Sylvia Kristel Sings and Everyone Scrambles in This Stylish Dutch Thriller
DIRECTED BY FRANS WEISZ/DUTCH/1973
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: AUGUST 23, 2022/CULT EPICS
There’s a certain lightness permeating the sometimes-brutal Dutch thriller Naked Over the Fence (Naakt over de schutting; 1973). But, good heavens, good luck isolating it. Director Frans Weisz has done a masterful job of imbuing this gritty tale of crime, murder, kidnapping and illicit pornography in early-‘70s Amsterdam with a consistent airiness. The result is a physically and thematically dark movie that never feels heavy laden- although in other creative hands, it very much could.
It no doubt helps that Weisz’s three leads, Rijk de Gooyer (as Rick, the cucumber-cool owner of a pinball parlor), Jennifer Willems (as Penny, a young lady who rents out a room over Rick’s pinball parlor), and towering real-life black-belt Jon Bluming (as Ed, Penny’s karate instructor) are fresh from working together on the filmmaker’s previous effort, De inbreker (1972). There’s an effortless camaraderie between these three actors, like watching old friends hang out- but also get caught up in a messy mystery in the meantime. Weisz is obviously quite fond of the film’s pigeon motif, as Rick spends copious time at his rooftop coop simply awaiting the return of a single bird. The thematic connection is not lost in how it extends to one of their tight knit circle falling for a self-absorbed singing star named Lilly (Sylvia Kristel).
These days, Kristel’s notable presence is the biggest claim to fame that Naked Over the Fence has to offer. Her role here serves as kind of a double whammy of successes, as not only is she recognized as a captivating screen presence, but the song she sings, “Hey, a Letter Came Today”, proved to be a highlight of her singing career. It’s prominence in the film was mutually beneficial, though Kristel never took off in the recording industry like she did in the film industry. Although she’d appeared in several other movies by the time of Naked Over the Fence, it would be only her second Dutch film, and her last bastion of pre-fame life before her star turn in Emmanuelle(1974) would change that.
Dutch cinema biographer Harry Hosman provides an audio commentary track. In between stretches of silence and unnecessary recaps of what’s on screen, Hosman offers up interesting information throughout. A strong point is his knowledge about the working relationship of producer Rob du Mee and director Weisz, whom he describes as “the most prudish director in Holland at the time.” Naked Over the Fence occurred during what’s often referenced to as “the Dutch Sex Wave”, a permissive cinematic movement spurred on by Wim Verstappen’s Blue Movie (1971) and Pim de la Parra’s Frank & Eva (1973, also Ms. Kristel’s screen debut).
Despite its suggestive title and when it was made, Weisz’s film has comparatively little in the way of nudity and sexual content. Most of what’s there occurs in the sequence from which Naked Over the Fence gets its title, in which two characters, being coerced into starring in a porn film, make a sudden escape from the set. Indeed, the man and woman in question literally go naked over the fence, then scampering quickly down the alley in the dark. The bit leading up to the escape, in which Rick happens upon the dirty movie shoot but is helpless to do anything about it, has the lurid vibe of a good De Palma sequence. Soon after, another De Palma-esque moment occurs when a dead man is found in broad daylight laying on elevated trolley wires. Then the trolley comes along… prompting the witnesses to cover their eyes. Bravura, unexpected staging sells this moment.
Cult Epics is a label that’s always generous with bonus features. Time is taken and research is done for all of its titles; the findings- including vintage interviews, publicity clippings, ads, etc.- are happily shared alongside the films themselves. With its limited-edition Blu-ray release of Naked Over the Fence (only 1000 such copies), the first bonus to be noticed (beyond the nice slipcover and the reversible sleeve art) is an entire second disc. It is an exclusive CD of the film’s sleek soundtrack, by Ruud Bos and yes, featuring Sylvia Kristel. An excellent inclusion.
The “Behind the Scenes” featurette is really just an assembly of on-set raw footage, but thankfully, it documents one of Ms. Kristel’s most prominent scenes in the film, her character’s singing television appearance. At one point, we see two women helping her with some sort of terrible fingernail problem. Other well-sourced extras include an interview with director Frans Weisz from 2014, a music-centric 2015 piece called “B-Movie Orchestra + Interview with composer Ruud Bos”, a promotional gallery, and an assortment of Sylvia Kristel film trailers.
Naked Over the Fence is a consistently enjoyable and engaging film that is having quite a good time basking in its own unpredictability. A grown-up crowd-pleaser from an interesting country at a very particular dingier age, adventurous cinema fans should hop whatever fences necessary to snag Cult Epics’ fine release of Weisz’s well-directed thriller.