❉ The ambitious, provocative world of Pim de la Parra and Wim Verstappen.
The names Pim de la Parra and Wim Verstappen maybe unfamiliar to mainstream movie buffs, but their time together as the producer/director team behind Dutch production company Scorpio Films (the ‘S’ in the logo fashioned as a dollar sign, indicating their brazenly commercial aspirations) represents a small but significant chapter in European post-war cinema history, putting Dutch cinema on the map.
Between 1966 and 1976, ‘Pim and Wim’ (as they’re affectionately known) enlivened the previously moribund Dutch film industry with a glut of salacious, phenomenally popular films that saw free love and indiscriminate murder break out everywhere from seedy Amsterdam apartment blocks to the bucolic countryside, laying the foundations for a thriving Dutch film industry.
Prior to Pim and Wim, there was no Dutch cinema tradition outside of wartime propaganda movies and documentary films – “There was nothing, nothing happening in the film field”, they later said. Influenced by the French new wave of Godard and Truffaut, and taking advantage of the Dutch brand of permissiveness, which originated from the cultural protests of the 1960s and 1970s, the films they made under their Scorpio Films banner between ’66 and ’76 kick-started a revival of national cinema in their homeland: In 1971, Scorpio released (after winning a battle with the censors) Blue Movie, which became the Netherlands’ top-grossing film, attracting audiences of 2.3 million, due in no small part to its upfront, explicit nudity (including the first erection outside of a hardcore film – and, to be fair, it’s a whopper) and liberal themes, spawning what is commonly known as the ‘Dutch sex wave’ of cinema. Prior to 1971, the Dutch film industry only produced 3-4 films a year. At its peak in 1977, the year after Scorpio wound down with One People, the country was producing fifteen!
Beyond the lowlands, Scorpio Films have been notable for providing the big-screen debuts of Dutch TV star Hugo Metsers, Willeke van Ammelrooy (best-known for the Oscar-winning Antonia’s Line, and 2006’s The Lake House, playing Sandra Bullock’s mother), wicker chair enthusiast Sylvia ‘Emmanuelle’ Kristel, as well as being an avowed inspiration for fellow Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven: “The significance of Scorpio in those years was that Holland learnt that Dutch films existed and were worth watching.” Their feature-length debut, 1969’s Obsessions, was also the first feature-length screenplay credit for a young Martin Scorsese, who co-wrote the film with its director and producer.
Thanks to CultEpics’ recent BluRay box set Scorpio Films: The Dutch Sex Wave Collection (2019), four of Pim and Wim’s finest full-length movies – Obsessions (1969), Blue Movie (1971), Frank & Eva (1973) and My Nights with Susan, Sandra, Olga & Julie (1975) – can now be enjoyed as pin-sharp, fine-grained HD remasters alongside a bevy of audio-visual bonus features (including three diverting shorts, Heartbeat San Francicso, Joop and Joop Strikes Again) and an in-depth essay by Dutch film historian Guido Franken.
1969’s Obsessions is a real curio, and sure to be of interest to a whole cross-section of cineastes: As well as its Scorsese co-credit, it boasts a score composed by Hitchcock favourite Bernard Hermann (Scorsese would later hire Hermann for Taxi Driver on Pim & Wim’s recommendation) and is an claustrophobic, low-budget erotic thriller that’s a hybrid of Hitchcock riffs (no pun intended, Bernard) and flavours of the giallo genre that was just getting into gear over in Italy at the time.
Its derivative but efficient plot concerns young student Niels (Dieter Gessler) who is distracted from his studies as he witnesses, through a crude peep-hole in his wall, the comings (ahem) and goings of a series of young women in the adjacent flat; could these have anything in common with the spate of mysterious disappearances of young women being investigated by his journalist girlfriend Marina (Alexandra Stewart)? You do the math, as our friends over the pond say.
