Renowned on the internet as one of the worst filmmakers in cinema history, Uwe Boll directed 33 films, produced 53 films, and wrote 20 of them. Many of them, such as ‘Far Cry’, ‘Alone in the Dark’, and ‘House of the Dead’ (currently sitting at an abysmal 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), are based on video games and widely criticised for their lack of attention to detail.
At the height of his infamy, a petition titled Stop Uwe Boll garnered 357,480 digital signatures, and the domain uweboll.com simply contained the entreaty, “Please stop making movies.”
Sean Patrick Shaul’s new documentary on Boll's life and career, ‘Fuck You All: The Uwe Boll Story’, explores Boll’s background, how he broke into the industry, and why he developed such a bad reputation amongst fans of films and video games.
It’s immediately apparent that Boll is a man with a crude and deliberately offensive sense of humour. Many of his movies, such as ‘Assault on Wall Street’ and ‘Blubberella’, are pointlessly violent, grotesque, and unfunny. But he seems to treats those close to him with care and love, in a Cro-Magnon way. On reuniting with his brother after some time apart, Boll says: "We don’t need this kind of 'I missed you' or something. It’s just, we meet each other and we say whatever, like 'Hi, fuckface,' and then we start talking. It’s not me to be very close to people in a way."
Ever the consummate self-promoter, we get to hear Boll effuse about how great he is, and how "retarded" everyone else (critics, actors, far more successful directors) is. But the documentary also features interviews with his frequent collaborators, like Michael Paré, Brendan Fletcher and Clint Howard, who regard him with a strange fondness and respect, citing his enthusiasm and weird charisma. "I found him an efficient director and a clear director. That to me is the best combination," ‘They Live’ and ‘The Thing’ star Keith David said. For his part, Boll refers to actors as "whores".
To paraphrase one of the critics in the documentary, Boll’s films say offensive things but not with any greater purpose or to make a larger point, like a successful satirist or shock comedian would. However, he often thought he was making some scathing sociopolitical commentary and, watching his films, you could feel him trying - he just never had enough skill as a filmmaker to express what he was trying to say.
Boll often shot films with incomplete scripts and asked actors to rewrite them on the fly - ‘Rampage’ was shot in six days using only a six-page treatment. ‘BloodRayne’, a video game adaptation about a sexy Nazi-fighting vampire, started shooting with the first draft of a script that had been rewritten almost entirely by Boll in a few days before shooting. Inexplicably, the film starred Billy Zane and Sir Ben Kingsley, who has won an Oscar, a Grammy, a BAFTA, two Golden Globes, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
One of the notable things about Boll’s films was that the more he made, the more legitimate acting talent gravitated towards them. He directed Christian Slater and Tara Reid in ‘Alone in the Dark’. Everyone hated that movie too, but two years later he directed Jason Statham, Ray Liota, Burt Reynolds, and Ron Pearlman in In the ‘Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale’.
‘BloodRayne’ screenwriter Guinevere Turner sums up the appeal of working with Boll beyond his eccentric personality: "Only about 20 per cent of what I wrote was on the screen," she says in the documentary. "But, I got paid for it. All of it. All at once, wired to my bank. Which, I must say, was a deciding factor."
Boll often shot films with incomplete scripts and asked actors to rewrite them on the fly - ‘Rampage’ was shot in six days using only a six-page treatment.
If Boll had endured the slings and arrows of his critics with tragic dignity, he might have been ironically embraced as a lovable kook in the manner of 'The Room' writer-director Tommy Wiseau, or become a counterculture hero like the B-movie trash-mongers of the Troma studio. He may have even been fondly romanticized, like the well-meaning oddball auteur Ed Wood.
But Boll was also notable for his Raging Boll stunt. In 2006, frustrated with the relentless lambasting his films received, he challenged his most virulent online critics to a public boxing match. To qualify, critics had to have written two extremely negative reviews of Boll, in print or on the web. A handful were confident enough that Boll had embraced his status as an online punchline that they agreed to walk into a ring with a man who had over ten years of amateur boxing experience. The subsequent beatdowns (including one hospitalisation) were strangely cathartic. "It’s a way of handling things!" Keith David says, laughingly.
The death of the profitable DVD format and home video rental market forced Boll out of the filmmaking business. In 2015, he opened the Bauhaus Restaurant in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was a success and the beginning of a chain. "I have enough money to play golf until I am dead, so goodbye and goodbye Hollywood." Finally, Boll had found success, even if none of his friends believe he is truly satisfied.
What comes across in the documentary is that Boll is a uniquely talented salesman and managing director - he was great at raising money, finding actors, keeping the crew happy, making films on time and under budget, getting superb ROI for investors (via a tax loophole, a large part of his budget was refunded by the German government) and leveraging his own brand. In essence, he was an excellent film producer, which prompts one of his friends to remark: "Finding the money, that’s the difficult part of filmmaking that not a lot of people see. I think if [Boll] never directed a film and he was just a producer, he would be remembered as a Roger Corman character."
As ‘Fuck You All: The Uwe Boll Story’ illuminates in detail, it’s unfortunate that the two things Boll loved the most - writing and directing movies - were the two things he was the worst at.