I can sort of understand why your opinion changed, but, let’s forget about what Verhoeven has said for a moment—do you think that the film can’t be read as satire and campy fun?
As soon as Caine loses his physical presence, who he is begins to change. The code that governs human conduct dissipates, and morality deteriorates. Verhoeven sees our morality as tied to our physical presence, our shame. As soon as his physical presence is lost, so is his humanity.
This is a rather astute observation, and speaking for myself, I too liked Hollow Man, even if the director himself felt disappointed with the final product.
As for Showgirls…
It may well have been intended as satire, but just because it’s intended as satire, that doesn’t mean that the satire works. JOKS is correct, as a satire, it has no teeth. It’s the same as Hedwig and the Angry Inch, another pile of would-be-superstar-trying-to-make-it-big trash. Hedwig is intended as comedy but attempted humour is not the same as actual humour.
In any event, I don’t think the film is as intentionally funny as some people make out. And I do recall a couple of bits that were meant to be funny (er, I think). But in any event, both were pretty lame. For starters, the bit where the young fellow inserts a digit inside Nomi Malone (nothing clever about that name, by the way) and finds out she really is having her period was just stupid. Also, the bit where Nomi says she used to eat dog food as a kid…I mean, if that was meant to be funny, please.
I’m also pretty short-fused when it comes to the constant harping on about men seeing women as sex objects—this banter invariably coming from (a) gay men who have no idea how the heterosexual male reflex works and (b) uptight women who also known nothing about how the heterosexual male reflex works. Honestly, nobody would think that gay men see other men as sex objects or that women aren’t guilty of this “crime” themselves. The difference between men and women (and I’m speaking broadly here) is that sex for men is normally the end itself, whereas women who sleep with men are typically doing so as a means to an end (and I am speaking in terms of casual sexual encounters, so please do not misinterpret what I say and spare me your hissy fits).
Also, Showgirls was NEVER a go-to movie for guys to oggle some ta-tas. Get real, Douglas. There are plenty of other films with more female nudity on display that are less “obvious” than Showgirls. Besides, we’re not as desperate as you make us out to be.
I do feel bad for Elizabeth Berkley.
Perhaps not a great actress (will we ever know?), but I cannot fathom why Hollywood did not give her a second chance. She was written off as a dramatic performer after Showgirls and maybe that was justified to an extent, but drama is not the be-all and end-all of films and maybe her talents for cinema were elsewhere.
I cannot understand why Nicole Kidman is the “sexy redhead” of choice in the cinematic world when she is (a) so widely reviled as a poor actress and (b) has such poor return at the box office given the amount of money she makes (low end of eight figures per film).
Liz Berkley would be a far better choice because at least she has the notoriety of being “that chick from Showgirls” (I think people would get genuinely curious about that) and you wouldn’t have to spend as much money to secure her services, so the net made on your movie would be much higher than it would be with that Kidman woman involved. So many people rant about the highest grossing Hollywood films but this totally ignore the net money made. And a lot of so-called “guaranteed money” actresses have proven not always be reliable at the box office. Hence one couldn’t do that badly by giving someone like Liz Berkley a role in a film and seeing what happens. I think people are more drawn to the idea about a film rather than its stars, anyway. A B-list actress in an interesting film is always better than an A-lister squandered in an inferior idea. A lot of my Favourite Movies do not feature the most famous of the famous, but to me it’s the film as a whole that matters.
Satire comes in different ways in cinema. It can be a comedy adressing the problems in funny way, and realism showing problem in hyperbolic way. Also good films never stick to one genre, and have mix of comedy, drama, romance and even thriller sometimes (examples: Thelma and Loise, Bitter moon and other Polanski films, Tarantino and Rodriguez films, especially Kill Bill; Mr Ripley films etc ). Showgirls is the satire with hyperbolic realism, and not a comedy.
