The Underrated: Hardcore

Looking for images from this film has made me despair of humanity. Seriously. I knew it was going to happen, and it is asking for trouble, but you just try typing “hardcore” into google and see what you get. Eventually, on page 900, buried beneath a quite impressive selection of gay porn (and weirdly the odd photo of Darth Vader) you will eventually locate Paul Schrader’s 1979 classic.

My Lord this is a depressing film. George C Scott plays uptight Calvinist douchebag Van Dom, who is compelled to leave his mid-Western sanctuary to confront all the demons of the filth industry when his daughter goes missing in LA. Hardcore plots his journey through the sleazy porn underworld, aided only by Peter Boyle’s dreadfully grimy PI and Season Hubley’s stereotypical tart with a heart.

This is a great film. There’s really no two ways about it, and a good part of the reason for its greatness is Scott as Van Dom. He’s an unlikable prick (the first time we see him he’s berating his designer), with extreme Calvinist sensibilities, and he’s completely unequipped for the underbelly of America. Scott plays this well. He fluctuates between steely determination, manic obsessiveness and disgusting condescension. Boyle is also superb as the dirty Private Eye, and Hubley (who seems to have made a career out of this) is simply outstanding as the flat-chested hooker who believes that Van Dom will save her. The acting is superb all round.

As a rule, the writing is also good. I’ve a few major complaints about it that I will deal with later, but there are several simply superb pieces of writing in this film. Van Dom’s explanation of Calvinism to the hooker is, in particular, a breathtakingly good piece of exposition. I intensely dislike Calvinism, and Schrader was obviously drawing on his own background for this character. Everything Van Dom does is informed by his belief in pre-determination: he is guaranteed entry to heaven regardless of his behaviour on Earth, and only those already on the list are allowed in. Hubley simply stares at him while he’s explaining it- because it is a cold and repellent dogma. If anyone out there is Calvinist, then I strongly suggest that you go and read “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner” by James Hogg and have a long think about things. Fucking scumbags.

Anyhoo, pointless religion rant aside, back on track. There are several simply superb scenes in this film- Van Dom pursuing the teenage sleaze merchant through the San Fransisco sex-club where he literally bursts through the paper-thin walls bellowing like an enraged rhino, or the “oh my God, that’s my daughter” scene when Boyle first shows him the porn with his little girl getting cornholed. Quite why he had to sit through that is a mystery known only to Schrader, but nevertheless it is still a powerful scene. However, for sheer laughs, in a film short of cheerful moments, check out Van Dom’s meeting with Big Dick Blaque. Fucking hilarious stuff.

Hardcore is not a perfect film. To begin with, it is out of time, coming out years after the Deep Throat phenomenon. There are several rather large leaps of faith that the viewer has to make- that Van Dom can don a crappy tropical shirt, fake ‘stache and suchlikes and instantly pass as a porn director, for example. Nevertheless, that isn’t my real problem with it. I had heard about this before I saw the film, and it’s something that I didn’t really believe until I saw it, but there is a scene where Van Dom meets a porn distributor. This, in itself, fits well into the narrative, but Schrader couldn’t help himself from allowing his right-wing reactionary conservative asshole self from peeking out from behind the script. The porn guy advises Van Dom to start “small” and move up the ladder, and by small he means kiddie porn. There is, Schrader you fucking cocksmoker, a whole world of difference between Child Pornography and any other type of porn and you lessen the offense and stigma of the former by merely associating it with the whole gamut of smut that is available. Listen up, Schrader, kiddie porn is evil shit and not remotely the same as “ordinary” filth. Quite how one could make that blanket assertion is beyond me.

This is the thing about Hardcore that will decide whether or not it can be considered a great film:  Schrader allows far too many glimpses of his actual personality to seep through the cracks in the script. There are plenty of occasions where he’s not telling a story, but lecturing the viewer. I do admit that he is a well-recognised cosmos-sized asshole, but it made for uneasy viewing for me to see someone so clearly twisted by a religious upbringing lecture me.

