A Hollow Man in Holland Loves Loosely and Lives a Lurid Life
DIRECTED BY WIM VERSTAPPEN/DUTCH/1971
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: FEBRUARY 12, 2019/CULT EPICS
“When a young male parolee is moved into an apartment full of virile, happenin’ ladies, monkey business is afoot!”
The above blurb, fabricated here as an alternate tantalizing hook for the uninitiated, is, tonally speaking, inaccurate. 1971’s Blue Movie is no skin-flick frolic. It is, in actuality, a melancholy, somber look into the need for human physical connection versus the rigidity of a more puritanical system. The film is one long reminder of the radically changing times in which it was forged, often going as far to state the fact verbally.
There’s an animal-like autonomy in its blue world as the lonely and feral denizens of a tall apartment building wander about looking to scratch their itches. It’s been said that humanity’s appetite for sex is second only to its appetite for food. This reductive observation is the kind of thing that might be echoed by one of Blue Movie’s many remote characters, an aged professor who obsessively studies primates. “Only by understanding monkeys can we understand people”, he says. If the customs and rituals of his own urban concrete-and-glass early 1970s jungle is any indication, we have good reason to believe the old bore. He’s long given up on the marital fidelity of his wife.
Hailing from Scorpio Films‘ producer/director duo of Pim de la Parra and Wim Verstappen (sometimes credited simply as “Pim & Wim”), Blue Movie, while sexually frank in both its depictions and its free love themes, is far from a mindless erotic free-for-all. Verstappen realizes his film via an economy of confinement, as the entirety of Blue Movie takes place in and around the far-removed elevated floor of main character Michael’s new apartment complex.
Fresh out of prison following a five-year sentence for having sex with a fifteen year-old, Michael (Hugo Metsers) is a shunted case of displacement and emotional detachment. His apartment is a stark bastion of impoverished minimalism: a collapsible camping chair, a scrawny card table, a garish clear green inflatable loveseat… that’s about it. On the wall is a poster depicting a king of hearts playing card, a symbolic foreshadowing that came with the place. The fact that this poster, an overt representation of dictatorship, love, and chance greets him when he first enters is indicative of the intellectual level at which Blue Movie operates. The film is not in a hurry, nor is it stupid or posturing beyond its intellectual means.
Verstappen is utilizing cinematic freedoms, both then-new and yet to come, in order to examine base desires in the face of dehumanizing circumstances. Characters wander the corridors with empty cups, knocking on doors asking for sugar but really inviting sex. For Michael, the cup is one of his few possessions. When he initially ends up with only sugar, he later dumps it into a small jar, and the next day heads out again. His luck picks up (with a vengeance), but sure enough, Michael’s eventual sexual spiral with numerous female neighbors (several of whom are married and actively swinging) leads to dire consequences.
A major box office success in the Netherlands, Blue Movie is credited with demolishing the censorship board, thus enabling filmmakers to explore sexuality in as graphic of terms as they see fit. It, along with the whole of Scorpio Films’ output, helped to launch the modern Dutch film industry, and made famous millionaires of Pim & Wim.
Today we find that the film has fallen into obscurity, at least as far as various Western film platforms are concerned. Blue Movie’s IMDb entry is stark at best, listing the film’s genre as “Adult”; Letterboxd is worse, not currently representing it all. This is where long-running boutique label Cult Epics comes in, offering Verstappen’s heretofore rare film as a handsome Blu-ray/DVD Set.
Reviewed here on Blu-ray, Blue Movie’s transfer of its new HD restoration retains an inescapable rugged quality, bearing thick film grain and an impressively pushed low-budget aesthetic. For a film of this ilk from this corner of the world in this day and age, the right choices have been made in terms of how much polishing and sprucing this vintage film should be subjected to. Blue Movie on Blu-ray, one imagines, feels like it must’ve felt for Dutch theatergoers in 1971. Critically, the chilling cinematography of future Speed director Jan De Bont consistently comes through. Indeed, the film’s hazy, muted, and even cold (“blue”) atmosphere is far more apt in terms of the film’s given title than any pornographic/stag implications.
Blue Movie wields its equal opportunity nudity in a decidedly matter-of-fact manner. While perhaps explicit (this critic couldn’t discern how far the actors were actually going in their sex scenes, which leads one to assume not “all the way”… though that deduction might just be the result of contemporary Western logic. Very often, copulating is witnessed from a distance, or the film simply cuts away), this is a thinking film that uses the characters’ sexual appetites as metaphor for their desperate base need for life, connectivity, and release- three things that have been suppressed tremendously in their cut-off living quarters, and by extension, at the time, in their home country of the Netherlands. Perhaps this, among any more lurid reasons, is why Blue Movie proved a hit in Holland.
Bonus features on this disc are lovingly realized, and both new and old:
- Interview with director Wim Verstappen (1971)
- Interview with producer Pim de la Parra at the Dutch Sex Wave festival, Cinematheque Francais (2018)
- Interview with Hugo Metsers Jr., Paris (2018)
- Eye Film Institute – Featurette (2018)
- Blue Movie poster & photo video gallery
- Original Scorpio films Theatrical Trailers
As animalistic survival instincts percolate the way they overtly dominate Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of fellow apartment complex hellscape High Rise, we find that “monkey business” isn’t the only business afoot. Blue Movie serves as a restored indication that Holland was, from this point on, rife with all sorts of cinematic business.