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John Boorman: an exorcism

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Mark Kermode | 11:00 UK time, Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Perusing your comments I came across a request to explain my antipathy toward John Boorman, the director behind such brilliant movies as Hell in the Pacific, Point Blank and Deliverance. Yeah. And Exorcist II: The Heretic, the Worst-Film-Ever-Made. Starting to make sense? Anyway, it occurred to me that Kermode Uncut is as good a place as any to get this thing out of my system.

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  • Comment number 1.

    I fear your reconciliation with John Boorman may have to wait a while, not least because according to the imdb he is currently directing a remake of The Wizard of Oz.

  • Comment number 2.

    Do you ever think there will be a time when you can let bygones be bygones and look back over the early works of Michael Bay and say, 'Actually Michael, you made some great films but kind of lost your way?' I personally think that this comment can never be mentioned, not even in private, lest ye be judged for it in the afterworld.

  • Comment number 3.

    Good post. Believing your own hype is what has killed many an artist

    It's what has ruined Quentin Tarantino for me. 90s Tarantino was wonderful, edgy, fresh and cool.....Then magazines started to talk about him as an auteur, and then the Weinsteins started treating him like King Midas, promising to back any idea he had, with no budgetary limitations, and in any form he wanted it.

    This cult of 'Quentin' has led to:

    * The horrendously cynical 'Two Volumes' of 'Kill Bill' as QT and the Weinsteins couldn't stand the thought of cutting all that 'genius' footage, and so thought 'hey lets charge people to see it twice'

    * QT's memorable pontificating about what's wrong with the British Cinema industry at Cannes in 2004

    * QT completely misjudging Grindhouse, confusing the audience in the process (many didn't know it was a double bill). Then when it flopped he claimed it wasn't his fault, and it was the audiences because they didn't 'get' grindhouse culture.

    * Self indulgence of the highest form. Kill Bill was half a movie and half a 'watch QT' shoe-horn as many obscure 70s references that only he and the fanboys know'.

    He has gone from 'Enfant Terrible' to 'terrible middle-aged man' who believes his own hype. I hope 'Inglorious Basterds' is good, but the fact that QT decided to put an 'e' in the titles profanity as an 'artistic flourish' suggests that this is a man too far gone....up his own backside!

  • Comment number 4.

    Don't knock Michael Bay, he's a legend. Michael Bay doesn't use toilet paper, he uses reviews....

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi Mark,
    just wondering what your take on the rebranding of 'Inglorious Basterds' to simply 'Inglorious' is? In my mind its a shocking PR flop that clearly wasn't thought through when the original name was dreamt up. (Although the new name is about 100 times better than the first iteration)

    Advertising a presumably violent film pre-watershed with a toned down name is just pure Tarantino- it makes me dislike his new efforts more and more before I can even sit down to watch them. I'm most certainly of the ilk that believe his only truly interesting work is Jackie Brown, and more and more his movies are simply star vehicles for whomever it may be that's leading. With luck I won't find myself having to watch the Brad Pitt ego show that is Inglorious... or is that Inglorious Basterds... ugh.

  • Comment number 6.

    I think this could generally be the case of young directors who caught a late 70s/early 80s radical wave. Even if the directors are still fit and healthy, the films can show an awful lot of middle age spread. Take some of my personal early favourites....

    Scott. Then: Alien, Blade Runner. Now: Body Of Lies, A Good Year.
    Coens: Then: Blood Simple. Now: Burn Before Reading.
    Lucas. Then: THX 1138. Now: Phantom Menace.
    Lynch. Then: Eraserhead. Now: Inland, sorry, INLAND EMPIRE.
    Carpenter. Then: take your pick. Now: take your pick.
    Romero. Then: Night Of The Living Dead. Now: Diary Of The Dead.
    Speilberg. Then: Indiana Jones. Now: Indiana Jones.

  • Comment number 7.

    I am completely, one hundred percent, behind Davonator's comments on Tarantino. Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown were fantastic, but when Kill Bill arrived in two overlong films it was clear he'd lost the plot.

  • Comment number 8.

    Also, everytime I hear Tarentino answer the question of Basterds' spelling as being of an "artistic flourish" I groan inwardly. It's not an "artistic flourish"; it's an incorrect spelling. Certainly, there's room for style and, dare I say it, "flourish" in the English language, but you can't just go around spelling words however you want and calling it "artistic".

    I'm sorry, I'll get off my high horse now.

  • Comment number 9.

