Last month, I celebrated one of my favorite directors by declaring November Paul Verhovember. During Verhovember, I watched the only feature film of his I hadn’t seen (Business Is Business), rewatched some I hadn’t seen in awhile (Turkish Delight, Flesh+Blood, and Total Recall), watched the only early short film of his I could find (A Lizard Too Much), his TV series (Floris), the episode he directed of The Hitchhiker, watched nearly every one of his films with his audio commentary, and got into a heated argument over Showgirls during Thanksgiving dinner. I still plan to listen to the commentaries I didn’t get to because they’re all fucking great, and they helped me see some of the complexities in his films I had previously missed, and helped me get to know the man himself. Showgirls is the only one he hasn’t recorded one for. Hopefully, this will still happen one day because when he mentions it on other commentaries, he doesn’t sound ashamed of it, so that’s a very good sign.
Two of my favorite things I learned listening to his commentaries are that he “would have liked to have directed My Best Friend’s Wedding” and that he has a hysterical cameo in RoboCop (seen above). Apparently, this is footage of him showing people in the club scene how he wanted them to dance, and they decided to actually include a quick shot of it. It happens right after Ray Wise kicks RoboCop in the RoboBalls.
For awhile, I’ve been thinking that if I ever got a tattoo, I’d like to get “VERHOEVEN” written on my arm somewhere. After Paul Verhovember, I am definitely still considering maybe possibly doing that if I ever decide to get a tattoo, which I most likely will not. In the meantime, I’ll stick with naming my cell phone Ver-phone-ven. Paul Verhoeven is seriously one of the best, most intriguing filmmakers ever, and I encourage everyone to really examine his work. Below are my reviews from his entire filmography.
A Lizard Too Much (1960) – 6.0
Verhoeven’s first short film, made when he was still a film student. There’s a couple, and they’re either in an open relationship, or they’re not a couple, I couldn’t tell, and the guy puts a lizard outside the door when he has company, and the girl hangs out with a sculpture artist. The girl gets along with one of the guy’s companions, and they use makeup to switch places. It feels very much like a student film, but it’s not too bad.
Floris (1969) – 8.5
Obviously, Paul Verhoeven started his career with a children’s television show. It’s an action-adventure series set during the Middle Ages, that actually qualifies as family entertainment, and even takes like 9 episodes before there’s a threat of rape. It’s only an implied threat, though, the show really is light on violence and completely absent of sex. But despite that, it is tremendously fun. I was wrapped up in every episode, and they all flew by, surprising me every time the 30 minutes was up. Rutger Hauer stars as the titular Floris, who occasionally gets into sword fights, but in general, does little more than look pretty, and it’s more focused on his awesome sidekick Sindala (Jos Bergman), who solves every problem they run into, and always saves the day. I’m not all that familiar with “adventure” films and tv, but this show was fucking awesome.
Business Is Business (1971) – 9.0
The day-to-day adventures of two prostitutes in Amsterdam, who specialize in fantasy fetishes, like a submissive man who wants to wear a skimpy maid’s uniform and clean the apartment, or someone who wants them to pretend to perform surgery on him, or a guy who wants them all to cover themselves in feathers (which he keeps in his briefcase, just in case) and pretend to be birds. One of the prostitutes (and the main focus of the movie) is tough and uncompromising in who she is, and the other has an abusive boyfriend, and is not really cut out for the hooker lifestyle. There are some dark moments and bad things that happen, but this is pretty much one of the sweetest movies ever. The girls’ friendship, and their various smutty hijinx are surprisingly cute and funny, and it’s an extremely pleasant watch. Not what I’m used to from Verhoeven, but I loved it just the same. My favorite of his Dutch movies.
