This was not the interview I was supposed to be having.
Uwe Boll was supposed to act like a raving lunatic, a spittle-spewing madman as convinced of his own creative genius as he was of everyone else’s stupidity. There was meant to be shouting, stream-of-consciousness rambling in semi-broken English and liberal use of expletives. After all, this was the guy who told one reviewer, “Go to your mum and fuck her,” challenged others to fight him in a boxing match and assured the world that he’s “not a fucking retard like Michael Bay.” Gentility, subtlety and grace did not seem likely to be on the day’s agenda. I was expecting a firebrand hack. What I got instead was a passionate and thoughtful would-be artist.
“Art” is not a term that gets applied to Boll’s work very frequently, except perhaps to note the lack of it. His efforts as writer, director and producer of movies like House of the Dead, BloodRayne and In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale earned scorn from audiences and critics alike. Still, the prevailing attitude towards Boll was mostly that of resigned tolerance; sure, his movies were garbage, but making fun of him was fairly satisfying and entertaining. Then came Postal.
Postal‘s website describes it as “irreverent and outrageous,” an “offensive and mayhem-ridden laugh riot that threatens the very limits of common decency.” Reactions to the controversial film – which included imagery of Osama Bin Laden and a plane crashing into the Twin Towers – were mixed: Variety praised Boll for achieving “a bright, big-production feel on a reported $15 million budget” while the New York Times said the film “explodes with bad attitude and lousy filmmaking.” It won several awards at the Hoboken International Film Festival, but was so offensive to audiences that viewers left screenings in droves. Throughout its lifespan, Boll has defended Postal as “genius,” angrily telling off reviewers that dared to give it bad marks. Now that some time has passed since the movie’s rocky release, Boll is a bit more philosophical about why it failed to find the audience he felt it deserved.
“Postal is maybe a little too much avant garde right now,” he theorizes. “It deals with stuff in the comedy that is really maybe not digested so far. I think this hits some people too hard physically, so the comedy factor goes away and they are offended. I think that slowly that will definitely change. Maybe the movie was two or three years too early … but on the other hand, I don’t think that I make fun out of anything that happened on September 11th besides the absurdity of terrorism. That this guy sitting there, talking about how many virgins we’re getting in eternity, this is the absurd thing where I make fun out of. And I was hoping, before, that I could actually because of this get a little more support for Postal.”
Hoping, perhaps, but not really surprised that he didn’t get it. Though his predilection for ranting in the press may have created the image that Boll is, to put it gently, somewhat out of touch with reality, he’s well aware of his reputation as a filmmaker. “Especially in America, I’m totally wrong recognized. I’m recognized as a guy who only makes movies to make money, who makes primitive videogame-based movies. I’m used to dealing with it with humor. This is the way I deal with it.” Boll may use humor to keep from “digesting” the bad reviews that he receives, but he’s still genuinely hurt that he can’t seem to get a fair shake from audiences or critics. “I learned a lot about filmmaking in the past 10 years, I’ve made a lot of movies, I’ve made a lot of bigger movies with huge CGI, with big stars and everything, and I think a lot of people are not really looking to the movies anymore, they’re only looking into my person,” he says.
He’s even thought about releasing a movie under a pseudonym so that audiences wouldn’t walk into it with any preconceived notions about the film’s quality, but he figures that’s just asking for even more trouble. “The big problem, of course, is that if you make a movie where you have like 250 people on set, everybody has digital cameras, somebody will leak it. If you shoot a movie with 10 people in a studio and you can close it down, then it’s a chance. But I don’t think that I get away with it if I make a bigger movie or an action movie or whatever. I think somebody from the crew, or the extras will say, ‘Oh, by the way, I know who’s the director,’ and then I think they’ll even trash me harder. They’ll say that I tried to hide myself.”
