Kill the Rich! Uwe Boll on his final film, assassinations, and gun control
Near the end of Uwe Boll’s new film, Rampage 3: President Down, characters described as “right wing anarchists” take arms against the US establishment and rise up on a shooting spree. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon in Boll’s films, but given the straightforward nature of the Rampage films (“heavily armed malcontent goes apeshit”), it’s sometimes surprisingly complex trying to pin down what the director is saying. Does he too see himself as a “right wing anarchist,” for example?
“No, I’m more on the left,” he tells the Straight, affably.
We’re sitting in Bauhaus, the director’s Gastown restaurant, having a beer before the dinner crowd arrives.
“Personally, I think we need a little more socialism—there needs to be redistribution of wealth—because we saw in the last years, the really rich have been getting filthy rich, and the middle class has less and less. There are studies from Colombia and Latin American countries that show, if you have no middle class anymore, and basically eighty percent of the people are fucking poor, the social security is gone: you’re basically getting kidnapped if you’re rich, or you have fifteen bodyguards. You’re in Narcos land. All bets are off. And in our time, in Europe and America, we’re moving in that direction.”
Boll characterizes this elsewhere during our talk as an “Escape from New York future,” where most people struggle to get by from paycheque to paycheque and social disorder is rampant.
“Twenty years ago, that was different. Fifty percent of the people were middle class, and they were the backbone of society, and that is not there anymore.”
Rampage 3: President Down was released this week on iTunes and VOD. Shot for the most part in B.C., it shows Boll’s camo-clad antihero, Bill Williamson, hiding out in a cabin retreat meant to evoke the Unabomber, awaiting an inevitable confrontation with the FBI. He has already killed the POTUS, and his online rants—not entirely dissimilar, at times, from some of Boll’s own—cheer on mass violence and insurrection. Eventually, Williamson’s followers are taking out political leaders and media darlings alike, with news reports informing us that Britney Spears and Michael Bay have been gunned down, and that Mark Zuckerberg has been assassinated by his own employees.
Williamson is played with verve by B.C. actor Brendan Fletcher, a veteran of Boll’s Columbine-themed Heart of America, the Ginger Snaps sequels, and (briefly) The Revenant. (He also played the lead role in a Vancouver stage adaptation of Equus that this author was fortunate enough to catch, but that’s another matter).
With shooting sprees left and right in the US, Rampage 3: President Down is at the very least a timely film; perhaps it is also prescient. “When I shot Rampage 3, there were no terror attacks in Germany, but I put them in, because I was expecting them. And what happens in April and May? Terror attacks in Germany.”
As for assassinations, Boll worries, too, that whoever wins the November election, political violence might follow.
“I actually think if Trump is elected, or Clinton, there is a chance they will get assassinated,” he says, reasonably enough.
Boll is far smarter, you might gather, than his reputation would have it. “Maybe not right away, but the hate is now boiling up so much.”
And if there is going to be violence, he feels, “it will be from the right, because they are the ex-military, they have the money. I think the Occupy Wall Street guys just don’t have it in them. They will throw stones, but the right wing people, like what you had with that cow farmer [Cliven Bundy] who had the standoff with the police, when the government said he cannot have his cows going through this valley—they were standing there and had fifty snipers, against fifty snipers from the police, and the police retreated. I think these kind of guys, they are more the people who, say Trump loses, they say it’s all rigged—they’re the guys who just go out at night time and shoot refugees.”
His film exaggerates matters a bit, of course. "I don’t see that Mark Zuckerberg will get shot," he says. "I don’t see this. In the movie, you have to blow it up a little, but in reality I see absolutely violent acts against immigrants, and stuff like this, if Trump is losing. And that is the thing what is scary.”
Boll has surprises left and right for the Straight. When the topic turns to gun control—one of the themes his onscreen alter ego Williamson rants about—he fishes out his gun license from his wallet.
“I know how to handle guns,” he explains. “In Canada or Germany, you do a test, you do a background check, you have to show that you’re weapon-safe. And that is why I’m so pro gun control in the US, because if you’ve never shot a gun, and you go into a gun store and get a gun, it’s very dangerous for you and for everybody who is around you. I mean, think about it, people on the no-fly list can buy guns in the US. If an al-Qaeda member would make it by accident into the US, the NRA would say, ‘Of course, he can buy a weapon, and then we shoot him, because he’s a terrorist.’ The absurdity in America is like this.”
He even connects police shootings of African-Americans to the need for gun control.
“The police all are scared that the guy in the car has a gun, because people have guns, and carry them. And that’s why you have cops in the US turning into psychopathic monsters and shooting everybody because he makes a wrong movement.” (An image flashes through my mind of a cop gunning down a Chinese driver in Boll’s anarchic comedy Postal—a mess of a film, really, but replete with inspired moments, and a major turning point in the director’s career, where his intelligence intermittently begins to shine through).
When Boll discovers that I’ve actually seen several of his movies—his good ones, that is, because I’m not so deluded as to deny he’s made some bad ones—he seems pleasantly surprised.
“You’ve watched them, at least!” he exclaims, when I rattle off a list—the Rampage films, Stoic, Assault on Wall Street, 1968 Tunnel Rats, Attack on Darfur (also simply known as Darfur). Each one of them has merits, though all are extreme and violent movies.
For instance, in Stoic—based on an actual episode in Germany—three incarcerated youths, one played by Terminator 2’s Edward Furlong—gang up on a fourth, rape him, sodomize him with a broom handle, then force him into suicide, all because he welshes on a bet. Yet almost none of these films got any theatrical play; only one of Boll's later, more serious films, his quasi-documentary Auschwitz, has received some of the respect its due, playing, according to the filmmaker, in a Holocaust museum in Israel.