Turkish Delight (1973) – 8.0-
A graphic, hyper-real tale of sex-fueled love between Rutger Hauer and Monique van de Ven. Hauer is set up in the opening minutes as sickeningly despicable, sleeping with a series of girls in the most callously confident and abusive way imaginable. It’s revealed that he is acting out due to a broken heart, and the film then goes back to show the evolution of his relationship with de Ven. Hauer’s character is occasionally nicer in these scenes, but remains pretty cunty and is never a likable protagonist. This was an obstacle for me (and led me to think it was one of the worst films I’d ever seen when I first watched it years ago), but I moved past it as the characters’ likability isn’t really vital to the story. It’s more about creating a raw (and occasionally disgusting) sense of realism, encapsulating their love and passion for each other, and it definitely succeeds in this. I watched it with the commentary too, where Verhoeven pointed out things I hadn’t picked up on regarding a very subtle build in the actions of de Ven’s character that lead toward her outcome. It’s, technically, a great movie, and even if it’s not always pleasant to watch, it’s an impressive acheivement in storytelling.
Keetje Tippel (1975) – 8.0
A poor girl (Monique van de Ven) moves to Amsterdam with her family, and she gets some shitty jobs, and eventually works her way up to living with a rich person. Here’s what a Netflix user has to say about that: “Its a bit unbelievable that Katie winds up with a nobleman tho she is just a peasant girl. However, the film is supposedly based on a real person. The movie is in Dutch.” I agree with that last sentence. Anyway, the movie is great. Verhoeven’s gritty, realistic style lends itself well to the story, and de Ven is awesome as Keetje. There’s also an amazing scene with shadow puppets and an erect penis.
Soldier of Orange (1977) – 4.0
A long and confusing war movie that exhibits a very rare show of restraint. I’m drawn to Verhoeven because he’s gleefully and shamelessly excessive with sex and violence. He’s basically an exploitation director with bigger budgets. With Soldier of Orange, he does manage to fit in some gratuitous tits, but even within a setting of war, the violence is almost non-existent, leaving me disappointed. That’s not to say it’s a terrible movie, just that it didn’t appeal to me personally. I may give it another try sometime.
Spetters (1980) – 8.0
Three friends are into motorcycle racing (2 are riders, 1 is the mechanic), and they are all interested in the same girl (a hot dog vendor at the races). She is most interested in the one who seems to be headed toward becoming the next big star of motocross, but has to abandon him once he gets into an accident that leaves him paralyzed from the waist down. The second-best choice is a closeted homosexual who ends up with her brother instead, and the third guy is just generally a loser with no clear future (though he has the biggest dick). It’s almost a sex comedy in certain ways, but not really. The second half, in particular, gets pretty serious and bleak. The characters aren’t quite likable enough to root for, and it runs a bit too long, but it deals with issues like friendship, religion, paralysis, and homosexuality in explicit (like, really explicit) and very thorough detail, making an interesting film well worth examination.
The 4th Man (1983) – 6.5
A man gets together with a woman, mostly to get closer to her boyfriend, and he discovers that three of her past husbands have died tragically, and it’s possible she’s responsible. Verhoeven overloaded the movie with symbolism and religious imagery in order to trick critics into liking it, and it totally worked and remains his most well-received film. It can be silly at times with how blatant he gets with the symbolism, especially driving home the parallels between the woman and a black widow spider, but it’s mostly self-aware and clever. Aside from that, I wasn’t fully invested in it, but I liked the plot and and the intrigue and there’s plenty of great imagery.
Flesh+Blood (1985) – 10.0
Some medieval mercenary peasants led by Rutger Hauer are betrayed by a king or a lord or whatever, so they rob the king lord’s caravan and end up kidnapping his son’s fiancé, and she has to pretend to become one of them to survive, and maybe kinda does become one of them. This shit is dark, vicious, and fucking epic. Verhoeven’s direction and the performances of Rutger Hauer and Susan Tyrrell are totally amazing, but Jennifer Jason Leigh is fucking phenomenal. Not only am I pretty sure that she’s naked just as often as Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls, but she also gives the first performance I’ve ever seen where I feel it necessary to use the word “nuanced.” She makes the movie entirely her own story, and it’s brilliant.
RoboCop (1987) – 10.0
A cop is violently murdered, and then his corpse is used to make a robot supercop. Often overlooked due to its campy title and premise, it’s actually a smart, thoughtful movie about humanity, that is simultaneously insanely over-the-top and entertaining, and fucking crazy violent. The most brilliantly constructed, wonderfully excessive mainstream action film ever put out, while filled with satire, heart, and toxic waste. When it comes to sci-fi action films, RoboCop definitely takes the prize for Most Terrific.