The shocking side of the film is not a twisted moral values of narrators like in Tarantino movies, or outrageous story like in Night Porter, but an accurate account of things which conservative public does not want to talk about. The episode with a period is a best example. Woman have periods, we all know it, but more conservative people don’t like to talk about it. It is not funny or tragic, it is just fact of life. Manipulative but unsecure woman also often use "I have a period argument to deny sex to the predatory seducers-we know that either. This is a real life episode, natural and simple, but we don’t see it in the films. I think Showgirls is one of the few non pornographic films, where the female character is having period onscreen and this even changes a pattern of the plot. Some more conservative people, who are used to certain limits in what can and what can’t be shown onscreen were obviousley offended like hell. Especially given the interracial ature of this sex scene.
Same for the idea of seeing woman as sex objects.First of all it is utrue that according to Showgirls man see woman as sex objects. According to films all people see each other as sex objects, and this is a key factors in ones pursuit of happyness, for whatever it is. There is strong lesbian tie between major female characters, which is a key to the whole plot. Once again it also possibly irritated the homophobic portion of audience. There are of course films where contravercial aspects of life are shown just for a sake of provocation, but in showgirls each thing would it be period, lesbian relations, trading own body for success is intergated in the plot and is essential to films development.
Same for dog food story-in this moment we, once again are hinted that there is something wrong with a protagonist. Later on where her true life story is revealed we understand why she was doing it. There is nothing funny about it, it si just plain to your face realism. And yes runaways from violent families eat dog food, sleep on the street and often take drugs-it is also fact of life. No surprise that some people hated it. After all there are some people out there who deny that woman are capable of orgazm at all. What was a cruelty of Verhouven, is to throuw this film into merciless jungle of box ofice instead of trying it at the festivals in Europe first. European audence loves well crafted movies with twisted or even negative morals and he’d deifinetely take home some awards, this making American critics less agressive, and eventually saving Elizabeth Berkey’s careere..
The scandal at American market helped commercial success (as you know film was box office failure, but is now one of the 20 all time bestselling films on home video); but ruined the reputation of less scandal-immune portion of it’s cast. She has a reasons to hate him for that.
“It may well have been intended as satire, but just because it’s intended as satire, that doesn’t mean that the satire works. "
Sure, but people get a kick out of going against the grain, esp when it’s a director they happen to like.
I used to enjoy doing that too, but it’s a mug’s game imo.
it amazes me that people think Berkley gave a great performance in this film. That they can say it with a straight face too. because to me that performance is about as close to objectively bad as acting can possibly get in a mainstream film production. It’s one step above porno acting. That may have been the intention, but what’s the point?
that sex scene in the jacuzzi is one of the most laughable things i ever saw on the big screen. and i agree with whoever said the film comes off as misanthropic.
as for Hollow Man, the idea of linking ‘presence’ with ‘morality’ is not unique to that film. it was also in the Whale version too. The only thing that distinguishes Hollow Man from previous takes on the concept is its nastiness, which isn’t surprising given it’s Verhoeven we are talking about.
Elizabeth Berkley’s performance in this film is, as much as it pains me to say it, quite dreadful. I also dispute very much the “fact” that it’s one of the top 20 highest selling videos ever. Especially given that it’s only been out on video 15 years. To me, that’s not enough time to catch up to all the others. Also, the fact that this film promised so much T and A yet flopped at the box office—word of mouth is a powerful thing and obviously lots of folks were saying how lousy it was and not even plenty of naked broads could save it. It hasn’t even become a cult hit with lesbians despite its copious amounts of sapphic activity—and trust me, lesbians (and I make no apologies for saying this) have a long-standing habit of claiming even slightly-dykey movies rejected by the mainstream as “their own” (cases in point: “Run Lola Run” and “Tank Girl”…these films are not “popular mainstream classics” but have been adopted as “lesbian classics” by gay women, merely because each features a protagonist who kinda LOOKS gay, which is actually rather stupid when you think about it—it actually just re-enforces shallow stereotypes about women and homosexuality—and if that wasn’t enough, they had to do a lesbian remake of “Run Lola Run” because dammit, Lola should never have been messing around with a dude in the first place, but I digress). The fact that NOBODY, not even the lesbian community, have claimed Showgirls as one of “their” movies ought to tell you how rotten it is. It’s a piece of shit that not even they shall touch.
