STARBURST MEMORIES: Excalibur

A friend of mine was convinced that he had a Moff Tarkin figure in the 1970s. Regular readers of Dirk Malcolm will know that this is impossible, as the figure wasn’t manufactured until the 1990s. It took an old catalogue, internet searches and the signed witness statement from a Kenner expert, to convince him that he had a false memory. For my friend, the phenomena of false recollections are now known as  ‘Moff Memories’.

These ‘Moff Memories’ can strike anyone at any time. After watching EXCALIBUR a couple of times over the past couple of weeks, mulling over its inclusion in the list for purely nostalgic reasons, I decided to search the loft to find the issue of STARBURST that first got me excited about the film.

The earliest mention of the film was in STARBURST Vol. No.4 Nov. 1978, an issue staring thick-faced Lou Ferrigno grimacing on the cover to illustrate the feature article ‘Hulk in the Media’, it was a Marvel magazine after all, and they never missed the opportunity to cross-promote other ‘product’.

Inside the magazine there is a short article about John Boorman‘s pet project, with the working title ‘Merlin‘ which was in the throes of development hell seeking finance. In the meantime, Boorman:

“…carries on working on Merlin at his palatial home (40 acres, heated swimming pool, cinema, sauna) in the Wicklow Hills of Ireland, rewriting, polishing, ‘getting everything into shape’.”

In the seventies of course, we would have been impressed that he had hot and cold running water, never mind a sauna, “you were lucky” etc etc. The article says that Boorman had been rewriting, polishing the story of the search for the Holy Grail for fifteen years and that his fascination with the legend had influenced the themes and story-lines in his other films. On reflection, it is possible to see elements in POINT BREAK (1967), DELIVERANCE (1972) and, most significantly, his science fiction, cult classic ZARDOZ (1974), which features an uncomfortable looking Sean Connery in a Borat swimming costume.

'Treatment' and concept drawings for an exciting new John Boorman project

Interestingly, at this stage, the grail quest was to be delivered from the point of view of Perceval ‘a crass and callow youth’, who is elevated to greatness after discovering the ‘simple mystery’ of the Holy Grail before going on to live a hum drum married life. Although EXCALIBUR concentrates on Arthur struggling with his destiny, it is still possible to see elements of the original treatment which is published alongside the article, complete with Boorman’s concept drawings.

The final plea from the feature writer, Tony Crawley, is to mobilise the STARBURST massive from their slumber to get the film made:

“If you want to see Merlin, write to Warner Brothers, at Burbank, in Los Angeles, California – and try to remind them that any John Boorman movie about Merlin … will not be a Camelot, a Monty Python exercise … it will be that rarity around these days – a good movie.”

A montage of images from EXCALIBUR - you can see the joins

Jump forward a few years to 1981, in Vol 1, Number 11, in a ‘New Look’ issue also featuring ALTERED STATES, CLASH OF THE TITANS, and Michael Crawford as CONDORMAN, the finished film is finally reviewed. The writing campaign pays off as EXCALIBUR is made and depicted in the magazine using more colour ‘Than EVER before.”

There is a brief feature article, followed by a review by the star reporter, John Brosnan. He apparently went into the film with an open mind, but a third of the way into the film, he realised that it was a dodo, rather than a “soaring Concorde.” The review goes on to slate the screen-writing in its entirety; the narrative, the character development and the dialogue: “It all looks lovely up there on the screen until the actors open their mouths.”

He aims his invective at Boorman, given that this was such a personal project, and that he apparently abandoned the original William Goodheart script and rewrote it from scratch (polishing it for years according to the previous article). However, my favourite line concerns Nicol Williamson‘s silly voice as Merlin:

“Why, at some time during the shooting  didn’t Boorman take Williamson aside and quietly say: ‘Nic, old lad, what’s with the funny voice?'”

My sentiments exactly.

Hold on a moment. My memory was of being excited at the prospect of seeing EXCALIBUR based on STARBURST’s recommendation. Does that mean that the concept drawings created such an evocative hold on me for three years?

No. The first ever issue that I bought was the one with CLASH OF THE TITANS on the cover. I bought the earlier one as part of a job-lot bundle on ebay last year. I was clearly seduced by colour pictures rather than reading the accompanying review.

Another Moff memory.

3 responses to “STARBURST MEMORIES: Excalibur

  1. Pingback: Starburst Memories: Blitz – Review of the Eighties | The Dirk Malcolm Alternative·

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