Boll is the infamous German director who made a name for himself starting in 2003 with his inept adaption of the Sega Zombie Shooter House of the Dead. The film bore little to no resemblance to its subject matter and went on to start a trend for the director of adapting Video Game properties which made the Super Mario Brothers film feel like high art. This garnered Boll quite the reputation since almost none of these films broke even, but thanks to a quirk in the German tax shelter laws, his films continued to receive funding and continued to be made.
Boll seemed to bask in the spotlight even if it wasn’t exactly positive and in 2006 challenged each of his five harshest critics to a 10-round boxing match and surprisingly won against all five. After a few more publicity stunts: the petition to retire if he received 1,000,000 signatures and challenging Michael Bay himself to a boxing match, Boll still continues to direct films, but retreated a bit from the spectacle he was once known for. Thankfully things have been quiet long enough that we are finally able to revisit the director’s filmography a bit more objectively and Olive Films has released two films that definitely show the better side of what Boll is capable of as a director.
First up is 2002’s Heart of America, a surprisingly somber and complex look at the phenomena of school shootings and bullying in America. The film stars Elisabeth Moss, Clint Howard and Kett Turton with the film taking place on the morning of the last day of the school year at the fictional Riverton High School. Heart of America is a complex collage of stories from both teachers and students leading up to the shooting, which takes place at the first period bell. Boll manages to do something I feel like most of these films in the genre are terrified to do, he humanizes the shooters and attempts to explain just what would drive a kid that far, without relying on the scapegoat of violent films and video games.
The film is a juggling act as we have all the basic high school stereotypes and each has a storyline that plays out during the morning; the jock, the popular girl, the pregnant girl, the bully and the bullied are all present. While it feels cliché and almost delves into afterschool special territory, there is a strange authenticity to how it’s portrayed and how it all plays out. The film managed to perfectly capture some of the darker aspects of high school life and not just the school shootings, either. It seems like no one is truly innocent in Heart of America, which is where the film shines; it’s an unflinching look at not only school shooters, but the darker aspects of suburban America as whole.
The next film is one I am personally ecstatic to see get a legitimate US release, the docu-drama Auschwitz. Shot in 2011 on the leftover sets from BloodRayne: The Third Reich, many thought the film was going to be nothing more than a tasteless exercise in exploitation thanks to the gruesome teaser that featured Boll in an SS uniform. But for those willing to take the time to check out Auschwitz, they will find the film stands as Bolls most personal and sincere effort to date.
It begins with an introduction by Boll himself in both German and English discussing why he made the film and how he hoped to shed some light on just what happened in Auschwitz. He appears very candid as he discusses his fear of the ignorance in the world about the Holocaust and how without education and acknowledgement of these atrocities, we as a people are doomed to repeat them.
Auschwitz is bookended by real interviews with German kids around 15-17 years old, asking them what they know about what happened during the Holocaust. It’s not very surprising that most of the children have little to no understanding of just what happened or why. These points are driven home as the documentary footage then segues into a day in the life at the prison camp. There are no heroes in Auschwitz. As the film focuses on the grotesque in the mundane, we see how the machine worked and the people who kept it moving.
Much like Heart of America Boll, Auschwitz is surprisingly respectful of the subject matter. I mean this is the guy who made Postal, after all. What you get is probably his best film and I am hopeful that thanks to this release more people will check it out. If anything out of morbid curiosity alone. Honestly, both of these films show a rare side to a director that many have written off. Sadly Auschwitz and Heart of America are movie-only discs as I would have loved to have heard commentaries on either film, given their status in Boll’s filmography. But to tell you the truth I am just happy that enough time has passed that they were given a release in the first place.
Heart Of America and Auschwitz hit DVD on May 26th, 2015 from Olive Films