TIFF’s Flesh + Blood: The Films of Paul Verhoeven Review: Spetters (1980)

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Cast: 
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Country: Netherlands
Genre: Drama | Romance | Sport


Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for TIFF’s Flesh + Blood: The Films of Paul Verhoeven which runs from January 24th to April 4th at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.

Spetters is Paul Verhoven’s fifth feature length film and his penultimate release in his native Netherlands.  It’s controversial representation of youth culture and sexuality angered many audiences when it was first released in 1980 and still manages to shock today.

It’s controversial representation of youth culture and sexuality angered many audiences when it was first released in 1980 and still manages to shock today.

The story follows three working-class motorbike enthusiasts living in a small town near Rotterdam who have ambitions dreams about motorbike racing.  When their hero arrives in town, the national motorcross champion Witkamp (Rutger Hauer); their lives become altered drastically in three very different (and ludicrous) ways.

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The film is heavily influenced by Saturday Night Fever as the characters spend their nights in discotheques dancing like John Travolta, but with more drugs and nudity (Travolta indecently turns up on loving fan posters decorating a caravan within the film).  Another influence, whether conscious or not, is Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising – one of the first cinematic celebrations of leather, motorbikes and rock ‘n’ roll music.

The characters are essentially small-town losers, managing to hook up with women only to be then thwarted by having drunk too much alcohol and therefore having to fake orgasm noises through the walls in order to save face.  The one woman they can all get though is the archetypal minx Fientje (Renée Soutendijk), a baby-faced blonde who aspires to upper class ideals but settles for the three bikers.

The film was notorious on first release due to its explicit hardcore sex scenes and illicit drug use, yet these scenes are fairly tame compared to some modern cinema.  

The film was notorious on first release due to its explicit hardcore sex scenes and illicit drug use, yet these scenes are fairly tame compared to some modern cinema.  Yet there is one scene that has become arguably more shocking over time: the graphic gang rape of Eve – one of the male bikers…

After being chased by a group of predatory homosexuals in a tunnel, Eve is caught and brutally assaulted.  What is more shocking than the onscreen brutal violence is the unbelievable consequences of the attack – that he realizes that he himself is homosexual and eventually proudly announces his new sexuality to his father…  A narrative twist that equals Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs for rape-apologeticism/victim-blaming…

The aesthetics of the film (costume/hair) are laughably dated, but the story is pretty much strong enough to remain interesting to the end.  The themes of escapism through religion and fame, and the coming-of-age narrative make the film well worth watching or revisiting 35 years after it was made.

[notification type=”star”]64/100 ~ OKAY. The themes of escapism through religion and fame, and the coming-of-age narrative make the film well worth watching or revisiting 35 years after it was made.[/notification]

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I'm a film and culture graduate, movie blogger and media teacher in the south of the UK. I love everything to do with politics, dystopias and the apocalypse - but I'm a pretty cheery guy...

  • Ernest Marsh

    I recorded and mixed the English version of ‘Spetters’ and I did’nt see any hardcore other than Rennee touching flaccid penis.