Spetters was the film Paul Verhoeven made after the worldwide success of his Soldier of Orange. It sparked the beginning of a career of controversy that still continues, including his most recent film, Elle. It was also the penultimate film (The Fourth Man would be the last) that he would make in his native Holland for decades, as he wouldn’t return until Black Book in 2006. Despite, or maybe because of the controversy around it, Spetters was a huge hit in Holland (as was his earlier film Turkish Delight), and with Soldier of Orange and The Fourth Man under his belt as well, a move to Hollywood was certain.
The film is kind of like a Dutch answer to Saturday Night Fever, and similar to that film, it is incredibly dark. It’s about two male motorcross racers and their mechanic, their everyday lives and especially the young men’s collective infatuation with Fientje (Renée Soutendijk). They see motorcross as a way out of their working-class lives, and look up to Rutger Hauer’s racing champ Gerrit Witkamp. The film takes an increasingly dark turn in the last act, and includes a harrowing male-on-male rape scene. Saturday Night Fever also has a nasty rape scene near the end, which audiences completely forget. Both films also feature some casual racism from the main characters.
Verhoeven is one of the boldest directors to ever live, and sexual assault is routinely a feature in his films, whether it’s Spetters, Showgirls, Elle or even Hollow Man, which is just Kevin Bacon being rapey while invisible for two hours. He has been on record as to why so many rape scenes are in his films with: ‘Though I didn’t create these scenes, they were already in the scripts. I feel that the harshness of rape is more part of our lives than we care to acknowledge.’ Spetters is certainly the most “problematic” because one of the male characters is raped and then he “enjoyed it” so much he realises he is gay. Like that would ever happen.
Verhoeven claimed Spetters as his realist film, just reflecting what he saw in Holland at the time. It’s interesting that his next, The Fourth Man, would have a super-matter-of-fact bisexual man as the lead character, so it’s not like Spetters was made by some homophobe. Verhoeven’s films are always full of contradictions, and I think that is what draws him to certain kinds of material.
Over the years, Spetters has gained a cult following, no doubt due to the success of Verhoeven’s American films. like Robocop, Starship Troopers, Total Recall etc. It’s an important film for him because it marks the beginning of Hollywood calling: reportedly he was considered for Return of the Jedi, with Steven Spielberg suggesting him to George Lucas, but Spielberg was so disgusted by Spetters that he withdrew his suggestion. Just for fun, it’s worth mentioning that David Lynch and David Cronenberg were also under serious consideration, and actually met with Lucas. Spetters is a fascinating film that still packs a punch nearly 40 years after its release. It’s one of the first films to deal in an aware way with toxic masculinity, although of course there had been plenty of that on view in films before.
BFI’s release includes a Blu-Ray and DVD, with most of the extras on the DVD: they haven’t done this for a while but it was common a few years ago. The Blu-Ray disc, however, includes a newly made video essay on the film. The bonus disc includes a Dutch TV documentary, archival interviews with Verhoeven and screenwriter Gerard Soeteman, and a much longer interview with cinematographer Jost Vacano. Trailers and an image gallery round off the package. The booklet contains old and new writing on the film including a brand new exclusive interview with the man himself Paul Verhoeven. You need to quick because the booklet will only be in the first pressing.