№ 4

Going Postal

Maligned filmmaker Uwe Boll channels his anger into toxic comedy

CBC Arts Online, May 22, 2008

Uwe Boll — writer, direc­tor, pro­duc­er, doc­tor of Ger­man lit­er­a­ture, ama­teur box­er and online cause célèbre — stands unboth­ered and unat­tend­ed at the doors to a down­town Van­cou­ver mul­ti­plex. It’s the Cana­di­an pre­miere of Postal, the 42-year-old German’s lat­est video-game adap­ta­tion, and his first comedy.

There isn’t a hint of Hol­ly­wood glitz or glam­our in the air. Boll min­gles casu­al­ly with the audi­ence. The door prizes seem lift­ed straight out of a fra­ter­ni­ty house: beer and video games and graph­ic nov­els. A life-size Krotchy doll, Postal’s soft-core mascot/plot device, accom­pa­nies the film­mak­er and the premiere’s host, a Kit­si­lano video-store oper­a­tor, who applauds the doll’s anatom­i­cal accuracy.

If you are a lit­tle old­er and more con­ser­v­a­tive, sit on the aisle – it’s eas­i­er to go,” Boll announces to the half-emp­ty the­atre in a boom­ing, unvar­nished Ger­man accent.

Boll isn’t naive; he knows how offen­sive this film will be. Yet this quip could also be tak­en as an allu­sion to the grow­ing infamy of his work. Boll was recent­ly the sub­ject of two high-pro­file fea­tures, in the New York Times and GQ. Each of their titles was a vari­a­tion on the same theme: Uwe Boll, the worst film direc­tor in the world.

Postal – a polit­i­cal satire that fus­es, among oth­er things, 9/11, apoc­a­lyp­tic reli­gion and the war on ter­ror – is Boll’s crass, clunky and deeply R‑rated line in the sand.

I was extreme­ly pissed at my career,” he explains to me lat­er, adding a few choice vul­gar­i­ties before not­ing the uni­ver­sal­ly sav­age reviews for his pre­vi­ous films, from House of the Dead in 2003 to last year’s In the Name of the King. “So I put all my frus­tra­tions about myself into Postal. About bin Laden. About Bush.”

Boll took an extreme­ly vio­lent video game (“You shoot chil­dren and piss on dead peo­ple,” he says) and pro­duced a sto­ry­line so tox­ic – and often so inco­her­ent – that few may actu­al­ly see it. Postal hasn’t been picked up by a sin­gle major dis­trib­u­tor. So far, Boll has found just nine North Amer­i­can screens to run it (three in Cana­da, six in the Unit­ed States). Britain and France have shut out Postal com­plete­ly. Boll hopes to make back half of the $13 mil­lion US bud­get in DVD sales.

I only wait for the call that they tell me that Wal-Mart is not tak­ing the DVD,” he said lat­er. “This will be the next lev­el of this kind of censorship.”

Whether it’s shtick or some grand delu­sion, Boll is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it any­more. He’s mad at every­one, real or imag­ined, who ques­tions (or sab­o­tages) his work: Hol­ly­wood, video-game purists, cen­sors, U.S. pol­i­cy­mak­ers, movie crit­ics. When an online peti­tion, Stop Dr. Uwe Boll, and web­site devot­ed to attack­ing him sprung up, Boll craft­ed a YouTube response. If the peti­tion gar­nered one mil­lion sig­na­tures, he pledged to stop mak­ing movies. Soon, a pro-Boll peti­tion appeared, Long Live Uwe Boll. By mid-May, near­ly 279,000 had signed on to the anti-Boll site; approx­i­mate­ly 5,200 stood behind him.

In Sep­tem­ber 2006, Boll famous­ly chal­lenged his crit­ics to a box­ing match. Four took up the offer – they were flown to Van­cou­ver, Boll’s North Amer­i­can home base, for the event – and were sum­mar­i­ly beat­en. Boll, a box­er in his youth, trained hard for the bouts. One writer/opponent, think­ing it was all in good fun, wound up vom­it­ing after­ward, his face glued to an oxy­gen mask.

In the end, how­ev­er, Boll’s moti­va­tions aren’t com­plex. The man who calls him­self the last great inde­pen­dent film­mak­er, and the only genius in cin­e­ma today, just wants a lit­tle respect – and a lot of pub­lic­i­ty. “Look, I know In the Name of the King is not Lord of the Rings,” he says of his last film, an elab­o­rate “dun­geon-siege” fan­ta­sy. “But why every­body com­pares it to Lord of the Rings then trash­es it … instead of, say, com­par­ing it to The Gold­en Com­pass or BC 10,000 [sic]. If you say that Gold­en Com­pass is five stars out of five and In the Name of the King is one star out of five, then you’re out of your mind.”

