Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator,” an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today’s creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields—bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: Paul Verhoeven.
Apart from his particular inclination towards violence, Academy Award-nominated Paul Verhoeven is mostly known for his utterly provocative and visionary sci-fi movies, dealing with complex issues such as fascism, propaganda, social emancipation, and the alienation of free will. From Business Is Business (1971) to Black Book (2006), this prolific cineast has never limited himself to one genre, directing war stories, as well as erotic thrillers, and historical dramas—thus bridging the gap between smaller Dutch productions and mainstream Hollywood cinema.
The trailer for Total Recall (1990), one of Verhoeven’s greatest international successes.
The Early Days
Born in the Netherlands, Verhoeven discovered his early penchant for cinema during his studies in mathematics and physics at the University of Leiden. During his military service in the Royal Dutch Navy, the Army asked him to make a documentary for the tercentenary of the Navy—and his love for directing was born. After leaving the army in 1969, he started working in Dutch television, directing the TV series “Floris,” an adventure story set in the Middle Ages featuring Rutger Hauer, who later would become one of his favorite actors. The success of the series encouraged him to make his first full-length movie, Business Is Business, a comedy about the lives of two prostitutes that strengthened his provocateur style. Two years later, he received some international success with his second movie Turkish Delices (1973) that earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Verhoeven continued to experiment with his favorite topics—erotism and violence—in movies such as Spetters (1982) and The Fourth Man (1983), both which were very well-received in the United States.
Trailer for RoboCop (1987)
The American era
Using unusued material from “Floris,” Verhoeven co-wrote and directed his first American movie, Flesh and Blood (1985), where rape and murder dictated the story of a group of merciless Italian mercenaries. But it wan’t until1987 that he received commercial global success with RoboCop, starring Peter Weller as Alex Murphy, a police officer brutally murdered and revived as a superhuman cyborg. While dealing with serious matters such as gentrification and capitalism, Verhoeven used ultra-violence as well as stunning VFX to satirize American culture. The character of RoboCop became a pop culture icon and the gold standard for the fusion of man and machine in the genre of science fiction movies. From then on, each of his works received incredible public acclaim, including Total Recall (1990) and Basic Instinct (1992), though his success was not reciprocated with Showgirls (1995) as it was violently reviewed by the press.
Trailer for Basic Instinct
Back to the Glory Days
Three years later, Verhoeven got back on the victory trail with his brilliant adaptation of the novel Starship Troopers (1997), written by Robert A. Heinlein. Casting lesser known stars like as Denise Richards and Casper Van Dien, the filmmaker once again made a smart use of irony and hyperbole to denounce American society, while playing with fascist imagery. Faithful to his love of the fantastic and his tendency to provoke his viewers, he went on to direct The Hollow Man (2000), the story of a scientist inspired by H.G Wells’ The Invisible Man. In 2006, he returned to Dutch cinema with The Black Book, inspired by his childhood growing up in THe Hague during the Second World War. Applying his skills as a filmmaker both to the service of of his country and satirical studies of the Western society, Verhoeven has become one of the greatest sci-fi filmmakers whose characters somehow seem to transcend good and evil.
Trailer for Starship Troopers