It’s interesting that at almost the same time, two documentaries are seeking to reevaluate heavily criticized films that went on to become seminal texts for the queer community. Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen’s illuminating film
Despite the absence of modern-day interviews with cast and crew members, however, McHale skillfully assembles a portrait of the film’s shifting reception in popular culture both by its makers and the audiences who have embraced it over the past 25 years – both for the unique space it occupies in cinema, and for what some seem eager to project upon it.
The one thing no one can seem to agree upon, at least now, is what Verhoeven and his cast actually intended with the film, a high-pitched melodrama that touches on some thought-provoking ideas but mostly traffics in being nakedly, and emptily provocative. Footage collected from interviews that took place in 1995, the year of the film’s release, all of the way up to 2017 throw Verhoeven’s goals into repeated question, and a revolving door of academics and experts alternately sing the film’s praises and condemn its makers for sensationalizing subject matter that deserves to be treated more seriously. Stuck in the middle of this quandary is the film’s avatar-cum-sacrificial lamb, Elizabeth Berkeley, whose performance is either an embodiment of what makes it terrible or a rosetta stone unlocking its greatness.
For what it’s worth, I think “masterpiece of shit” gets the film right – which is to say, it is extraordinarily well made, and it’s also a piece of shit. Scholars make some compelling arguments about its intentions to thrust a mirror in the faces of moviegoers about the ugliness of the world, and to create multiple depictions of femininity that would test conventional comfort levels. Others effectively observe how brutally and cynically it portrays race, sex and sexual violence, and perhaps fairly question the awkward, disorienting way that it transitions from camp to seriousness. They’re all right. From this, the greater lesson emerges that every movie has a biggest fan, and they’re no more or less right than that film’s biggest critic.
Further to that end,
Again, however, the cult that has arisen around