This is exciting. I admire Wanderer’s guts.
One of cinema’s most colossal train wrecks.
Showgirls is a T+A movie. Nothing to misunderstand there.
Once again people who object hate the " Homo homini lupus est " concept of the film, not the cinematography of it.
I am also amused that some people argue that hyperbolic criticism of show biznes wasn’t diretors intention.
What do you think was an intention then?
Shooting a movie about country girls struggle for success in show business and finding her prince charming?
Goodbye Las Vegas.
Next stop, Hollywood.
Yeah, that last shot is telling.
I feel this Eric Henderson essay from page one needs to be reposted:
“Gleefully inspiring audiences everywhere to challenge conventional definitions of “good” and “bad” cinema, Showgirls is undoubtedly the think-piece object d’art of its time. It is Paul Verhoeven and Joe Eszterhas’s audaciously experimental satire-but-not-satire, an epically mounted “white melodrama” (to borrow Tag Gallagher’s description of Sirk’s early, less mannered, and more overtly humanistic comedies of error) and also one of the most astringent, least compromised critiques of the Dream Factory ever unleashed on a frustrated, perpetually (and ideologically) pre-cum audience. Many things to many people, and absolutely nothing to a great deal more, Showgirls’ proponents and detractors still square off, digging nine-foot trenches in the sand (some planting their heads therein instead of their feet) and lobbing accusations of elitism and anti-pleasure. It is perhaps one of the only films to bridge that critical gap between Film Quarterly (which hosted a beyond extensive critical roundtable on the film last year) and Joe Bob Briggs. It is a film that will continue to bend brains and drain dicks long after the golf-clap (and Clap-free) cinematic “excellence” of your Jane Austen bastardization of choice is long dismissed. It is the very definition of the term “essential.”
Okay, I’d probably be a lot more worried about the possibility that I’m overselling Showgirls if it wasn’t already patently clear that most people have already closed themselves off to the pleasures the film has to offer. Unimpressed that Joe Eszterhas cribbed copiously from All About Eve and 42nd Street, viewers don’t even stop to address the notion that he and Paul Verhoeven—who most of the auteurist crowd have given a pass to by this point, but it doesn’t matter because Showgirls exists outside of and beyond auteurism—are directly commenting on these “Star is Born” pipe dreams and their culpability in force-feeding the American Dream to an audience of pop junkies. (I’d love them to try to digest the notion that a third major influence is Jean Renoir’s French Cancan.) Showgirls establishes its structural patterns so quickly that it seems ludicrous that one could spend more than 10 minutes ruminating on the obvious narrative parallels. Nomi Malone, an aspiring bon vivant and full-time cheeseburger consumer, arrives in Las Vegas with dreams of stardom. Her hitch-hikeé distracts her with casino tokens and the promise of a job interview before running off with her luggage. (Actually, the blunt cut between Nomi celebrating her beginner’s luck at the slots and her inevitable crap-out is definitive of the film’s high-low mood.)
