Tuesday, December 8, 2009

This movie is better than a ten-inch dick and you know it!

I’ve been obsessed with Showgirls since it was in pre-production. I was 12 years old, in the midst of discovering my libido. With open, liberal parents who allowed me to watch Rated R movies, there’s a good chance I had seen tits in a movie already. I had also found a Playboy in a trash can somewhere that I was utterly fascinated by. But considering I still thought the vagina was on the front of a girl, buried in the middle of that triangle of hair somewhere (which is why kids should always dig deeper through that trash until they find a Hustler), it wasn’t like I understood anything about sex or what I was feeling. But I knew that it was something interesting. And I knew that I liked naked girls.

It was during this time that my dad told me he had read an article about a movie that was being made where Jessie Spano from Saved by the Bell, one of my favorite television shows, was going to be completely naked through the entire thing. My young mind was blown. All I knew was that I couldn’t wait for this movie to come out, and that it was going to be amazing.

I can remember my initial vision of what the film would look like. When my dad said she was naked through the whole movie, I didn’t comprehend that this would actually be worked into the plot. Instead, I pictured Jessie Spano going grocery shopping, and walking along the beach and stuff, but without any clothes on. Occasionally, guys would walk past her and check her out, but that is literally all that happened. This may sound like an explanation of why I think it’s lame when movies leave things to the imagination, because I apparently end up imagining the most boring option possible, but that’s beside the point, because for a 12 year old, naked Jessie Spano strolling on the beach was plenty to keep me intrigued.

Many months later, on September 22, 1995, the day after my 13th birthday, Showgirls was released theatrically in the US. And it was NC-17. There was no way for me to see it. According to Amazon, the VHS wasn’t released until February of ’97 (did it really take that long back then?), which sounds about right. I was now 14, and had already gone through an obsession with Fast Times at Ridgemont High (not that I will ever be over that obsession) and had shifted my focus to Pink Flamingos. I now knew where the vagina was, and had seen far more explicit nudity than Showgirls had to offer. So when my dad rented the video, I was obviously still excited. After all, I had been anticipating this movie for about two years. But the dirtiness of it had lost some of it’s thrill. It wasn’t even the first NC-17 movie I got to see, Bad Lieutenant was. So it hurts me to admit this, but the very first time I saw Showgirls, I thought that it was merely Really Fucking Good.

So maybe I didn’t connect with it right away as strongly as I did with Pink Flamingos. But I still recognized instantly that there was something special about it. I never thought of it as one of my favorite movies, but it sure seemed to be the one that I rented the most (the R-Rated version, unfortunately). At least until I taped it off Showtime (again, Rated R), and eventually, off of Cinemax (finally, the NC-17 one). Frankly, the way I got hooked on Showgirls was by using it as masturbation material in high school. But once I had finished, I found myself continually riveted to the screen. I ended up watching it, in its entirety, dozens of times. And it just kept getting better. By the end of high school, it was a film I loved wholeheartedly, and I was watching it on a regular basis even without prurient intent.

In July 2002, I saw it in the theater for the first time, and it was a landmark event in my life. It plays annually as part of Peaches Christ’s Midnight Mass series at the Bridge, and I’ve been nearly every year since. I don’t watch it nearly as regularly as I once did, and never just for the hell of it. I showed it to my girlfriend Erin when we got together, and I watched it right before the first time I went to Vegas, and right after the second time. I also saw it last year when it played at SF MOMA, and I caught a screening a few years ago of someone’s private print with Spanish subtitles. But even though I’m not compelled to watch it all the time, it certainly holds up in my adult life. And today I can proudly say that Showgirls is, without a doubt, my favorite movie of all time.

Nomi Malone hitchhikes to Las Vegas to find fame, and more importantly, to find herself. As she works her way up from being a stripper to being the Dancing Goddess Queen of a dazzling stage show at the Stardust, she gets more and more sucked into the slimy underbelly of the wealthy and corrupt Vegas lifestyle. At least until something terrible happens to her best friend, and she realizes it’s time to leave it all behind while she’s still got some dignity.

It’s a seedier version of a classic story, and this added seediness allows it to work equally as well whether or not you pick up on its themes of high roller corruption and soul-losing. It also allows the film to explore the territory without restriction. It is a film of excess, and this excess is on display through every aspect of the filmmaking process. The inherent sensory overload of Las Vegas is perfectly captured through overwhelmingly glitzy and glamorous cinematography and set design. The actors, aided by what is unquestionably the greatest dialogue ever written, each bring their own unique brand of terrifically campy and unconventional performances. Then it throws in elaborate semi-musical numbers, lesbianism, catfights, a revenge subplot, random vomiting, angry eating, sexy hitchhiking, people who have problems with pussy, fingernail art, seizure sex, and of course, an absurd amount of nudity.

