UWE BOLL is often referred to as the worst filmmaker in the world.
This seems to pain Mr. Boll, a gregarious 42-year-old German whose best-known movies are based on video games. So he has shared the pain with his critics, literally, challenging several to a series of boxing matches in 2006. Mr. Boll, a former boxer, thumped them handily.
But what he really wants is respect.
There is a Web site called StopUweBoll.org, with a petition demanding that he stop making movies. The petition had drawn only 18,000 names until last month, when Mr. Boll told the horror-movie Web site FearNet.com that he would quit making films if a million people signed. With his own version of “bring it on,” the list has now grown to more than a quarter of a million.
Why play along? “I have to live with it,” Mr. Boll said with an unhappy smirk. “It’s better to make fun with it,” as an alternative to “being depressed, sitting at home, slowly crying.”
We won’t even talk about UweBollIsAntichrist.com.
During a lunch interview in New York, he pressed a freshly copied DVD into a reporter’s hands. It was a rough cut of a serious film he’s been working on, about a brutal prison rape in Germany in 2006. “I would be interested to see what you think about it,” he said.
He also noted that there are counterpetitions urging him to keep making films. At least part of what is going on, he argued, is an online pile-on, a “can you top this?” game with Mr. Boll on the bottom.
“Is it the movies are all so bad?” he asked. “Something is not fitting together in the story, that I’m the worst of the worst.”
Mr. Boll’s most recent film, “Postal,” might not be the best vehicle for winning respect. The first sequence of the film, which opens on Friday, portrays 9/11 hijackers squabbling over the precise number of virgins who will be awaiting them after their martyrdom. The scene switches to a World Trade Center’s-eye view of an oncoming jet.
As the movie’s scattershot plot rocks along, the audience gets a long full-frontal look at a nude Dave Foley, the boyish comic best known for his work in the Kids in the Hall comedy troupe and on the television show “News Radio,” who portrays a sleazy satyr of a cult leader. By the time the film’s protagonist, played by Zack Ward, uses a cat for a silencer, the boundaries of good taste have been left so far behind that the Hubble Space Telescope couldn’t spot the border signs.
Considering the gross-out and sexual-humor quotient of many recent films, “Postal” could well find an audience. The raucous crowd at a screening presented by the New York City Horror Film Festival last month erupted in laughter for every startlingly transgressive joke. As a couple left the theater, a woman told her date, “It made no sense, but it was hysterical.”
“Postal,” like Mr. Boll’s “BloodRayne,” “Alone in the Dark” and “In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale,” originated as a violent video game. Many of the reviews for those films have been startlingly negative. A reviewer for Entertainment Weekly wrote of “Alone in the Dark,” which starred Christian Slater, Tara Reid and Stephen Dorff, “Far be it from me to dismiss a man’s effort in a sentence, but the film on your teeth after a three-day drunk possesses more cinematic value.”
As vicious as many of the professional reviews have been, video gamers’ online critiques are even more vituperative, and largely unprintable. Some of their complaints sound a bit like those of Jane Austen fans who decry adaptations that miss the essence of their beloved author’s canon. Except that instead of lamenting, say, the way the filmmakers behind “Northanger Abbey” completely misunderstood the importance of the humorous references to Anne Radcliffe’s masterpiece, “The Mysteries of Udolpho,” they excoriate Mr. Boll for shifting the story of “BloodRayne” from Nazi Germany to 18th-century Romania. They also think Rayne’s outfit is not hot enough.
The reaction of gamers is not based solely on the faithfulness of the way the games are interpreted, said Daniel Morris, publisher of the world’s best-selling PC-games magazine, PC Gamer. “One thing to understand is that gamers face a certain geek stigma,” he said. “And it’s certainly not helped when movies come out based on games, and the movies are just no good.”
Mr. Boll’s defenders do not claim that his films are great art. But they do say he’s not that bad.
