Based on the autobiographical writings of Neel Doff, Paul Verhoeven's third feature film doubled the budget of his previous film, "Turkish Delight," and in spite of producer Rob Houwer's successful efforts to keep the period production within its $1 million allotment, director Verhoeven admits in his commentary track that the purse strings somewhat hampered the screenplay's original, and much broader, scope.
Less-known than "Turkish Delight," "Katie Tippel" - a play on words, roughly translated as Katie the Streetwalker (the latter term slang for 'wandering prostitute') - offers an efficient narrative, combining the outrageous-but-true accounts of Doff's teenage arrival in Amsterdam; the maternal shove that led to Doff's three years as a prostitute; and the fortuitous events that ultimately lifted her away from such a sordid life.
Verhoeven and loyal scribe Soeteman were largely attracted to the project because Doff's writings remain one of the few personal accounts of Holland's socialist transformation; the book's scope includes examples of the country's turn-of-the-century class system, and the self-abuse of the poor, while the rich profited from their misery.
Verhoeven ably fills in the historical facts about the author (particularly her final years, after a surreal seven years of dramatic social and economic ascension), and Holland's less violent transformation to a Monarchy with a socialist government. The production details include backgrounds on the myriad locations across the country to recreate a few blocks of old Amsterdam, and elaborating on various technological and social devices and conventions depicted in the film. (A sequence in a bleaching factory is particularly gruesome.)
Originally released with some trimming for its American release, Anchor Bay's transfer is made from the uncut Dutch version. Less shocking today, Verhoeven's usual eye for frank nudity and basic bodily functions are nevertheless prevalent, and it's rather amusing to hear the director explain his intentions and justifications for shots that don't work outside of his ribald head-noodle.
Jan de Bont's cinematography has a naturalistic tone, and both director and cinematographer spent considerable time going over contemporary painters to achieve a faithful, if not stylistically consistent representation of 19th Century Holland. The transfer is made from a somewhat grainy though overall clean print, and the mono sound mix offers a standard balance of dialogue, sound effects, and Rogier van Otterloo's melancholic, sparse score.
In addition to Verhoeven's largely consistent feature-length commentary track, there's original theatrical trailers for the German release (dubbed in German, with English subtitles), and U.S. release (via Cinema Corporation Release). Both offer interesting contrasts between differing campaigns and cultures: the German trailer uses several graphic shots (including the controversial rape scene, sans edits), whereas the U.S. campaign sells the film as a naughty, decadent art flick, with verbal allusions to Bertolucci and Fellini. (The U.S. campaign also reorders scenes, ending with a bizarre, Verhoevian 'splat.')
Filling up the disc is a still gallery from the director's personal collection, and detailed career bios of Verhoeven, Monique Van de Ven, and Rutger Hauer (whose appearances largely occur in the film's final third. His casting - while an excellent choice, gave the project life, given the instant marquee value of Hauer and Van de Ven after their successful onscreen relationship in "Turkish Delight").
This title is available separately, or as part of the "The Paul Verhoeven" boxed set (DV11957). The slickly designed set includes "Business Is Business," "The 4th Man," "Katie Tippel," "Soldier of Orange," and "Turkish Delight" and plus a 12-page colour booklet.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan