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Q&A: PAUL VERHOEVEN (Excerpt): Highlights from 20 Interviews (2007)

Highlights from 20 Interviews (2007)


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

While preparing the final edit for our feature interview with Dutch director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Basic Instinct, Black Book), which appears in the second annual 20 Interviews issue, we decided to revisit a few omitted exchanges, including one about Ingmar Bergman, in light of his passing.

Stop Smiling: Have you ever met Ingmar Bergman?

Paul Verhoeven: No. I wrote him a letter, basically to thank him for everything he has done. I never got a response to that letter. I don’t even know if it arrived. I met Liv Ullmann, but not Bergman. He has inspired me. I know all of his work, I have 35 movies of Bergman’s here in my house. A few years ago my wife and I went through all of them again. A lot of his worked extremely impressed me when I was in my 20s. I lost him for a little bit in my late 20s when his work got so dark and it was all about Death and God. I abandoned him for some time, but when I got older and realized what life was about — a slow move toward death — I started to go back to Bergman, and I appreciate his dark work much better.

SS: His quote “God is a spider” was, in part, the basis for your film The Fourth Man.

PV: Yes. Not that I believe that — it was more a poetic reference to Bergman.

SS: You’ve said that the Robocop character was a butterfly trying to discover his caterpillar phase, and Starship Troopers is obviously crawling with insects. Was there a defining experience with insects in your life?

PV: No, that would be too Freudian. [Laughs] I don’t think it’s going that way. The insects were in the book of Robert Heinlein [author of Starship Troopers]. The book was given to me by the producer Jon Davison, I was interested and talked to the writer, Ed Neumeier, and then we started to develop it. It’s not that I was specifically attracted to bugs, though.

SS: [Laughs] It does come up, though.

PV: Yes, it comes up. The theme of the spider and the web was written by Gerard Soeteman [screenwriter of The Fourth Man], but for me it was more like what Bergman said, that God is a spider. Of course, a spider is on the web, but it’s also on the crucifix, isn’t it? He’s also on Jesus — he walks over Jesus’ arms and legs and all that stuff and sits on his head. It’s a dual conception of the world being governed by two forces: Basically there’s the good force that people call God, and the bad force that you could call Satan. That dualist point of view is thousands and thousands of years old. To a certain degree, it’s still true. Even Christianity has not succeeded at explaining why there is so much misery and violence in the world, if there’s a good God. It can only be if there’s an opposing force that is as bad as God is good. In fact, there’s more evidence of Satanic rule in the world, especially if you look at the American government at this moment.

SS: What is the reaction to America in Holland at the moment?

PV: Bad.

SS: Is there any turn in opinion now that several elected Republican officials have been voted out, or members of the Bush administration have been removed or resigned in disgrace?

PV: Certainly a lot of people are happy that the American people and the American media, who have been continuously following the president for five years, are coming to their senses and starting to realize what happened. I think people in Europe who have been opposing the war — not so much the Dutch government, unfortunately, which I would say has been backing Bush and Blair — feel vindicated, of course, that the American people have begun to see the manipulation, lies and cheating that took place. In Starship Troopers, there was propaganda, propaganda, propaganda until you believe it’s true. That’s what happens. Many European people were skeptical from the beginning. There are still another 600 or so days to go, and you don’t know if the American government is going to launch further madness in Iran or anywhere else. Hopefully they would have a hard time pushing the House and Senate to follow them. I think it’s a good thing that many of these neocon people, including Mr. Wolfowitz, are slowly moving to the side. The neoconservative thinking, if you read it and see what the themes are — that the United States should be the only power in the world and nobody should ever be able to come close to the military of the United States and the US can take everything they consider in their interests — it makes neoconservative thinking nearly identical to neofascist thinking.

: And it’s made torture acceptable in the United States.

PV: Which is extremely medieval.

SS: Torture films have become a commodity. How do you feel about that?

PV: It’s called torture porn, isn’t it? These kinds of movies are made, and they’re very successful, too. This is the world we are moving to. On the other hand, there are some pretty heavy scenes in Black Book, aren’t there? [Click here for more on Black Book.] There’s a similarity between the way the Dutch treat this girl after the war, because they think she’s a collaborator and betraying them. If you compare that to Abu Ghraib, that’s not too far-fetched, is it? The scene had been written long before Abu Ghraib, but of course when I was shooting the scene, I was quite aware of the parallels. I would say that people have been able to do these things throughout the existence of the human species on Earth. The French in Algeria is similar; the Dutch in Indonesia is similar; the Dutch after the war, as shown in the movie, did similar things; the Nazis did it; the Fascists did it; and, unfortunately, the Americans did it now, too.


Interview by James Hughes


For more on Paul Verhoeven, read Lawrence Levi's review of Black Book



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