Fighting Time with Paul Verhoeven

The provocative Dutch director talks to the Talent Press about reconciling art and entertainment.

Paul Verhoeven

Known for his ultra-violent and satirical action films (ROBOCOP, STARSHIP TROOPERS) and wild Dutch films (SOLDIER OF ORANGE, TURKISH DELIGHT), Paul Verhoeven is renowned for his entertaining storytelling style. Speaking on this year's Campus theme, “Some Like It Hot: Filmmakers as Entertainers“, this is a director dissatisfied with the mere notion of providing entertainment. As he says in his own words: “I consider making movies a form of art.”

Yet it was shooting military propaganda documentaries for the Dutch Marines that initiated Verhoeven’s career. “The most important movie I made when working with the Marines was a twenty-minute documentary. I made that very much like an action movie. I copied basically the way of shooting of the first two James Bond movies: DR NO & FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.”

The opportunity to make these films trained Verhoeven in action directing. “The whole navy was at my disposal and this was because the General of the Marines wanted this for the 300th anniversary of the Marines.” Yet he reflects with an air of cynicism that, “of course it is as much propaganda as TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, in some way. I mean, less of course, because it’s not an ideology that I’m presenting…”

Reconciling this with Verhoeven’s move into feature filmmaking, with SOLDIER OF ORANGE and TURKISH DELIGHT, seems absurd to a foreign onlooker. “Well they were seen as art films outside the country, but in Holland they were not. They were very mainstream, and one of them (TURKISH DELIGHT) had the largest amount of spectators ever for a Dutch movie.”

Though he considers himself an artist, Verhoeven’s understanding of film narrative is not a fanciful one. He admits that a film is “not like a painting that you see in a split second, so you need to follow the rules of drama.” Expounding on the need to entertain, Verhoeven describes a movie going nightmare: “It’s horrible because you cannot walk out to the kitchen, or have a coffee or a cigarette, you are locked in this chair in the middle of a theatre and you don’t like it… you’re bored, you’re bored, you’re bored!” However, in terms of content, Verhoeven’s films complement the title of his Campus talk, “Follow Your Instincts“. “I don’t think about what the audience wants, I think about what I want. You have to live in the hope that your taste is not so different from the audience.”

So what can the filmmakers of the Campus learn from Paul Verhoeven? His wisdom lies in his ability to find a balance between his intent and the need for form. “I think about structure, I think about tension… but that’s technique, isn’t it?” He concludes, “…yeah it’s art, but it’s also fighting time.” Just as we run out of interview time, Verhoeven summarises his final thoughts on the challenges of filmmaking. With a laugh he admits “ retrospect I would have preferred to be a painter!”