And the banned played on
OK. First the bad news. Showgirls, the no holds barred, Las Vegas movie from the team which gave you Basic Instinct and which opens in Britain next week, will not be on offer at your local multiplex or anywhere else in Ireland, as it has been banned by the Film Censor's office, the first since Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers last year.
"Now the good news. I have missed nothing. Showgirls is the brewer's droop of the cinematic year. Far from being two hours of smouldering eroticism, its in your face tits `n' bums (and you can take that literally) is less of a turn than South Pacific. Which just goes to show how gullible the American public is (and even, dare I suggest, our own censor) to have believed all the hype about its raunch rating.
The best news, however, is that on Monday night on BBC late 11.20 p.m. we have a chance to see for ourselves what all the fuss is about, in David Thompson's portrait for Omnibus of Showgirls' director Paul Verhoeven. Last year Thompson's reliable and perceptive eye gave us memorable portraits of Jean Renoir and Ennio Morricone, and before that Hollywood big boys Scorsese and Tarantino. The result is a fascinating investigation into of what makes cinema's most viscerally explosive film maker tick. Because although Verhoeven's films appear as American as drive in movies, he is Dutch and as resolutely on American as his waywardly eccentric teeth proclaim him to be.
European directors cross the Atlantic as regularly as Concorde, but none have embraced the Hollywood ethos as wholeheartedly as this fellow: Robocop. Total Recall and Basic Instinct, are hardly arthouse movies. But one element sets Verhoeven apart from his home grown peers. He has no room for political correctness.
French, German, Italian, Spanish the artistic DNA of European film makers is familiar enough - but the Dutch appear to have cornered the market in national anonymity. Even their top export, Rutger Hauer, is thought by many to be Irish, thanks to the Guinness ads. (And he owes it all to Verhoeven, who still considers Hauer his favourite actor.)
Paul Verhoeven first picked up, a movie camera while at university in Leiden in, the 1960s studying, of all things, mathematics. Military service in the Dutch navy followed and he was soon seconded to its, documentary film unit. With that his path was set - and indeed the blue print for all that followed.
For Verhoeven the prime motivating forces in life are power and sex. And the power mongers are by no means always men. Euphemism has no, currency in his work. His early films were just as uncompromising as his Hollywood out put. From gay bashing to the violence of working class youth and explicit (for which read non romantic) sex, from the start he dealt with issues that others shirked. It was simply that Verhoeven, both literally and metaphorically, didn't believe in turning off the light. Then as now, it was Verhoeven's honesty itself that shocked. But it also got him - noticed, first at home and then - with his second World War film Soldier Of Orange (1977) - the wider world.
Verhoeven was born in 1938, two miles from where Hitler's V2 flying bombs would be launched on England. Aggression, violence and death formed an inextricable part, of his childhood as the tell it like it really was honesty of Soldier of Orange shows. Although not as obviously autobiographical as Louis Malle's Au Revoir Les Enfants (Verhoeven's protagonist is no small boy but a student) his collaborator/resistance story explores the reality of life under the Nazi yoke (and the reality of undergraduate initiation ceremonies which were still current when he was a student) without dodging any of the unpalatable facts many of his countrymen would rather have left unexplored.
Once in Hollywood, Verhoeven continued to push the boundaries of cinematic acceptability. He's one of life's natural risk takers. He was only offered Robocop because no one else would touch it. The infamous invisible underwear scene that arguably put Basic Instinct on the map was certainly not one for the faint hearted. But, it was not done for any salacious reason, he insists but to allow the audience to experience Sharon Stone's power for itself. Innuendo and reaction shots, he argues would not have the same effect. Whether his view was vindicated in dramatic terms is hard to say. But in box office terms he hit the jackpot.
With Showgirls he might have taken a risk too far. Critically, the film has turkeyed in the States and, in spite of its NC 17 rating (under 18s are banned - a first for a mainstream Hollywood picture), business is not great either. A banal story and script (by Hollywood's finest, Joe Eszterhas) doesn't help, and it's appallingly badly acted by just about everyone involved (including Kyle McCloughlin who is among those who get their kit off) but neither of those factors have ever presented major bars to success in Tinseltown. More tellingly, the picture he paints is an ugly one - and Americans are not known for their self criticism. For them, Las Vegas is about sequins and Sinatra. But the outsider Verhoeven knows it's about sex - buying, selling or just looking. It's, crude and crass but then so is Las Vegas and, like perfume on old sweat, glamour loses its appeal when overlaid on grime.
Verhoeven himself comes across in David Thompson's doumentary as a rather likable, straightforward fellow and it's hard to believe the current accusations in Hollywood that the whole media controversy has been managed to make a quick buck.
Although the Omnibus film rightly concentrates on Verhoeven's pre Hollywood career, (lots of treats for Rutger Hauer fans) Showgirls provides the frame. So, has the Film Censor done us all a favour?
To make forbidden fruit from bruised melons and the odd plum is never a good idea, and call me a pervert but the footage of Verhoeven rehearsing with his cast struck me as far more erotic than anything in Showgirls itself perhaps because they weren't acting - and that you can see in the privacy of your own home on Monday night.