Filmmaker Uwe Boll is notorious – not just for his movies but also the bad reviews they have garnered. Now that he is quitting the business, a frank and honest conversation about his legacy, his ambitions, and why America sometimes needs to be offended.
Which of your movies are you most proud of?
I just recently watched Postal again at a showing in Germany. Ten years after we shot it, it’s still very up-to-date: The political situation in the world has only become crazier, and the movie feels a little bit like a prophecy. But I am also very proud of Darfur, which was about the genocide there. We shot it while the massacres were happening. I am very proud of both movies.
That’s an interesting selection: While Darfur has garnered quite positive reviews, Postal has been universally criticized.
Postal is not a fine satire with Woody Allen type of humor. It has the humor of The Hangover, applied to political satire. It is dirty and sexual, which is already a red flag for most reviewers: They feel like they can’t say that something like that is a good satire. But remember: Postal was made before The Hangover, so who knows what people would say if it came out today…
“My movies broke a lot of taboos.”
You think it was ahead of its time?
In regards of harshness, absolutely. I broke a lot of Hollywood conventions: There’s full-frontal nudity, and there’s a scene in there about a Nazi amusement park called Little Germany where children are being shot to death. In Hollywood movies, children never get shot on camera. But when I went to that showing now, there were about a hundred people in the audience laughing their asses off. People today enjoy it more than audiences ten years ago. Back then, people just felt offended by it.
A reviewer at the time described Postal as ”over the top satire: unfunny and unnecessary.” Have attitudes really changed that much?
With the rise of the internet, harsh jokes have become more common and a lot easier to digest. Individual tastes have changed a lot and many taboos have disappeared. But reviewers were offended and then wrote negatively about the whole movie. When it came out, I did a little theatrical tour in the US and said “The movie is done with the idea of no races, no religion, no nations”. We don’t make jokes about a specific religion but say that all religion is bullshit and you are all completely fucking retarded if you are religious. I broke a lot of taboos…
In Postal, there’s a scene in which a TV announcer says that the victims of 9/11 deserved to die. Saying things like that, ten years ago, was very offensive.
It’s a discussion I’ve had: At the Hoboken International Film Festival in New Jersey, Postal was the opening movie. But the mayor refused to speak at the opening because of it. I spoke to a lot of audience members, who walked out. And I said “Look, a movie can be much more exaggerated than reality. All the victims of the attacks were called heroes! But someone needs to say the opposite, just as an antidote.”
Because the reality is that they weren’t heroes: They were victims. They were pulverized by a building and there’s nothing heroic in that! It just shows that America values the lives of their own citizens more than those in the Middle East or Afghanistan, where they mercilessly bombed people. Art needs to address that. And I am not a politician, so I don’t have to be politically correct.
Exactly! Look at pussies like Roland Emmerich or Wolfgang Petersen: they could not stop kissing the asses of the Americans. They tried to be more American than the Americans. I always tried to be the complete opposite.
Uwe Boll is a German filmmaker who lives and works in Canada. His often controversial movies have spanned topics from video game adaptation to Holocaust documentaries. In 2016, Boll announced that he was quitting the movie business with his last film Rampage 3. He also runs a German restaurant called Bauhaus Restaurant.
“All American movies are advertising clips for the military.”
How much of that is caused by your dislike of what is called the “the Hollywood formula”: Endless reboots and similar scripts?
I feel that the undertone of American movies is overly patriotic. Even if movies are about the “freedom of the individual”, they are all advertising clips for the military apparatchik.
What you are saying sometimes sounds like straight-forward anti-Americanism.
I don’t care. It’s not like I defend the German way of life or German politics. From childhood on, I’ve had my own head and that has also been my biggest obstacle: I never play by the rules. I never got connected to anyone and my movies have been the result of my will to make them happen against everybody’s resistance.
What do you mean?
Harvey Weinstein never called me to ask if I wanted to make a movie. I have never had any support of third parties! And that’s why the last 25 years have been very tough, even though I made 33 movies: It was resistance against the subsidy system of German channels, American studios, and the movie festivals. And that’s what makes it easy for reviewers to rip you apart: There’s no call from a big studio telling them not to.
Have you become the film director people love to hate?
Certainly the one for which they have half of the article written before they even start: Uwe Boll who got the Golden Raspberry, who boxed against the critics, bla bla bla. I have read that stuff 280.000 times because journalists repeat what they find on Google. But who knows: Rampage 3 is my last movie, and after a few years without Uwe Boll movies they might start seeing things differently.
In how far?
They might dig a little deeper into the actual content of the movies: Especially Tunnel Rats, Postal, Assault on Wall Street, Darfur…
…some of which had decent reviews.
If I get an ok review, that’s great news. But if Darfur had been made by Tom Tykwer, it would have won at the Cannes Film Festival. Some of my movies had a ton of potential to do well at festivals. But look at Hotel Ruanda and look at Darfur: These movies weren’t so different. But Hotel Ruanda was pushed and promoted by different well-liked celebrities, Darfur was pushed by me.
You have also made video game adaptations and action movies. How seriously are you taking that kind of work?