He’s probably right. Uwe Boll is the director audiences love to hate, after all. Seeing the glee with which people declare their disdain for him and his work – googling the phrase “I hate Uwe Boll” turns up a truly alarming number of hits – it seems unlikely that he’s ever going to be able to rid himself of his image as the worst director ever, no matter what kind of movies he decides to make. And he knows it.
Nevertheless, Boll soldiers on, determined to tell his stories to a world that doesn’t necessarily want to hear them. And while his enthusiasm for moviemaking is palpable, so too is his bitterness at the reception he’s received from critics and the press. He seems genuinely nonplussed as to where his career and his ability to connect with viewers started to go awry. “When I started as a filmmaker in 1991 in Germany, I did all different movies, all different genres, and I didn’t get such bad reviews for it.” It’s easy to point to his choice of subject matter as a prime reason for his lack of credibility as a filmmaker; videogames aren’t exactly known for making smooth transitions to the silver screen, no matter who’s behind the camera. Though Boll thinks source material like FarCry is perfect fodder for a popcorn romp, his most recent projects are a bit more thought provoking.
Stoic, due out next year and starring Edward Furlong, is based on the true story of three men, charged with minor crimes, who brutally attack another prisoner in a German jail for 12 hours until he hangs himself. The recently-released Tunnel Rats, of which Boll is particularly proud for its attention to detail – “we went on a 10-day bootcamp with South African mercenaries, the helicopter we had is a real Vietnam helicopter” – is a Vietnam film also based on true-life events.
“Sometimes, as a normal film fan, I want to see only an entertaining movie, and this is what I did with FarCry, with BloodRayne, with In the Name of the King. But from time to time I want to see movies that bring me something additional. Even if Postal is a funny comedy, Postal has a second level of political incorrectness in it. Seed is a brutal horror movie, but has a second level in it, where it goes about humanity in total, and has a very nihilistic point of view about humanity. And Stoic and Tunnel Rats are even more in that direction because they’re both dealing with real situations.”
He’s not stopping there, either. Boll attempted to use comedy to touch on some very serious world issues with Postal, but the next time he tackles real-world politics, he’s going to take a more direct approach. At the moment, he’s preparing a movie dealing with the situation in Sudan. He expects it to be a very difficult movie to make, but is very passionate about the message that he hopes it will deliver. “I remember we all said after Rwanda, ‘This cannot happen again, next time, we have to help, we have to stop it.’ And now, it’s happened again and nobody’s stopped it! I think this is completely ridiculous. This is something where military power is needed. It’s just not acceptable that every day, children are getting hacked in pieces and women are getting raped, and then hacked in pieces. This is unbelievable. So this is a serious movie I want to do next year.”
Even a film about such grave subject matter as the horrors of Darfur may not be enough to counterbalance Boll’s image as the guy who makes the shlocky videogame flicks, however. He’s simply made too darn many of them. He’s not sorry, though. “In every movie, I have stuff that I would change, but I don’t regret the movie. I know House of the Dead was a silly zombie movie, but I like zombie movies, so I don’t regret the movie, but I wish I’d had a better script and better characters.”
There is one decision he does regret, however. “I would not do Alone in the Dark with Tara Reid again. I’d get a better actress. Never hire an actress before you’ve met her.”
His sensibilities may have matured, and he may be a far more savvy and adept moviemaker than he was 10 years ago, but for many people, he’s always going to be that guy who made House of the Dead. And perhaps that’s what we need him to be. Audiences might laugh at Boll more than they laugh with him, but they’re still being entertained. You have to wonder if anyone really wants him to make a good movie. If Boll isn’t giving viewers something to mock and deride, is he still Uwe Boll?
Whatever else may be said or thought about him, there is one central truth to Uwe Boll: He loves movies and will continue to make them for as long as he can. “I hope 10 years from now, I still make movies, I hope at this point I also get some good reviews for some of my movies, and I hope I’m still in good shape and can keep going.”
I hope so, too, Uwe.
House of the Dead is one of Susan Arendt’s guilty pleasures. She watches it every Halloween.