This is also an intensely violent film, but there’s a nasty shred of justification running through it. Van Dom is liable to snap and attack someone at any minute, and when he does it’s a graphic and painful looking assault- clobbering the kid with a lamp leaping to mind- but the implication is always that Van Dom is “justified” in his actions. Calvinism in action. However, Schrader does allow some subtext to seep through the film (Van’s wife couldn’t take it and buggered off) that at least partially mitigates the action on screen.

Overall, I have to say that I do recommend watching this film. It’s a fascinating insight into a nasty religion, and even if it weren’t, it is still an exciting film. Nevertheless, the real reason to watch Hardcore is for the performances, Scott in particular is simply outstanding and the effort that the leads bring to the film makes the experience worth while.

Hardcore is, I believe, a severely flawed but seriously underrated film- good, but no Taxi Driver or even Blue Collar.

Until next time,


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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

29 responses to “The Underrated: Hardcore”

  1. ThereWolf says :

    Blimey, this sounds like a grim film.

    George C Scott is ace though so I’ll scribble Hardcore on the ‘to see’ list.

    Is that the original artwork for the film? If so, I’m thinking ‘Baise Moi’ ripped it off for their own poster, that style anyway…

    Good stuff, Jarv.

  2. Droid says :

    I’ve been meaning to see this and Blue Collar for a while. Sounds a lot like that godawful 8MM. No doubt it’s infinitely superior to that pile of shit. Good stuff.

    • Jarv says :

      Oh, it’s no comparison. This destroys 8MM- even if I did have the feeling that Schrader was working through his personal issues in it.

  3. M. Blitz says :

    Calvinism is fucking harsh…..yikes.

    Ya know, I’ve always meant to see this but haven’t gotten around to it yet. My ex, with whom I spent the last 6 years, seriously disliked this movie for some reason, so he would always veto it.

    I agree that 8mm is AWFUL. Just terrible.

  4. Continentalop says :

    Best scene, the young director out of film school giving the actress her motivation. “I want you to think of your father…”

  5. Continentalop says :

    Great review. I disagree with you about one minor point but I’ll get into that later.

    But right now I’m thinking that when you get a chance watch Rolling Thunder, the third Paul Schrader film inspired by John Ford’s the Searchers.

  6. Continentalop says :

    My one disagreement with you over your review is about the kiddie porn line. I think you are not taking it into context when the film was being made.

    As Martin Scorsese once pointed out, film is almost always behind the curve and commenting on stuff about five to seven years old. Hardcore is talking about the porn industry circa 1972-74. Back then it was pretty much mob controlled – you wanted to distribute it you had to deal with the mob. And because porn was mob controlled, you had a better chance breaking into the business by dealing with the ones that the mob didn’t like to touch, like kiddie porn and bestiality.

    Also, because it was mob controlled and pretty much illegal, porn was a crime or profession out of hunger. Pretty much just the sleaziest people would get into it.

    The second point is you’ve got to remember what kiddie porn was back then. It wasn’t films with seven or eight year olds, this was 13-16 years. Despicable, yes, but not so far out of the bounds of what pervs would find acceptable or willing to tolerate that someone wouldn’t suggest it. Hell, a certain Polish director had sex with a girl that age and most people back then blamed the victim – a lot of people back then, especially sleazy people, didn’t think having sex with a teenager was that wrong.

    Finally, I agree that Schrader is being a little provocative with the comment. But he is trying to show how truly sick and depraved a world George C. Scott is entering compared to what he knows or is used to. It is over-the-top but not outside of the real of believability, especially in the context of that time (also see The Glitter Dome).

  7. Jarv says :

    I would agree with that analysis, but for one thing- the sleazy distributor guy refers specifically to it as “small” in pure budgetary terms.

    That’s my issue with that line and that’s why I give it the interpretation that I gave it.

    Also, the age of consent thing is problemtic- it’s still 14 in some states, 16 in Europe, and that could well be what they were referring to as kiddie porn. At the end of the day, the film works fine without it and it strikes me as being provocative for the sake of it.

