Sex, Drugs & Democracy
1994 Directed by Jonathan Blank.
REVIEWED By Brian Baker, Fri., Oct. 7, 1994
This sure isn't Rush Limbaugh country. Prostitution is legal. The sale of marijuana is an accepted practice yet the sale of guns is illegal. Abortions and euthanasia are tolerated. People from various ethnic groups speak freely about the comfort and lack of discrimination they feel every day. Active members of the community, such as policemen, soldiers, and Catholic priests, are openly homosexual. And the 60-percent tax rate is shared by the wealthy and poor alike to support the health-care and welfare systems, ensuring that every person is housed, fed, and healthy. The Netherlands have evolved into an absolutely Nineties' meaning of the term “liberal democracy.” Blank's cameras travel into the windows filled with prostitutes, coffeeshops that specialize in hashish and other smokables, prisons, hospitals, and porn theatres to show how these different people see everyday life in Amsterdam. His ingenious editing takes the audience on a brisk tour of the Netherlands with parts of the Dutch constitution spliced between scenes to show how the past has affected the present. A historian illustrates how the problems of the past led to the solidarity and lack of racism common today. “When the dikes were breaking, you had to be friends,” he explains. This, in turn, accounts for why the Dutch choose to cleverly violate their international treaties designed to fight the war on drugs. Instead of filling prisons with “soft” drug users, they tolerate the use and culturally build a mental wall away from “hard” drugs through education. The same is true for prostitution. A congresswoman says how she doesn't approve of prostitution but she prefers a legalized, health conscious sex industry. “It seems the world can't live without prostitutes,” she says half-jokingly. Consistently, amongst all the government officials, politicians, drug dealers, professors, and prostitutes whom Blank interviews, only the issue of pornography raises any controversy. Hardly anybody advances any dissenting opinions throughout the film. Still, a few of the prostitution interviews feel a bit forced. It is hard to buy into the argument that “these women do this because they want to, not to please some pimp,” when most girls make an even split with the brothel owner after taking on 10-15 customers a day. Just the same, the majority of facts and statistics presented do seem to point out that although Holland is not yet a utopia, it is well on its way.