Paul Verhoeven is one of those directors that reared me as I was first starting to appreciate film. At the ripe old age of 7, I saw Robocop and it blew my mind. At the age of 10, I saw Total Recall in theaters and vowed to myself that I would see every Verhoeven film in theaters from that point forward. I did, by the way, some were good (Starship Troopers), some were horrible (The Hollow Man) and some were not appreciated until later on (Showgirls). But no matter what, I saw what Verhoeven was getting at every time he got behind the camera to make one of his grand American made films.
It wasn’t until I was a bit older and in college that I heard about his Dutch films when he lived in Holland and made smaller dramas, such as Turkish Delight and Spetters. I wanted to know more about this man, this visionary, that was only partially seen in his satirical American films. Loving his commentary on his films and in life itself, I saw the opportunity to see him speak after a screening of Monty Python’s Life of Brian at the IFC Center here in New York City, discussing his new book Jesus of Nazareth and more or less just speaking openly about religion, life and over the top violence that, in essence, is just as comedic as a pratfall.
First off, to speak about Life of Brian would be a waste of time. Not because of anything negative. On the contrary, it keeps on beating out Monty Python and the Holy Grail in my love of their feature films. I love the religious commentary and how it so closely follows the history of that time period and how much funnier it gets with subsequent viewings. But I’m going to make one complaint and not about the actual film, but instead about the print they had at the screening.
It really seemed to me that the print that was on the screen at the IFC Center was sadly not up to par: it was scratched and full of dirt and grime. Even the sound was tinny as hell and was a bit rough to listen to at first. A friend of mine came along and he made a point to say that the print of the film was one of the worst he had seen on the big screen. I was sadly surprised about that too, considering the price of the screening. Especially since there’s a nice print that not only the Criterion Collection put out, but Sony Pictures also recently re-released it on DVD.
It’s becoming a bit trashy here, so I’ll sidestep that instead to speak about the man, the myth, the legend of film making himself, Mr. Paul Verhoeven. He spoke about a plethora of topics, the main one being about his new book Jesus of Nazareth. It was a very interesting talk, him just detailing the writing process and how originally it was going to be a movie that he was researching about 20 years ago.
He spoke about being the only non-theologian allowed into the Jesus Seminar, a group of seventy-seven eminent scholars in theology, philosophy, linguistics, and biblical history. How the more he looked at his notes and spoke to them all about Jesus and the various gospels, especially the ones the Church itself doesn’t recognize for being, *ahem* blasphemous, he saw a historical novel instead coming from the information. But now that he’s finished with it and doing the press rounds, he is considering doing a film adaptation of his own book.
‘When you read the book, you can see there is a film there. Jesus, in my opinion, was much more dangerous, adventurous than normally shown.”
Ahh, an adventure film about Jesus? That would be awesome. What I also love is that he briefly mentioned the long gestated but never gotten around to film, The Crusades, he was going to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He actually even made a crack at Ridley Scott about it too. Verhoeven also mentioned that the biggest hurdle with that film was Carolco going bankrupt, which always hurts any film project and that years later, when he was still shopping it around, Ridley Scott made Kingdom of Heaven, which he kind of gently scoffed at, saying, ‘Then there was no room for another epic religious movie.’
We here at Criterion Cast did not get a chance to ask him any questions, considering when asked any question, Mr. Verhoeven would speak in detail about the film making process in general, about religion and how he is a devout atheist, which makes him love to study religion even more.
He also made a good point about religious films, being that most films dealing with Jesus are boring or are full of torture and pain, and that we as people already know life is full of pain, so why would we want to continue in an entertainment format. I’m thinking that was also a crack at Mel Gibson’s torture porn epic, The Passion of the Christ. He did mention it in an interview later that night with MTV Movie News. So he was being a bit coy with us at the IFC Center.
He spoke only for about 45 minutes but he crammed so much in there that makes you as a film fan just want to listen to him for hours upon hours. And seeing Paul Verhoeven in person, I got to give him a thumbs up and say, ‘Spetters!’ which he then said, ‘Ah, someone knows about my Spetters. Very good to know that.’
We’re all huge fans of Paul Verhoeven here at The Criterion Cast, especially our very own Rudie Obias. I know I for one wish that they would get the rights to his early Dutch films The 4th Man, Turkish Delight, Katie Tippel, Business is Business and Soldier of Orange and put out one of their patented box sets of a specific film maker or actor. Let’s start a movement to get more Paul Verhoeven films in the Criterion Collection.