    • Continentalop says :

      Well yes it is small in pure budgetory reasons because you’re dealing with a niche market. If they were talking mainstream films he might have been telling him to make a biker flick or blaxploitation flick instead of trying to compete with big Hollywood studios because you can’t. It’s sound pervert advice.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Conti there is one issue about mob control of the porn industry I think you might be unaware of, OC most certainly dealt in the farther end of the porn spectrum quit happily. ultra perversion, by it’s nature, has smaller adherents then main stream fuck flicks so you can charge much much more. The old adage is perversion pays. Especially when you can endlessly copy loops for sale.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Jarv that was a very well written review very even handed but there was one point I think you got a bit wrong and it’s due to being uninformed about just how messed up Paul Schrader used to be and maybe still is.(I think he’s mentally ill myself due to the abusive religious shit his “parents” inflicted upon him)

        You wrote that Schrader’s “right-wing reactionary conservative asshole self from peeking through” I don’t think that is accurate. From what I learned reading Easy Riders Raging Bulls was that Schrader, in the the 70’s, when he hit Hollywood had very little true sense of himself. Because of that he consciously or unconsciously(maybe both) would mimic whoever he hung around with both physically, sartorially and politically. So when he was hanging with Cassavetes and DePalma he tried to be the hip cool ladies man(failing miserably I might add for myriad of reasons) With The Beard he was a geeky nerd. With Scorsese he was New York Italian guy. This point was made over an over in the book with different people.

        Now what that means pertaining to your quote was that when wrote hardcore he was under John Milieus sphere of influence so I think he subconsciously externalized the attitudes of Milieus that he internalized superficially in copying him. I really don’t think Schrader has any sort of “wing” political views past whatever person/group he was around. Proof of that was how deep he got into gay culture in the late 70’s and 80’s(not really a segment of society a true hard core right winger would chose to associate with) and how much the gay “aesthetic” was woven into movies like Cat People and American Gigolo and to a lesser extent the Passion of the Christ and Auto Focus.

        Anyways that’s my take on it. Very good review for a very hard movie to review with any sort of impartiality or evenhandedness due to it’s varied and complex themes.

      • Continentalop says :

        Xi, OC most certainly was involved in all aspects of Porn pre-1980s, but I think the actual Made men and Mafiosa tried to stay away from Kiddie and Bestiality and stuff like that. It went against their image of respectable people.

        Of course, they didn’t mind collecting a big street tax from that stuff, just like when they said they never dealt in drugs they didn’t mind collecting protection money from their associates who did the dirty work for them.

      • Continentalop says :

        BTW the Milieus connection you brought up is very interesting because he produced this film. I wonder how much is really his sensibilities?

  8. xiphos0311 says :

    Conti there were made men involved in porn. Ray DeMeo springs to mind(crazy mofo and more then likely as serial killer) Was a made man for the Gambinos and was for a time at least their point man for Pornography. DeMeo got into a slight beef his boss over bestiality but when the weekly envelopes kept getting fatter the boss stopped making an issue of it.

    Then there was the internal war in the Lucchese or Genovese families over porn(one of them was a giant player in the early porn industry I can’t remember which one and I’m too lazy to figure it out) The crew boss/capo who was the point man on porn got real stupid and stopped kicking upstairs. Because of all the money he was generating with porn, which was more then almost all the other activities, since they owned not only the means of production but the distribution and the theaters, he could buy all the protection and muscle he needed.(mostly Westies I think and some bikers)

    Now if I’m recalling correctly the family couldn’t handle their own business and went outside their own to a Gambino man know for being a tough dangerous SOB. He worked out of Queens and was a known Hijacker from JFK airport. This tough mutts name was John Gotti. That job is how Gotti financed his take over of the Gambinos and smoothed the way politically for his assassination of Big Paul Castellano.