    Another problem with Tarantino is that he completely misunderstands exploitation movies. The movies made in the 60s, and 70s were low budget, and the makers had to use their talent to overcome the budget restrictions.

    The majority of them were 80 odd minutes long, sometimes clocking in at 90, but at least you can watch two or three exploitation movies, as opposed to sitting through an overlong QT film.

    As for John Bore me senseless, the only thing good about Exorcist II, was Ennio Morricones over the top score, and that was when the end credits was rolling.

  • Comment number 10.

    Those pics of Sean Connery made me burst out laughing. But I'm sorry Mark I had to turn off the first Exorcist film, I found it totally boring.
    Maybe Michael Bay could re make it and we have plenty of over the top explosions, noise and Megan Fox.
    Well worth paying the 20 million directors fee for him.

  • Comment number 11.

    back to boorman...

    mark what's wrong with 'the tailor of panama' and 'the general'? Two perfectly decent films boorman has recently done

    who would have thought it in the nineties that tarantino would be wasting his talents although i think kill bill volume one is a good film. I hope 'inglorious bastards' is worth watching

    I think the problem with these so called auteur directors is money. If they have a small budget they make decent films think John Carpenter give them millions of dosh they make turkeys think carpenter, tarantino etc

  • Comment number 12.

    Dear Mark,
    Interesting point as always, and by and large I agree with you. But I was wondering how you would defend your views on Exorcist II: The Heretic against someone who shares your emotional approach to film reviews?

    I am of course referring to the late great Pauline Kael, who like you judged films in terms of emotional response rather than with cold objectivity (let me say first off that I prefer this approach, because it makes criticism more involving and entertaining). While describing The Exorcist as a film of "shallow seriousness" in which the viewer becomes "glumly anesthetized", she praises Exorcist II: The Heretic for having "a visionary crazy grandeur" and goes on to compare it with Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

    Is Kael being an idiot, or should we simply believe what we want to believe?

  • Comment number 13.


    I class Deliverance as one of the films that changed my life, along with the likes of The Deer Hunter, Midnight Cowboy and Collateral. Therefore, naturally, Deliverance is up there as number 5 on my top 10. John Boorman is a genius to me, purely because of this film. I didn't really think much of The General - considering it to be a fairly forgettable piece. With Exorcist 2...come on, you've gotta love Richard Burton! Okay thing is, it was pure baroque pantomime...but how the hell else would you have done a sequel? Yes he'd certainly turned into a veritable hack for this. Yet, where was Boorman supposed to go from Friedkin? I'm telling you now, I'm all for Boorman's The Heretic over the inevitable remake of the original that some other creativity-deprived hacks are no doubt preparing.

    I love Tarantino and can't wait for Inglourious Basterds...but can't help agreeing with the previous comments. I just wish he'd go back to making films like Reservoir Dogs. Pretty sad that this is unlikely.

    Speaking of directors who lost their way 'due to one film', for me Spielberg lost it with E.T.. Check out his CV up till then: Duel, Sugarland Express, Jaws (my top film of all time), Close Encounters, 1941. I'll forgive the latter because Raiders came along. I really felt that he was starting to show guts in recent times with Munich........then Indy 4 materialized. Enough said.

  • Comment number 14.


    Great points WHTTERZ!!

  • Comment number 15.

    seems i'm not the only person who sees the parallel with your views on tarantino, and makes me wonder if you will ever forgive films like death proof of the man who made the holy trinity that is reservoir dogs, pulp fiction and jackie brown.

    i'd also like to point out that this post from whtterz really upset me:

    "Scott. Then: Alien, Blade Runner. Now: Body Of Lies, A Good Year.
    Coens: Then: Blood Simple. Now: Burn Before Reading.
    Lucas. Then: THX 1138. Now: Phantom Menace.
    Lynch. Then: Eraserhead. Now: Inland, sorry, INLAND EMPIRE.
    Carpenter. Then: take your pick. Now: take your pick.
    Romero. Then: Night Of The Living Dead. Now: Diary Of The Dead.
    Speilberg. Then: Indiana Jones. Now: Indiana Jones."

    diary of the dead is, in my eyes, a flawed masterpiece, and one of the wittiest films romero's done, and i actually watched inland empire last night and, while it's not up there with lynch's mid 80s to mid 90s stuff, it's still an astounding film, and then the mention of the coens in mental, i've not seen burn after reading, but are you forgetting that the year before they made no country for old men, which is one of the best films of the decade?

