Graham Greene: An Author’s Life Examined

JMU Prof Wraps 6-Year Documentary Project

Posted: March 26, 2013

HARRISONBURG — The latest work of Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker and James Madison University professor Thomas O’Connor will soon be available in more than 200 television markets in the U.S. and abroad.
“Dangerous Edge: A Life of Graham Greene” is a 90-minute look into the life of the influential British author, whose extensive body of work — which includes novels, short stories, plays, travel books, essays, articles and children’s stories — spanned seven decades and sold tens of millions of copies.
Greene’s works, including the novels “The Third Man” and “The Quiet American,” were valued for having the ability to capture “the essence of what it means to be human,” according to a biography compiled by PBS, which will air O’Connor’s documentary.
For 60 years, Greene was a journalist who inserted himself into dangerous situations like Kenya’s Mau Mau Rebellion, the Vietnam War, the rise of Castro and the fall of the Soviet Union. His novels inspired numerous film and theater productions. He also was a British spy during World War II.
“He was a very colorful character,” said O’Connor, who has written and produced more than 50 teleplays and documentaries, including two that won Emmys. “Journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter. …  He wrote for so many years, he practically chronicled the 20th century.”
Greene, who died in 1991, was also a manic-depressive who attempted suicide several times, but ended up living to be 86.
“He channeled his negative … mental difficulty and depression into enormous productivity,” said O’Connor, a professor at  the JMU School of Media Arts and Design, who has been a fan of Greene’s work since college.
“Dangerous Edge: A Life of Graham Greene” is the first documentary about Greene produced by an American.
The $500,000 film project took O’Connor to Washington, New York, Los Angeles, London and Switzerland and elsewhere to meet with scholars, writers, critics, spies and Greene’s daughter, Caroline Bourget.
O’Connor and his crew, which included Ken Burns’ cinematographer Allen Moore and executive producer Barbara De Fina, who has produced several films for Martin Scorsese, dealt with several time-consuming setbacks on the six-year project.
One of the biggest challenges facing O’Connor was the dearth of film footage of Greene, who largely avoided interviews.
“He had disdain for most television interviews,” O’Connor said.
Subsequently, the film crew was faced with a load of paperwork necessary to use film footage that was available through Hollywood movie studios, which also drove up production costs. O’Connor said using studio footage can cost up to $8,000 per minute of video.
In addition to that footage, pictures and clips from family and interviews conducted by O’Connor, the documentary uses Greene’s own words read by British actor Bill Nighy, known for his work in such films as “Love Actually” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”
The film is narrated by British actor Sir Derek Jacobi, who acted in three films based on Greene’s books.
“Dangerous Edge: A Life of Graham Greene” will be available for purchase April 30 and is now available for preorder on Amazon.
“I am relieved [it’s finished],” O’Connor said. “It was an extraordinarily long process, [but] a piece of work takes as long as it takes to do well.”
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