The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven / Netherlands, 1983):
(De Vierde Man)

Religion whipped out and waved like a penis, as the joke goes, Paul Verhoeven simply strolls into church and fondles the bulging Speedo on the cross. (The image takes off from Dalí's Corpus Hypercubus.) The Uranist novelist (Jeroen Krabbé) is alcoholic and insomniac, his fiction feeds off the morbid daydreams that slice in and out of his wormy consciousness. Invited to an academic conference (a rich gag has the camera low-angled at the podium before a Carol Reed tilt to a chiming clock), he gladly soaks up the luxury of the alluring beautician (Renée Soutendijk) who's thrice widowed and ready for a new fly. The bait is her other beau, the hunky meathead from the train station (Thom Hoffman), the writer "must have him if it kills me." Spiders and crucifixes under the credits, archaic symbolism (Delilah's scissors dive between Samson's thighs) piled high with promiscuous giddiness, the Verhoeven grin. The literary mind in vain competition with diabolical fate, "Jesus is everywhere" along with coffins, neon signs, reds that glow and ooze, castrating omens, feverish tracking shots. Manet's Olympia in bed, transformed into "a beautiful boy" by the protagonist's cupping hands; the beachside tents from Death in Venice are visible until a dead seagull suddenly spirals out of the sky. Rose bouquet, oversized key and dripping carcasses in rapid succession for the heroine's secret, Bluebeard's Castle in the tomb with three urns ("one more and they can play bridge"). Turns out the artistic process is but a tug of war between evil and holy blondes, the punchline is that you can swing only so many priapic shapes before somebody's eye gets poked out. "Is there such a thing as a beautiful death?" A delectable jape on critics (cf. Bergman's The Magician, De Palma's Body Double), after which Verhoeven just had to penetrate Hollywood. Cinematography by Jan de Bont. With Dolf de Vries, Geert de Jong, and Hans Veerman.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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