So take Boll’s films at face val­ue, then. What’s the ver­dict? His video-game debut, House of the Dead, is pure shlock – but he’d tell you it’s good-val­ue shlock. Zom­bies. Zom­bie-killers. A rave. A scary island. Slow-motion brawls and, as one crit­ic wrote, lots of “run­ning-through-the-woods trouble.”

In Postal – a film he com­pares to The Blues Broth­ers, Naked Gun and Mon­ty Python’s Life of Bri­an – Boll is out to offend every­one. Feces or stray body parts are nev­er far away. Cats are used as gun silencers. The open­ing scene shows the 9/11 hijack­ers argu­ing about the num­ber of vir­gins they’ve been promised in the hereafter.

When Boll and I meet, at a south Van­cou­ver pro­duc­tion facil­i­ty the morn­ing after Postal’s pre­miere, he los­es the severe, thin-skinned mien that marks his pub­lic per­sona. He’s imme­di­ate­ly lik­able. Out of the spot­light, he’s charm­ing, quick to smile. And on the sur­face at least, he takes the long view. Why video-game adap­ta­tions? Sim­ple. He always want­ed to make movies – big, grand pro­duc­tions. The video-game angle was an open­ing, a way in. “It was our chance to raise more mon­ey,” he says.

Boll end­ed up in the movie busi­ness after grad­u­ate school (where he earned that Ger­man Lit PhD). His first Eng­lish pro­duc­tion, Sanc­ti­mo­ny (2000), was large­ly done in Van­cou­ver and after ear­li­er, unsuc­cess­ful attempts at gen­er­at­ing work in Los Ange­les, he decid­ed to stay in Cana­da. He’s now a per­ma­nent res­i­dent, spend­ing part of each year in Van­cou­ver, film­ing large­ly in and around the Low­er Main­land. For years, a rumour cir­cu­lat­ed that Nazi gold financed his movies – some­thing he par­o­dies in Postal. But thanks to Germany’s tax laws (which offer a 50 per cent write-off for film investors), Boll’s movies are fund­ed almost entire­ly by Ger­man mon­ey. His biggest bud­get, $25 mil­lion for the 2005 vam­pire flick Blood­Rayne, was financed by 800 small investors, half of whom were dentists.

Of course, Boll pines for larg­er bud­gets. Give me $200 mil­lion, he says, and just see what I can do. “There’s no excuse for a movie like Pearl Har­bor. For this alone you shouldn’t make movies any­more,” he says, attack­ing one of his favourite tar­gets, direc­tor Michael Bay.

For a moment, Boll envi­sioned Postal hitch­ing onto the huge suc­cess of Borat. Sacha Baron Cohen was even offered one of the leads: Uncle Dave, a dope-smok­ing evan­gel­i­cal con­man – a part even­tu­al­ly tak­en by the Kids in the Hal­l’s Dave Foley.

But Boll hasn’t had suc­cess nab­bing ris­ing stars like Cohen. The likes of Michael Mad­sen and Meat Loaf are more in his range. Incred­i­bly, they were joined in Blood­Rayne by Ben Kings­ley, in an ill-advised per­for­mance that found the Oscar-win­ning actor addled and as pale as an Eliz­a­bethan roy­al. Boll trans­forms down­turn stars into true B‑movie odd­i­ties: Chris­t­ian Slater as a para­nor­mal detec­tive in Alone in the Dark, or Burt Reynolds as a medieval monarch in In the Name of the King. Con­sid­er Postal’s quirky cast­ing: Lar­ry Thomas (Sein­feld’s Soup Nazi) as Osama bin Laden, David Hud­dle­stone (The Big Lebows­ki) and Sey­mour Cas­sel (a John Cas­savetes and Wes Ander­son main­stay) as a lawn-chair cho­rus and Verne Troy­er (Austin Pow­ers’s Mini-Me) as himself.

Boll doesn’t claim he’s pro­duc­ing mas­ter­works, but he says his films have got­ten bet­ter – even if the reviews have stayed the same: “I’ve real­ized it’s about me, not about the movies.” Still, it can’t be easy when you’re tagged the worst direc­tor in the world. “This pre­judg­ment is in a way what is annoy­ing me, because I have to defend myself,” he says. “It’s a lot of work­ing hours to dig myself out.”