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For many filmgoers, Paul Verhoeven's career began with Robocop, Total Recall, and Basic Instinct. But Verhoeven's career began over two decades earlier and many thousand miles away from Hollywood--back in the country where he was born, Holland. Arguably his best movies come from this first half of his career. None of these films indicate Verhoeven had an interest in science fiction, which makes up the bulk of his American output (such as the aforementioned Robocop and Total Recall, as well as Starship Troopers and Hollow Man), but you will indeed find Verhoeven's characteristic preoccupation with explicitly portraying the private moments and sexual habits of his lead characters. In Turkish Delight, Verhoeven's camera takes an unflinching look at the sexual life of an artist who meets his match in a sexually uninhibited young woman, and The 4th Man is a delirious, nightmarish depiction of the steamy relationship that develops between an alcoholic writer and a beautiful-but-possibly-deadly beauty parlor owner. (She has been married three times and all of her husbands died violently.)

If you've seen Verhoeven's Dutch films, you'll likely be less surprised by the more outrageous elements of his American output--such as the infamous interrogation room scene from Basic Instinct. With a candor largely foreign to American audiences, Verhoeven films his characters at their most vulnerable. For example, in The 4th Man, Jeroen Krabbé plays an alcoholic writer who trembles upon waking after a drinking binge and stumbles through his house with his stark-naked lower extremities clearly on display, and in Turkish Delight, Monique Van de Ven reacts in horror when she defecates and her stool is red. Rutger Hauer as her boyfriend rummages through her stool for clues to her ailment. Dutch critics were indeed shocked by scenes like these, but they also admired Verhoeven's flair for using traditionally taboo subject matter in ways that help us better understand his characters.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has released on DVD Verhoeven's three best Dutch films--Turkish Delight (1973), Soldier of Orange (1977), and The 4th Man (1983). These DVDs come complete with audio commentary by Verhoeven, trailers, and lengthy talent bios on the principal players. These discs represent an excellent opportunity for people only familiar with Verhoeven's American output to find out about his early career. And for those people already familiar with Verhoeven's Dutch output, these discs represent an outstanding opportunity to see these movies in first-rate widescreen transfers.

 Turkish DelightTOP OF PAGE   

Rutger Hauer first worked with Paul Verhoeven on a twelve-episode Dutch television series titled Floris. This well-received show was a turning point in both their careers, paving the way for Verhoeven's first feature film, Business to Business. This film, based on life in Amsterdam's red-light district, became a huge commercial success in Holland, hauling in the fourth highest box-office receipts of any picture in Dutch history. As a follow up, Hauer and Verhoeven worked together on an adaptation of a best-selling novel by Jan Wolkers, Turkish Delight. The resulting movie garnered even greater commercial success than Business to Business, becoming the highest grossing film in Dutch history. Turkish Delight isn't a likely box-office success. Its two leading characters aren't even particularly likable. Erik Vonk (Hauer) habitually insults the women he picks up and beds. He kicks them out of his apartment as soon as he's done with them. But then Verhoeven feeds us scenes from the past and we see Vonk's relationship with a vivacious young woman (Van de Ven) who eagerly meets his appetites. They do exactly as their whims take them--like two kids with no id. She's just as hedonistic as he is. But we become interested in these characters because Vonk's infatuation with Olga quickly turns into love. It's amazing how much bad, boorish behavior we can forgive when love-at-first sight is involved.

Vonk and Olga are seemingly meant for each other. They rarely argue. They enjoy very frequent sex, and their sexual relationship leaves them both satisfied. However, while Vonk is an incorrigible rogue, Olga is mentally unbalanced (as we gradually learn). She has a brain tumor. Occasionally, she stops what she's doing and just stares into space, becoming near catatonic. Eventually her behavior becomes erratic and she leaves Vonk--complaining that all he wants is sex ten times a day. He is devastated and can hardly function, but once her illness becomes known he re-enters her life.

Verhoeven films this story with great candor. He shows us his lead characters, frequently buck naked, as they cavort at Vonk's pad or in her bed at her parent's house or in an auto parked beside a highway. Verhoeven coaxes very naturalistic performances out of his stars who appear completely at ease in their sex scenes, which are surprisingly explicitly (showing everything but the workings of genitalia). This explicitness is one of the hallmarks of Verhoeven's cinema. He isn't afraid to show anything on a movie screen if he thinks it will help him to tell a story. Verhoeven definitely isn't afraid of depicting unsavory aspects of his lead characters' lives. For example, Vonk's devotion to Olga is so strong that he would submit to anything she desires. At one point, he offers to lick her clean as she sits on a toilet--and he is only half joking. For Vonk, such an act would have nothing to do with degradation. Instead, it would have simply been a show of his love for Olga.

