Katie Tippel is one of Paul Verhoeven’s early Dutch films that is rarely seen nowadays. The only copy I was able to find was streaming on Amazon and was a poorly dubbed, pan and scan digitized VHS print. Maybe it was the quality of the print, I don’t know, but the film just didn’t have a sense of pacing nor did it have a fleshed out enough story for its runtime.
Browsing: Paul Verhoeven
The wistful bleating of a saxophone sets a nighttime scene of loneliness and lost love. We are in a dangerous land of blood and night as we are presented with an unflinching look into depravity and ultraviolence that would permeate Paul Verhoeven’s career as Rutger Hauer has sadistic visions of murder. He seems disconnected from the world around him as he engages in fantasies of murder in his decrepit apartment surrounded by rotting foods and refuse. He frantically masturbates to a picture of a naked woman with a sense of frustrated urgency until slumping over from exhaustion and dissatisfaction. Was this woman a victim of Hauer’s derangement? Is she part of some untenable fantasy that pervades the thoughts of this afflicted behemoth of a man? We aren’t really clued into the nature of Hauer’s inner torture as he takes to the streets to force himself on an endless parade of women, fucking with unfeeling manic intensity while proclaiming that he “fucks better than god” before moving to his next target. What tortures this manic lion of sexual energies and forces him back out onto the streets for more prey to bring back to his treacherous den?
A plane lands in Amsterdam International Airport and a man urgently rushes off of the plane on some unknown mission. He takes pensive glances of the concrete landscape before getting into a cab to embark on his mission of seemingly tantamount importance. Spy music plays as his taxi speeds through orange sunset explosions to arrive at an apartment, the destination for his secret rendezvous. Prices are frantically negotiated with a woman with Sophia Loren features as she remains apathetic to the man’s desperate mission. He awkwardly mounts the woman to satiate his long unfulfilled carnal desires and for all his troubles and desperation he manages to complete one thrust before this episode of erotic espionage is complete. Slumped over in exhaustion brought on more by the journey than the brief encounter at his destination, the man hears the unmistakable sounds of a cash register as a streetwise prostitute of the Amsterdam canals presents him with a receipt for her momentary inconvenience, complete with VAT taxes and surcharges and a look of impatient disgust. For this man the all too brief encounter was a mission on par with acts of global espionage, but for Greet this was just another day on the job. Paul Verhoeven has set up the first scene in his feature length debut as an elaborate joke, playing on audience expectations with borrowed spy movie tropes to take us into the strange chaotic life of an Amsterdam prostitute.
What are we to make of Paul Verhoeven? A European auteur turned Hollywood schlockmeister, it’s hard to think of a filmmaker with a comparable reputation, whose much-derided crudeness, campiness, and melodramatic excesses have paradoxically garnered for him, in the last few years, a strong critical fanbase. A satirist seemingly devoid of cynicism, Verhoeven makes double-edged films that regularly take aim at corrupt institutions of power while at the same time flaunting the qualities that make unchecked power so attractive. We might dismiss him as a hypocrite if his films didn’t raise so many intriguing questions.
Paul Verhoeven and his unique brand of ultraviolent sci-fi with its over the top social commentary probably did more to shape my cinematic sensibilities as a child than any other director. Verhoeven films packed a subversive punch to delight of my young inner misanthrope, and his narratives were always enthralling enough to keep my attention. My first R-rated cinematic experience was with Verhoeven’s 1987 cult masterpiece Robocop, my dad thinking it would be a good thing to take his 6 year old son to see. With that little bit of questionable parenting my eyes were opened to new ultraviolent cinematic worlds of damaged heroes and eighties machismo carried to its furthest possible distances.