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FLESH AND BLOOD

By • Feb 3rd, 2004 •

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MGM Home Entertainment 1985
2 hrs. 8 mins / Not Rated / 2.35:1 aspect ratio, formatted to fit 16X9 monitor screens.

Just before FLESH AND BLOOD was released, another film had been eviscerated of several minutes of sex and violence, and when restored, it improved beyond anyone’s expectations. That film was Ken Russell’s CRIMES OF PASSION. I was flabbergasted at how much of a difference a few minutes could make.

When I saw FLESH AND BLOOD originally, in its MPAA compromised form, I found it over-stated and crude, a disappointment from a director whose work I loved. Now, released on DVD in its director-preferred cut, the film works miraculously well; it’s a bawdy, playfully offensively delight. Reminds me of STREET TRASH, a film I wrote and produced in ’85, in its democratic cynicism: the notions of good guys, religion, love and chivalry get trashed with equal abandon.

Set in 1501, in plague-ridden Western Europe around the time the catapult was invented to win wars by lobbing victims of the ‘black death’ into fortified castles, we follow the picaresque misadventures of a band of mercenaries, whose leader, Martin (Rutger Hauer, in his fifth and last time working with Verhoeven) is drawn to a woman of noble birth, but despite his amoral psyche, she’s way ahead of him when it comes to manipulation.

Orion Pictures thought they had another TOM JONES when they saw rushes of the food orgy (60 mins in), but according to the director, the finished film came out ‘apocalyptic and dark,’ ‘a Nietzchean/Darwinian vision’ of survival at all costs. Orion pretty much buried it.

Mike Fenton casted all the US actors, while Verhoeven chose the Dutch thesps. It’s a weird, uneasy cast, ranging from the appropriately raunchy, unadulterated and horrifying Susan (FAT CITY, TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS, WIZARDS, FORBIDDEN ZONE) Tyrrell (with whom I worked in DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD), to the impressively dedicated Jennifer Jason Leigh, who gamely submitted to a group rape scene on a location which didn’t even allow the set to be cleared of cast and crew. About that scene, Basil Poledouris explains, in a 12 minute supplemental featurette, that Verhoeven had tried thirty to forty music cues under it on his own without being satisfied. Poledouris’ composition became one of the director’s favorites in the film. All that work, and the MPAA wielded their scissors mercilessly.

Verhoeven was attracted to Poledouris after hearing the score for CONAN. He instructed the composer to give him something energetic and medieval, using special instruments from the period such as the hurdy-gurdy, and also imbue it with a sense of spirituality.

There are images you will never forget: Leigh and her betrothed making love under two hanging, rotting corpses…burying a stillborn baby in a wine keg…a nun, her head sliced open during a siege, going into convulsions… It has the signature visuals Verhoeven relishes, the aggressive, memorable frames that have characterized his work through SPETTERS, THE FOURTH MAN, BASIC INSTINCT, SOLDIER OF ORANGE, ROBOCOP and STARSHIP TROOPERS. His commentary is a bit dense and unrewarding, but not terrible. On a scale of 1-10, it’s a 5. But the film is better than that, and one for the collection.


Extended international version.
Audio commentary by Paul Verhoeven.
Featurette on composer Basil Poledouris.

CAST:
Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Susan Tyrrell, Jack Thompson, Tom Burlinson, Brion James.

CREW:
DIRECTOR: Paul Verhoeven.
SCREENPLAY: Verhoeven & Gerard Soeteman.
Director of Photography: Jon de Bont.
Music Composed by: Basil Poledouris.

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