At times, however, Verhoeven's attraction to waste and decay also compelled him to make choices that are hard to defend, such as the close-up of a dog defecating on the street or the horrendous death bed scene for Olga'a father (his bedding drips from his excrement). In these cases, as he juxtapositions life and decay, Verhoeven smacks of a bad boy wanting to shock his audience.

Much of the burden for making Turkish Delight succeed rests on the shoulders of Hauer and Van de Ven, and they both deliver astonishing performances. Hauer is alternatingly intense and playful. He makes Vonk an intriguing mass of contradictions. He's part an unflinching boor and part a vulnerable lover. Van de Ven was only 19 years old when she played the role of Olga. But she delivers a remarkably assured performance as she captures Olga's intensity and lack of inhibitions. She tried to make the transition to American films but the right roles never came her way and eventually she returned to Europe, where she remains busy today in films.

Anchor Bay's DVD of Turkish Delight presents the movie in 1.66:1 format, enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The disc includes audio commentary by Verhoeven, a theatrical trailer, a stills gallery, and talent bios.

 Soldier of OrangeTOP OF PAGE   

Soldier of Orange gives American audiences a rare opportunity to see the citizens of Holland reacting when confronted with an encroaching German army. There has been no shortage of American films about WWII, but most of these films are either about American infantry (e.g., Saving Private Ryan) or about the holocaust (e.g., Schindler's List). As a result, Soldier of Orange seems fresh and surprising. It's definitely not about battlefield heroics or masterful espionage. It's about the awkward, tentative (but sincere) efforts of a group of Holland citizens who struggle against the suffocating grip of German occupation.

Verhoeven was familiar with this milieu firsthand. He grew up during the German occupation of the Netherlands in 1940. He had witnessed German V2 rockets striking Holland's capital, The Hague, and he had witnessed the compliancy of Dutch citizens--as well as the emergence of resistance fighters. The physical wounds left by the bombs and bullets and the psychological wounds that resulted from pitting friend against friend left a strong impression on Verhoeven. Over two and half decades later, he was drawn to the fictionalized memoirs of Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, published as Soldier of Orange. This novel examined a group of men who belonged to the Leiden's Corps Minerva fraternity. They're an insulated and pampered group who don't fully comprehend the implications of encroaching Nazi troops: "A spot of war might be exciting," they say.

Verhoeven's filmization of Roelfzema's novel isn't about great espionage. It's about small-size acts, many prone to failure, as when a boat load of Dutch resistance fighters waits for a bi-plane to land, pick them up, and take them to England. As they wait, a German navy ship approaches and breaks up the rendezous with a hail of bullets.

Even with the urgency of a constant life-and-death struggle by his lead characters, Verhoeven finds time to examine their personal lives, and for Verhoeven, "personal lives" is largely synonymous with "sex lives." But whereas Verhoeven treated sex with an almost obsessive zeal in Turkish Delight, in Soldier of Orange he gives the sex scenes a tenderness largely absent from his other films. There's certainly nothing resembling tenderness in either The 4th Man or Basic Instinct. But in Soldier of Orange, the sex scenes become a means for the characters to reassert a semblance of normality within the chaos of war.

The film is episodic in structure as it follows the life of Erik Roelfzema (played by Rutger Hauer). "Erik is not a resistance fighter," says Verhoeven in the liner notes for Anchor Bay's DVD. "He is an adventurer. History is on his side, and he embraces it in a carefree way." Indeed, the difference between Erik and his friend Alex (Derek de Lint) is relatively small, but Alex enlists with the German Army while Erik works against the German occupation. The German Army uses brute power, not leaving much room for adventure, but the resistance force must use stealth and speed. So on one hand, it's not surprising that Erik would be drawn to the side with greater potential for romantic action.

Jeroen Krabbé stars a Erik's friend Guus. Together they flee to Britain, but they are immediately asked to return to Holland--by the Dutch Queen herself, who asks them to help key individuals escape to Britain so that Holland's future can be ensured once the war is over. Erik and Guus didn't plan to be heroes; they just wanted to have some fun--as we see in their efforts to bed the Queen's pretty assistant--but they can't refuse the Queen's request. And soon they're back in Holland, dodging bullets and running for their lives. For its time, Soldier of Orange was the most expensive Dutch movie ever produced. It found commercial success in Holland, but Dutch critics weren't particularly enthusiastic. In America, however, the movie played to widespread acclaim. It even won the Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Film.

Anchor Bay's DVD gives Soldier of Orange a widescreen presentation (aspect ratio 1.66:1) that has been enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The dis includes an audio commentary track by Verhoeven, a teaser trailer, talent bios, and a stills gallery.

