Tuesday 1 November 2016

More Verhoeven Conversation - Serious cinephiles analyse the great man's past

Editor's Note:  Eddie Cockrell's review  of Paul Verhoevens latest film Elle got some conversation going about the director's life and career. The next iteration lifted from my Facebook page, follows,  if you want to follow all of this this strand click here for the middle episode as well

Now read on for the latest.....Bruce Hodsdon I have yet to see Elle so cannot contribute directly but can contribute a quote on Verhoeven from the book 'Surrealism and Cinema' (2006) by Michael Richardson who has published widely on surrealism. Richardson notes that V is the one Hollywood director who has genuine links with surrealism. "As a young man in the sixties, he was a member of the Dutch Surrealist Group. This is not something he brings attention to either he has ceased to be interested in surrealism or because , as a genuine surrealist, he doesn't wish to make cultural capital from it. Yet there remains in V's work clear traces of a surrealist attitude, even if these are mingled with a deep cynicism (born doubtless of the environment of Hollywood as well as the considerable difficulties he had making films in his homeland) both gives his films a particular edge while leaving the spectator dissatisfied with an apparent lack of sincerity; at times this cynicism seems forced, suggesting that it may be a strategy to establish his credentials."

.I remember seeing V's breakthrough film Turkish Delight at the SFF c1973- " an aggressively erotic satire of an unhappy marriage." It has stuck in the mind - the satire shifts gear into something more confronting when the wife develops cancer. Richardson's reference to V's early difficulties with making films in his home country is intriguing since Turkish Delight was a domestic and international box office success which according to Katz "brought recognition not only to V but to the then merging Dutch feature film industry. "

David Hare Very pertinent observation of PV's "attitude" Bruce. Its the same thing that led so many commentators to respond to something like Starship Troopers which is so broadly pitched which as in fact some kind of nuanced allegory of 21st century fascism. Hes always on target when he' s wallowing in the muck. Like the church scene in The Fourth Man where the "straight" boy gives the "bisexual" artist a blowjob at the foot of the crucifix. Now THAT"s my kind of cinema.

Eddie Cockrell I grew up on the writings of Robert A. Heinlein, and Verhoeven's take on Starship Troopers is a brilliant subversion of what the novel set out to do. A great film.

David Hare It's hugely enjoyable and the naked shower scene with barely "legal" age boys and girls together is one of the great censor twisters. And of course he makes us finally sympathize with the creatures because they are more realistic than the kids who are simply too pneumatic, But reading it as a fascist political allegory (because Verhoeven grew up in occupied Holland like everyone else then) is bollocks.

Eddie Cockrell The book is pretty right-wing, though, so that reading has some merit I think.

David Hare It certainly would if that was the film Verhoeven was making. But he just can't help himself. His movies just wanna have fun! I just wish he'd made an x rated version with real sex etc...

Eddie Cockrell Well, sure, but I'm surprised Tri-Star/Touchstone let him get away with as much as he did.

David Hare He is a master of the censor dodge. Viz the uncut and cut Robocop violence. I admire him for this need I add. I do notice throughout this discussion no=-one has even hinted at any trace of misogyny. Turk Fruit anyone? I found the second half almost nauseatingly unpleasant in that respect.

Eddie Cockrell I admire him for this as well; the early, jagged violence in TOTAL RECALL announces a popcorn film in which all bets of decorum are off.

David Hare ..and thank the lord for that!! Only PV could have gotten Arnie into drag.

Eddie Cockrell as we're saying, he has a talent for pushing things on all levels.

Bruce Hodsdon  I think you a being a bit harsh David. I would not call Black Book exactly "wallowing in the muck". I assume it has some kind of base in WW2 experience (V was born in 1938 so would have some first memory of the effects of the War). Richardson is prepared to give him some benefit of the doubt which he does not so readily extend to David Lynch for example saying L "has learned a lot from repeated viewings of Un Chien Andalou" his films having at best affinities with surrealism -'playing (stylistic) mind games with the viewer 'Cocteau-like' Stronger affinities R thinks can be be extended to a number of other directors like Altman, Huston and Welles and Edwards and Gilliam. He is suggesting V is in also in this category but qualifies it because unlike Lynch, V has had a genuine early engagement with Surrealism which marks his work.

David Hare Bruce the material is, but what I am trying to outline is PV's basic approach or perhaps rather the way he ends up realizing his material. He plays with it, especially character and motivational elements like someone torturing a fly, and manipulates the audience (often brilliantly) into adopting sometimes conflicting sympathies. Example. The gang bang in Spetters when the gay bikers rape the asshole boyfriend of the blonde heroine. He wants you to sympathize with the bikers to the extent he shows the boy then magically experience a Paul at Tarsis moment after the rape when he realizes he's gay Wow. (as they say.) ....

Bruce Hodsdon It's kind of enjoyable i would think being paid like that to successfully play (cynical?) mind games based on the pleasure principle.

David Hare I welcome him as a transgressor in the current hideous world of post PC decorum. The world needs more "artists " like PV and Refn. But not in things like Elle. (And surely Isaabelle can by now be acknowledged capable of doing these roles blindfolded by telegraph etc. So we can all finally be spared any more torturing of her beshat upon persona as indeed the successor to Uncle Ingmar's Poor Ingrid Thulin cutting off her clitoris in high toned shit like Cries and (fucking) Whispers.

Eddie Cockrell Is that a literal translation of the Bergman title?

David Hare if it isn't it should be

Eddie Cockrell You make an excellent point, however. I bet if he'd found that elusive American actress willing and able to take on the demands of the role (a la Sharon Stone in BASIC INSTINCT) you might've liked the film a bit more, yes?

David Hare Well here' my first heresy of the day. I think Sharon is a far more compelling actor than Isabelle, if only for the reason La Hupps lost her edge not long after her best part (Chabrol's La Ceremonie) and has since made a monotonal career attaching herself to roles of pathological suffering and angst. a trajectory of kink which climaxes in the spectaularly bad and unintentionally hilarious role as Mum in Christophe Honore's Ma Mere (from the George Bataille high porno novella)..., She is the one genuinely bad thing in Claire Denis' White Material. And Denis a director I adore, whose work with actors is so exemplary close and intimate. But not here. If I were heterosexual Sharon Stone would be on my bucket list. In the end it all comes down to sex, Eddie.


Bruce Hodsdon Now you mention it David there is for me some affinity between the last part of Turkish Delight (as far as I can remember it) and C&W although the stylistic means are somewhat different.

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