After all, it's just a ride….

London Film Festival 2016 – Paul Verhoeven In Conversation

verhoevenWell, I think we’ve finally hit our peak event of the season, as my delighted impish instincts were molested by uber-satirist Paul Verhoeven in Q&A mode at this years London Film Festival. Paul’s in town to promote his festival favorite rape-comedy Elle, and please believe me when I do not collide the words ‘rape’ and ‘comedy’ lightly, but once you have seen the film and understand its corrosive intent you can’t fail to be impressed by what is one of the most daring and selfless films of recent years. It opens here in January, but to begin let’s ease ourselves gently into the cinema of Mr. Verhoeven with a little  montage culled from across his career, while the  South Bank event opened with the first three minutes of 1973’s  Turkish Delight, still the most successful Dutch film of all time. In that scene (which I can’t source, luckily for you puritans out there) we witness a young Rutger Hauer fantasizing about brutally murdering and killing his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, before he furiously jerks over a picture of her in his squalid, filthy, decrepit Amsterdam apartment;

PAUL VERHOEVEN FİLMLERİ / FILMS from Modern Sinema on Vimeo.

The first words out of his mouth was to jocularly complain that the subtitles in the clip we saw were not accurate, and what Hauer was actually muttering in that scene was ‘I want to eat the shit out of your ass.’ Yes, welcome to Paul Verhoeven ladies and gentlemen, and after the crowd had regained its composure we were treated to a lengthy and intelligent cantor through his bi-Atlantic career, with an equal emphasis on his early, ‘funnier’ work which naturally had him loathed and pilloried by the right wing press in Holland, just as he was attacked for the sex and violence in his controversial films Showgirls, Basic Instinct and Total Recall after he decanted to Hollywood in the early 1980’s. He is quite candid when inevitably pressed on the sex in his films, where he kinda shrugged his shoulders and explained that he presents it accurately, with genuine passion and sweaty friction, rather than the airbrushed veneer of the puritanical vetting system, as well as it being a useful character tool as we are all, to one degree or another, sexual beings ourselves – he has a point. Then of course we had to tackle the violence sized elephant in the room, and the curator decided to air a perfectly selected clip to move into his American period;

If it wasn’t for his wife who talked him into making the film we would never had had the treasures to come, as he didn’t care for the Robocop script which had none of the deeper, darker manipulation of the 1980’s Reganite American psyche at the time, and had been artistically burnt by the poor reception and his directorial performance of his first English language and studio funded picture Flesh & Blood. What followed with a few detours is  the unholy SF brutalist trinity of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers, all strong candidates for the best genre films of their time. I didn’t realize that he had directly lifted imagery from Riefenstahl’s Triumph Of The Will for arguably his best film, and never let it be forgotten that he earns playing in such controversial areas because as a young boy who remembers the close of the second World War and the destructive bombing runs of the Allied forces, the corpses in the streets, and the existential, brooding ambient terror that you could be annihilated at any time from a rogue bomb or vicious retreating Wehrmacht warrior. Ever the true gentlemen he continually insisted that the real praise lies with the producers and screenwriters he collaborated with over these years, as they were just as hungry and driven to make the films as darkly satirical as he desired, pushing him to go further, and apparently falling over each other laughing during long, coffee-fueled development sessions on Starship Troopers;

He kinda went into one when pressed further on the violence, explaining that it is a inherently violent universe, before going even further and expanding out to distant galaxies that collide with and everything is obliterated,  all sentient potential life and million epoch eras civilizations annihilated in the blink of an eye – although yes of course he does loathe real-world violence, with some sobering allusions to Syria which all gave us a moments pause for thought. As usual with these sessions the talk diverted to the unrealized and dream projects He still lives in L.A., and has a neo-noir script ready and raring to go which he can’t get funded because the hero dies in the final reel – it doesn’t seem to matter that he would craft a fantastic, stylistic thriller, it’s the powers that be which refuse to fund such an allegedly audience downer, showing how far the creative instinct has curdled even since his heyday of the late 1990’s. More pertinently his long gestating Jesus bio-pic was raised, and it seems that even through exhausting three writers and exploring numerous approaches he just can’t get a script in a satisfactory position, even before he goes to try and finance what might well be the most controversial film of all time – think Jesus as more of a Che Guevara revolutionary figure, none of this illusory divine heritage or powers, and certainly none of this resurrection nonsense which as a member he Jesus Seminar whom has studied scripture and biblical history for decades he smilingly explained was all a total marketing job. A standing ovation ensued, and justly deserved, so as far as I’m concerned if everything else this year at the LFF is poor this would still be a fundamental success, would you like to know more?;

Verhoeven in Hollywood from Martin Kessler on Vimeo.

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