November 23 at 3pm

Hope and Glory

Directed by John Boorman.
Sebastian Rice-Edwards, Geraldine Muir, Sarah Miles
UK 1987, 35mm, color, 113 min.
Print from Sony

Many of Boorman’s best works center around a protagonist whose placid existence is suddenly transformed by a strange and violent eruption from the outside world. In Hope and Glory, it is Bill, a nine year-old living in London, whose life is upturned and intensified by the brutality of the 1940-41 Blitz. As the grownups worry, the adolescents flirt and fall in love, and the children rejoice in the freedom afforded by the disruptions of the bombing. The film is perhaps Boorman’s most classical, linking streamlined storytelling at its most entertaining to the director’s fascination with the anarchic side of human nature that is both troubling and cathartic.

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Sunday November 23 at 7pm

Deliverance

Directed by John Boorman.
With John Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty
US 1972, 35mm, color, 110 min.
Print from Warner Brothers

One of the high points of the 1970s “New Hollywood,” Deliverance was a hugely influential critical and commercial success. Boorman's classic film lays bare two key Seventies preoccupations—anxiety about the environment and uncertainty about the meaning and worth of masculinity—into a brilliantly brooding existential horror story about a group of four middle aged Atlanta men whose weekend canoe trip in the woods turns into a fight for their lives. While a faithful adaptation the riveting novel by poet James Dickey, who also wrote the screenplay, Deliverance is also an important extension of the critique of violence central to key Boorman films such as Point Break and Hell in the Pacific.

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Sunday November 23 at 9:15pm

Catch Us If You Can (aka Having a Wild Weekend)

Directed by John Boorman.
With Dave Clark, Barbara Ferris, Lenny Davidson
UK 1965, 35mm, b/w, 91 min.
Print from Warner Brothers

Conceived by the Dave Clark Five as an answer to the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, Catch Us If You Can is both an expression of the spirit of Swinging London in the 1960s and a prescient critique of its inevitable commodification. The story tells of a famous young model (Barbara Ferris, in a part designed for Marianne Faithfull) who flees the set of a television commercial with a stuntman. Their subsequent road trip in a white Jaguar leads to encounters with beatniks, military training exercises and a costume ball, all the while being chased by henchmen from the ad agency. The film’s style blends New Wave playfulness with the analytic coolness that underpins much of Boorman’s work. “We drew a portrait of a shallow, materialistic society, controlled and manipulated by advertising where youth was a commodity. It was a bleak picture, but expressed as comedy.”—J.B.

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Monday November 24 at 7pm

Leo the Last

Directed by John Boorman.
With Marcello Mastroianni, Billie Whitelaw, Calvin Lockhart
UK 1970, 35mm, color, 104 min.
Print from MGM

In this Felliniesque allegory of racial and class tension, Marcello Mastroianni plays the title role, a deposed prince living in exile in a run-down London mansion. Watching birds from his window and ignoring the plans of hangers-on to restore him to his lost throne, Leo's gradual involvement with his impoverished black neighbors leads to a climactic act of self-dispossession. One of Boorman's unsung masterpieces, Leo the Last marks an early highpoint in his experiments in art direction. Decor, costumes, and backgrounds are all black, white or brown, and even the exteriors are severely desaturated. The soundtrack is even more experimental, revealing the director’s interest in the musical collages of composer Luciano Berio.

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Monday 24 November at 9pm

Emerald Forest

Directed by John Boorman.
With Powers Boothe, Meg Foster, Yara Vaneau
UK 1985, 35mm, color, 113 min.
Print courtesy of the Irish Film Archive

The Emerald Forest echoes the deep concern of Deliverance for the alienation of modern society caused by its radical separation from nature. Boorman cast his own son as a young American boy whose kidnapping by an indigenous tribe in Brazil leads his father—an engineer building a dam in the Amazon—on a desperate search that lasts several years. Unlike Deliverance's vision of nature as a terrifyingly indifferent force, The Emerald Forest explores its ultimately benevolent side. It is at once an engrossing ecological fable, a recasting of the Oedipal drama and a post-colonial remake of The Searchers.

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