From there on, Nomi rides the roller-coaster of ambition and success as she climbs the ladder of showgirl notoriety, moving from the sleazy, low-rent Cheetah club (which the film depicts as squalid but honest) to the Taj Mahal of the Miracle Mile, the Stardust and its sensational “Goddess” floor show. But to get her name in lights, she’ll have to lie and/or backstab everyone she meets: Molly, the sweet girl who discovers Nomi vomiting in the street after having her luggage stolen; James, the club bouncer who recognizes Nomi’s burning “talent”; and, ultimately, Cristal Connors, Vegas legend the current “Goddess” headliner. As quickly as Eszterhas introduces characters, Verhoeven introduces generic devices and archetypes: sexhibition, backstage musical, screwball farce, self-actualization melodrama, diva worship. The constant push-pull effect of mixing genres, tonal shifts and paradoxes in the name of political incorrectness masks some of Verhoeven’s most sincere directorial choices. Showgirls is a catalogue of professional, cinematic grace notes. The song Nomi dances to at the Cheetah that entices Cristal for the first time is Prince’s “319,” which turns out to be the number of Cristal’s hospital room late in the film (the tables have turned, but the seduction is still ongoing). At the beginning of the film, it’s Halloween and an utterly down-and-out and French-fry-tossing Nomi is sans costume (read: identity). When Nomi steps outside after her first night as a member of the “Goddess” dance troupe, literally reborn as a woman in charge of her destiny, it’s unsurprising to see that it’s Christmas in Las Vegas.
Verhoeven’s unheralded earnestness (the same that undoubtedly inspired him to personally accept his Razzie for Worst Director) also applies to his canny casting perception. Everyone pays lip service to how “ironic” it was for Verhoeven to cast Saved by the Bell’s Jessie Spano in the very physical role of a seemingly bipolar hooker-cum-dancer. This admittedly fabulous stunt casting ends up leading most to shortchange Berkley’s equally internal portrayal of Nomi’s transformation from fallen woman to, well, re-fallen woman (see the evil, lowered-eyelid geisha shtick she develops). On the other hand, no one ever seems to comment on how perfectly Gina Gershon was cast as her brash, Bette Davis rival and how she embodies her role in an entirely forthright, non-snarky manner. Gershon’s blousy performance is miraculous, one element from which even Showgirls’ biggest detractors can all find some worth. Like Berkley, Gershon acts with her entire body, but exudes a certain comfort within her own frame that Berkley, with her thick lower half and puckered nipple buds, clearly envies to the point of full-on imitation. Gershon’s cockeyed grin is, in its own special way, every bit as luridly indecent as every last bare breast. And her centipede-leg-perfect wave of the hand and husky-voiced “I’ll think about it” brusqueness turns the scene where she compares her nails with Nomi’s into a galvanizing chamber drama, the culmination of Nomi and Cristal’s ongoing power struggles. Likewise, Verhoeven stocks the rest of his cast with actors who embody their roles fully and embrace their prototypes: Ungela Brockman as the volatile, standoffish showgirl Annie; Lin Tucci as the vaudevillian Henrietta with the jack-in-the-box bosom; and especially Patrick Bristow as the albino, nebbishly queeny choreographer Marty.
Even those who are willing to look at Showgirls without falling back on espousing its patently obvious camp charms (which need no defense from us, so go ahead and insert your favorite Eszterhas couplet of choice here) end up acknowledging that the film is an outlandish, albeit obvious, satire of Hollywood/America. (“In America, everyone’s a gynecologist!”) It’s not necessarily an incorrect stance to take toward the movie, but it doesn’t fly too well with those who only see Verhoeven and Eszterhas as getting the rocks in their collective sac off, as opposed to the ones in their collective head. There is, of course, more going for the movie than splashy sadism and contempt. The filmmakers’ real target isn’t Hollywood or American crassness in and of themselves, but rather the morally bankrupt “Star is Born” tales. The film’s vulgarity isn’t reflected in its anarchic rejection of the rules of cinematic good taste because it’s making the claim that it’s those very rules that are corrupt and ideologically facile. Offended critics (to reference Adrian Martin’s wonderful essay that opens with a Showgirls example) are reacting not to the fact that they’ve been punished for wanting titties (after all, the titties are there and they are spectacular), but that they’re being more slyly punished for wanting Nomi to succeed (or fail, as the case were) specifically because it will fulfill their preconceived notions of the archetypes of wish fulfillment.
