I don’t know if any of you out there have been to the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. It’s a little old movie theater that shows movies on the big screen that you can easily rent on DVD. However, some of us prefer the opportunity (or a second chance) to see these movies on the big screen. The experience of seeing movies like these with an audience can be more lively this way, and that’s even if the print of the film is worn out beyond all repair. It’s great that we still have theaters like these around. Having the chance to see movies again that have long since disappeared from the silver screen has always been a treat. Thank god we still have theaters out there like the New Beverly Cinema.
Until today, I had only seen the american movies of Paul Verhoeven. Classics like “Robocop,” “Total Recall,” and (yes) “Basic Instinct” broke down a lot of the boundaries of cinema and continually tested the strength of the facist MPAA rating system. I had never seen any of his Dutch movies until today. You can see a lot of similar themes in these movies as well as in his american ones. He also seems to have this thing about blonde women being the strongest characters in his films. They come across as the smartest, most corageous, and most devious characters in all of his movies. The men on the other hand end are much much weaker than you would expect.
“Spetters” is an early 1980s movie of his. I have heard of the title of the movie, but not much more than that. It’s a movie about these kids who grow up in a small town in the Netherlands where the big sport on display is motorcycle racing. In other towns it would be football, or it would be basketball or soccer in others. In this town, it’s motorcycle racing. Nothing wrong with that.
At first, I thought I knew where this movie was going. I figured it was going to be a big racing movie where the underdog wins the day. But as the movie went on, that was not the case at all. It was really a movie of characters who had big dreams for themselves, and who desperately want to move from the small town they feel entrapped in. Some do escape it, others don’t. I certainly remember that feeling growing up, even if my dad would never let me ride a motorcycle.
Raugter Hauer has a strong supporting role in this movie as Gerrit Witkamp, the reigning motorcycle champion in the area. He is a hero that the kids totally look up to, and who they want to emulate. The main kid in the group, Rien (played by the late Hans Van Tongeren) is on his way to becomming the next Witkamp, winning all of his races and living everybody else in the dust. His friends include a mechanic who slowly comes to realize the kind of a person he really is, and a shy and awkward boy who can only dream of being as good a racer as Witkamp.
These kids only have their focus on their motorbikes, and on sex. Outside of that, they don’t have much going on in their lives except their jobs and their dreams of getting outside of their little town. Into this equation comes Fientje, played by Renee Soutendijk, who is the typical blonde female of most of Verhoeven’s movies. The one who easily manipulates the men around her with her feminine charms in order to get what she wants. This has always been a common character in most of Verhoeven’s movies (except for “Robocop”), and it has been continually perfected in “Basic Instinct,” “Showgirls” (perfection is probably not appropriate there), and his most recent movie “Black Book.” But we’ll get to that one in a minute.
She steals Rien from his girlfriend when she sees that this kid is going places. She sleeps with a police officer when she and her brother don’t have a parking permit, and she moves from guy to guy when she doesn’t get what she needs. What she looks for is security and money before she can hope to find love. Towards the end, she and the other characters find what they need instead of what they want.
The other characters come to other realizations in their lives that will change their lives. One of the kids steals money from homosexuals who do their business in the most private underground areas. He comes across as utterly homophobic until an encounter where he is gang raped by 3 or 4 men, and he finds that he himself is gay. The kid’s father, a minister of the church, is none too happy to hear about this. He constantly beats his kid into submission, and this apparentally gives an even bigger reason for him to beat him up.
This brings me to a big objection to this movie in that it should not take an anal rape to convince someone that he is gay. It’s a gratuitous scene that is baffling. Although the dutch are not shy about showing a penis on screen as us Americans are. I would love to understand Verhoeven’s decision to do this in this way. I am sure he has his reasons, but this threatens to be completely off putting.
Still, this is a very watchable movie with a lot energy behind it. It was not at all what I expected it to be. I figured it was going to be a big racing movie where the underdog wins the day. It is really a coming of age story that is not unlike those seen in American movies. If you can get pass the incredibly cheesy 1980s synth score, there are a lot of strong moments here, and it is a much more tragic story than one would expect. One of character’s fates in this movie ended up mirroring the actor who played him in real life, making the movie all the more eerie.
One character ends up getting paralyzed and loses his opportunity to do the one thing he loves and is great at. The way it happens is just maddening and gives you one more good reason not to litter on the roads or national highways. That’s the problem with growing up in a small town. You can’t always see beyond it to the opportunities that are open to you. We have to keep reminding ourselves that the world is not as small as we think.