Flesh + Blood: The Films of Paul Verhoeven

Flesh + Blood: The Films of Paul Verhoeven

While there are certainly other filmmakers whose career journeys have been as strange as that of Paul Verhoeven, there are few who have so blithely and cheerfully embraced that journey’s contradictions. A national hero in the Netherlands and an emerging art-house superstar on the international festival circuit after his Dutch features Turkish Delight, Katie Tippel, Soldier of Orange and The Fourth Man, Verhoeven nonetheless felt the critical lash early on with the outraged domestic response to his controversial motocross epic Spetters — a precursor for the vitriolic attacks he would receive a short decade later.

“People seem to have this strange idea that films can influence people to be violent, but in my sincere opinion film only reflects the violence of society.” —Paul Verhoeven

Relocating to the US, this one-time art-house darling became the very definition of the crassly commercial Hollywood blockbuster specialist, helming FX-heavy action-movie juggernauts (RoboCop, Total Recall) and bringing a gleamingly expensive sheen to exploitative, button-pushing sleaze (Basic Instinct). Yet when he pushed big-budget exploitation to its extremes in Showgirls, it proved too much for even Hollywood to handle. Though Verhoeven was not exactly run out of town on a rail following that critically reviled and much-mocked box-office turkey (which has since developed a cult following and been critically reappraised) the middling commercial performance of his follow-ups Starship Troopers and Hollow Man left him wandering in Hollywood’s development wilderness.

And yet resurrection was in the cards for the redoubtable Dutchman. Following the director’s triumphant homecoming to Holland with Black Book in 2006, Verhoeven’s Hollywood career was subjected to a full-scale campaign of critical reclamation (one that continues apace with the release of a new monograph on Showgirls by Toronto film critic and TIFF Reel Talk host Adam Nayman, also appearing in person to introduce the film).

Marking the Canadian premiere of Verhoeven’s daring new film Tricked —a user-generated movie whose narrative was devised and filmed piecemeal based on suggested story ideas from the public— this much-anticipated retrospective celebrates a filmmaker who has fought his way to critical vindication by wading through the deepest troughs of degradation.

Flesh + Blood: The Films of Paul Verhoeven screens at TIFF Bell Lightbox from January 24 to April 4, 2014. Adam Nayman introduces Showgirls on Friday, March 14 at 10 p.m.

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