FALL 1995
By Henry Edwards
Photos by Mary Ellen Mark
Living up to his reputation, the director of this fall's most controversial film "Showgirls" proves that he has as many opinions about his work as we do.

Not since Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock has America accepted a European filmmaker with the rapture that it has embraced Dutchman Paul Verhoeven. But the director's three violent, back‑to‑back Hollywood blockbusters, "Robocop," "Total Recall," and "Basic Instinct," have made him the scourge of family groups and more than one critic. Now the controversy that surrounds Verhoeven is swelling as his $40‑million "Showgirls" nears its September 22 release date.

Verhoeven, who is 57 years old and holds doctorates in mathematics and physics, calls his new film "a morality tale. It's the story of a young woman in the sex industry who is on the edge of being manipulated, denigrated, and abused. Yet she succeeds in getting what she wants by using her body. Ultimately, she decides the price she has to pay is her soul, and she changes her mind."

Failing to accept that the American dream could be achieved by the granting of sexual favors, the Motion Picture Association of America declared "Showgirls" a stew of nudity, eroticism, graphic language, and sexual violence. It also slapped the film with an NC‑1 7 rating, but Verhoeven was unfazed.

The director abhors the rating system and all forms of government‑sanctioned censorship, declaring that "people are fed up with being told they're too weak to look at something in a movie or on television."

Verhoeven's violent, punk, sci‑fi revenge fantasy "Robocop" presented man as machine. His followup, the sexually graphic, violent erotic thriller "Basic Instinct" presented Sharon Stone as a blond machine programmed to push decency to its outermost limits without sympathy or compassion.

The most virulent critics of "Basic Instinct" included gay activists who condemned what they perceived as the film's portrayal of lesbians (and, by extension, all gays) as psycho killers and freaks. The "violent, public attacks" of these activists outraged the director.

"They were wrong," says Verhoeven. "They misread the script. Because they wanted to. Or couldn't read. The day the movie opened, they protested for 12 hours in front of the theaters. When the audiences came out, the activists asked them if they'd been offended. The people didn't know what the fuck the gay community was talking about. It was clear that the movie wasn't homophobic. I'm not homophobic. So how could I make a movie that was?"

Verhoeven is aware that feminists may object to "Showgirls." He suspects the complaints will revolve around objectification‑-the treatment of women strictly as sex objects, with no regard for their humanity. "They've been up in arms for years, saying that every woman who works in the sex industry is denigrated and abused.

"Basically, a woman is a body. So is a man. All our biological instincts are based on procreation. And you don't need humanity for procreation. You just need a body. The feminists just don't want to acknowledge the basics of biology, that we're mammals who just want to procreate. I strongly disagree with them. And I'm not going to take any shit from them."

"Showgirls" is the first NC‑17‑rated film to receive the full support of a major studio (MGM/UA). Thus it becomes a test case to determine whether there is a substantial mainstream audience for high‑budget, sexually‑explicit films. Knowing the difficulties that could arise, Verhoeven took a 60% pay cut. And he's glad he did it. He loved making the movie and was especially pleased to be photographing the nude female form. "I'm a fan of the nude body. When it looks great and beautiful, I don't see what the problem is," he said. "I take responsibility for my own work. Basically, I feel I have not sinned against humanity by making any of my movies."



Actors appearing with Verhoeven top to bottom: Lin Tucci, Elizabeth Berkley, (left) Bobbie Phillips, (right) Caroline Johnson