Sam Beddoes, a freelance Web designer in England who has a Web site, HooplaNet (hooplanet.co.uk), that runs reviews and humor, said in an e-mail interview, “I don’t think anybody deserves the kind of abuse the Internet gives Uwe.” (It’s pronounced OO-veh.) Although he called Mr. Boll’s “House of the Dead” “laughable (Sorry, Uwe!),” he said he found his other films “far better than anybody has given credit for.”
Mr. Boll’s films have been compared to the output of Troma Entertainment, which includes “The Toxic Avenger” and “Surf Nazis Must Die.” Lloyd Kaufman, the co-founder of Troma, said he found “Postal” “pretty funny” and called it “a kind of Troma fromage” — or, rather, hommage. Mr. Boll, he said, is “heroic, and a genuine independent spirit,” but also safe for reviewers to attack because he is not tied to the big Hollywood companies and the advertising dollars they wield. “They can’t say that Michael Bay is a no-talent.”
The film industry is certainly not helping Mr. Boll. Earlier this month he received an e-mail message from the chief buyer for the Regal Entertainment Group, the largest theater chain in the country, informing him that Regal would not be exhibiting “Postal”: “While I have respected your past work this film falls short of the type of product the Regal Theater Group would consider commercial.”
Mr. Boll denounced the decision as politics. (The film portrays President Bush as not only in league with Osama bin Laden but also in love with him.) “We still aim for 1,000 screens,” he said. (Mr. Boll’s own company is distributing the film.)
Mr. Boll said his business model can take such disappointments. The films may perform modestly at the box office (“In the Name of the King,” for example, has brought in $11.8 million worldwide), but that represents about 15 percent of his revenues, with television, DVD rights and video on demand bringing in the rest. Provisions in the German tax code allow his investors to benefit through write-offs. And he stays away from the Hollywood system, producing the movies himself.
“Because I don’t have in-between people,” he said, “I make more money.”
Mr. Boll’s defense of his work is equally straightforward. “I don’t make political decisions that can destroy the earth,” he said. “I make movies.”
Which is not to say that he won’t wallop those who ridicule him. The boxing matches, in September 2006, left one of his opponents vomiting and sucking oxygen from a tank. One of the people he fought, Rich Kyanka of the comedy Web site Something Awful (somethingawful.com), complained at the time that Mr. Boll had suggested the match was only for show.
Mr. Kyanka, via e-mail, declined comment. “The guy’s essentially a real life troll,” he wrote. “Boll wants people to talk about him so he can get free publicity.” He added, “I’m not going to feed him.”
Those who have worked with Mr. Boll say they see a different man. Mr. Foley said he found him, in person, to be “quite a sweet guy” but tough.
Why work for the director called the worst in the world? “I knew nothing about Uwe Boll” at first, Mr. Foley said. He watched “BloodRayne,” he said, and found it so over-the-top gory that “it made me laugh.” It had, he said, the absurd feel of a Terry Gilliam film.
Mr. Boll is “like a quintessential German intellectual artist who has almost taken film arbitrarily as the medium he’s going to work in. The art form is, almost, in being hated,” Mr. Foley said. Comparing him to the comedian Andy Kaufman, he added, “It’s his relationship with the audience that is his creation, his relationship with the critics, more than the movies.”
What, then, does that make an actor like, say, Dave Foley?
“A pawn, I suppose, a bit of pigment on the canvas,” Mr. Foley said.
“This is either going to be the worst movie I’ve ever been in, or it’s going to be brilliant,” he said. “There’s not any middle ground.” Of course, he added, “I hope it’s brilliant.”
The creator of the StopUweBoll.org petition is Bert Harvey, a 29-year-old game designer at Flying Lab Software, near Seattle. “I really think that he is the P. T. Barnum of our generation, and even bad press is good press for him,” Mr. Harvey said.
If Mr. Harvey’s petition tops a million signatures, Mr. Boll says, he will insist on a careful examination of the results. “I cannot accept that this is, like, a hundred thousand people voting 10 times,” he said. But if that total isn’t reached, critics will still have the consolation that Mr. Boll will appear as a character in the upcoming video game Postal III.
“They can kill me every day of their life,” Mr. Boll said. “As long as I’m able to make movies, I’m happy.”