Saturday, January 5, 2013
The Fourth Man (1983)
I'm not especially familiar with the earlier stuff of Verhoeven. The oldest movie I've seen directed by him is the excellent and totally insane Flesh+Blood, starring our favourite Rutger Hauer - and the legend says he and Verhoeven never got along good again after that movie, which is a damn pity. I love them both.
The Fourth Man is a masterpiece, there's no question about. It's a wild, European version of what Brian De Palma could have done the days he woke up brilliant, with a big dose Hitchcock and the usual European style of sex and violence and gorgeous cinematography by Jan de Bont - who later became a terrible and shallow director of
Hollywood blockbusters. Fuck
him. It's a steamy and graphic - both sexually and violently - story about a
gay writer (Jeroen Krabbé) who gets spellbound by a blonde goddess (Renée
Soutendijk) and starts a sexual and economical relationship with her, more or
less to get his hands on her young, hunky lover (Thom Hoffman). But soon he
notices that something is odd, something is wrong - she's been married three
times and all of her husbands has been killed in macabre accidents. Is it just
a coincidence, or is she a murdered - or even a witch?
I love every second of this film, it's so original and intelligent and open-minded. Lots of sex and even a very graphic, almost humoristic, death scene who could have come directly from an Eighties gory horror film. But what struck me the most is the films that the mysterious woman shoots with her Super 8 camera. Films of her three dead husbands, up to their very death, in graphic detail!
There's a lot of this footage to choose from, but what do you think of when you see these three screenshots?
Now, I'm a disturbed person. I often see stuff that's not there. I get bored if I don't do that. But here I see something very interesting, I see three clear references to famous Mondo-sequences. Yeah, well - it's more clear if you see the whole footage - and especially when it ties together in the end, in a true melodramatic, unrealistic Mondo-fashion.
The first two is obviously inspired by 1978's Faces of Death, the infamous fake documentary that was produced for the Japanese market and became very controversial - and a big success, bigger than Star Wars in
time. 99% of the footage is fake, not so well-done either, but it's pure,
traditional exploitation. In that movie we see a girl (I think it's a girl,
it's been a couple of years since I saw it the last time) getting killed by a
boat propeller, crashing into her and also a skydiver who lands in the middle
of a croc pond! What we see in The Fourth Man is one husband, first with shaky
handheld amateur camera getting killed when a boat crashes into him and the
other husband falling from his death when the parachute won't open. The footage
is very similar to that in Faces of Death, and like this footage - or more like
a flashback in the end - it suddenly transforms to something more advanced than
just amateur footage. There's suddenly several cameras, different angles -
stuff that would give away that the Faces of Death-footage was fake - but very
few, at the time, dared to think that far. Real deaths is more fun, it seems. Japan
The third one is even more interesting (and I'm not sure it was included in Faces of Death). When I was a kid I saw something on TV that I never forgot: a man stepping out from his car in a safari park and getting eaten by lions. This is footage that was created for Antonio Climati and Mario Morra's 1975 Mondo "Savage Man Savage Beast", and has since then become the truth. People still debate if it's fake or not, but it's fake - it's just too many cameras, too many angles, too many dramaturgical tricks to make it real. It's well-made, but it's just smoke and mirrors - and very similar to the scene in Verhoeven's film.
Here it is, for those who want to see:
So Verhoeven uses three famous faked scenes from fake documentaries about death and destruction, as inspiration for his own little masterpiece. Is this deliberate or is it just coincidence? Personally I think it could be something he noticed and used, maybe even thinking it was real - like many others at the same time. Faces of Death was a big hit and the lion-sequence is still a famous piece of mythical "found footage". Maybe one of the best of it's kind, because it's still alive and still talked about.
The Fourth Man is a movie about confusing reality with dreams and visions, what is real and what is fake. What is madness? What is murder? Maybe we'll never now. Maybe the deaths in The Fourth Man just is strange coincidences and our hero is getting too absorbed in his storytelling and religious guilt.
Or maybe we're all fooled by the magic of film.