Directed by Dan Lee West
Starring Uwe Boll
Release Date: October 21, 2014
On September 23, 2006 four online film writers were selected from an extensive pool of challengers to go head-to-head with controversial German director Uwe Boll in one round of boxing at the Plaza of Nations entertainment complex located in Vancouver, British Columbia. The event had all of the marks of being a public relations stunt of the lowest stunt, but it held a morbid curiosity value for longtime detractors of Boll and anyone who ever wanted to see a filmmaker actually take on some of their most vocal critics with punches rather than words.
The four critics selected were Rue Morgue writer and current Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, Ain’t It Cool News writer Jeff Sneider, amateur boxer and Internet critic Nelson Chance Minter, and Something Awful webmaster and CEO Rich Kyanka.
The event was heavily hyped and dubbed Raging Boll by promoters. That’s also the name given to this 2010 documentary directed by Dan Lee West, who worked in various capacities on a few of Boll’s earlier films prior to becoming a filmmaker, which is just now receiving its first American DVD release courtesy of Olive Films.
Here are some of the highlights of the matches:
Ever since he made his first video game-based motion picture, 2003’s House of the Dead, Boll has been one of the online film geek community’s most visible and willing targets of unbridled hatred and derision. His name alone is enough to inspire a global chorus of gritted teeth loud enough to cave in the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica, and for the first few years following the release of House Boll didn’t quite understand why.
As we see in the first half of this documentary, Boll – a college graduate with a doctorate in German literature and a voracious lifelong movie buff – has always wanted to be a legitimate filmmaker. At his family home in Germany he shows us the room where he once wrote his first film book on a typewriter, and at another point in West’s film we get to behold his massive collection of movie posters and books related to the art of filmmaking. Boll has done more than his fair share of studying and now all he desires is to be taken seriously. It’s the least he can ask for since he refuses to see the vocation of his choosing as a mere mercenary endeavor.
But as we see over and over throughout Raging Boll, his loudest critics don’t share his enthusiasm for the movies he makes. West treats us to a cacophony of crude video reviews and rants made by angry nerds who believe in the very depths of their being that Uwe Boll is nothing short of the Antichrist of cinema and must be retired (by his choosing or by force), or wiped completely from this planet. A good chunk of the first half consists of Boll passionately refuting the vitriol with his own Molotov cocktail of centered logic and occasionally indecipherable arguments. One of the few flaws I had with Raging Boll is that West never thought to offer any alternate voices ready to counter Boll’s repudiations with a mature analysis of why his movies are often judged to be among the worst ever made.
Instead we are presented with the YouTube rageaholics such as the guy who announces his intentions to beat the living hell out of Boll as a Gadsden “Don’t Tread on Me” flag (which has since become the primary symbol of the Tea Party) hangs on the wall behind him. It makes the whole enterprise seem terribly one-sided, as if Boll’s only real critics are overgrown children with severe vitamin deficiencies who think they’re fighting the good fight in the comfortable confines of their parents’ basement. Was there no one else out there in Criticland anxious to offer their perspective of Boll’s filmography with intelligence and calm? Perhaps West didn’t bother to contact any of them as they would have doubtlessly detracted from the narrative he has carefully constructed, which is that Uwe Boll is a misunderstood artist.
I don’t consider myself a Boll hater like the majority of my online film writing comrades. In fact, I’ve never actually seen one of his movies from beginning to end. Every once in a while I might catch a few minutes of one on cable while another program I was watching is at a commercial break. A few years ago I watched most of his fantasy action flick In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale and thought it was pretty good in that it contained decent set-pieces and a cast who mostly appeared to be having a grand old time. Being a fan of European exploitation cinema I always saw Boll as the natural descendant of tireless schlock directors like Bruno Mattei and Ed Wood who demonstrated a solid command of their filmmaking craft even if it was usually in the service of material that didn’t deserve it.
Most of the movies Boll has made are bland and forgettable and have attained deserved notoriety for their waste of perfectly fine casts and over-caffeinated editing and cinematography. Every so often he surprises us with something caustically funny like 2008’s Postal, where it is clearly evident the director long ago stopped giving a damn what anyone thought of him or his films. I think he reached his breaking point with the September 2006 boxing match “” he also took on another critic in the ring in Spain, but that isn’t covered here “” because you can tell he had this itch to show his critics who was the real tough guy and he would stop at nothing to scratch. But he also took the fights seriously and trained his ass off, something that his opinionated opponents didn’t think much about doing prior to arriving in Vancouver for their big night.