Total Recall (1990) – 9.5
It’s the future, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is fascinated by Mars (where people are living), so he goes to a business called Rekall, where they implant memories of having gone on a vacation. Arnold also opts for the “vacation from himself” where he gets to be a secret agent who defeats Mars’ evil dictator, gets the girl, and saves the planet. Something goes wrong during the memory implantation, though, and Arnold exits, only to realize that the reason he’s been fascinated by the idea of being a secret agent on Mars is because that is what he actually is. The movie shows his journey from here as a reality, where he proceeds to defeat Mars’ evil dictator, get the girl, and save the planet, but of course, it may all be (implanted) in his head. It’s unbelievably entertaining, with a ton of violence, and an ever-evolving storyline with a billion twists. There’s a constant barrage of impressive special effects (by Rob Bottin), seemingly something new in every scene, from a mutant chest-baby revolutionary leader to eye-bulging facial ballooning to three-titted women. This movie lacks nothing. A flawless sci-fi thriller that will hold up forever.
Basic Instinct (1992) – 8.5
A woman stabs a guy to death with an icepick while having sex with him (right as he’s having an orgasm), and Michael Douglas has to find out if Sharon Stone did it or not, so he investigates by having lots of sex with her, which puts himself in danger, but she’s manipulative and irresistible. The opening scene is absolutely incredible, and the ambiguous ending is good too, and there are a couple of Showgirls-y moments in between that I appreciated. An exciting, sexually investigative thriller.
Showgirls (1995) – ?
Nomi Malone hitchhikes to Las Vegas to find fame, and more importantly, to find herself. As she works her way up from being a stripper to being the Dancing Goddess Queen of a dazzling stage show at the Stardust, she gets more and more sucked into the slimy underbelly of the wealthy and corrupt Vegas lifestyle. At least until something terrible happens to her best friend, and she realizes it’s time to leave it all behind while she’s still got some dignity.
It’s a seedier version of a classic story, and this added seediness allows it to work equally as well whether or not you pick up on its themes of high roller corruption and soul-losing. It also allows the film to explore the territory without restriction. It is a film of excess, and this excess is on display through every aspect of the filmmaking process. The inherent sensory overload of Las Vegas is perfectly captured through overwhelmingly glitzy and glamorous cinematography and set design. The actors, aided by what is unquestionably the greatest dialogue ever written, each bring their own unique brand of terrifically campy and unconventional performances. Then it throws in elaborate semi-musical numbers, lesbianism, catfights, a revenge subplot, and of course, an absurd amount of nudity.
I’ve read a number of times that the nudity in Showgirls comes so frequently and randomly that it begins to have a numbing effect, and some have even posited that this is used to make some kind of a point. I don’t buy it. I very strongly disagree that the movie is unsexy or un-erotic, and disagree even more that it is intentionally so. Some people may prefer their eroticism to be a little classier, and that’s a lie just fine, but to suggest that any nudity in a Verhoeven movie is not meant to be enticing is, frankly, misguided and ignorant. I’m not saying there isn’t more going on with the sex and nudity. The scene where Nomi gives Zach a $500 lapdance as Cristal watches sets up the dynamics of control and power between these three characters that remains in play for the duration of the film. I believe that Verhoeven wants it both ways. You, personally, may not be able to jerk off to Nomi miming a seizure in the infamous pool scene, and I can understand that. But I’m saying that Verhoeven probably does. And who knows? It certainly looks goofy and awkward, but what if he’s onto something? Maybe a girl did that to him once and it felt incredible. I’m tempted to try it out myself, and I figure it would either be amazing or it would literally break my dick off. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make about all the nudity is that Paul Verhoeven loves tits. And so do I. And if you also love tits, then you love this movie, and if you deny you love this movie, then you are an asshole.
What a lot of people don’t understand about this film is that it’s pure exploitation. Paul Verhoeven is, and has always been, an exploitation director. He just got lucky with some bigger budgets, which throws people off. His intentions are the same. He knows that audiences want to see sex and they want to see violence, and he’s not ashamed to embrace that. In fact, he’s positively delighted, which is exactly what makes him so remarkable in his gratuitous incorporation of such things, and what makes him stand out in a modern PC world. If Showgirls were made in the 70’s for a quarter of the budget, and only released to the drive-in circuit, nobody would question the quality of the acting or dialogue. The movie is setting a certain tone, and that tone is called Fun. Did you know this movie was 2 hours and 10 minutes? It’s fucking epic. But it flies right by due to the incredible pacing. It never actually feels like a quick pace, and instead utilizes perpetual excitement to keep the audience oblivious to how much time has passed. This tactic is brilliant, and is a prime example of how the finished product indeed meets the vision of the director.
No mistakes were made in the making of Showgirls. Like many other exploitation directors, Verhoeven is genuinely talented, and he knows what he’s fucking doing. He proves this not just through the pacing, or even through his many other, better-received works, but most notably, in the movie’s rape scene. It’s a brutal and traumatizing scene, by anyone’s standards. And it completely shatters the aforementioned Fun tone of every scene before it. This is why it’s important. If Showgirls had continued through the end as nothing but fluff, it would still be one of the greatest movies ever made. But with the inclusion of a shocking, disgustingly effective rape scene, Verhoeven is masterfully fucking with the audience. It’s a deliberate subversion of expectations that raises the movie to another level. And it’s fucking genius.
Showgirls isn’t for everyone. It’s not for anyone with sensitive tastes. But for the casual moviegoer, and even for serious, analytical types, the only way it’s even possible to dislike this movie is if you despise the entire concept of entertainment itself. By my own sensibilities, however, as someone who loves the concept of entertainment, it’s the best movie to have ever existed. Every single frame is perfectly constructed into a deliriously entertaining masterpiece of gleeful sleaze that transcends the limits of visceral arousal that cinema had been previously thought capable of. That may sound like hyperbole, but Showgirls is so excessive that it goes beyond cinema, and thus, hyperbole would be impossible.
My favorite movie of all time.
To read my backstory with discovering this film, and look at a ton of images and gifs, click here.
Starship Troopers (1997) – 9.0
Some soldiers go to an alien planet to kill giant bugs who pose a threat to Earth. Naturally, there’s gratuitous sex and nudity (not gratuitous in the sense that there’s an abundance of it, but in the sense that what there is of it doesn’t necessarily serve any purpose to the story), a whole lot of violence and gore, groundbreaking special effects, and an undercurrent of satire. The cast is amazing and perfect, even Denise Richards. I’ve never liked her much, and I don’t find her physically attractive, but Verhoeven utilizes her lack of talent in a way that makes her seem kind of cute. Her two emotions that she has in the movie, extremely happy and extremely serious/mad, are ridiculous, but somehow effective in making you care about her character. The action scenes are riveting and brutal, and the science fiction element is handled perfectly. As far as Verhoeven Sc-Fi goes, it’s not quite as good as RoboCop or Total Recall, but it’s still got plenty of what makes those movies great.
Hollow Man (2000) – 9.0
Kevin Bacon leads a team of scientists who have discovered how to make living beings invisible, and when he figures out how to also make them visible again, he decides to test it out on himself. Once invisible, he becomes somewhat mischievous, but after the re-visible process fails, he starts going crazy. This whole movie is pretty crazy. I felt satisfied with the exploration of what would happen to someone with this particular power, done in Verhoeven’s trademark over-the-top, highly sexualized style. And the special effects are mostly fucking awesome. I loved the creepy burn victim mask they made him. Paul has obviously made better (and far more complex) sci-fi films, but it’s still an effective and exciting sci-fi thriller.
Black Book (2007) – 8.0
A Jewish woman joins a small resistance group during World War II, and goes undercover with Nazis to find out what they’re up to. An excellent thriller with countless reveals of betrayal, so you can never trust what side anyone is on. Kinda like the first season of 24, but starring a woman, set in Nazi Germany, and with more sex and vagina-hair-dying. It’s fucking great.
Paul Verhoeven, I love you. Please make a new movie soon.
Here is a romantic screencap from Flesh+Blood:
To read more of Austin’s writings, almost always about movies, visit his website at wolfsothern.blogspot.com.