Monday, February 22, 2016
Paul Verhoeven's TRICKED finally opens 2/26 at The Village East Cinema in NYC and Fandor
TRICKED, the new film by Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Showgirls, Robocop), is not only two films in one but also a clever subversion of moviemaking. The short narrative film following the secrets, lies, and backstabbing of eight characters is crowd-sourced: Verhoeven actively solicited scripts for the film after presenting the first five pages of the script publicly; it was up to the online audience to write the rest. Far from the chaos I'd expect from such an experiment, it actually produces a witty and clever film shorn of the excesses of big Hollywood filmmaking.
The first half of the movie documents the project and the making of the script and film. Verhoeven discusses in detail his ideas to open source his work, which presents him and the cast with atypical surprises. It's a process that runs counter to the director's and actor's discipline of preparation—most artists actively resist audience suggestions, and reminds us that the director is never the absolute, sole artist. In fact, Verhoeven vibrantly thrives on screen at the challenge. He continually emphasizes, however, how the process taps into the unknown and frees him to be creative in a way that his earlier, tightly choreographed major motion pictures have not.
'Remco never appears in two Paul Verhoeven movies at HOME!'
The technique winds up being actually much more complicated that his original assessment. It doesn't allow the actors to fully get into character in the initial scenes (Verhoeven sees this as a plus). He and his crew have to sift through 700 public-submitted scripts to cover the next five minutes of the film. Eventually, he uses snippets of several of all the submitted scripts—a line of dialogue here, a plot twist there—so Verhoeven himself is influencing the outside forces. It's not a completely improv film, and he also gets feedback and interpretation from his actors and cinematographers. There's a lovely scene in the documentary which tours the house that the movie is set in, explaining why certain shots will work and others won't: finished house interiors aren't built for long shots, so it forces him to work close-up, bringing the viewer into a more intense and personal "physical" relationship with the characters, which proves essentially important in the developing plot of the movie.
'I'm glad you could come to my little informal wine-tasting party. I didn't have a thing to wear.'
So in the end, Verhoeven raises questions not usually tackled in a film documentary. With actors interpreting and the director guiding, is it that different from the making of a regular film (or episodic TV series where scripts are revealed weekly)? What do we, the audience, want from a film? Should is be ultra-realistic with possible loose ends and unresolved subplots, or to be cleaner, tighter, more controlled than life? (Of course we want both, greedy audience that we are.) Does a crowd-sourced script compiled from 397 different contributors have any chance of being accessible and entertaining? This is taking the idea for a research group that shapes the final motion picture to its extreme. The process also brings into question the subject of work for hire. In this day and age when artists are regularly encouraged to submit their work for consideration but then lose the rights to it, is Verhoeven's method simply a fad or an experiment? Does open source filmmaking contribute to the death of the professional?
That all said...the second half of the film, the movie itself, dismissed all my doubts within minutes. This part of Tricked is bright, funny, sexy, mysterious, with interlocking social connections and stories, couples squaring off against each other and their circumstances, and a great many double-crosses that delight in their clever reversals. Without the documentary half of the film, I challenge any viewer to guess that this movie was created by almost four hundred writers, so tightly plotted and intricate is its story. Reminiscent of a middle-period Woody Allen social comedy, it's a perfect short length and features some bright and witty performances. There's some minor logical short-cuts taken to make it a brisk film and a few remarkable coincidences without which we wouldn't arrive at a crowd-pleasing ending (thank goodness Google Maps is updated enough to show a scaffolding; it's more dramatic to arrive at a tense business meeting at the last minute rather than phone ahead and warn of a duplicitous plot). But it's a perfectly natural normal film, far from the possible mess it could have been. Verhoeven's experiment works...this time, at least.
'Hands up everybody who doesn't want to throw a baby shower for Nadja!'
Films on films fascinate me: they run the gamut from navel-gazing to revelatory, and the documentary half of Tricked is some of both, but it's done with a cheerful and light tone which forgives the occasional self-obsessed aspect. The crowd-sourcing element of the documentary makes it unique. I'd still be cautious of any other film made the same way; Tricked survives because of the attention to detail and care of Verhoeven and his cast and crew, not because they relinquished any control. That this innovative experiment produces both a solid insight into filmmaking's mechanics and techniques and a brisk, breezy romantic social comedy is a testament to the Verhoeven and company's skill in telling a fine story out of piecemeal contributions.