Verhoeven On The Problem Of U.S. Cinema

In the late 1980s and 1990s, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven was a legend to a whole generation growing up thanks to numerous action and thriller blockbusters that combined smart subversive satire with hefty doses of sex and violence.

The result was a string of classics including “Robocop,” “Total Recall,” “Basic Instinct” and “Starship Troopers” along with cult fave “Showgirls”. In 2000 his “Hollow Man” film was a fizzer, and he returned home where in 2006 he did the period espionage tale “Black Book” which introduced “Game of Thrones” actress Carice van Houten to the larger world stage.

Ten years on he’s finally returned with “Elle,” a subversive and controversial part-thriller and part-extremely dark comedy starring Isabelle Huppert. In the film she plays a powerful female executive who gets caught up in a dangerous and thrilling game of cat and mouse as she tracks down the unknown assailant who raped her.

Ahead of its opening in limited release this week, Verhoeven has spoken with Fandor (via The Playlist) about how the American film industry has changed in his absence. He says the big studios have effectively stopped making provocative, mid-budgeted, adult-targeted R-rated fare in pursuit of the almighty dollar from PG-13 films designed for maximum appeal at the cost of individual flavour:

“[A PG-13 rating is the] studio wanting to make money. R-rated movies are excluded because they limit the audience. The capitalist system completely dominates the American film industry. It’s all about the bottom line. Any argument about filmmaking or art is lost. Even the art of meaning is lost. There’s no meaning to American cinema anymore. The only meaning is money. It’s reduced to that, and it’s horrible.

Capitalism can also accept there are other values than money, but it looks like studios can only look at movies for pure profit. That’s why the R rating is gone. Then you get more people, but you sacrifice everything that is edgy or sexual. You sacrifice anything that might offend people. Now if you go to a multiplex, everything is PG-13.

You can still express yourself in American filmmaking. Look at ‘The Big Short,’ which I think is a really well-made movie. It’s still interesting and innovative. It’s still possible to make good American movies, and there’s an enormous amount of talent, but it’s not used in the maximum way… I don’t think things will stay that way. The balance might shift.”

So would he ever do another U.S. film again? “If they offered me a book like ‘The Shining,’ I would immediately say yes. I would love to do a clever horror film.”

Premiering at Cannes, Verhoeven’s “Elle” has understandably met with controversy, but there’s also been plenty of rave reviews for it as well with the film holding a very strong 86/100 on Metacritic.