Wednesday, January 11, 2006

All About Evil: Verhoeven's 'Showgirls'

(On the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of the Dutch release of Showgirls, there's a Showgirls Blog Orgy going on in the blogosphere to which I signed up to. This piece is in appreciation of the film).

Would it be too presumptuous to say Showgirls grows on you? And not merely "grows" as in being semi-infatuated by its subtleties and eccentricities (which it has in spades) so as to develop a strange urge to watch it all over again right after Siouxsie and the Banshees comes up on the soundtrack signalling the end titles, but really, exponentially free-wheeling with every subsequent viewing from unquestioned trash to mindless, campy fun to a frequently ingenious, insanely lush, even endearingly earnest satire of an institution (i.e., Hollywood) we all love and love to hate . Well, at least that's my experience with the film, which I'm convinced is Verhoeven's best American work (Jacques Rivette certainly agrees).

So what is it about the beast which inspires this surge in appreciation? Nothing has really changed in the film itself - the hyperbolic, animalistic performances (especially that of Elizabeth Berkley as wannabe-dancer - uh, I mean "Dancer!" - Nomi Malone), the garish set and costumes, the gratuitous nudity, Joe Eszterhas' name on the credits, the exaggerated everything-else, has remained the same with every viewing. Perhaps, the downright unpleasantness and de-eroticization of it all becomes so pronounced with successive viewings that spectators start to look at other things besides just tits and asses. Like the creeepy series of repetitions running wild in the film: the two sabotage attempts which occur around the Stardust stage, the actual performances of 'Goddess' with its shifting central 'star', the same post-performance party praises, the mutable roles of sadist and masochist between Nomi Malone and Cristal Connors, and most importantly, Nomi's uncoincidental second meeting with the guy who actually brought her to Vegas, are all traditional attempts at introducing symmetry and propelling its simple, fable-like mode of storytelling.

Then there is the presentation of the film as a purely visual spectacle - from the performances (both on- and off-stage) to the vibrant colour scheme of reds, purples, and yellows, from its unbridled celebration of the female form to it coming merely inches from becoming an unfulfilled Arcadian fantasy. Would we have the same violent swimming pool sex scene (during which Bruno Dumont was probably taking notes) if Berkley was kept in-the-know regarding the film's satirical nature? That her performance is so achingly honest, so unwittingly over-the-top, compared to Gershon's more knowing portrayal (that is one for the ages, by the way), is evidence of the real-life struggle of an actress desperate to make it in a big Hollywood movie, in a brilliant (if ultimately tragic) casting move by Verhoeven. In any case, and with all its imperfections, self-consciousness, insane quotability, and baroque, hellish film-isms, this is a film to come back to, and rediscover the magic and bite which somehow never really got noticed in the neon haze of Las Vegas, and the blinding fleshy tones of its whores.

For further evidence of the film's awesomeness, I point you to Eric Henderson's write-up on the film, which is as good as the show. Also, the Anniversary posts as they are linked to over at Girish's.


Blogger Eric Henderson said...

You are too kind, MA.

Great parallel with the films of Bruno Dumont, by the way. And, with regard to symmetry, it would be great if even half of the cinephiliac population loved Showgirls to match up with the dissenters. (Well, today might've given off the impression that the balance is actually skewed the opposite direction.)

1:21 AM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

'Twas a good day, and heaven knows the dreams tonight are going to be even better.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

I'll echo a sentiment: your excellent 'Dumont taking notes' observation helps illuminate something about both Showgirls and Twentynine Palms ...

2:55 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Zach, Twentynine Palms was the film I had in mind when I mentioned Dumont, but I didn't expand on it because it's been way too long since I've seen it. There are major differences between the two films of course, but they do have some eerie parallels (besides the wild swimming pool fucking, which was what initiated me to link the two films in the first place). Both films were made by European directors on American soil about (among other things) American cinema (Palms perhaps more obviously so, what with its post-9/11 take on Psycho and Deliverance), both play with the close cinematic association between sex and violence (not to mention audience reaction, as so many other Showgirls lovers have already explained) in pretty brutal rape scenes, which bring certain tonal changes in the narrative... Actually, I feel like revisiting Twentynine Palms now to certify the comparison.

6:37 AM  
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