A film by Paul Verhoeven

Wednesday, May 20

21:00 — Mindpirates Projektraum

 

“It is a Christ story. It is about a guy who gets crucified in the first 15 minutes, then is resurrected. When Robocop walks over water and says “I am not arresting you anymore”, meaning, “I am going to shoot you” – that is of course the American Jesus.” Paul Verhoeven

“The greatest science-fiction film since Metropolis.”  Ken Russell

“This is Mediabreak. You give us three minutes, and we’ll give you the world.” — Mediabreak Program, Channel 9, Robocop

Ironically, before Robocop, it was generally thought that Verhoeven was considered “too arty” for a big studio blockbuster.

His career has followed an interesting trajectory. It began in the Netherlands, where he had worked for about 20 years, and he was known for such critically acclaimed films as SPETTERS, a harsh look at Holland’s teen-agers; THE 4TH MAN, a psychological thriller involving a bisexual love triangle; TURKISH DELIGHT, an Academy Award-nominated adaptation of an erotic novel picturing the relationship between an artist and a young woman; or SOLDIOR OF ORANGE, a World War II drama about the Dutch Resistance – many of these films starring Rutger Hauer.

As his first international co-production, FLESH + BLOOD, attracted the attention of Hollywood producers, Verhoeven was lured across the ocean – and after ROBOCOP, he became a major player in the American system, directing TOTAL RECALL, BASIC INSTINCT, SHOWGIRS or STARSHIP TROOPERS, among others.

Verhoeven was 2 years old when the Wehrmacht swept into Holland in 1940, and his earliest memories in the Hague, the administrative capital of Nazi-occupied Holland, included summary executions and the sight of his neighbours “picking up pieces of pilots”.

“I cannot separate myself from what I saw during the second world war. Living in an occupied country is something that’s close to me […] But I loved it. I thought war was great – bombing and planes and shooting and people being killed. Really wonderful. Being a child of the war, my tolerance for violence is higher than normal. Kids love violence. As an adult, you realise that violence is real. So my work is anchored in reality, it’s hyper-realistic. Hence the need to show everything so explicitly: the fucking and the pricks and the shit and the drugs and the violence.” Paul Verhoeven

On paper at least, ROBOCOP is an adult superhero fantasy, and not even a particularly original one at that. Very consciously, the plot line is sheer comic book, and Verhoeven turned down the offer to direct the film until his wife, more attuned to the script’s subtext, explained to him that it was essentially a Frankenstein story – in her words – “That of the robot-man seeking his own life.”

In a not too distant future, the police force of Old Detroit has been taken over by a private corporation: Security Concepts Inc., a subsidiary, naturally enough, of a conglomerate called Omni Consumer Products. OCP has the ultimate plan in urban development: Delta City, a manufactured municipality, governed by corporatocracy and with fully privatized services. But first, somebody needs to clean up the crime-ridden slums of the city.
On his first day patrolling Old Detroit, Officer Alex Murphy is killed by a feared gang leader. Security Concepts are able to use Murphy’s remains to build a cybernetic soldier codenamed Robocop. Dubbed the future of law enforcement, Robocop begins a one-man war on crime…

In Verhoeven’s hands, not unlike his later STARSHIP TROOPERS, the film became a satirical critique of the totalitarianism which he had seen first hand as a child.
It comments on the privatization of public and/or government agencies as well as the entire big business climate that existed during the Reagan era – playing on 80s action movie tropes like the Evil Megacorporation, or using the fictional “Channel 9” to advertise family games such as NUKEM, which promises nuclear war in the comfort of your living room. 

But it also profits from Verhoeven’s orchestration as a hard, 80s action film. Right from the early sequences, when cameraman Jost Vacano tracks, low-angle, through the police station bustle, you realize you’re in the hands of a thoughtful technician.
The film has, especially in the director’s cut we are screening, a visceral violence and gutsy realism to it that even surpasses today’s efforts in action movie gore, and Verhoeven encourages his actors to performances of full-out physicality, often flipping rapidly through several contrasting moods – tart, sadistic, poignant, over-the-top comical – within a single scene.

Technically and pacing-wise, ROBOCOP is a near perfect film. 
See it as one of the most interesting Euro-directed action films to come out of the 80s, as a stepping stone in Verhoeven’s career – and dismiss the sequels.

Starring Ray Wise, Miguel Ferrer and Dan O’Herlihy, who David Lynch subsequently cast for TWIN PEAKS.

“Verhoeven’s strong suits have always been visual energy and a Rabelaisan realism: a gutsy, jovial way of ripping through social systems.” L. A. Times

“Paul Verhoeven’s glorious sci-fi satire combines searing social comedy with some of the most graphic ultra-violence ever to grace legitimate cinema.” Film4

“Among the biggest surprises of 1987 – a sci-fi action film with a silly title that turned out to be a biting satire of big business practices. A tribute to the perspicacity and skill of director Paul Verhoeven, Robocop is capable of satisfying audiences with diverse agendas and preferences. For those interested in films with substance, issues pertaining to “techno-ethics” are addressed. For those seeking laughter, the story is laced with dark humor and parody. And for those looking for a bloody revenge thriller, it doesn’t get gorier or more violent. […] Robocop earns a place in the decade’s elite group of action features.” Reelviews

“Verhoeven’s blend of comic strip and snuff movie is vile, violent, and very funny. The pace is breakneck, and when the wit does run out, way-out weaponry and whole-scale destruction keep the appalled excitement burning.” TimeOut

“Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop character is a Terminator with the conscience of a constable, a Frankenstein gone cyberpunk.” Carrie Rickey

“All of Bernhard Goetz’s bad dreams have come true. For that matter, so have Ralph Nader’s. Crime is Big Business, crooks in wing tips vie with punks in leathers and toxic wastebaskets sit on every corner. […] With its droll underpinnings, “Robocop” does for cyborgs and Detroit what “Blade Runner” did for androids and L.A.
It’s about pollution, albeit of the psyche, and the ascendancy of Manmade over mad men.
Holland’s Paul Verhoeven, who came into his own with the perverse eroticism of “The Fourth Man,” directs this cops-and-robots thriller — his first American feature — with sanguine pizazz. In lesser hands, it might have been merely fast-paced and action-packed. But Verhoeven strives for bloodcurdling, darkly comic eloquence. He gives us heart with the hardware. Savagery with smarts.”
Washington Post

 

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