“Black Book” is a WWII thriller by Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch director who somehow wandered from art films to “Showgirls.” It’s an action-packed melodrama whose Jewish heroine survives the Nazi occupation of her homeland through quick thinking and nearly super-human resourcefulness.
I watched it with mixed feelings. I can’t stand Holocaust movies and I’m opposed to them philosophically. Since the film was mostly a spy thriller, I tried to enjoy it on that level. I liked the idea of a Jewish woman and a Nazi officer falling in love, without apology. It was a nicely perverse twist.
The leading actress was subjected to so much nudity that I could now identify her in a line-up of naked boobs. That was okay, since her character relied on her talent as a seductress. When she was captured as a Nazi collaborator and singled out to be bludgeoned and doused with a huge vat of human shit, I realized my terrible mistake.
Once again, I have let myself by traumatized by Paul Verhoeven! “Showgirls” sent me into a deep, inconsolable depression. It seemed like a travesty of filmmaking, acting, decency, everything. It was like being doused with human shit, in fact. I imagined that everyone who watched it would be seeking psychotherapy at the first opportunity. I finally got over it. Mostly.
The last episode of “Extras” by the brilliant and fearless Ricky Gervais, had a scene in which a struggling actress is told to prepare to have shit thrown in her face. No one thinks it’s too much to ask of her. Even though she needs the job, she walks off the set.
I think Ricky Gervais was telling us in that episode that one’s dignity should not be for sale. When his character sees how deeply he has compromised his own dignity, he is horrified.
I don’t know why Mr. Verhoeven elected to douse his actress in shit, even though it was probably mud or soup, in reality. I can’t help feeling that he violated her dignity, and my own, for no justifiable reason. In “The Magic Christian,” a millionaire invites people to wade through shit to get his money. It’s a fair comment on greed by Terry Southern, a satirist of the highest caliber.
“Showgirls” is still described by some, idiotically, as a sly satire. “Black Book” is no “Showgirls,” but the element of exploitation is right there, like shit in your face. Somewhere in the eternal hell for hack artists and cultural criminals, there’s a special place for Paul Verhoeven.