Dutch director Paul Verhoeven is really an individualistic man. He worked out how to attract Hollywood by interesting set design even when the output from Holland was art films. Even so, the content turned the likes of Steven Spielberg away. That didn’t matter as ‘Robocop’ (1987), ‘Total Recall’ (1990) and ‘Starship Troopers’ (1997) put him on our genre map, although reading this book, this is only a small number of films he’s done in his long career. As the title says, this is a book of interviews with Verhoeven taken over the years starting off with an introduction by its editor, Margaret Barton-Fumo and several of her interviews at the end of the book. As these interviews start off from 1968, you are also essentially getting a time capsule of opinions and thoughts that build up a picture of the man who has degrees in maths and physics and, later in life, written a book on the real Jesus Christ, although not religious.
Reading the interviews about his early Dutch films, you can’t avoid the level of sex or violence in content. With the latter, Verhoeven makes a good case for being realistic and showing its not pretty or should be liked, although much of it, sometimes just a few seconds and snips, gets cut under the censors. He also cites that you have to care for characters or the violence becomes meaningless. All of which prepares you for page 40 in when he discusses ‘Robocop’ as a black comedy. Later in the book, Verhoeven also discusses the remakes of his films pointing out their failure in having a lack of humour.
Across the 32 interviews, the SF side is out-numbered by discussion about his other films. You do get an understanding of how censoring is done in Holland, pre-filming because of government investing, and America to temper explicitly. Although I’ve only seen a sampling of Verhoeven’s other films, his thoughts on sexuality and violence is to make a point than be explicit for its own sake and he discusses the choreography but then he storyboards his films in detail. Thinking about that, I still have to ponder on whether the viewer realises this. It might work on an intellectual level in ‘art’ films but subtle inference isn’t always got by the viewer. Ask people about Verhoeven’s film ‘Basic Instinct’ and people refer only to the police interrogation scene. In fact, it was one of the reasons I shied away from watching for many years, thinking that was all it was centred on, not that it was a stalker film.
In the centre of the book, there is a 28 page look at the storyboards Verhoeven drew for his various films, setting out what he needs to achieve in various scenes. Although you might have thought there might have been photos from his various films, considering how much Verhoeven discusses using storyboarding, it’s a good choice and for those interested in directing will find it useful to see how he thinks.
Verhoeven is still directing and one of his latest, ‘Tricked’, was crowdfunded. Reading his interview with Barton-Fumo, it sounded like a weird affair with so many of the crowd involved in the scripting and even he thought it might have been easier with fewer people involved which might be worth reading for those inclined that way.
With so many interviews, you would expect some repetition but oddly it doesn’t intrude although I did find it easier to read in smaller chunks at a time to absorb all the information. I certainly came away from this book knowing a lot more about Paul Verhoeven and his motivations. Don’t necessarily buy this book expecting a lot of information about our genre films but if you want to understand the director, then you will want this book.
(pub: University Press Of Mississippi. 212 page indexed enlarged hardback. Price: £55.50 (UK), $55.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4968-1015-1)