Throughout the documentary Boll appears visibly depleted by the incessant criticisms of his body of work and himself that he has endured since the early days of his career. Not only that, but he also has had to deal with endless rejections from the Hollywood establishment. The man once desperately desired to be a major filmmaker with the clout and budgets to do whatever he wanted, but in one painfully sustained sequence he fails to secure a halfway-decent U.S. distribution deal for In the Name of the King – the true low point of this agonizing experience being the sight of a Sony Pictures acquisition executive nodding off out of sheer boredom during a screening. The twin rejections from the mainstream elite and the world of Internet film journalism did not inspire Boll to take a step back and reconsider the path he is taking with his cinematic ambitions, but rather they only exacerbated his feelings towards his critics and the filmmakers whose multi-million dollar salaries and international acclaim Boll feels rightfully belong to him.
It’s only after he finally realizes that he will never be one of the great filmmakers of our time that he starts becoming the Uwe Boll that many love to hate; the abrasive, self-promoting blowhard who feels as if he must overcompensate for a lack of directorial talent and business acumen with an endless series of confrontational interviews and YouTube videos as loaded with chest-puffing macho rhetoric as any of those made by his most deafening pundits. Raging Boll gives us a front row seat to Uwe’s evolution from minor league D-list direct-to-video hack to someone who has seemingly embraced his undeserved title of one of the most hated human beings in the world. It’s a pretty sad sight to behold because Boll is a very nice and savvy guy who does what he does primarily out of love for the art, even if the final product lacks in artistic value.
This is why it’s a joy at first to watch him pummel the crap out of his four chosen victims in that Canadian boxing ring. Even better are the moments before the match when the critics are invited to watch Boll train with a sparring partner prior at a local boxing gym. Their reactions to the man’s wealth of skill in the ring are priceless, as are Boll’s other techniques of psychological intimation. This dude came to fight and now the guys who volunteered to put on gloves and take their best shot at geek immortality are realizing that fact with knotted stomachs and enough flop sweat to sink Pittsburgh. But once the fighting really begins it’s sobering to watch Boll attack his critics with a savage fury to rival Wolverine. Suddenly the perceived victim of artistic vilification becomes nothing more than a bully. Sure we all had some laughs at the pointless absurdity of it all, but to see the action up close and uncut is to ultimately be left wondering whose side we should be on. Goodness gracious, I was starting to sympathize with the critics.
Boll’s not the worst director in the history of film. Anyone who honestly thinks that has never seen a movie made by Coleman Francis or Sean Weathers or sat through all seventy-one pathetic and gut-wrenching minutes of Michael Mfume’s absolutely horrid Ax ‘Em. West’s documentary concludes with Boll in a theater watching as his latest feature Postal is projected to a virtually empty cinema in the midst of another crowded summer movie season. He leaves the theater once again dejected by the wider audiences he craves but no less the old Uwe Boll than he was when he arrived. Until the day he dies he’ll keep making movies in the hope that people watch them and a few of those potential viewers even like what they see. We all just need to live with that and move on.
Olive Films’ presentation of Raging Boll features a solid widescreen picture framed in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio that is pretty clean and free of defects. The image quality is sharp and rich in detail and will bring great pleasure to anyone who has ever wanted to see Boll’s ruddy fighter’s visage in the highest of definitions. No subtitles have been included.
Since this is a documentary with almost zero opportunities to test out a reference-quality soundtrack the English 2.0 audio track provided by Olive does its job quite well. There are no traces of distortion in the sound mix and the volume levels are strong and balanced.
The only extra is “Boll Speaks,” which is just a 48-second introduction from the man himself in which he offers his approval of the documentary. Some deleted scenes or additional interviews would have been great too because I’m sure they exist.
Raging Boll is an incisive and often humorous documentary that allows a polarizing director to be a human being just the same as the rest of us for a little while, one that feels pain and has to work hard to suppress the urge to lash out at his worst critics. Give it a watch and it might change your opinion of Uwe Boll the man, if not the filmmaker.