Jeremy Thomas is an Oscar-winning film producer known for his collaborations with filmmakers such as Nicolas Roeg, Bernardo Bertolucci and David Cronenberg. He seems a picture of success and wealth, yet director Mark Cousins stages his subject with a curious solemnity.
Portentous strings accompany Cousins’ images as he lends his ever-distinctive narration, describing Thomas as, “The prince, the producer, the petrolhead”. It creates an oddly foreboding aura that suggests Thomas is a somehow dark or tormented figure. But as Cousins goes deeper into Thomas’s aesthetics, his own creative intentions become clearer.
The portent is a reference to the ‘storms’ of the title. For Thomas, “filmmaking is a storm”. And he has treated all of his 68 films with genuine care and affection. He has a practical mind like any successful producer, but Cousins is interested not in Thomas’s instinct for the industry, but his passionate instinct for the art.
To understand his subject, Cousins joins Thomas on his yearly drive from England to the Cannes film festival, stopping at several locations along the way on this multi-leg, multi-day journey. As he winds through a mountainous passage in his Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Thomas remarks how he sees life through scenes in films. Appropriately, that is how Cousins sees Thomas, too.
Cousins believes Thomas to be a manifestation of cinema, which leads to us seeing more of his movies than we do the man, who cuts a reticent and modest figure. Cousins attributes this to Thomas’s reserved Englishness, which he has subverted by enabling transgressive auteurs such as Roeg, Bertolucci and Cronenberg.
Is Thomas a punk impresario? Is he the Malcolm McLaren of cinema? Well, his catalogue suggests as much. Thomas produced Roeg’s Bad Timing, Bertolucci’s The Dreamers and Cronenberg’s Crash, the latter of which stirred vicious controversy for its depiction of automotive eroticism.
When asked about pushing the proverbial envelope, Thomas said, “My nature would be to go further and see what we can get away with.” Happily, Thomas is the antithesis of corporate culture. He speaks in moderate tones, yet he laments the rise of Disney’s conglomerate ‘monoculture’, adding that truly original work comes far from the centre of this burgeoning mainstream core.
As Cousins concludes his narrative, he again uses the language of fairy tale, “There once was a prince [who] left the castle of parents and went to the movie forest.” It’s a quirky presentation, but it pronounces Cousins’ affection for Thomas and what he represents. Figures like Thomas – the artists, the cineastes, the free thinkers – will always be the authentic force in a world stymied by convention, sanctimony and financial interest.