I’ve read a number of times that the nudity in Showgirls comes so frequently and randomly that it begins to have a numbing effect, and some have even posited that this is used to make some kind of a point. I don’t buy it. I very strongly disagree that the movie is unsexy or un-erotic, and disagree even more that it is intentionally so. Some people may prefer their eroticism to be a little classier, and that’s fine I guess, but to suggest that any nudity in a Verhoeven movie is not meant to be enticing is misguided and ignorant. I’m not saying there isn’t more going on with the sex and nudity. The scene where Nomi gives Zach a $500 lapdance as Cristal watches sets up the dynamics of control and power between these three characters that remains in play for the duration of the film. I believe that Verhoeven wants it both ways. You, personally, may not be able to jerk off to Nomi miming a seizure in the infamous pool scene, and I can understand that. But I’m saying that Verhoeven probably does. And who knows? It certainly looks goofy and awkward, but what if he’s onto something? Maybe a girl did that to him once and it felt incredible. I'm tempted to try it out myself, and I figure it would either be amazing or it would literally break my dick off. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make about all the nudity is that Paul Verhoeven loves tits. And so do I. And if you also love tits, then you love this movie, and if you deny you love this movie, then you are an asshole.

What a lot of people don’t understand about this film is that it’s pure exploitation. Paul Verhoeven is, and has always been, an exploitation director. He got lucky with some bigger budgets, but his intentions are the same. He knows that audiences want to see sex and they want to see violence, and he’s not ashamed to embrace that. In fact, he’s positively delighted, which is exactly what makes him so remarkable in his gratuitous incorporation of such things, and what makes him stand out in a modern PC world. If Showgirls were made in the 70’s for a quarter of the budget, and only released to the drive-in circuit, nobody would question the quality of the acting or dialogue. The movie is setting a certain tone, and that tone is called Fun. Did you know this movie was 2 hours and 10 minutes? It’s fucking epic. But it flies right by due to the incredible pacing. It never actually feels like a quick pace, and instead utilizes perpetual excitement to keep the audience oblivious to how much time has passed. This tactic is brilliant, and is a prime example of how the finished product indeed meets the vision of the director.

No mistakes were made in the making of Showgirls. Like many other exploitation directors, Verhoeven is genuinely talented, and he knows what he’s fucking doing. He proves this not just through the pacing, or even through his many other, better-received works, but most notably, in the movie’s rape scene. It’s a brutal and traumatizing scene, by anyone’s standards. And it completely shatters the aforementioned Fun tone of every scene before it. This is why it’s important. If Showgirls had continued through the end as nothing but fluff, it would still be one of the greatest movies ever made. But with the inclusion of a shocking, disgustingly effective rape scene, Verhoeven is masterfully fucking with the audience. It’s a deliberate subversion of expectations that raises the movie to another level. And it's fucking genius.

Showgirls isn’t for everyone. It’s not for anyone with sensitive tastes. But for the casual moviegoer, and even for serious, analytical types, the only way it’s even possible to dislike this movie is if you despise the entire concept of entertainment itself. By my own sensibilities, however, as someone who loves the concept of entertainment, it’s the best movie to have ever existed. Every single frame is perfectly constructed into a deliriously entertaining masterpiece of gleeful sleaze that transcends the limits of visceral arousal that cinema had been previously thought capable of. That may sound like hyperbole, but Showgirls is so excessive that it goes beyond cinema, and thus, hyperbole would be impossible.

~02/1997: VHS
1997-98: VHS (~25 times)
04/28/99: VHS
06-07/00: VHS (2 times)
08/12/00: VHS
~08/2001: VHS
2001-04: VHS (~10 times)
07/06/02: 35mm
2003: 35mm (with Spanish subtitles)
06/23/04: DVD
07/27/04: 35mm
06/23/05: DVD
08/13/05: 35mm
07/22/06: 35mm
07/27/07: 35mm
07/05/08: 35mm
12/20/08: 35mm
08/01/09: 35mm
08/07/10: 35mm
11/19/14: Blu-ray
06/28/05: DVD (with David Schmader commentary)

Other people like this movie, too! Nearly four years ago, a group of film bloggers had a "Showgirls Blog Orgy" where they all revisited the film, and wrote their current thoughts. Nearly every single person came back with a positive review. These are my favorites of those.
Elusive Lucidity
Hell On Frisco Bay
Salon (this one, probably my favorite out of these, is not actually part of the Blog Orgy.)
Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule
Slant Magazine
The Whine-Colored Sea

Top 20 Quotes from the Movie from When Canses Were Classeled

If you were not previously a fan of this film, then congratulations on your conversion. You're welcome.
But if you already were a fan, then you have surely felt distraught over the fact that there is no Director's Commentary on the DVD. The film was so reviled and disrespected upon it's release that Verhoeven later "admitted" it was a bad movie. Obviously, he had taken all the negative criticism to heart, and I can't blame him. In a way, it would appear that he had made a bad film. It was meant to be entertaining, and people were claiming they weren't being entertained. But what did he think of his film before the press had seen it, misunderstood it, and unjustly torn it apart? There may not be a commentary, but I've got the next best thing. Before the film's release, Verhoeven chose four photographers to find inspiration on the set, and take a series of photos with the actors, and he compiled this into a coffee table book called Showgirls: Portrait of a Film. I've scanned his Introduction to the book, where he talks about everything from coming up with the story with Joe Eszterhas, to his methods of filmmaking, to what his intentions were while shooting the lapdance scene. It's an amazing and pure insight into what his motivations were at the time of shooting.

View or Download SEX, CINEMA & SHOWGIRLS by Paul Verhoeven.pdf

All of the screencaps are my own, as are about half of the GIFs. The other half came from IconzIcons on Livejournal, who made 76 of them.

Al Torres

Henrietta 'Mama' Bazoom

Cristal Connors


James Smith

Zach Carey

Nomi and Molly

Nomi and Cristal



Nomi's diet


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