    • Continentalop says :

      That is true Xi, but those guys dealt in almost exclusively straight porn. They were involved in distribution, which involved pretty much only stuff that could be shown in porn theaters or sold in paper bags. Kiddie and Bestiality was looked down upon (like you said, Roy DeMeo, but he could get away with it because he was kicking in so much money, especially from his car theft ring, and because the guy was a friggin’ nutcase psycho killer).

      As for the Gambino family, Paul Castellano looked down on porn. I can’t remember the cat’s name, but one of Gotti’s big supporters was the Gambino’s number one man in charge of porn, and he hated how Castellano looked down on him as if his money was “dirty” but still would accept his checks. A lot of the older bosses and capos and made men really looked down on guys who made money in smut. Which is one of the reason a lot of guys supported Gotti – he was all for making money.

    • Continentalop says :

      Side note, you ever hear the story about how I think it was Paul Castellano put a contract out on Ray DeMeo and John Gotti turned it down because at that time John had maybe 8 hits under his belt and Ray was up in the high 30’s, and that isn’t counting all the other people his men from the Gemini Lounge killed.

      They actually had to go with Ray’s own men, because they were the only ones psycho enough and blood thirsty enough to do it.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Yeah I’ve heard that story before and absolutely believe it. DeMeo was fucking bent and so was his whole crew.

      • Continentalop says :

        You ever see the Ice Man tapes (I imagine you have)? I think the guy is 90% full of shit, but I have a theory that all the stories he is sprouting is stuff he heard about or picked up from the other guys from the Gemini Lounge.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Yeah I’ve heard those tapes and I thought the same thing. He’s taking credit for work of others and since most if not all of them are dead and buried who’s to say any different.

      • Tom_Bando says :

        I can remember reading a good write up of the Five Families a couple years back, by a veteran NY reporter (Times? I forgets)–the one section that stood out was about Gas Pipe. Ever hear of him?? Egads.

  9. Jarv says :


    If Schrader is as impressionable as a dollop of warm wax (which I wouldn’t be surprised at), then this film reeks of Millius conservatism. One way or the other, though, that scene could have been easily saved from this argument by removing the reference.

    The Calvinist nonsense in it is pure fucking Schrader though. Calvinism is a truly awful religion, and if his parents inflicted a hard predeterminist branch of it on him, then he probably needs sympathy more than anything else.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      The Calvinist angle is pure Schrader but I sort of think that Von Dom has more of Schrader’s father in the character then of Schrader himself becasue both Paul and his brother worked on the Hardcore script.As far as being malleable he was and everybody interviewed about him confirm that sad aspect of his psyche.

      Schrader’s parents and their religious stupidity really worked him over hard mentally. Schrader’s brother never seemed to have a problem with it and was relatively healthy all things considered, that’s why I think Schrader is a bit nuts.

      Scharader was brought up on the very fringiest of fringe Calvinist nuttery. his parents justified their insanity and abuse becasue it would save the children from Satan. super religious believers are fucking assholes.

      • Continentalop says :

        I don’t know if Leonard was that healthy, considering he let his brother fuck him over for years.

        But compared to his brother Paul he was a bastion of mental health.

        One of the best quotes in ER&RB is when Millieus talks about how Schrader told him he wasn’t gay because he couldn’t get it up or do the deed, and John says that Paul wasn’t man enough to be a real pervert

      • xiphos0311 says :

        leonard realitivly speaking is better off then Paul.

        I think Leonard letting himself get fucked over has everything to do with the ultra hard familial bonds that developed by surviving their parents insanity. Anyway that half baked ideas make sense to me.

      • Continentalop says :

        Whoops. Didn’t see the “relatively” part. My mistake.

        I think your half-baked idea makes sense. Plus, I think Leonard just always imagined sooner or later his brother would pay him back.

      • Jarv says :

        If that’s the case, then judging by this they also loaded his ass up with a boatload of predeterminist cobblers.

        Fucking Calvinists. I’d love someone to film Justified sinner, just to piss them off.

  10. Tom_Bando says :

    Always liked the Nestorians myself…

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