With Postal, I wanted to make an expensive movie that came across like trailer trash. But if you watch it, there’s excellent CGI in it, 30 to 40 speaking parts, even small parts have great actors like JK Simmons, Seymour Cassel, David Huddelston. And they all had fun. Before they had never seen a script like it. But to answer your question: Taking a movie seriously – like Darfur – doesn’t automatically translate to a bigger audience or more acknowledgement.
What does the “trailer trash look” achieve?
The Postal Dude, the main character, is the hero of the white trash: He got fucked over by his job, his wife, and the world. He is a loser! The look had to fit: People have cheap wigs on, it’s all styled absurdly and has an over the top story – but I feel that it works.
“You try make a genre movie based on a video game in which a bloodsucking half-vampire runs around”
Cheap wigs and weird dialogues underline the story?
The center of the movie is a character called Uncle Dave, who has built a cult even though he just takes everyone’s money and fucks every girl he can get his hands on. But in real life, the character has been outdone by the real gurus! The idea to do a movie that’s over the top is to bring it closer to reality than a ‘realistic’ look could.
In writing, there’s the concept of “pulp writing” – first derided as sensationalist and popular, but also celebrated as an art form. You have used stars, action, or Nazi characters in some films… is it fair to say you make pulp movies?
With the video game adaptations, yes. Bloodrayne 3, which is set during WWII, is a total pulp movie. But with some movies you don’t have a choice.
Try make a genre movie based on a video game in which a bloodsucking half-vampire runs around – you have to shoot like I do. I always hated movies like Underworld or Resident Evil: They take themselves too seriously, while I tried to be more cheesy: More pulp, more blood, more sexiness, more harshness – but also more fun. That’s what I like, and it’s why I prefer the old Star Wars movies to the new ones: There was more humor and character. I don’t care that Chewbakka is a man in a monkey costume because I felt the character was good. So I do more old-fashioned moviemaking, more pyrotechnics, silicone, costumes and not so much CGI. And with stupid movies that are made for entertainment, I enjoy that style more but the critics don’t. Underworld didn’t get great reviews, but definitely better ones than I did for Bloodrayne. It looks like the audience follows the critics.
Do you feel misunderstood?
Maybe. Perhaps I didn’t get what the fans of the comics or games wanted. They are more into the stuff that takes itself very seriously, but which isn’t entertaining in my eyes. I love movies that are trashy – like Guardians of the Galaxy.
When you have tried something different – like using improvisation or handheld cameras – you were promptly criticized because it appeared too trashy…
Shooting handheld means you are much closer to everyone, don’t need to build camera tracks or have a dolly crane on set. What I want is for the actors to freely act and us to just follow. In movies like Darfur or Rampage, that led to a lot more improvisation and you want the actors to dive more deeply into their characters. The technical aspects should be secondary and the story and the characters is what we need to focus on. In other movies I used a lot of CGI and green screens, which I always found horrible.
…the audience seems to disagree.
They are more willing to pay for something that looks like it was shot in a big studio. Why else have they been going to the same movies for eight years? It’s inconceivable to me how anyone can still go to watch The Avengers of X-Men. It baffles me: The movies are horribly produced, horribly acted, and I don’t give a shit how great the CGI looks because I already know what they are capable of.
What do you mean?
When a new Independence Day comes out – another horrible movie franchise, by the way – I know they can destroy the world with CGI. Put 80 artists in a room for seven months and you have the end of the world in perfect, photorealistic 3D. It looks like there’s a market for this every two months. The story of Hollywood is: “Bigger bigger bigger, 100 million in advertising and we have a new franchise.”
“Movies never changed anything”
Your last movie, Rampage 3, is also a sequel, though.
You have to see Rampage like Boyhood: It’s a trilogy where we follow a terrorist for ten years, a long movie in three parts. I didn’t want to stop making movies before finishing that story. And this time, he shoots the president of the United States… it’s very political. But the most interesting bit is to follow a domestic white terrorist who looks like a white supremacist even though he is a total leftie! Everything he says is my opinion: He wants to take money and power away from the super-rich. It’s an underestimated trilogy that will grow over time, at least among fans, because it is such a political statement. Not messing around like the Bourne movies, but something much more real.
Is it your final statement to the critics?
Not only to the critics but to everyone. 25 years ago, I spent an evening with a mathematics professor in a bank in Frankfurt. He demonstrated with statistics how inequality in developing countries leads to violence, more bodyguards, and more gated communities. Now, 20 years later, we’ve become like that in the West: North America and Europe have made the decision to pamper the rich and dissolve the middle class, making it very unsafe for everyone. Once 70% are part of the underclass, the world becomes an unsafe place – all because we don’t have a redistribution of wealth through proper taxes. We need to change the system to use the money for the common good.
If you’re so political, why have you stopped making movies?
Movies never changed anything. They may cause a discussion but they don’t change reality. I’m 51 years old and I feel like it’s time to do things that make a difference. I hope to become politically active in some regions, I already support PETA, for example. Moving away from movies will give me more free time. And since I’m not good at just hanging around, I’ll naturally start getting active and work on political goals.
Still from Rampage 3.