"Lots of people never watched them,” Boll says matter-of-factly, shaking his head. “I went somewhere in Germany on a theatrical tour, and a lot of the reviews in the big newspapers, you saw they never watched one of my movies after In the Name of the King. They never watched Rampage or Darfur. And that is a shame, when you feel like the most important films I made were all in the last few years, where it turned into something that you can turn a career around with.”
A shame indeed, because now that Boll is hitting his stride, now that—as IMDB user reviews for the Rampage films show—the tide may be finally turning in his favour, Boll has made the decision to retire from cinema altogether. A post-credits scene at the end of Rampage 3 shows him doffing his cap and walking away into the forest, saying goodbye to cinema. (Online reports of a further film entitled 12 Hours are outdated, he tells the Straight. That movie is dead in the water).
So why quit, when people are finally starting to acknowledge his work?
“I’m not retiring because I don’t want to make movies anymore,” he says. “I want to make movies, but film is expensive. The first movie I shot in Vancouver, in 1999, was Sanctimony. You got from Showtime then $300,000—there was money in the TV market too. Now Showtime, they gave me $25,000 for Darfur, $40,000 for Assault on Wall Street. Super Channel, too, but now they’re bankrupt, so it’s even worse in Canada. You have only Movie Central left. And then Netflix pays $75,000 for Rampage 3. But if you add all that up, you recoup $400,000 for the movie, but not four or five million dollars. So—it’s too bad!”
Rampage 3: President Down actually shows the strain. The budget is such that you have to suspend disbelief at various points, with Boll fudging details like the actual presidential assassination; in part because the scenes in Washington were all shot guerilla style, on the cheap, but also because the gender of the next president was unknown during the shooting.
“At the point when we shot,” the director says, “we didn’t even know that Trump would be the nominee. That was the first thing. The second is the money. If you do it, you have to set it up big. I cannot just have three people getting shot. You have the whole fucking group of Secret Service and so on, so that would be a $50,000 shot, basically.”
You have to be willing to play along a little. This is a smaller, humbler effort than the first Rampage, which is perhaps Boll’s most perfectly realized and entertaining film, shot almost entirely in Maple Ridge.
“I love Rampage a lot,” Boll says. “If you see all three movies like one long movie, you have that feeling like a young guy who just wants money, he basically turns bad and he turns political. And then in the end, now, when he finally dies, he’s a revolutionary, almost. It’s not about the money anymore, it’s about how the system sucks. And even if he’s a dangerous guy, in a way you like him. I never saw that before. In other movies, the main evil guy turns out to be a really psychopathic asshole. Bill is maybe psychopathic, but he’s not an asshole; he’s kind of right, actually.”
Isn’t it, oh, kind of dangerous to be making films talking about killing the rich, and fantasizing about actual celebrity assassinations?
“Absolutely!” Boll says, grinning. “I’m surprised that nobody cares about it. It shows how helpless movies are in facing reality and trying to change reality, in a way.”
He segues to the case of his film Darfur, which he tried in vain to get screened at Cannes. Even though it was a “total flop," he offers, "if it would have changed something in Darfur, I would not feel so bad, like I feel right now.” If someone would at least screen the film, he continues, “you would have a thousand people crying in the theatre later and have a huge discussion afterwards about the biggest genocide since the Second World War, basically. But no, because it’s Uwe Boll, who did Bloodrayne and Alone in the Dark, we will never show it, only over our dead bodies. So I lost money on it, and it didn’t change anything. The guy is still the president of Sudan.”
Boll may be a mixed bag as a filmmaker, but he’s a great interview. Just get him going and sit back.
“That is also what drives me insane,” he continues. “You put things out and they should get discussed, but then they don’t. And then you see what movies are getting discussed, because they have the big advertising, they have the big release, and they’re getting promoted or something, in a totally absurd way, where you feel like that movie is not important at all, but everyone writes pages and pages about it, and everyone is talking about it. Of course, the press would always say, ‘We have to write about the stuff that is visible; if we write about a movie that is only out on DVD, how can we think we do our readers our favour?’ Everybody has an excuse. The theatre owners say, 'Look, we cannot advertise small movies, we cannot give them room in the lobby for the posters, we cannot give them a trailer…' But then you end up as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you put in the lobby only big standees from Avengers, and you show the trailer in every single theatre for four months, yes, Avengers will make good box office. But what would happen to other good movies, if you had the support of the theatre owners, for example? A lot of great movies are only on Netflix or Movie Central. A lot of movies with a great cast, you’ve never heard of those movies, but you watch it and it’s actually good. But that is the thing. Everybody has an excuse for everything, and shit gets successful.”
The arthouse circuit isn’t much better, he feels. “I think for a lot of festivals, especially for the last fifteen or twenty years, arthouse is, like, what is really artificial, what is not really telling stories about life. Personally, I hate stuff like this.”
So good luck seeing his films—especially his passion projects—in theatres in Vancouver. Despite having made the vast bulk of his features here, few theatres would even consider screening a “Best of Boll” event. Surely the city of Vancouver owes him one, at this stage?
"Say it, say it,” he agrees. “I was never invited to the Vancouver International Film Festival, with no movie, ever. Bring 280 million Euros, for twenty-two movies, to B.C., and nobody cares! ‘Thank you, bye bye.’ In the restaurant, at least, a lot of my crew people come and support the restaurant. Also Shawn Williamson, from Brightlight [Pictures] is a regular in here. I’m happy they do this, but with the Vancouver Film Festival or whatever, there’s just no relationship. It’s a shame.”
At press time, no film screenings of any Uwe Boll films are scheduled in Vancouver.