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MGM Studios DVD presents
"If you're so good at business, how come you're still working with your dumb brother in that French fry stand?"
DVD ReviewDirector Paul Verhoeven was no stranger to controversy over cinematic sexuality when he made Basic Instinct and Showgirls. He had already gained global notoriety with the graphic sexuality in his 1980 Spetters, with its concomitant sexual frankness in its tale of the life of young people in Rotterdam. Unlike those later Hollywod pictures, however, Spetters (a slang term for sexually attractive people, according to my Dutch friend) crackles with a realistic slice of life view of the troubled lives of these people, without the salacious attitudes seen in Verhoeven's later work.
The story centers on the dreams of three young working-class men who are involved in motocross racing, the hot prospect Rien Hartman (Hans van Tongeren), his mechanic Eef Dewitt (Toon Agterberg) and the hapless and clueless Hans Black (Maarten Spanjer). As Rien tries to emulate the champion racer Gerrit Witkamp (Rutger Hauer), the group is split apart by the machinations of the manipulative blonde sexpot Fientje (Renée Soutendijk). As things disintegrate, we see that the trio's seemingly innocent escapades have a dark undercurrent, reflected in Eef's penchant for gay-bashing and Rien's despair after an accident cuts short his racing career.
The youthful cast turns in a group of quite remarkable performances. While Maarten Spanjer's Hans is played a bit broadly as a comic character, he also has a depth and presence that makes him far more than a cardboard relief character. Particularly notable is van Tongeren, who sadly committed suicide about 18 months after filming. Marianne Boyer as Maja, Rien's rejected girl, is charming and affecting, with some good scenes later on when she gets involved with a Christian evangelical tent show. Soutendijk is sassy and entertaining as the blonde, and effectively shows us several chinks in her armor of manipulation.
The picture is beautifully shot by Jost Vacano, with numerous highly effective sequences, such as the brutally shocking segment of Rien's accident (unknowingly and indirectly caused by Eef) that has a hugely visceral impact. The later segments of the film are almost completely shrouded in darkness, emphasizing the black mood of the picture in its later stages, but it's all carefully calibrated to allow the action to be legible, even though 90 percent of the screen is black. The motocross segments play well and are fairly easy to follow even for one (like me) with zero background in the sport. The camera work effectively conveys a sense of the chaotic nature of the course.
Whereas much of Verhoeven's work that deals with sex has been purely exploitative, the sex here seems natural and quite appropriate to the story. The sexuality of Eef, in particular, is given a background of a Calvinist upbringing that compounds the difficulty of the issues that surround him as he clumsily comes to terms with his own sexual orientation. Surprisingly, MGM has offered the film completely uncut, with the graphic sexuality completely intact. The studio is to be commended for its courage in releasing the film uncut; it would certainly never be allowed to play in US theaters today. Nonetheless, it is worth seeking out for anyone looking for a serious drama. Even after two decades it still has an impact that is not lightly shaken off.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Although the film is presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, MGM did not see fit to enhance it anamorphically. Thus, while it looks good, it clearly could have been better. There is quite a lot of aliasing throughout. The titles, in red, display a tremendous amount of video noise. These two defects aside, however, the film looks very good. The source print is attractive, with almost no visible damage. Plenty of fine detail is evident, and colors are vivid throughout. While the Rotterdam backgrounds seem rather hazy, that's how I recall the picture looking in 1981.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono sound is quite good. There's no hiss or noise notable, and the dialogue has a clear sound to it. The New Wave soundtrack prominently featuring Blondie and Iggy Pop sounds fine, without a big presence, but it doesn't sound bad either. A very serviceable mono track.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Paul Verhoeven
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Layers Switch: 00h:59m:19s
Extras Review: The principal extra is a commentary (in English) from the articulate Verhoeven. Although he has an unfortunate tendency to lapse into narration, he provides enough background detail about the making of the film, its historical context and the reaction in both Europe and the US to the film makes it well worth listening to. The US theatrical trailer is included, though it too is nonanamorphic. Chaptering is a bit on the thin side for a film of this length.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsA brutally honest picture of the dreams of three young men and the woman who shatters them, with an okay transfer and an acceptable commentary. But at least it's uncut, with all of the graphic sexuality that is important to its impact, intact.
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