  • Comment number 16.

    What's with the hate for Zardoz? It's not a great film, but certainly an interesting one even given the frequent cackles it triggered: Connery in a nappy running round a hall of mirrors shouting "Kill the tabernacle!", Charlotte Rampling trying to get the former James Bond pleasurably aroused by showing him a mud-wrestling video, the big reveal as to why it's called Zardoz.... It's a very silly movie, and po-faced and humourless with it, but it is fun to watch.

    Even if it fails, I'd rather have an ambitious but messy failure like Zardoz, or Dune, than a modern Transformers or Pelham that do succeed in ambitions limited to flashing lights, pretty colours and things going bang. You get more points for aiming high and failing, than aiming low and scraping over the bar.

  • Comment number 17.

    I can't remember a great deal about the plot of Zardoz, but the parts I do remember are so bizarre and ridiculous as to make the film memorable. Isn't there a part with a giant floating skull that vomits weapons, or something like that?

  • Comment number 18.

    Yes, Zardoz and Exorcist II are stinkers. But I don't subscribe to the "Boorman was really good, then went irretrievably awful after Deliverance" train of thought. How about Hope And Glory, which was nominated for a brace of Oscars and Baftas? The excellent The General? And even Tailor Of Panama was perfectly fine.

    Still, good on you, Dr K, for addressing the subject so honestly. Your revised opinion on Gore Verbinski can only be a matter of time.

  • Comment number 19.

    So, your most hated film is Exorcist II. Would Transformers 2 be your second, followed by the Pirates of the Caribbean movies? I'd be interested to know if you have a Roger Ebert-style 'Your Movie Sucks' list.

  • Comment number 20.

    Who thinks Mark should do a Top 10 worst films of all time? I would pay money to see him rant his way through the countdown.

  • Comment number 21.

    Out of interest, has anyone seen the anti-Bond film The Tailor of Panama with Geoffery Rush and Pierce Brosnan, based on the Le Carré novel? For someone who is being accused of being pretentious and 'an auteur', it's a fairly quiet, witty and understated little film. Admittedly it has a certain emotional detachment that prevents the viewer from fully embracing it, but as an exercise in the dangers of political innuendo, it suddenly occurs to me that in retrospect it's a really good Iraq movie before Iraq ever happened.

  • Comment number 22.

    @tommus jay

    "diary of the dead is, in my eyes, a flawed masterpiece, and one of the wittiest films romero's done, and i actually watched inland empire last night and, while it's not up there with lynch's mid 80s to mid 90s stuff, it's still an astounding film, and then the mention of the coens in mental, i've not seen burn after reading, but are you forgetting that the year before they made no country for old men, which is one of the best films of the decade?"

    Yes, and Scott just made American Gangster, and Lynch recently did Mulholland Drive, and Spielberg made War Of The Worlds.

    I think you missed my point slightly. I didn't say these directors weren't any good any more. I'm saying that many directors rode the crest of a radical, experimental wave of the late 70s/early 80s, making tight, challenging, genuinely visionary films. A symptom of their individual ageing is that their output becomes... well, flabbier.

    It has to be admitted that none of those directors are ever going to make a film as good as their first ones I listed. Lynch's best *is* Eraserhead. The Coens' best *is* Blood Simple. Scott's best *is* Alien.


    Oh, and one thing I do take issue with: Diary Of The Dead was flipping *awful*.

  • Comment number 23.

    I just made a connection. Is Obi Wan Kenobi's mate Charlie Boorman (who was in Emerald Forest as a kid) the son of John Boorman (who made Emerald Forest when he was a adult, presumably)?

    It would explain why he's never been in any other films.

  • Comment number 24.

    OT, but regarding "Angels and Demons" being 'Thunderbirds goes to the Vatican', they kind of already did:

  • Comment number 25.

    The Tailor of Panama is a very good film. As was McTiernan's remake of the Thomas Crown Affair. Kind of interesting that Brosnan during his Bond period tended to make better films between Bond films, than than the Bond films themselves. Anyway I digress

    Didn't Boorman win something at Cannes for the General? I thought it was a decent film, slightly overrated at the time though. I think Scorsese had something to with it cause he loved Point Blank so much.

    Anyway I think you're pretty harsh on Boorman (Deliverance is one of my favourite films of all time) and you are way too easy on Friedkin. I rented Bug on your reccomendation and that was utter rubbish!