Anyone who’s found their “in” with the film by means of settling for the pungent sexuality of its cast and its equally voluptuous cinematography (Showgirls rivals Suspiria for sheer, eye-popping color rush) or enjoying the film for its unabated “badness” inevitably reaches an impasse once Eszterhas reminds hedonists of the existence of rape. When Molly, Nomi’s second banana, meets her rock star sexual fantasy (earlier in the film she squealingly strokes his billboard image and jokes about not being able to hold a needle straight from how many times she’s masturbated thinking of him) and follows him into his hotel room and the gang bang waiting inside, it’s a rude interruption for those who haven’t managed to work up any empathy for anyone in the film up to that point. The scene is suitably horrifying, doubly so considering it’s the moment that she realizes her own fault in creating a sexual fantasy that can’t exist in a shitty star-struck caste system in which she’s nothing more than a seamstress. (Lars von Trier only wishes he could dream up a rape scenario with as much political and psychosexual mindfuckitude.) What is even more problematic is the porny vigilante sequence that follows, because it asks us to accept a very contradictory set of terms of engagement: (a) that Nomi uses the fantasy structures of Las Vegas royalty (already clearly defined as corrupt) to exact a tidy, “let the punishment fit the crime” revenge, and (b) that her experience, her win ends up validating that corruption, simply by virtue that she succeeded in gaining the upper hand.
But not so fast. Verhoeven and Eszterhas use this sequence, what with Berkley’s pussy-who-swallowed-the-canary smirk of satisfaction, as the means by which to set up the final scene’s “punchline,” where we learn that Nomi hasn’t learned a thing at all. This ending, by the way, strikes me in the same way as the finale to A.I. in how their tonal discord lead viewers who aren’t emotionally invested in the films down the absolute wrong path. It’s not “funny” that Nomi is going to make the same mistakes all over again. It’s crushing that despite the fact that the Myth has been revealed time and time again for the ugly bastard it is, she is still seduced by it after the small shred of “victory” she attains. When Rena Riffel (so good-natured and winningly ditzy as the Cheetah’s new girl “Penny”) showed up in David Lynch’s La-La Land masterpiece of female martyrdom, Mulholland Drive, it was almost as heartbreaking to see her portray a strung out, worn out shell of used sex appeal, the logical outcome of Penny’s character arc; and Lynch seemed to cunningly use her iconography to channel some of the Elizabeth Berkley mystique. (That Berkley’s career had to—make that needed to—fail in order to lay the groundwork for Showgirls to be “reborn” as a camp classic is undoubtedly one of the most damning pieces of evidence in the case for holding the film’s subsequent audience in contempt.) Just as the coda of A.I. mistakenly led people to believe Spielberg was rejecting Kubrick’s penchant for pessimism in favor of suburban bliss, the zinger at the end of Showgirls was read by far too many viewers as an absolution of their own culpability in sealing Nomi’s dire fate. As a result, the film is now often celebrated for its campy excesses, but unfortunately not as widely celebrated for what seems a very clear, conventional, and humanistic sensibility.
Ultimately, Showgirls is one of the most honest satires of recent years because, as Noël Burch wrote in the aforementioned FQ roundtable, it “takes mass culture seriously, as a site of both fascination and struggle. And it takes despised melodrama seriously too, as indeed an excellent vehicle for social criticism.” Unfortunately, the critical and public brickbats thrown at Showgirls (to say nothing of the hosannas foisted upon those concurrent Austen travesties) demonstrates that most prefer satire when it’s dealing with the distant past to the extent that one can feel morally superior to the subject of ridicule without recognizing oneself in the mix. I can’t decide whether it’s a sad comment on the vapidity of pop culture or merely a reflection of business-as-usual that VH1’s “I Love the ’90s” series studiously ignored including the film in its year-by-year roundup (it certainly inspired as big a shitstorm as the Snapple Lady, for God’s sake). But it’s an understandable omission, since Showgirls is truly one of the only ‘90s films that treats pop culture as a vibrant field of social economics and cerebral pursuit, and not merely tomorrow’s nostalgia-masturbation fodder. "
About Showgirls- How come most of those women look like trannies?
