- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2001

NEW YORK —In a crowded Manhattan movie theater two years ago, a middle-aged British gentleman sat through a screening of Americas summer hit "The Blair Witch Project."
While he watched the story about three nervous teens lost in the Maryland woods, a scene stuck out. At one point, a teen taunts another, "Did you ever see 'Deliverance?"
It made the British gentleman smile. He was John Boorman, director of "Deliverance," a 1972 film that has become an American cultural touchstone.
"Its a symbol for the fear of nature, fear of the forest, of what can come out and grab you," says Mr. Boorman, who based his film on James Dickeys tale of four ill-fated urbanites on a canoeing trip in Georgia.
The movie touched a nerve that continues to be pressed, influencing projects from "The River Wild" to "City Slickers." When director Quentin Tarantino met Mr. Boorman, he said a scene in "Pulp Fiction" was shot in homage to the elder directors film.
Mr. Boormans career has been a lot like that no huge hits but lots of respect.
His 1967 thriller "Point Blank" was remade with Mel Gibson in 1999 as "Payback" though critics liked the original. Some reviewers of Richard Geres 1995 flick "First Knight" told moviegoers to save their money and rent Mr. Boormans 1981 "Excalibur."
"Although my films have done OK they havent lost anybody a lot of money or anything that doesnt mean a thing. You have to have a hit. And then you have power," Mr. Boorman says.
"So its a struggle for me to get peoples attention in Hollywood. I have a residue of good will. But Im 68, you know, and I dont know how long Ill keep on making pictures."
Mr. Boormans latest offering his 14th film in 36 years is "The Tailor of Panama," adapted from John le Carres novel and starring Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Mr. Brosnan plays a degenerate British spy who is banished to Panama, where he comes across Mr. Rushs character, a high-class tailor with something to hide. Blackmail and deception ensue, building to a horrific climax.
Its a typical Boorman movie if any Boorman film can be typical. It has an exotic location, the constant threat of violence and several flights of fantasy.
"The studio is terribly nervous about this picture," he says. "They feel its too difficult for an audience. I think its the mixture of satire and irony and drama and humor its probably too rich a brew."
So, not a big hit. But not to worry: Mr. Boorman hasnt pinned his hopes on making "Titanic." Hed rather it becomes a "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" or "The English Patient," two films that had modest budgets and popular appeal.
In other words, he wants moviemaking to return to the way it was three decades ago, when the importance of a huge opening for a multimillion-dollar film was less.
"In the 1970s, there were a lot of interesting films being made," he says. "There was a kind of middle ground that was occupied by pictures that were made with reasonable budgets. Whereas now, we have big, major pictures that go out wide and then you have this art ghetto."
Take, for instance, Stanley Kubricks "2001: A Space Odyssey." Mr. Boorman recalls that it had mixed reviews when it came out in 1968 and business was poor for the first couple of weeks.
"I remember I saw it on the first day, and I phoned Kubrick and told him I thought it was a landmark.
A week later, he called me and said, 'Would you give a quote? he wanted quotes from directors for posters and print ads. He was trying to pep up the business."
Shaking his head, Mr. Boorman adds: "Had it opened today with 2,000 prints and died the first weekend, wed never have heard of it. So thats what were up against, really."
The biggest culprit, Mr. Boorman says, is Hollywoods addiction to national TV advertising. Nothing kills the middle ground, he says, like gearing up for a big ad push across the country.
"Ive been asked by studio executives when Ive pitched an idea, 'Well, whats the TV ad? How do you express this in a 30-second television ad?" he says. "A studio once said to me, 'If it cant be expressed in a 30-second TV ad, then we shouldnt be making this picture."
None of Mr. Boormans films could survive such a test.
"All his films have a cinematic lyricism," says Mr. Brosnan, who leapt at the chance to explore his non-James Bond side. "You get swept up in the story. Its complicated. Its layered."
Among Mr. Boormans other films are the Burma-based drama "Beyond Rangoon," with Patricia Arquette; the Amazon adventure "The Emerald Forest"; the Dublin crime story "The General"; and the comedy "Where the Heart Is," with Uma Thurman and Crispin Glover.
Mr. Boorman has won two best-director awards from the Cannes Film Festival and received two Oscar nominations for "Deliverance," as producer and director. The tale of his days in the London blitz, "Hope and Glory," won a best-picture Golden Globe in 1988.
When not filming, Mr. Boorman lives with his family in a sprawling rural mansion in Irelands County Wicklow.
Not coincidentally, it is far, far away from Hollywood.

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