Lilly Library’s acquisition of John Boorman’s papers led to a stimulating campus visit by the visionary filmmaker last month. Events during Boorman’s visit included a Public Reception associated with the opening of The Directed by John Boorman: An Introduction to His Collection at the Lilly Library and the John Boorman: Conjurer of Cinema Film Series at IU Cinema. This week I had a chance to interview Lilly Library Manuscripts Archivist Craig Simpson, who oversaw the creation of the Boorman Collection and partnered with IU Cinema on the film series. I hope you’ll enjoy this conversation, peruse the images of the exhibition, then head over to Lilly Library to experience these artifacts of an exhilarating film career in person.
BOL: How did the Lilly acquire John Boorman’s papers?
CS: The acquisition fell into place fairly quickly, which doesn’t always work that way. But I’m glad it did because it meant that I could get the collection processed and the Cinema could screen the Boorman series all within the year.
BOL: From an archivist’s perspective what’s involved in setting up a new collection and processing the donated materials: papers, films, memorabilia, etc.?
CS: Processing a new collection involves establishing physical and intellectual control over the materials. That means arranging groupings (i.e., “series”) of like items, getting everything housed in acid-free folders and boxes, and creating an online finding aid. The great thing about John’s archive is it arrived very well organized, with most of the materials divided according to each of his films. The production files came in a good many box-binders, an example of which appears in a scene of one of John’s most recent films, The Tiger’s Tail (2006). You wouldn’t notice it if you hadn’t spent months with those binders, but I did, and it delighted me. The Boorman collection is very large, over 150 cubic feet, but it was relatively straightforward to arrange and describe—even though, being a great admirer of John’s work, I paused every now and then to examine an item in more detail. I didn’t mind at all having all of his boxes in my work area. They kept me good company for six months.
I should add that large items in the collection received special housing by our friends at ALF Conservation, and the reel-to-reels of John’s films are being taken good care of by the Moving Image Archive.
BOL: Were there particular items among the collection that shifted your perception about Boorman and his work? If so, did that impact the way you chose to frame the conversation you facilitated with him during the Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture at IU Cinema last week?
CS: John’s collection deepened my appreciation for the amount of work that goes into making a movie and John’s ability to make so many good ones on his terms. I personally love annotated screenplays and storyboards, or even rough sketches of scenes, and those are all in ample supply. Pauline Kael wrote that John Boorman “puts a burnish on his obsessions,” and in his archive it’s clear that the burnishing starts long before the cameras roll. The amount of detail on both his finished films and unrealized projects is invaluable for cinephiles, scholars, and fans alike. There’s a richness to his collection that I encourage anyone interested in film to explore.
For the Jorgensen Lecture, John’s collection was less of a frame-of-reference than his memoir (Adventures of a Suburban Boy), which is one of the best books written by a filmmaker—a cross between an autobiography and a how-to manual for directing movies. He has many wonderful stories in that book, and I wanted him to share as many of them as possible in the time allotted.
BOL: Boorman is a compelling storyteller. Were there any stories he told during his campus visit that you wish everyone had a chance to hear?
CS: He had interesting things to say about Brian De Palma (“a real character”), when I asked John if he had seen the new documentary De Palma, in which the ending of Deliverance is named as the inspiration for the shock-climax in Carrie. Directors often have an interesting perspective on the work of other directors. On one hand, they’re more attuned to cinematic tricks and gimmicks than a casual audience member. On the other hand, they have a deep sympathy for how hard it is to make a good movie. John is very appreciative of other filmmakers, and that comes through in many of his stories.
BOL: The Directed by John Boorman: An Introduction to His Collection at the Lilly Library Exhibition is open to the public through December 17, 2016 in the Slocum Room. If film lovers are eager to explore The John Boorman Collection in more depth, how would they go about that?
CS: To start, anyone interested in using Lilly materials should go to the homepage, click on the “Lilly Library Request System” button, and create an account. It takes only a couple of minutes. For the Boorman, John mss. (as the collection is officially titled), the main description page gives a general overview of his archive. Boxes can then be requested from the finding aid. I should add that this collection is housed at ALF (our Auxiliary Library Facility), which delivers materials M-F afternoons. Requests submitted in the morning will usually result in same-day delivery; requests submitted in the afternoon will usually be processed the next day.
BOL: This isn’t Lilly Library’s only film related collection. What else should film lovers seek out when visiting the library?
CS: The collections of, respectively, Orson Welles and John Ford form two of the pillars of the Lilly’s film-related holdings. We also have Peter Bogdanovich’s papers, Pauline Kael’s, David Bradley’s, and a vast array of other terrific materials.
BOL: The partnership between Lilly Library and IU Cinema has generated some wonderful experiences: Orson Welles: A Centennial Celebration and Symposium, this visit by John Boorman, and more. What’s new on the horizon? Any plans you are at liberty to share?
CS: Jon (Vickers) and I arrived at IU the same year—he eight months before me, I think. He’s become a good friend, an astute and generous colleague, and one of my favorite collaborators. Sometimes our projects develop spontaneously; other times, we may casually toss out an idea which, over time, turns into something quite ambitious. I don’t think we have anything on the books at the moment. But you never know when an offhand comment will result in a golden opportunity.
BOL: Thanks so much, Craig, for taking time to engage with A Place For Film. We can’t wait to see what unfolds next. Keep us posted.
In October 2016 IU Cinema’s John Boorman: Conjurer of Cinema Film Series included multiple film screenings and a Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture in the form of an extended on-stage conversation between visionary filmmaker John Boorman and Lilly Library Manuscripts Archivist Craig Simpson.
Barbara Ann O’Leary, Indiana University Cinema’s Social Media and Web Specialist, is delighted to serve as editor of A Place for Film Blog. Barbara’s love of film—particularly the work of women filmmakers—inspired her to launch the #DirectedbyWomen Worldwide Film Viewing Party initiative.