It’s a little more than one week before renegade director Uwe Boll’s film Postal is set to open in theaters nationwide, and in true Boll fashion, there’s a problem with the film’s distribution.
“It’s like a boycott,” the director says via e-mail. “We’re having problems booking screens; it’s ridiculous.”
Six days before Boll’s psychotic comedy, loaded with action, gore, strange social commentary and a full-frontal nude scene of Kids in the Hall alum Dave Foley, is slated to open in a wide release of about 1,500 screens around the country, it’s only confirmed to run on a meager four screens. None of them is in Vegas.
Of course it doesn’t help that Postal was supposed to open on the same weekend as the highly anticipated new Indiana Jones movie, or that Boll’s movies are almost all rated in the Internet Movie Database’s bottom 100 worst movies of all time. But nothing about Boll’s moviemaking, let alone his reputation, is normal. From directing modestly budgeted Z-grade movie adaptations of video games that critics not only panned, but also showed open and violently hostile feelings toward, to producing a series of YouTube videos calling out the likes of critics and directors Michael Bay, George Clooney and Eli Roth, Boll has become an antagonist of moviemaking for millions of people. But with antagonism comes attention, noteworthiness and visibility, and that could be why the 42-year-old German director and producer may be one of the most strangely interesting personas in filmmaking today.
Boll began his career studying film in Vienna and Munich, but film school wasn’t for him, and he eventually earned his Ph.D. in literature from the University of Siegen in 1995. During that period, though, Boll made his first movies, including the critically acclaimed documentary Barschel—Mord in Genf?, about the suspicious suicide of German politician Uwe Barschel in 1987. These movies were mostly unavailable to American markets until a four-movie DVD set encompassing his early work was released in 2005. Boll’s introduction to American audiences with 2003’s movie adaptation of zombie-shoot-’em-up video game House of the Dead opened up a new era for him, in which he became one of the world’s most hated film directors, but also one of the most unforgettable.
House of the Dead hit theaters on October 10, 2003, and immediately was panned by critics and game fans alike. With its bullet-time abuse, confusing storyline and generally terrible acting, critics savaged the movie. “It’s so bad it could well go down in history as one of the worst zombie movies ever made,” wrote the BBC, while another critic called Dead “artistically and creatively bankrupt” on all fronts. Reviews of the film were so bad, Danish theaters would not show the film, and theatrically, the movie did relatively poorly. However, with a paltry $6 million budget—Boll’s largest at the time—and a distribution deal through Artisan, Dead, for better or worse, got him into Hollywood. Better for Boll, who later scored a $20 million budget to produce a movie adaptation of popular survival horror game Alone in the Dark starring Christian Slater and Tara Reid in 2005, and got another $22 million to take on the popular BloodRayne series staring Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley and Kristanna Loken in 2006. Worse, though, for movie fans, who sat through Boll’s often poorly edited, adrenaline-abusing and just plain badly directed movies while video-game fans saw their cherished games metaphorically “raped and pillaged.”
But while Boll’s movies have continued to do poorly both critically and at the box office, they—much to the chagrin of critics and video-game fans alike—continue to make money. Initially his films succeeded thanks to a now-closed German tax law that allowed his investors—who are almost exclusively German—to fund the pictures and then get a significant tax write-off. With the loophole gone, lucrative DVD sales and rentals worldwide continue to return positive numbers to investors.
As Boll cranks out the video-game adaptations faster and faster, including sequels to both BloodRayne—the second installment released directly to DVD in 2007, the third set for 2009—and Alone in the Dark—slated for 2009, with Boll acting only as producer—the pressure on the Internet to get him out of moviemaking continues to grow. As early as 2006, Boll challenged five of his harshest critics to a boxing match in Vancouver, sponsored by online gambling site GoldenPalace.com. (Boll was an amateur boxing champion in Germany.) This past April an online petition to get Boll to quit making movies was set up; there are currently more than 279,000 signatures. Boll has promised to stop making movies if the petition hits a million.
Boll keeps up with what’s being said about him online and thinks that much of the animosity aimed at him probably would not have surfaced had he not made House of the Dead.
For critics, he says, “it would have been way better if I had never shot House of the Dead, or Alone in the Dark and BloodRayne and just started with Postal, Seed”—his next film. “It would be totally different. But I don’t know in regards of let’s say revenues, maybe I would already be bankrupt.”
Yet for all of his faults, Boll’s certainly the definition of a moderately successful independent filmmaker in the 21st century. Boll’s production company, Boll KG, currently has eight movies in production according to IMDB, and the company is striking up independent distribution deals outside of the major motion picture studios that have all but abandoned the filmmaker thus far. Meanwhile, stunts like the boxing match and his impulsive YouTube videos calling Michael Bay, George Clooney and Eli Roth “fucking retards” have gotten the attention of major media outlets—conveniently right before Postal is released this week.
Bay, not amused with Boll’s antics, called Boll a “sad being”; Boll then challenged Bay to a nine-round fight at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
“I’ll drive [Bay] crazy until [he does it],” Boll says candidly about the challenge, admitting his envy of his rival’s success at making products he sees as no different from his own.
“Of course I’m jealous,” Boll says. “I’ve never had the chance he has like getting the full studio system behind me, so I had to do it independently, and for the amount of money that he has, he’s not really delivering something that is really great. His films are [practically] commercials.”
One might ask whether Boll could make a better movie than Michael Bay if he had Michael Bay money, but one might also ask whether Bay, if he were reduced to Boll’s limited resources, could best the German.
Whatever you think of Boll, at least he has chutzpah, and, ironically, it turns out that Postal is Boll’s best and most personal movie to date. Taking on our society in a post-9/11 world where multi-national corporations and institutionalized ignorance rule the day, Postal is actually good. Considering that it’s a scathing rebuke of American society, cult appeal—especially in light of the limited release and media hype—is almost assured.
But in the end, with his love of video games and filmmaking, will Postal be the next chapter in the reviled director’s career, or just a footnote? With a handful of other video-game-based productions in the works, it’s clear at least that his harshest critics will still have plenty of ammo for him. But Boll doesn’t mind either way.
“Oscar Wilde said at one point that the only thing you’ll regret is the things you didn’t do, and I agree with it,” Boll says. “I do what I want, and I don’t regret that I did it this way … I totally regret nothing.”