Margaret Barton-Fumo, who has interviewed an illustrious coterie of renowned international auteurs throughout her career (including genre stalwarts like Brian De Palma and idiosyncratic provocateurs such as Andrzej Zulawski and Alejandro Jodorowsky) as well as contributed to Film Comment since 2006, edits a marvelous and comprehensive portrait of the famed Dutch director in Paul Verhoeven: Interviews.
Paul Verhoeven, the most prolific and renowned director from the Netherlands, who single-handedly made his country’s film industry notable thanks to a string of lauded hits in the late 1970s (particularly the Oscar nominated Turkish Delight), famously segued into a commercially successful Hollywood career thanks to his sci-fi hits like Robocop (1987) and Total Recall (1990), before controversial, boundary crossing adult thrillers Basic Instinct (1992) and Showgirls (1995) began a slow progression back to his native Netherlands in 2006 with Black Book. Beginning with early interviews in 1968 concerning a controversial documentary Verhoeven shot about the leader of the NSB (the 1930’s Dutch pro-fascist party), Barton-Fumo covers every major project and period until the post-production of his award-winning comeback title, Elle, which starred Isabelle Huppert.
Famous for his ongoing fascination with Jesus Christ, as well as for holding an advanced degree in mathematics and physics, Verhoeven’s charming pragmatism when it comes to views on sexuality and religion are refreshingly apparent from his early film days in the late 1960s. Likewise, Verhoeven’s segue into narrative form with the 1969 television series Floris, which brought the director in contact with leading man Rutger Hauer, who would appear in all his films until their famed falling out on the set of 1985’s Flesh+Blood, fashions his early days into an intriguing bildungsroman of a prolific talent.
Verhoeven’s falling out with Hauer and his ascension in Hollywood, which was delayed thanks to the controversy in the Netherlands over the ill-received 1980’s Spetters (read review), are candidly outlined in Verhoeven’s forthcoming exchanges. Tidbits about his love/hate relationship with Sharon Stone on the set of Basic Instinct, and the media fall-out of both Showgirls and Starship Troopers (1997) show a daring and ambitious director who consistently presented mainstream minded art-house ideas in packages well-ahead of their time.
Barton-Fumo also provides interview material featuring Elizabeth Berkley published prior to the release of Showgirls. Several failed or abandoned projects Verhoeven worked on throughout his career are also discussed vividly, including the ill-fated Crusades project which was supposed to reunite Verhoeven with Arnold Schwarzenegger (countless others which have been bandied about over the past decade don’t get any sort of mention, such as The Surrogate, which once had Halle Berry attached, or Eternal).
Three decades after Verhoeven became a major Hollywood icon, all his English language films sans Flesh+Blood and Hollow Man, have been remade (Robocop and Total Recall were both unsuccessfully rebooted, while 2018 saw Neill Blomkamp takes the reigns of another remake of the former), or spawned sequels (Basic Instinct, Showgirls, and Starship Troopers have all received the sequel treatment), and all provide interesting points of comparison to the original titles.
Also of note, readers may want to more fully explore some of Verhoeven’s tangential projects, such as 2012’s Tricked, which was the product of the Entertainment Experience, wherein a crowd of competing writers assembled the film’s narrative, and his 2008 biography The Real Jesus of Nazareth.
While readers may be familiar with Verhoeven’s Hollywood films, or perhaps the countless derivative formulations they’ve spawned, it might be helpful for readers to first revisit his early Dutch titles. His 1971 debut Business is Business (aka Diary of a Hooker) might be hard to come by, but his next five titles can be tracked down (with several in need of new restorations, particularly Turkish Delight and Soldier of Orange). Kino Lorber has recently re-leased the infamous Spetters, but it might be of interest for aficionados to track down Katie Tippel, which Verhoeven remains highly critical of, and the moody erotic thriller The 4th Man, which is a fantastic exercise template for what he would later accomplish with Basic Instinct.
Barton-Fumo’s extensively curated list of chronological interviews manages to paint a rough composite of Verhoeven’s favored obsessions, such as frank depictions of human sexual behavior, his membership in the exclusive Westar Institute (of which he is the only non-theologian) and his formative childhood experiences growing up in WWII Nazi-occupied Hague.
Certain chapters of his career tend to feel a bit overlooked, particularly 1990’s Total Recall. At the same time, one wishes more had been included on the aftermath of Elle, which saw Verhoeven premiere at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews, and eventually earn multiple Golden Globe and Oscar nominations in the US (including a Golden Globe win and Oscar nod for Isabelle Huppert). The film’s success has led to what looks like the European leg of Verhoeven’s resume, announcing future collaborations with producer Said Ben Said, including a planned war film on the French resistance currently known by working title Lyon 1943. As of mid-2018, Verhoeven has gone into production on Benedetta, starring Virginie Efira, depicting the life of infamous lesbian nun Sister Benedetta Carlini, adapted from Judith C. Brown’s Immodest Acts. That film was tipped to be among the competition titles for the 2020 edition of the currently postponed Cannes Film Festival.