 The 4th ManTOP OF PAGE   

Both Verhoeven's Soldier of Orange and Spetters (1979) were met by luke warm reviews in Holland. Critics complained that the characters lacked depth. This criticism ruffled Verhoeven's considerable ego. For his next outing, Verhoeven strove to pacify the critics by delivering a film loaded with symbolism. This was his way of thumbing his nose at critics, for this was his ploy to convince otherwise difficult-to-satisfy critics that his movie had the depth that they demanded. Indeed, The 4th Man is so loaded with symbolism that the film leans toward camp, but Verhoeven wasn't simply cynically layering on symbolism for the sake of symbolism. He had found a story that could survive the weight of its overt artistic pretensions. Verhoeven had discovered a novel by Gerard Reve that examined the mind of an alcoholic writer who goes by the credo "I live the truth." In this character's mind, the real world and the imaginary become intertwined. And this confused mental state opens the door for Verhoeven to saturate his film with symbolism that melds gothic and horrific themes.

Jeroen Krabbé stars as Gerard Reve (also the name of the book's author). He's the guest of honor at a literary club meeting. During this meeting, he meets a vivacious blonde woman who invites him back to her place. Gerard is gay, but Christine's flirtatious/predatory manner intrigues him, so he accepts her invitation. They even have sex, but in order to get sexually aroused, Gerard must hold his hands over her breasts and pretend she's a "beautiful boy." This relationship has zero potential for long-term success, but before Gerard can make his escape, he sees a photograph of Christine's boyfriend (who is clad only in a skimpy swimsuit)--and he's immediately smitten. Maybe on second thought, he can stick around a little longer.

While he waits for the boyfriend to arrive, Gerard stumbles across a set of three reels of film, each labeled with a different man's name. Gerard sets up a projector and watches the films, which reveal that Christine has been married three times. Each reel suddenly ends at a point where that husband has entered a situation that might be dangerous. Eventually, Gerard comes to suspect that Christine killed her previous husbands--and that the films show the final moments of each husband's life. Will Gerard be next?

Verhoeven suggests in no uncertain terms that Christine might be a black window. The lettering over the front door of her beauty parlor says "sphinx" but two neon letters flicker and die, resulting in "spin," which is French for spider. And Verhoeven posits the black widow theory from the movie's opening moments, which show a spider devouring a fly caught in its web.

Verhoeven films this story by utilizing an avalanche of gothic imagery. The ribbon on a coffin seems to spell Gerad's own name. A woman peels an apple and holds the peel over her young son's head--as if the peel were a halo (making her the Virgin Mary and her son baby Jesus). Gerard has a nightmare about a hotel and after he speaks to the literary group, he discovers this same hotel is where he's booked to stay. But this imagery is tame stuff compared to Gerard's central dream vision: he envisions a life-size statue of the crucifix that comes to life--with Christine's beautiful boyfriend taking Jesus's place. He looks so delectable that Gerard can't keep his hands off him. Damn the sacrilege!

The 4th Man is one of the most audacious movies ever made, but the imagery isn't just fancy trimmings because Verhoeven grounds the movie's bizarre flights of fancy within the twisted yearnings and fears of Gerard's mind. "I live the truth until I no longer know whether something did or did not happen," says Gerard. "What you make of reality is infinitely more interesting than reality itself." As such, the movie wavers between reality and Gerard's imagination.

Jeroen Krabbé gives a marvelous, gutsy performance as Gerard. Soon after the release of The 4th Man in America, Hollywood came calling, offering him roles in movies such as The Fugitive.

Renée Soutendijk is sexy and mischievous as Christine. This is the role that should have made her a major international star, but the right roles never came her way (in much the same way that Monique Van de Ven never broke in to the American market). After one effort in America, Eve of Destruction, she returned to Europe, where she remains busy acting today, frequently starring in made-for-TV movies.

The greatest success of any The 4th Man alumni belongs to Verhoeven and cinematographer Jan de Bont. Verhoeven's Robocop, Total Recall, and Basic Instinct made him one of the most eagerly sought directors in Hollywood. Meanwhile, de Bont came to Hollywood, switched to the director's chair, and helmed two of the biggest box-office successes of the past decade, Speed and Twister.

Anchor Bay's DVD of The 4th Man is presented in 1.66:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The disc includes audio commentary by Verhoeven, a theatrical trailer, original storyboard art, and talent bios.


Turkish Delight, Soldier of Orange, and The 4th Man are now available on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment. Suggested list price: $29.98 each. For more information, check out the Anchor Bay Entertainment Web site.