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Dutch Courage: The Flodder Series

  What is always interesting about world cinema is the populist films of different cultures. People will praise the French New Wave and idolise Jean Paul Belmondo for Breathless, but overlook the films that made him an icon in his native France - the laboured but often exhilarating stunt feasts he starred in for decades such as the Tintin-meets-Eurospy That Man From Rio (1964) and the rip-snorting Raiders-baiting fun of Ace of Aces (1982). Or Satyajit Ray's work getting overlooked in his native India. While in Finland, the Kaurismäki brothers barely get their films released, at least in comparison with the long-running Numbskull Emptybrook (Uuno Turhapuro) series, but the latter never get the international attention of the Leningrad Cowboys.

Dick Maas is best known to film critics for horror/thrillers life 1983's Der Lift or 1988's Amsterdammed. But in his native Netherlands, his main cultural legacy is the Flodder series. Starting with Flodder (1986), it began as a visually bright, breezy and gleefully effluent comedy. Trying to find a Western counterpart is difficult. The plotline - a skanky working-class family are moved from their home when it is discovered it is built on a toxic dump, so Ma (Nelly Frijda), peroxide greaser-styled elder son Johnny (Amsterdammed's Huub Stapel), trampy eldest daughter Kees (Tatjana Simic), idiotic second son, also named Kees (Rene van 't Hof), plus younger kids Toet and Henkie, Grandad and a dog move in to a larger house in a richer district as part of a social experiment, watched over by incompetent social worker Sjakie (Lou Landre) - is basically The Beverly Hillbillies, although with a working-class urban family rather than a rural family (a closer comparison being RTE sitcom Upwardly Mobile). But the family resemble the Boswells from Carla Lane's BBC sitcom Bread, which also started in 1986, down to the tough matriarch, the eldest son being a partiarchal blond greaser, the trampy daughter and the senile grandad. The film is a loud, almost too unattractive film shot in an attractive manner, and the comedy loses something in translation. Even the tank-attack climax is shot rather flat, compared to the action work that Maas had capably proved he could handle later on. But it was massively successful in Holland, and despite Maas and the cast's reluctance, in 1992 - they all returned (well, the two younger kids were absent) for Flodder in Amerika.

For an English speaking audience, Flodder in Amerika is more accessible. Most of the film is shot in English, with American (and Canadian in the case of British-based Rentayank stalwarts Colin Stinton and Tony Sibbald) support. Here, the American Roosevelt Foundation send the Flodders to New York for a social experiment, to swap places with an unseen American family. However, it turns out that the Roosevelt Foundation have gotten the Flodders mixed up with a group of Russian businessmen, and the Flodder clan are thrown out, and forced to camp in Central Park, eating birds and stealing hot dogs. While trying to get in contact, Sjakie gets mugged, befriends some hobos and then thrown in prison. Meanwhile, the Flodders are taken in by Larry Rosenbaum (the late, great Jon Polito), who gets them to work at his Moulin Rouge-themed windmill-based nightclub ("Thanks for helping!" "Of course, in Holland, we know everything about windmills!"), while daughter Kees falls in love with a Plaza hotel conciege (Lonny Price) who turns out to be the son of the President. Again, Maas directs with flair, gets a lot out of the dying days of the old 42nd Street. There are some transgender jokes (Sjakie is accidentally given a sex change) and martial artist Chuck Jeffreys is given the credit "Annoying Negro". And there are some odd things for a mainstream comedy e.g. a gratuitous sequence where nude black women are seen playing basketball. Very strange, but interesting to see foreign cultures' idea of big mainstream comedy. Slightly overlong at two hours, but it goes quite nuts - involving the President coming in to stop his son from mixing with the Flodder clan. It also uses the headless Statue of Liberty visual from Escape from New York.

After this, a TV series started on RTL. However, Stapel and van 't Hof turned down the chance to reprise their roles again, and were replaced by Coen van Vrijberghe de Coningh and Stefan De Walle. The sitcom was although shot on film, quite broad and the characters, never the most affable lot became even more unlikeable. The series then spawned a theatrically released finale - Flodder 3, only for the series to be revived soon after, and running for two more series.

In all, the series is quite alienating to a foreign audience, but it is fascinating, says more about the Netherlands than more respectable Dutch cinema, and that's always the story - populist cinema will always act as a better social document - how the Carry Ons reflect 70s Britain.
Author: George White.

 

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Last Updated: 31 March, 2018