Jun 11, 2015

Crew Cut

Despite being regarded as the least best of the “Great Four” post-WWII Dutch writers following Willem Frederik Hermans, Harry Mulisch and Gerard Reve, Jan Wolkers—a man who was also a prolific sculptor and painter as his oftentimes autobiographical novels more than hint at—has the honor of being the writer with the most worthwhile films based off of his books. Indeed, the most popular and successful film of Dutch cinema history, Paul Verhoeven’s Turks fruit (1973) aka Turkish Delight—a work that was honored in 1999 with the truly one-of-a-kind award for ‘Best Dutch Film of the Century’ at the Netherlands Film Festival—was based on Wolkers’ 1969 novel of the same name. Of course, various other popular Dutch filmmakers have adapted Wolkers’ work, including Ate de Jong with Brandende liefde (1983) aka Burning Love, Theo van Gogh with Terug naar Oegstgeest (1987) aka Return to Oegstgeest, and even Turkish Delight female lead Monique van de Ven with Zomerhitte (2008) aka Summer Heat, but arguably the best of these adaptations aside from Verhoeven’s film is the rather underrated flick Kort Amerikaans (1979) aka Crew Cut directed by Guido Pieters (Dokter Vlimmen aka Doctor Vlimmen, Ciske de Rat aka Ciske the Rat). Set at the end of World War II during the German occupation instead of the ostensibly hip counterculture era like Turkish Delight, Pieters’ film is thankfully much darker and, somewhat surprisingly, no less salacious than Verhoeven’s classic. Indeed, instead of Swinging Amsterdam and a bodacious blonde beast Rutger Hauer, Pieters’ film features a forlorn Nazi-occupied Leiden and a somewhat demented dark-haired Derek de Lint as an obnoxiously antisocial artist who rather fuck headless and limbless statues than real living and breathing women.  In other words, Pieters' film can hardly be described as a love story, as love is nowhere to be found in the maniac microcosm that it less than flatteringly depicts.  Almost apocalyptic and certainly culturally pessimistic in tone, Crew Cut is set in a decidedly dreary and decaying South Holland where most young people are away in Germany slaving away in factories and only manipulative weirdos like the antihero seem to be still around. A rare WWII flick that does not pathologically obsess over how evil the krauts are or even dwell on the fate of the Jews, the film ultimately seems like a less than nostalgic look at the old Netherlands before hyper hedonism and atheism practically become part of government legislation. In its depiction of a young artist/man-child who falls further and further into alienation to the point of coldblooded murder and violent self-annihilation, Crew Cut is probably best described as an anti-coming-of-age tale where the despairing antihero eventually has to confront the fact that he has literally no future in an almost perniciously playful film that could not have a more senselessly tragic and unhappy ending. 

 The year is 1944 and 19-year-old protagonist Erik van Poelgeest (Derek de Lint of Fons Rademakers’ De aanslag (1986) aka The Assault and Philip Kaufman’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)) should be working in a German factory with most of young Dutchmen his age, but he has a totally untamable anarchistic spirit and never could be forced to do such a thing, thus he is hiding out in an attic away from his devout Catholic family, who he rather not be around in the first place.  Unlike most people, the war seems to have had little, if any, effect on Erik's psyche to the point where he does not even seem to realize the precarious state of his occupied nation.  Erik is highly self-conscious about a purplish scar that he has on the temple of his head, so he has inordinately long hippie-like hair to cover it.  Erik got the scar as a result of a childhood accident involving a boiling kettle and he refuses to forgive his parents for it despite the fact that it was not really their fault.  Of course, Erik's preoccupation with his scar lets the viewer know that he suffers from a sort of persecution complex, hence his general disinterest of people, including all of his family members.  While Erik has a fiancée named Ansje (Cristel Braak of Wolf Gremm’s Fabian (1980)), it seems like the only reason that he is with her at all is because she is a superstitious Catholic and he gets a quite obvious sadistic kick out of sexually defiling her while she literally cries like a traumatized child and begs from him to stop. Indeed, when Erik borderline rapes his lady friend and she hysterically cries, “You’re hurting me. Let me go. I want to see my mother,” he proceeds to pound her puss even harder while sarcastically telling her that she is going to get pregnant. Of course, as a young man that lives in an ancient Dutch city featuring old signs on buildings that read “Rest Leads to Lust,” Erik cannot help but delight in his unhinged debauchery, especially during wartime. Seemingly apolitical and certainly amoral, Erik has no problem studying at an old art academy that is headed by a much maligned fascist NSB leader named van Grouw (Bernard Droog), who compliments the protagonist on his “really Germanic profile” and “beautiful skull.”  Van Grouw also warns Erik that when the Judeo-Bolsheviks arrive in the Netherlands, he will lose his beautiful Germanic head and then proceeds to show him Nazi propaganda photos of dead white Russians that the protagonist jokingly describes as looking Jewish. As to why he is a National Socialist, van Grouw states, “Only a united Europe can stop the barbarians.”  Although his brother is a member of the resistance, Erik has no qualms about accepting the generosity of diehard fascists.  While Erik tells van Grouw that he would like to study nudes, there are no models and the only other student left at the academy has no interest in such things. Indeed, the other student, Kees de Spin aka ‘Spider’ (Joop Admiraal of Heddy Honigmann’s Hersenschimmen (1988) aka Mindshadows and Harry Kümel’s Eline Vere (1991)), is an exceedingly eccentric four-eyed fascist supporter of the quasi-autistic sort with a deaf-and-dumb mother and he and Erik seem to get along in their own strange way since they are both social outcasts, but their friendship does not last long as death is coming to Leiden.  As Spider reveals while on the verge tears, he killed his beloved dog because he wanted the animal, which was his only friend, to talk to him, so he started shacking it to the point where he ended up accidentally strangling it to death.  Luckily for Spider, he will soon be reunited with his dead doggie.

