Director: Wim Verstappen
Writer: Wim Verstappen, Charles Gormley
Starring: Hugo Metsers, Helmert Woudenberg, Carry Tefsen
Available on blu-ray on the 12th February
Oh, how have times have changed. Watching Wim Verstappen’s 1971 Blue Movie in 2019, it’s hard to grasp the level of controversy it courted at release. Our attitudes towards sex have changed (though perhaps not as much as we would like to think) and Blue Movie would probably fail to raise an eyebrow if it was it produced today.
This is both to the film’s benefit and detriment. As a period piece, it’s an interesting and well made look at the changing morality in 1970’s Europe. As a sex film, it’s near laughable. Softcore masquerading as hardcore, with none of the actors looking particularly comfortable.
We start with Michael (Hugo Metsers) leaving prison, having served five years for a ‘social offence’, that we later find out was statutory rape. Attitudes have changed, however, and sex is no longer the moral quandary it was.
His parole officer, Eddie (Helmert Woudenberg), moves him into an apartment complex but warns him against embarking on affairs within the building, guiding him towards a steady partner, a job and new start.
This advice is unheeded. Barely 24 hours go by before Michael is peeping on his insatiable neighbour (Carry Tefsen), flirting with the wife of a bookish zoologist and sleeping his way through an apparently unlimited number of willing young women throughout the building.
The set-ups are typical softcore porn fare, with every movement Michael makes apparently landing him in the bed of his next conquest. It’s all done with tongue firmly in cheek making it more bearable, barring the rather awkward looking sex scenes themselves; while the bumbling actions of Eddie add light humour throughout, as he interrupts and misinterprets Michael’s actions.
This would be all there was to say about Blue Movie were it not for the cynical undercurrent, that suddenly becomes far more pronounced in the final moments.
Early on, the zoologist, Dr Bernard Cohn, tells Michael about the mating habits of monkeys, stating that some species do not mate at all in the wild and yet become obsessed with sex when held in captivity. He compares this to the apartment block, disputing the importance people place on sex and believing that men and women search for partners who give them status.
Verstappen runs with this idea, jumping forward to a point where Michael has enlisted the help of several residents to run adult parties. Monetising sex, with live shows and self-produced stag films, he entertains his guests and yet seems dissatisfied with his lot.
Ending on a rather bleak note, with the suicide of a supposedly impotent, wannabe lothario, and the suggestion that Michael himself may be impotent, Verstappen leaves the viewer with a confused message.
Blue Movie appears critical about the monopolisation of something as personal as sex and yet its very success, and the success of several Scorpio Films productions was partly down to the amount of flesh onscreen. Also, a handful of ‘taboo-busting’ scenes, including discussion of incest, feel cynically tacked on.
And while Metsers is good, it’s difficult to really root for Michael, especially towards the tail end of the picture. Nor is it easy to go along with the rather stony philosophies of Dr Cohn.
A product of its time, Blue Movie does have cultural significance. Fittingly, it marked a change in attitudes in the Netherlands, with more sexually explicit material becoming part of mainstream cinema.
It’s also significant for being the cinematography debut of Jan de Bont, who would go on to work on Verhoeven’s Turkish Delight and John McTiernan’s Die Hard, as well as helming Speed, Twister and the 1999 remake of The Haunting.
His camera work is stellar here, from long shots of the industrial scale apartment blocks to more experimental shots during the party scenes. It’s all done justice by the beautiful transfer put together for this release, which brings an important film to a wider audience, even if it isn’t quite as consistent as some other softcore pictures of the era.