“Once again people who object hate the " Homo homini lupus est " concept of the film, not the cinematography of it."
So that’s the only aspect of film making we ought to be concerned with then?
“Unfortunately, the critical and public brickbats thrown at Showgirls (to say nothing of the hosannas foisted upon those concurrent Austen travesties) demonstrates that most prefer satire when it’s dealing with the distant past to the extent that one can feel morally superior to the subject of ridicule without recognizing oneself in the mix.”
I guess when you have your head so far up in the clouds reality doesn’t matter anymore does it?
Matt’s Lebowski opinion video would fit here.
If this thread continues, it’s not going to be too long before someone offers a fresh critique on “Smokey and the Bandit: Part 2,” arguing that it insidiously subverts Hollywood’s usual law and order paradigm, that director Hal Needham isn’t just employing stereotypes, but deconstructing them, as well as paying a kind of backhanded homage to Susan Sontag, Ozu and Bresson, etc., etc…
“If this thread continues, it’s not going to be too long before someone offers a fresh critique on “Smokey and the Bandit: Part 2,” arguing that it insidiously subverts Hollywood’s usual law and order paradigm, that director Hal Needham isn’t just employing stereotypes, but deconstructing them, as well as paying a kind of backhanded homage to Susan Sontag, Ozu and Bresson, etc., etc…”
Frankly, I think you guys do yourselves a disservice by making statements like this. Argue specifically about the film, its elements. I like good discussion about the film, not whether or not we should.
Man, this feels like an endless cycle.
Douglas Reese is gone, deleted his account.
Seems that if you add a bit o’ T&A to old Hollywood tropes, they become profound or something.
JACK: yeah, because this comment is so about the film isn’t it:
““Unfortunately, the critical and public brickbats thrown at Showgirls (to say nothing of the hosannas foisted upon those concurrent Austen travesties) demonstrates that most prefer satire when it’s dealing with the distant past to the extent that one can feel morally superior to the subject of ridicule without recognizing oneself in the mix.”
^^anyone that thinks that is a reason Showgirls wasn’t accepted by audiences is a moron, straight up. I don’t care how well they ‘write’(and intellectual justifications do not automatically validate a film, contrary to what many think on here and elsewhere). If anything, exercises like this are profoundly anti-intellectual.
Taking one quote from the essay isn’t a particularly effective argument Joks.
Jesus, your collective indignation is deafening. I almost regret getting involved. No one ever actually talks about the film.
Thank you good sir!
“…intellectual justifications do not automatically validate a film, contrary to what many think on here and elsewhere…”
True. And keep in mind, it’s not at all unusual for a director to say “It’s satire!” after straight, serious marketing fails. It’s like when someone makes an inappropriate comment at a party and then tries to recover by saying “I’m kidding.”
Or like when Pee Wee Herman falls off his bike and says “I meant to do that.”
Whether it was intended as a satire (or, more likely, a quick buck) doesn’t matter if the film’s no good, especially one like “Showgirls” where the subject matter satirizes itself. You can’t satirize something no one takes seriously to begin with.
“Whether it was intended as a satire (or, more likely, a quick buck) doesn’t matter if the film’s no good, especially one like “Showgirls” where the subject matter satirizes itself. You can’t satirize something no one takes seriously to begin with.”
It’s satirizing America. I hope to god people take that seriously.
Or maybe it’s satirizing people who read too much into crap.
A pithy retort isn’t an argument.
Take apart Henderson’s essay (and not just one quote from it). I will, I promise, consider your arguments against his points.
Obviously, Jack, I’m not approaching this silly movie from the point of view that it is in any way deserving of an “argument.” It’s lousiness is self-evident.
I’ll sign off now, and see if more people who want to discuss the film are on later.