    If you're applying to Boorman the theory that once he started thinking of himself as an auteur he began making bad films, then you have to apply the same theory to Friedkin.

  • Comment number 26.

    Agreed. Exorcist 2 is a really terrible movie. But the worst movie ever produced by mankind? Well i would say it comes second to Caligula personally. Also, Excalibur is a good movie. And Deliverance, i believe is frankly dull and over-rated.

  • Comment number 27.

    whtterz - fair enough. i've not seen blood simple so i can't comment on that, my favourite coens film is the man who wasn't there. alien is my favourite scott film for sure, although i hated american gangster. eraserhead isn't my favourite lynch film, that reward goes to blue velvet which is, in my opinion, the finest film ever made.

    anyhoo, i'd like to talk briefly about diary of the dead. i can understand the beef, when i first saw it, i thought it was crap, but if you've not given it another chance i strongly suggest you do. it's certainly got problems, mostly to do with a disconnection between romero and young people - a problem that i think has plagued older directors and authors alike, if you've ever read nick hornby's 'slam', you'll know what i'm on about.

    anyway i digress, i think for all its clunky references to 'the web' and it's sub-par acting, it still makes as serious a point as any of his other zombie films, and has loads of funny lines about horror clichés, most notably the mirroring of the crappy film they're making at the chase towards the end, and discussions amongst the characters about how zombies don't run because they're dead and they'd fall apart, something romero said in an interview with kermode a few years earlier. it's by no means romero's best, but people always rave about day of the dead which, although probably the scariest of the lot, has some pretty clunky dialogue and the characters are, for the most part, hard to engage with, especially the jamaican and irish stereotypes.

  • Comment number 28.

    "Who thinks Mark should do a Top 10 worst films of all time? I would pay money to see him rant his way through the countdown."

    I would buy the DVD lol.

  • Comment number 29.

    incidently, where is this list of 2009 films that are worse than bride wars? i wanna know if i'm gonna be looking for a new reviewer to listen to next year!

  • Comment number 30.

    Most directors/actors (if both lucky and talented) etc have a period when they hit an artistic and commercial highpoint - then they go off the boil and become mediocre; perhaps they lose the hunger to prove themselves that everyone trying to make a name for themselves has; perhaps they just make lousy choices, lose the passion or stop caring.

    Take Francis F. Coppola, Frankenheimer, Friedkin; even Scorsese, Spielberg or the Cohen Brothers; or in Britain Ken Russell, Nic Roeg, Tony Richardson and Danny Boyle. etc. Occasionally they make a return to earlier form; but only occasionally, if at all.

    Of the Brit's Boorman was one of the better directors; his earlier movies (Point Blank, Deliverance) in particular. His Excalibur was as brave as a Terry Gilliam film; it took the legend and treated it as a visceral myth; Grail legend, pagan magic and all. Of all the Arthurian movies Excalibur was the least Hollywood and the one that tried hardest to do something different with the material. And I'll suggest a honourable mention for his Hope and Glory too.

  • Comment number 31.

    Excalibur is fast paced and fun with some good scene's but what ruins it is Arthur 'King of The Britons' stupid Irish accent, which he seems to conveniently loose when he grows up. Also the humour in the film is dreadful and Charlie Boorman should never be in films ever. Helen Mirren goes a long way to making up for a pretty naff cast.

    Exorcist 2, while a terrible movie which goes all out in destroying any sense of ambiguity left by the original, is hardly the worst movie ever. What about Pokemon the Movie? Surely is can't be worst than that recent Paris Hilton movie (correct me if I'm wrong, I haven't seen it)

    Also Exorcist 3 is the best film in the series and certainly the scariest. There's a more terrifying sense of dread and darkness, Brad Doriff is brilliant as always, and that really scary moment is really, really scary.

  • Comment number 32.

    this is a link to a pretty revealing interview Tarantino did recently

    he touches on the subject of great directors who have passed it. He intends on not following into the same trap. Some would argue he already has

  • Comment number 33.

    Excalibur is my favourite John Boorman film.

    Yet ...

    Beyond Rangoon is my second.

  • Comment number 34.