 When Ansje dumps Erik after he spanks her bare derriere and then fingers her and subsequently licks his finger, the protagonist decides to absurdly take out his rage on an innocent, if not creepy, bald middle-aged named Rozier (Ralph Wingens of Babeth Mondini’s Kiss Napoleon Goodbye (1990)) by accusing him of being a cow-fucker and screaming in his face. To make ends meet, Erik paints 17th-century ships onto lampshades, which are apparently in demand because, “The worse people are off, the more they’re interested in our glorious past.” Although Erik is not a fan of his aristocratic boss Paul D'Ailleurs (Guus Oster of Pieters’ Ciske the Rat), who considers Germans to be more polite than his fellow Dutchmen, he certainly likes his much younger wife Elly (Tingue Dongelmans), who is a rather sexually aggressive woman that made the monetary-motivated mistake of marrying a cowardly and seemingly impotent cuckold. Paul seems more interested in masturbating to ancient paintings by Sandro Botticelli than sexually servicing his wife, so it does not take Erik and Elly to begin a lurid love affair.  In fact, pansy Paul almost seems to get a kick out of the idea of Erik defiling his wife, as he attempts to get the protagonist to admit that he has been secretly messing around with her.  When Erik’s older brother Frans (Bram Jesserun) gets diphtheria while hiding at the home of an infected family after getting shot by a kraut while attempting to steal food vouchers as a member of the resistance and subsequently dies, it throws the protagonist over the edge and only pushes him further away from his already somewhat estranged family. While his family members are too upset to even look at Frans’ corpse at the funeral, Erik curiously opens the casket and touches his dead brother’s hair, as if he is a scientist that is coldly conducting some sort of experiment. Erik also decides to sneak into his boss’ house late one night to fuck Ansje, who says upon look at his erect member upon examining it with a flashlight in the dark, “What a nice dick.”  The next morning, Erik gives himself away by opening the bathroom door without knocking and finding Paul curious 'reading' an art book while sitting on the crapper.  Of course, any normal mensch would kick the protagonist's ass, but it is actually Erik that ends up laughing at cowardly cuck Paul.

 With American troops beginning to make their way to the Netherlands, NSB officer van Grouw decides to abandon the academy with his Nazi art and he allows Erik to stay at the building under the condition that he fill the place up with some new paintings. Before leaving, van Grouw also gives Erik a letter to give to Spider, but when the protagonist goes to his house, he discovers that his classmate has already accepted defeat and has hanged himself. With Spider dead, Erik decides to open van Grouw’s letter, which reads, “We fought in vain. Go to your family in the province […] We’re going to the stronghold. We’ll fight until the end.”  Of course, poor Spider did not fight until the end, but of course he lost an internal mental battle before any enterprising commie resistance fighter could get to him. After spending a couple weeks completely by himself at the art academy, Erik actually becomes artistically productive and manages to create a number of ambitious paintings, including a portrait of van Grouw looking quite stoic in his beloved black NSB uniform and a sort of parody painting featuring his boss Paul and Elly as the titular figure of Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus.’ Meanwhile, Erik starts a lurid love affair with one of van Grouw’s cement female torso statues even though it is not exactly anatomically correct (to Erik's credit, he does manage to caress the ass of the statue in a manner similar to Ansje's buttocks). After spending a number of weeks at the academy without leaving the building once, Erik decides to pay Elly a visit and attempts to coerce her into leaving Paul and moving in with him, even going so far as to mock his boss to his face, but the little lady declines as she refuses to ruin her bourgeois comfort, at least for now.  Of course, wars oftentimes inspires people to do things that they would otherwise never dream of.

