In the third instalment with producer Jeremy Thomas we discuss Nicolas Roeg’s Bad Timing leading to a conversation with David Cronenberg wanting to film William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch; Cronenberg’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s Crash and the author’s reaction; Martin Scorsese reintroducing us to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s masterpieces, which include The Red Shoes, The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp, and Black Narcissus.
Jeremy Thomas on David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Naked Lunch by William Burroughs: “It’s magnificent, original work.”
The Cohen Media Group and Posteritati at their gallery hosted a reception for Jeremy Thomas on September 20, before the screening of Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor and post-screening Q&A with the producer and Julian Schnabel during Jeremy Thomas Presents at the Quad Cinema. The series opened with Jeremy and the Stealing Beauty author Susan Minot, doing a Q&A following the screening of Bertolucci’s The Dreamers.
Jeremy Thomas Presents also included Nagisa Ōshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (starring David Bowie with a pre-recorded introduction by Takeshi Kitano); Bob Rafelson’s Blood and Wine (pre-recorded introduction by Stephen Dorff); Jerzy Skolimowski’s Shout (pre-recorded introduction by Skolimowski), and Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive (pre-recorded introduction by Jarmusch). Mark Cousin’s The Storms of Jeremy Thomas (Cohen Media Group) premiered in New York.
From a Manhattan hotel room in September, Jeremy Thomas joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on his career and some of his favourite filmmakers.
Anne-Katrin Titze: I want to also talk about your work with David Cronenberg. Naked Lunch is the film you are showing in the Quad retrospective, with Howard Shore present for a conversation. I love A Dangerous Method even more than Naked Lunch, I think. Tell me a bit about your work with Cronenberg, which includes Crash, of course, as well!
Jeremy Thomas on David Cronenberg’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s Crash: “He kept the essence completely but made them his own. Ballard was thrilled …”
Jeremy Thomas: Well, he’s my good friend, my very close friend now. I was in Toronto in 1980 or ’81 with Bad Timing. And it won the Lebatt, most popular film and at a party afterwards I happened to sit next to him at a bar and I spoke to him. I’ve seen lots of his films and I talked to him a lot about films and at the end of having a beer together I said to him: “Is there any project you’d really like to do?”
And he said ”I’d like to do Naked Lunch.” It hit like a bolt of lightning, because I thought, Wow, you’re the only person that I think of who could make that film. Nobody else could make Naked except you! And I got the rights from Burroughs and his husband, James Grauerholz. They were in Lawrence, Kansas. I optioned these rights for, I think, six or seven years.
And then David got the inspiration to write the script. And I told him I found the money to make that film. It’s magnificent, original work. He was so happy with the film, Burroughs. You know, the un-filmable novel. Like Crash - as was JG Ballard, who was really happy with Crash.
AKT: They are two of the most brilliant adaptations in general!
JT: David adapted them in an incredible way. He kept the essence completely but made them his own. Ballard was thrilled with the adaptation. Seeing these authors being very very excited by somebody like Cronenberg taking their book and remaining true to their book but really reinventing it completely, they were very happy.
He’s a master, another master filmmaker who is absolutely unique - there’s nobody like him working. He’s much copied; there’s Cronenbergian and there’s Spielbergian. A very special filmmaker who is unique, and he’s a very fine person. I’m looking forward to every film he ever makes. Total original person and a sweetie pie.
AKT: That’s wonderful, a sweetie pie! And I am seeing the bug thing in front of my eyes right now!
Jeremy Thomas on Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus: “I recently saw it restored in a square in Bologna with thousands of people.”
JT: That’s the thing, when you become intimate with the directors and the films, it’s not them. They’re making films and they are inhabiting other places and they are expressing them for us in other ways. Most filmmakers are nothing like their subject, they chose to delve into. It’s not necessary and people mistake that. When you meet David, he’s the most moderate and you could think he’s a university professor, really, the deep intellect of these filmmakers.
AKT: It’s true and very fascinating. For me - I’ve interviewed lots and lots of directors - the first time you meet them, you never know what to expect, going by their films. You can’t surmise how they really are. In the documentary on you, Mark Cousins brings up Powell and Pressburger and you immediately jump on that and express how splendid their films are. I completely agree. Did you grow up watching Powell and Pressburger films?
JT: Not exactly. I got to know them later, really. I saw The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus and Blimp and they were very unique and very sophisticated. They weren’t like British cinema, they were surrealistic, avant-garde, and English - which is a strange combination. They were very English but very unusual in their tones and they were very very clever. Marty Scorsese of course re-introduced us.
AKT: Yes, a big thank you, Marty!
JT: He gave again the gravitas to Powell and Pressburger, because they were a team who made very fine films that still hold up today. I mean, Red Shoes, unbelievable! Of course they’re period, Blimp, very period. And Black Narcissus, which I recently saw restored in a square in Bologna with thousands of people.
Jeremy Thomas on last seeing Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers: “At Cinema Ritrovato, where they restored The Dreamers, which they showed in the square. And they restored Black Narcissus, it was magnificent! ”
AKT: Oh lovely! How wonderful!
JT: At Cinema Ritrovato, where they restored The Dreamers, which they showed in the square. And they restored Black Narcissus, it was magnificent!
AKT: That sounds wonderful! One of my favorites is I Know Where I’m Going.
JT: Of course! They’re essential viewing, Powell and Pressburger films.
Read what Jeremy Thomas had to say on filming Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive and screening Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers with Stealing Beauty author Susan Minot