    When looking at John Boorman I regard his output in the same way I look at, say, De Palma's stuff; they made brilliant films, then suddenly 'the gift left them'. I absolutely love Boorman's early stuff; I'm a big fan of Lee Marvin and loved Pitch Black and Hell in the Pacific - but is Boorman the auteur here, or is Lee Marvin the essential benefactor! deliverance is again brilliant. Then, I have to say zardoz and Excalibur are guilty pleasures for me, I love psychomagic and fantasy e.g. ala Gilliam, Jodorowsky and co. But like de Palma, the genius completely disapates. I think this is due to wanting to spread his 'auteur' image over multiple genres, and the fact he couldn't pick decent writing, actors, projects etc Plus it's like tarantino, it needs the right mix of actors to pull off his work without it being terrible.

  • Comment number 35.

    Thanks Mark for the belated reply, good stuff. True boorman has not made a stand out movie for a while , very much like william friedkin, would you be willing to create a follow up piece about Friedkins later work.

  • Comment number 36.

    On Quentin Tarantino, his best film is and will probably always be "Jackie Brown" and "Pulp Fiction" is a classic and I like "Kill Bill", "Reservoir Dogs" and "Death Proof" and most of the films he has been a part of ala. "From Dusk Till Dawn", he makes good popcorn art house films.

    Now on to John Boorman, "Point Blank" is one of the 10 coolest films ever made (I stole footage from it for a music video I made), nuff said, "Deliverance" is damn good too.

    Whoever said "Sorcerer" is a bad film is wrong, "Sorcerer" is not as good "Wages of Fears" (but very few things are...) but it's one of the few examples of a really good remake.

  • Comment number 37.

    Mark, may I ask (out of sheer curiosity) how many times have you seen THE EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC? Did you see it when it opened back in 1977 and do you remember anything particular about that theater visit? Have you always had the opinion that it's the worst movie ever made or is it something that you've realized over time?

    I can totally see you re-watching it once a year just to make sure it's still the worst movie ever made ;) Which is actually quite understandable since it's somewhat enjoyable in all it's awfulness.

  • Comment number 38.

    Another thing that occured to me, was the comment that some people began to call Boorman an auteur and that he began to believe it, and that was the start of his problems, well some say thats what happened to Freidekin. After The Exorcist, he belived this and made the 'Wages of Fear' remake 'The Sorcerer'. The auteur theory is a double edged sword, and even some of its original supporters in the french new wave eventually denouced it a rubbish. In Easy Rider and Raging Bulls , it is stated that Freidkin went up to George Clouzat the director of Wages Of Fear and said he was going to remake his movie and that he wouldnt do it as good as Clouzat, maybe Freidkin was intoxicated by the autear label at the time.

  • Comment number 39.

    Of course it's somewhat ironic that Mark should have a problem with Boorman and Tarantino, for producing one or two great films each and then loosing the plot (cinematically speaking), when William Friedkin basically did the same thing (just after or before Sorcerer, depending on whether you're Tangerine Dream & Keith Jarrett fan or not). That's not to say that I disagree with him, Tarantino in particular was handed the keys to the toy box many years ago, and sadly, like most kids the results have been a complete mess.

  • Comment number 40.

    Ennio Morricone’s score for the Heretic has to be heard to be believe, a whole new genre of music was invented- Satanist disco music, a genre sadly not taken up by any other artists.

    Has the General been mentioned which is a fine recent John Boorman film and also got a decent performance out Jon Voight after Anaconda.

  • Comment number 41.

    Is Exorcist II your worst film simply because The Exorcist is your favourite film?

  • Comment number 42.

    If Exorcist II never existed, what would be the benchmark for the most awful film ever made?

  • Comment number 43.

    Dear Doctor, Though Exorcist II is an unspeakably awful film (I got 30 minutes in and had to turn it off), I am glad to see you finally recognising that John Boorman is a talented and interesting director. I have always been more lenient on Boorman than many. Perhaps because I don't really like "The Exorcist" that much aside from the brilliant final act (I won't go too much into why, but feel it's badly paced, relies too much on dialogue for exposition, uses shock instead of subtlety and turns satan from the more sinister manipulative faustian figure into a sweary gross out merchant- Regan seems posessed not so much by the devil as by Bernard Manning), but mainly because I feel the strength of the earlier classics like "Deliverance" overshadow later misdemeanors. Plus, as many others have said, many brilliant directors have made many a bad film: John Carpenter, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppolla, Steven Speilberg- and yet they are still good directors despite their sins.

    I will add a caveat to completely damning 80s Boorman- I think "Excalibur" is excellent, a brilliant mix of Malory and Wagner and other works on Arthurian legend with a truly wonderful visual style, great performances from Nicol Williamson, and his more recent "The Tailor of Panama" seemed partially a return to form.


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