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October 04, 2023

The Storms of Jeremy Thomas


Mark Cousins - 2021
Cohen Media Group DVD Region 1

It was probably a given that Jeremy Thomas would work in the film industry. His father was Ralph Thomas, best known for making Dirk Bogarde a star in the Doctor series and a handful of more serious efforts. Uncle Gerald Thomas made a career of directing the Carry On series. There was also the more distant connection of grand-uncle Victor Saville, remembered mostly as the producer of Kiss Me Deadly. What was not a given were the films that Jeremy Thomas chose to produce. Nothing could be described as mainstream British cinema. Thomas managed to make a career out of producing films that garnered attention based as the work of very individualistic directors that were more likely to earn awards and critical praise than make a dent in the box office. The one major exception was early in his career with The Last Emperor, the first of five collaborations with Bernardo Bertolucci. It is perhaps not insignificant that while Thomas has produced several films by British directors, he has done more work with filmmakers from outside the United Kingdom.

Film historian Mark Cousins' film is part biography, filmography and road trip. With Thomas at the wheel, the two drove to Cannes for the 2019 festival where Takashi Miike's First Love was to premiere. The title was inspired by Thomas' reaction to a sudden rain storm at Cannes that caused others to flee for shelter while Thomas marveled at the change of weather. The storms would also be the reactions to some of the films such as the controversy over Crash (David Cronenberg - 1996) with its depiction of sex. While Thomas is a producer who gets the money and support but generally sees his job as supporting his directors, Cousins does find some thematic connections with several of the films, particularly with sex and violence.

Cousins does make the odd choice of having two actresses, Tilda Swinton and Debra Winger, discuss working with Thomas, both remarking on his intelligence. I would have wanted this insights of the directors he has worked with more than once like Matteo Garrone, Takashi Miike or Jerzy Skolimowski. The road trip depicts someone who likes to drive fast when he can, sing along with the Grateful Dead, and is also thoughtful to have stopped at the Drancy Memorial outside Paris, infamous as the site where French Jews were rounded up prior to being placed in cattle cars bound for Auschwitz. Cousins does appear to like some of his actors praising Theresa Russell, Jack Nicholson, and Marlon Brando, while offering a little anecdote about Tony Curtis.

Even with the brief exploration of thematic concerns that connect the films, only the surface of Thomas' life and career has been touched. Perhaps a film with a longer running time than an hour and a half would have been better. For myself, I would have liked to have known more about the making of that first production, Mad Dog Morgan when the Australian government was helping prop up the local film industry for an international market, with novice filmmakers shooting a film starring a perpetually inebriated Dennis Hopper. There is also the three years that it took to make The Last Emperor and the logistics of shooting Little Buddha in Nepal. What is understood is Mark Cousins' interest in Jeremy Thomas as a kind of unicorn among film producers, truly independent, going against the grain with films marked in varying degrees by their artistic aspirations.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 4, 2023 05:48 AM