Sydney Underground Film Festival
The Uwe Boll Story: Controversy, criticism and a chaotic career
There’s little to say about Uwe Boll that hasn’t already been said. Fiercely opinionated and forcefully determined to let everyone know it, the German director has uttered much of it himself. Many other folks have offered their thoughts too, including scathing critics, the Golden Raspberry Awards and no shortage of YouTube commenters. On several occasions, he’s been called the worst filmmaker ever. In 2008, an online petition asked him to retire from the business, receiving hundreds of thousands of supportive signatures.
By Sarah Ward
Every unimpressed review, insult, claim that he didn’t know what he was doing, plea for him to leave cinema behind — the more that came Boll’s way, the more he reacted. Since the Wermelskirchen-born director made the leap to North America at the turn of the 21st century, he’s become kindling for the fire that is online film commentary, with both the filmmaker and his detractors determined to keep the flames flickering. Boll sings his own praises, the masses strongly disagree and he fights back. As prolific as he is outspoken, every time he released another movie, the cycle continued. Some years, four of his features would reach screens, sparking plenty of heated conversation. Indeed, it’s no wonder that Boll and some of his naysayers eventually hopped into a boxing ring - while the bouts were a stunt, they concisely typified his combative relationship with the public.
THE DOCUMENTARY THAT HAD TO HAPPENSwinging from self-flattery to conditional compliments to unflinching vitriol, the talk continues in F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story. It was inevitable that someone would turn the camera on Boll and chronicle everything that’s made him so reviled and so infamous — and that someone is Sean Patrick Shaul, who once worked a set dresser on Boll’s 2013 film Assault on Wall Street. Profiling a figure with such a reputation is a double-edged sword, however. Boll’s notoriety is already well known, as is his high opinion of himself, and the pervasive contrasting perspective as well. That leaves The Uwe Boll Story with a difficult balancing act. Give the filmmaker too much freedom to espouse his own merits and attack his opponents, and it becomes a puff piece. Ignore valid criticisms of his work, both on-set and in his finished features, and the documentary is similarly fluffy. Focus too firmly on his legion of detractors, though, and the film could veer too far in the other direction.
There’s rarely been any middle ground when it comes to Boll, especially throughout his career. Admittedly, his onslaught of subpar video game adaptations haven’t brandished any shades of grey, nor called for much nuance in return. His list of hits is virtually non-existent, adding a black mark to Ben Kingsley, Jason Statham, Christian Slater, Ray Liotta and Billy Zane’s resumes. As for that roster of misses, it includes House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, three BloodRayne movies as well as a spoof on the franchise, a trio of In the Name of the King films and the same number of Rampage features. It’s to Shaul’s credit that he endeavours to see both sides, charting the cinematic passion that’s driven Boll since he marvelled at historical epics as a child, then working through the filmmaker’s polarising impact on colleagues and viewers alike.
AMBITIOUS, BUT MIXEDUnderstandably given the man at its centre, realising such well-meaning intentions is a tricky feat for The Uwe Boll Story. As a primer, it covers the necessary bases, although it presents more than it probes. Much of that result is a question of time and scope — a whole movie could ponder Boll’s status as a lightning rod for debate, his purposeful provocation of feverish responses, how his feelings of martyrdom aren’t all that different from his critics’ feelings about his films, and what such aggressive commentary on both sides says about society today. Another cine-essay could contemplate his directorial style, recurring themes and motifs, and how his fast, cheap, no-holds-barred approach leaves an imprint on his body of work (it’d take a committed person to trawl through Boll’s 32-movie filmography to complete the job, however.)
The Uwe Boll Story touches upon each of the above topics, albeit never in too much depth (like scattershot subject, like scattershot documentary, clearly). Where it fares best is in the bread-and-butter of star and filmmaker profiles, serving up small tidbits of Boll. The widespread support he receives from many of his collaborators and actors, even as they acknowledge his rampant difficulties, turns into a chorus (that said, on the production side of the industry, fervent naysayers are noticeably absent — and none of his highest-profile stars make an appearance). His enthusiasm for achieving his dream is palpable, despite manifesting in unhealthy and defensive ways over the years. His producing nous also becomes apparent, with his ability to make movies quickly and for little money the whole reason that he’s had a career.
Of course, if a documentary about Boll was always going to happen, then the end product was always bound to prove a mixed bag. Breezily informative, intermittently amusing, but always hedging its bets, The Uwe Boll Story posits that the now-retired filmmaker turned restaurateur deserves the same assessment, although that perspective was probably always a given too.