Obsessions is clearly indebted to Rear Window, relocated into a seedy contemporary setting, but what makes it really interesting for film buffs are how the adaptation of the earlier film’s voyeuristic theme also make Obsessions a neat fit with the aforementioned giallo genre: The film’s tone is driven by ‘vision’ motifs found across the whole range of giallo films – from the voyeurism the films make the audience feel grubbily complicit in not only as bystanders to crimes but also participants in the male gaze and cinematic objectification (Obsessions was the “first Dutch film in which explicit nude scenes achieved an erotic charge”, writes Franken in the booklet), to images of a single eyeball (one scene anticipates Lucio Fulci’s obsession with ocular dismemberment) and the recurrent theme of whether one can trust the evidence of one’s own eyes… Furthermore, the apartment block setting prefigures the use of such a setting as endemic of urban social alienation and distrust in tenement-set giallos such as Ewidge Fenech vehicles The Case of the Bloody Iris and All The Colours of the Dark. So.. Dutch Giallo. That’s a thing now. Please update your spreadsheets accordingly.
Pim & Wim revisit tower block urban living from a completely different angle in the second film (chronologically) in this set, the controversial and (mis)leadingly-titled Blue Movie. In this tonally odd film, which can flippantly but not entirely inaccurately be capsuled as ‘High-Rise meets Confessions Of A Window Cleaner’, rangy and impressively side-burned sex convict Michael (Hugo Metsers) is released on parole and moved into a high-rise block in the ‘Bijlmer’ district of outer Amsterdam by his parole officer Eddie (Helmert Woudenberg), on the condition that he lines up some job interviews and finds himself a “nice young woman from a good family” to settle down with.
Looking back half a century later, the honeycombed Bijlmer development is the real star of this film, preserving on celluloid one of the many misconceived, Brutalist monuments to social/civil engineering, the ‘cities of the future’ that would soon become monuments to urban decay and neglect. In Blue Movie, however, Michael’s new home, as he soon discovers as the only young, single male on his floor, is overrun not by gangs of Clockwork Orange-like droogs but bored, sexually frustrated housewives.
Shenanigans occur, as well they might, with Michael taken aback as much by his overly-friendly neighbours’ advances (he’s spent five years in prison, missing out on the sexual revolution entirely) as the jaded acceptance of their husbands, who are so over it. Pim and Wim take full advantage of the changing social mores in both society and legitimate film-making by portraying the various liaisons that occur with generous acres of male and female flesh (Metsers’ as much as his co-stars), but it’s documented with unappetising matter-of-fact frankness, as dour as the film’s tonal palette of washed-out gray-blue sky and walls – it’s a blue movie, but not in the way the title might imply.
Pim and Wim manage to have their cake and eat it in the exploitation tradition of shilling the rubes, by taking the concept of an enclosed space where sex is on tap, but shown to be listless and unfulfilling transactions: There’s an hilariously downbeat scene of blank-eyed young women traversing up and down the balconies of the Bijlmer, coffee cups in hand as they seek to ‘borrow a cup of sugar’ from any obliging young and dumb male neighbour.
Blue Movie shifts a gear dramatically in its final reel, as Michael decides to embrace the sexual revolution and goes into business organising sex parties in the block (“This is what’s happening in Holland now”, he tells Eddie) but again Pim and Wim up-end expectations, as all we see of this enterprise are some couples copulating under a spotlight, and a disastrous party where middle-aged, middle-class attendees sit through a frankly bizarre drag/strip act scored to the Overture from The Who’s Tommy and a few seconds of a grainy, black and white stag film (the only unsimulated sex seen in the whole film), and before we know it, Michael throws it all in for a loving relationship with the single mother whose affections he’s been dodging the entire film for fear of ‘disappointing’ her with his unreformed ways. Fin.
Blue Movie is a sarcastic commentary on the liberating effects of the permissive society that must have seen Pim and Wim laughing all the way to the bank with its record-breaking box office success, and its Brutalist setting makes it a real time capsule. For all his undoubted attributes in the trouser department, Hugo Mesters makes for an unlikely sex symbol, resembling the love child of Rhys Ifans, David Warner and Klaus Kinski, but Pim and Wim put him to good use in 1973’s Frank & Eva, as the titular Frank, dissolute, philandering partner of Eva, the beautiful Willeke van Ammelrooy, who has looks, fierce energy and star quality to burn.
Pim and Wim once again turn their attention to modern social and sexual mores, and as with the previous feature, there’s a sense that they’re using the sexploitation genre to thumb their noses in derision at the downfalls of sexual liberation, in this case by portraying a dysfunctional open marriage in full breakdown, while obligingly titillating the audience with boobs, bums, beaver and floppy willies. Metsers and van Ammelrooy are excellent in their respective roles, as is Lex Goudsmit as Max, an ageing would-be roue who represents the painting in Frank’s attic, and there’s a callback to Scorpio’s jokey short films Joop and Joop Strikes Again with the reappearance of Helmert Woudenberg as the clumsy, would-be lothario Joop. (Continuity, man!)
Frank & Eva is a strong film of its kind, with a very groovy soundtrack, but as with its predecessor it’s a deceptively downbeat dark comedy that has less in common with sexploitation than it does with gritty arthouse.
The fourth and final disc in CultEpics’ Scorpio collection is a strange beast indeed. Released in 1975, My Nights With Susan, Sandra, Olga & Julie sits even more ambiguously on the sexploitation/ arthouse axis, and its setting certainly marks a break from those of the previous three titles. The viewer lands up on a remote farmhouse in the countryside, a kind of hostel for lost souls, presided over by former model Susan (Willeke van Ammelrooy) and shared with amoral nymphomaniacs Sandra and Olga (models Marja del Heer and Franulka Heyermans), narcoleptic Julie, and cupboard-bound agoraphobic voyeur Albert (Serge-Henri Valcke), while local eccentric Piet (Nelly Frijda) stalks the surrounding area.
It’s a dysfunctional adult fairy tale of rustic idyll gone wrong, as blond Adonis Anton (Hans van der Gragt) pitches up into the throng, just after the murder of a visiting American (Jerry Brouer). By the end of the final reel, this won’t be the only murder on-site as its fractious dynamic unravels amidst the heightening sexual tension and repressed secrets.
Despite its Russ Meyer-esque title, My Nights With Susan, Sandra, Olga & Julie feels more akin to the bucolic psychosexual fever-dreams of Louis Malle’s Black Moon or Jean Rollin’s Requiem For A Vampire, and benefits from a sublime score essayed by one-time Amicus composer Elisabeth Lutyens. The cast and locations are beautiful to look at, as is the superb cinematography by Marc Felperlaan, and the film’s hothouse tension is suggestive of a better film striving to break out from its slenderly-scripted confines.
From a close viewing of these four films, it’s clear that the output of Scorpio Films was the eternal battle between art and commerce; Pim and Wim were driven and determined filmmakers, often working without subsidies, calling in favours and hustling and grifting to bring something to the screen in order to electrify and entertain a jaded and under-stimulated domestic audience, and make their mark in the mainstream, with a genuine love of the medium in their blood. It’s a miracle that they got these films off the ground at all, and Scorpio Films: The Dutch Sex Wave Collection is testament to their legacy in opening the door for Dutch film producers such as Rob Houwer, Rob du Mee and Matthijs van Heijinhen taking their first steps, and changing the mentality of the film world. As Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers) says, “They were never done justice in the sense of what they did for Dutch film.”
The four movies found in this excellently curated and presented collection are ambitious, frustrating, provocative, uncompromising and intriguing, but rarely less than entertaining, and reward repeated viewings thanks to their underlying themes and sly commentary on sex and morals.
❉ New HD Restorations and Transfers
❉ Introductions and Interviews with filmmakers & producers
❉ Scorpio short films; Heartbeat San Francisco (1966), Joop (1969), Joop Strikes Again (1970)
❉ Scorpio Films featurette (2010)
❉ Up Front & Naked: Sex in Dutch films featurette (2017)
❉ Eye Film Institute featurette (2018)
❉ Poster & Photo video galleries
❉ Sylvia Kristel Poster video gallery (Frank & Eva)
❉ Interview with Martin Scorsese (Obsessions)
❉ Script notes by Martin Scorsese (Obsessions – Blu-ray feature only)
❉ Scorpio Films Theatrical Trailers
❉ First printing includes 16❉ Page Booklet “Scorpio Films & The Dutch Sex Wave” with Essay by journalist Guido Franken
❉ New box art design by Gilles Vranckx (Blu-ray exclusive Slipcase)
❉ Video run time: Approx. 362 Mins | Language: Dutch/English language w/optional English subtitles | Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1/2.35:1 | Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono | Rating: Not Rated.
❉ James Gent is the Editor of We Are Cult, and is the co-editor of Me and the Starman, (Chinbeard Books, 2019) Available in paperback from Amazon: All profits from this book go toward supporting the work of Cancer Research UK. With thanks to Andy Murray for editorial input and insight.