 Despite initially rejecting his offer, Elly soon shows up at the academy with bags of luggage and moves in, but Erik is not as happy to see her as the viewer would expect. Indeed, that night Elly asks Erik about the purplish scar on the temple of his head and he goes on a resentful rant about how he blames his parents for it, stating regarding how it has effected his life, “… a child that age looks at its parents for protection […] I’ve always felt abandoned and betrayed.” To add insult to injury, Erik’s father apparently forced him to always get ‘crew cuts’ (hence the seemingly nonsensical title of the film) since the family was poor and could not afford to get regular haircuts, thus everyone could always see the scar. While Elly tells Erik that she could care less about the scar and that she loves him for who he is, Erik continues to act bitchy and denies her rather flagrant sexual advances. Needless to say, when Elly wakes up the next day and finds Erik having ‘sex’ with the torso statue, she becomes enraged and berates the protagonist by stating in an almost gleefully sadistic fashion, “Now I understand why you don’t need me. I should have known after those stories last night. You’re just a coward. You’re afraid of life. You’re afraid of me…Because I’m alive…Because I’m a real woman…So you get on a piece of chalk. So you don’t have to prove anything. She’s too fat too. You know what you are? You’re crazy. That spot on your head’s not that bad. But you’ve got one in your head. You’re rotten in there.”  Of course, like many assholes who talk tons of shit, Erik is good at dishing it out but cannot handle it when people trash talk him, so he replies to Elly while in a state of abject shock, “You shouldn’t have said that. You can’t say that.” When Elly then proceeds to break the torso statue by dropping it on the ground and then jokes “She’s hollow,” Erik completely loses it, becomes homicidally enraged and strangles her to death with his bare hands. Not long after Erik kills Elly, the Americans liberate the Netherlands while Erik contemplates recent events and his non-future. Ultimately, cow-fucker Razier gets his revenge against Erik by pointing him out to armed members of the resistance and the protagonist more or less commits suicide by inciting the soldiers into shooting him after he pretends to pull a gun on them. 

 I have seen a number of Dutch films about the German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War, but none of them are as nearly dark, nihilistic, and apocalyptic as Crew Cut, which I would describe as a forgotten classic of sorts, as it seems largely unknown even in its native land despite starring big Dutch star Derek de Lint and being directed by a man whose work Ciske the Rat (1984) is regarded as a classic of sorts. Indeed, with more recent works like Martin Koolhoven’s Oorlogswinter (2008) aka Winter in Wartime that romanticize WWII in a repugnantly mystifying and sentimental way as if more inspired by the juvenile fantasies of Steven Spielberg than the actual real Dutch wartime experience, Guido Pieters’ film provides a nice and iconoclastic wake-up call that expresses in an almost aberrantly allegorical way that absolutely nothing good came out of the war for the Netherlands. While I certainly did not grow up in the Netherlands at that time, my grandfather, who was slightly older than the protagonist of Pieters’ film, did and I know the entire experience left him and his brothers devastated enough to the point where they decided to regrettably immigrate to America. Of course, compared to most WWII films, whether they be from Hollywood or Germany, Dutch films about the war tend to be a lot more ambivalent about the entire experience, but certainly none is more strange and surprising than Crew Cut, which ultimately makes it seem like the Dutch were so collectively deranged and miserable in general that the German occupation was not that big of deal. Indeed, there are scenes in the film where the protagonist walks up to and teases an armed Wehrmacht soldier to the point where he is almost shot, as if such behavior was not uncommon among the demented Dutch.  Additionally, the film thankfully does not hold back in depicting the extent of Dutch collaboration and why people collaborated in the first place (although seemingly forgotten today, as the film depicts, many of the NSB members felt it was only a matter of time before the Soviets invaded Western Europe and turned into a cultural wasteland).  Despite its fairly steady dose of oftentimes graphic nudity, including various bushy beavers and de Lint’s semi-erect cock, the films is, quite unlike Turkish Delight, rarely erotic aside from a scene or two. Undoubtedly, Crew Cut feels like what Turkish Delight would have been like had it been set during the Second World War and directed by Fassbinder, as it concludes in such a morbidly melodramatic fashion that I could not help but be reminded of The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), which was released the same year (incidentally, Crew Cut star Cristel Braak would later relocate to Bavaria and work with Fassbinder’s bud Wolf Gremm). While Pieters’ film might not be warped to the point of depicting a love affair between a little Dutch boy like in Roeland Kerbosch's sappy pro-pedo flick Voor een verloren soldaat (1992) aka For a Lost Soldier, it certainly seems to be the most wayward and whimsical of the Dutch WWII flicks, which says a lot considering it comes from the same nation that produced Soldaat van Oranje (1977) aka Soldier of Orange, which, quite unlike Hollywood films, takes a rather cavalier approach to the entire war by portraying it as one big murderous adventure as opposed to taking a Spielbergian approach and portraying it as the ultimate historical battle between pure good and pure evil.  Indeed, the Dutch have a special hatred for the krauts that began way before WWII, but as a film like Crew Cut clearly demonstrates, they are not so stupid or childish as to think of the Germans or even the Nazis as evil incarnate, hence the relative originality and ‘objectivity’ of their WWII films.

-Ty E

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