Monday, September 18, 2023

Mark Cousins’ The Storms of Jeremy Thomas

If given a choice, an independent film producer like Jeremy Thomas would probably prefer to be the subject of a documentary helmed by an idiosyncratic auteur whose approach is always a little off-center. At least we can hope that is the case, because that is what he got. Whether viewers feel the same is an entirely different question. Regardless, the celebrated but not-necessarily household-famous producer gets his due in Mark Cousins’ The Storms of Jeremy Thomas, which opens Friday in New York.

How big is Thomas in the business? He produced Bernardo Bertolucci’s best picture-winning
The Last Emperor. Yet, Cousins devotes more screentime to Dom Hemingway and Young Adam that the epic story of Pu Yi, the boy emperor. We even see more from Thomas’s Oscar acceptance speech than from the movie itself. That should give you idea of Cousins’ highly subjective perspective.

Instead, he structures the documentary as a road movie, accompanying Thomas as he drives from his country cottage to Cannes, where his latest film is premiering, Takeshi Miike’s
First Love. Frankly, cineastes could probably eagerly devour a documentary solely devoted to Thomas’s collaborations with Miike, also including Blade of the Immortal, 13 Assassins, and Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai.

By the way,
Storms is not always safe for work, because Cousins’ second thematic chapter, “Sex,” does indeed show a lot of it. It isn’t inappropriate given Thomas produced Roeg’s Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession, Cronenberg’s Crash, and Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, but just keep this in mind if you want to stream Storm in an internet cafĂ© later. Bizarrely, Last Emperor is also ignored during the subsequent chapter, “Politics,” even though the scenes of the Cultural Revolution cry out to be compared with those of the May 1968 protests in The Dreamers (same director, even).

Cousins only interviews a select handful of Thomas’s colleagues, none of whom are directors (one might wonder about his thoughts on that matter). In any event, we hear from Debra Winger (
The Sheltering Sky and the unmentioned Everybody Wins) and Tilda Swinton (Young Adam and Only Lover Left Alive), who is rather amusing to watch as she tries to justify Cousins’ choice of title to herself during one of their interview sequences.

A Jeremy Thomas doc could never be mainstream, considering he produced films like
Naked Lunch. However, it is too bad Cousins does not share the love with more films, including less obvious choices like Samurai Marathon and Empire of Silver. It would be particularly interesting to hear Thomas’s thoughts on The Brave, Johnny Depp’s directorial debut (co-starring Marlon Brando), which you probably haven’t seen, because the actor refused to allow an American release.

However, we see plenty of Thomas driving and he never succumbs to road rage. Frustratingly, this documentary will better satisfy Cousins’ admirers than those of Thomas. Maybe interesting as an eventual streaming possibility,
The Storms of Jeremy Thomas is not recommended at New York ticket prices when it opens Friday (9/22) at the Quad Cinema.