With this one line, Boorman establishes his theme and tone: Shaw is an instinctive genius behind the camera, a respected director who struggles to cope with reality once he has relinquished control of his fictions.
John Boorman’s debut novel, Crime of Passion, opens on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival with movie director Daniel Shaw standing on the “trailing effusions” of his leading lady’s dress and receiving a withering look for his faux pas.
The story revolves around Shaw, whose latest film Shadow of a Smile receives mixed reviews at Cannes (despite being championed by the Cannes jury director, one John Boorman). Desperate to initiate a commercial prospect before Shadow of a Smile opens to inevitable box office failure, Shaw and his long-time producer Jack Diamond scramble to cobble together a genre movie that will keep them in the game for one more roll of the dice.
Their efforts are chronicled by Bella, Jack’s wife, who is commissioned to write a ‘Making of’ behind-the-scenes book. One of the novel’s key scenes takes place in Hollywood, where Bella interviews marketing guru Harold Witt, a pragmatist who confirms that “originality is the enemy” before reeling off a list of financial predictions that allow him to assess what a movie will earn before it is even made.
The conflict between artistry and commercial imperatives provides the story with its momentum as Dan and Jack’s new movie gradually evolves from a lavish popcorn thriller into a micro-budget art-house flick.
Art vs mammon isn’t a particularly fresh concept, but Boorman — the director of Point Blank, Excalibur, Hope and Glory, The General and The Tailor of Panama — made a career from investing commercial movies with a distinctively original vision, which gives the lacerating cynicism of this novel a savage edge: “You want to be an artist? Paint a picture, write a poem. This is a business, an industry, and the law of the balance sheet rules.”
It’s a compelling, if bracing, peek behind the silver screen, but Boorman’s novel is as concerned with moviemakers as it is with movies. Contemporary film may be made to established formulae and forced to operate within strictly defined parameters, but these rules and laws don’t apply to the personal lives of the directors and producers, scriptwriters and stars.
The romance of the silver screen is alive and well in Crime of Passion, even if most of the romance takes place off-screen and consists of illicit affairs and cruel betrayals, implicit in which is the notion that creative people forced to think in straight lines in their professional lives will find some other outlet for their creative juices.
“Sex elevates or it debases”, Shaw observes at one point, and the novel is not only saturated with sex, but littered with meditations on sexual healing: “Making love with love can be the highest place we can reach, the closest we can get to another person, the nearest we can come to escaping the bonds of self”.
Shaw’s philosophy, however, is undermined by his inability to fully separate his fiction from life, as his long-suffering wife, Hope, understands all too well: “You use everything. Don’t you see what a betrayal that is? You turn all your life into story, so you don’t have to live it. Then you can control it, and make it come out the way you want.”
Crime of Passion isn’t a particularly well-written novel — clichés abound, and many of the characters are sketched in rather than vividly rendered — but it is a fascinating exploration of the juncture where art bumps up against an unforgiving reality, and Boorman makes for an entertaining guide as he steers us through the shark-infested waters of contemporary movie-making.
Crime of Passion
Liberties Press, €9.99
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