the pathetic caverns - movies by title - Showgirls
eclectic reviews and opinions
1995, D & Paul Verhoeven; S: Joe Eszterhas
I recently read a transcript of a good interview -- from NPR's "Fresh Air," I think -- with John Waters, in which he asserts that irony and self-awareness have spoiled the pleasures of bad cinema.
He argues that the likes of Ed Wood (Plan 9 from Outer Space) and Hal Warren ('Manos' the Hands of Fate) never set out to make movies that were campy or "so bad they were good" -- that they were just making the best films they could within the constraints of their budgets, schedules, and talents (and within the context, usually, of trying to make a quick buck).
Whereas when the likes of Quentin Tarantino (or Waters himself, as he acknowledges) plunder the B-movie libraries, there's a self-consciousness and a critical distance from the film on the part of its own makers. A movie like Mars Attacks! can't ever be as purely bad, because it's designed to be bad. We're always meant to be laughing at the picture, not with it, so often we just don't laugh at all.
Waters has a point, but fortunately, there are still exceptions that prove the rule. People have been telling me for nearly 10 years how bad Showgirls is, and I never quite believed them, until now. It's one of the most incredibly misbegotten trainwrecks of a movie I've ever seen, and it's blissfully devoid of irony.
Elizabeth Berkley is shudderingly bad in the lead role as the sociopathic wannabe Vegas dancer, Nomi Malone. She's so wooden that I was half-expecting a twist ending that revealed that she was a murderous shape-changing alien in human disguise. (One of the film's many, many flaws is that it repeatedly asks us to believe that her speedfreak bump-and-grind somehow qualifies as "good" dancing.)
The script is chock ablock with unintentionally hilarious dialogue. It's so dense with assorted minority slurs and stereotyped characters that it seems to hail from an era before any whisper of "political correctness." (At one point I started keeping a mental list of groups that hadn't been insulted. If there was anything specifically offensive either to Jews or Muslims, I missed it.) It probably goes without saying that Showgirls is unremittingly exploitive of women, but it might also be worth noting that its many minutes of nudity constitute some of the most thoroughly unerotic displays this side of a Peter Greenaway movie.
The film bears an NC-17 rating, which more-or-less puts it in the porn ghetto -- but honestly, most major studio porn productions probably have better scripts. And acting. And, uh, more "class."
The original DVD release claims to include a "Making of" featurette; it's really just a 5-minute advertisement with clips from the film spliced with soundbyte quotes from the principals and about a minute of on-set footage. Nothing essential.
Dept. of Unironic Irony:
Update: while I was penning the above, the studio was already preparing the DVD "VIP" edition for shipment, which includes commemorative shotglasses, a drinking game, a strip tease tutorial, and a reportedly merciless commentary track by Seattle-based writer David Schmader (who has been leading sold-out audiences through "Rocky Horror"-style eviscerations of the movie). So United Artists is now actually selling the film as excruciatingly bad. Modern technology has seamlessly grafted on an ironic layer not present in the original release ... someone page Alanis Morrisette!
Bad reviewer! Bad!
It wasn't fair of me to describe Schmader's commentary as Rocky Horror (or MS3TK)-like before I actually listened to it. There are some talking-back-to-the-screen quips, but Schmader's relationship with the film is far more complex than mere mockery; what he conveys, more than anything else, is his deep and abiding love of the film, in all its glorious awfulness -- or awefulness, take your pick. Anyway, the commentary is completley engaging, and even surprisingly touching.
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