Thursday, November 15, 2012


Philosophically speaking, if the bad times in our lives help us to better appreciate the good; perhaps bad movies work the same way. Watching a staggeringly inept, epically-bad film like Showgirls really makes me aware of all the things I take for granted when I watch a movie. Things like coherence, consistency, believable characters, understandable motivations, or even human-sounding dialog. There's not a lot of good that can be said about Showgirls, except maybe that it's possessed of an uncanny ability to make most any other film, by comparison, look like Citizen Kane.

I recall how Showgirls was released to a lot of hoopla and self-aggrandizing fanfare back in 1995. Director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (perpetrators of 1992’s Basic Instinct) were promising to deliver to the world a gritty and boob-filled update of All About Eve set in the "glamorous" world of Las Vegas showgirls. It was to be an NC-17 backstage musical that held the promise of doing for pasties and g-strings, what Singin’ in the Rain did for umbrellas.

Of course, when Showgirls ultimately did hit the theaters, audiences found themselves more shocked by the film’s overarching vulgarity and incompetence than by its sexual explicitness; the latter tending to incite giggles more than arousal. The $45-million film tanked at the boxoffice and virtually overnight, Showgirls became a “Bad Films We Love” cult favorite. In one fell swoop, a single misguided movie waylaid careers, reputations, and legitimacy. Investors lost their shirts (appropriately enough) and hopes were dashed, but fans of craptastic camp cinema were thrown the biggest and most riotously silly chunk of cheese since Faye Dunaway had them rolling in the aisles with: "Barbra, PLEASE! PLEASE, Barbara! Leave us alone, Barbara! If you need anything, ask Carol Ann!"
I am a huge, huge fan of Showgirls -- a  fact that doesn't cloud my awareness that it is also, in every significant detail, an almost irredeemably terrible film. And no amount of revisionist Beyond the Valley of the Dolls /The Room 11th-hour damage control (“It’s a satire! It’s supposed to be bad!”) could ever convince me otherwise.

But Showgirls is so loopy and over-the-top in its attempts to be daring and sexy that watching it winds up being quite a lot of good, mean-spirited fun. Its desire to really be "about" something is almost touching in its naivete. And it's certainly more watchable than a great many more competently-made motion pictures. I never know just why it is that some bad films are ones you can barely sit all the way through, while others, every bit as bad, are entertaining as hell and become lifetime favorites you can watch again and again.
Whatever the reason, Showgirls has been a so-bad-it's-good favorite of mine since the year it was released, and no matter how many times I see it, I keep finding new atrocities to gasp and delight in. It's a perfect storm of blessed dreadfulness.
Elizabeth Berkley as Nomi Malone / Polly Ann Costello
"I used to love Doggy Chow, too!"
Gina Gershon as Cristal Connors
"You are a whore, darlin'!"
Gina Ravera as Molly Abrams
"I can barely thread a needle!"
Kyle McLachlan as Zack Carey
"Nomi's got heat!"
Glenn Plummer as James Smith
"I have a problem with pussy!"
 *(The exclamation points are my own because dialog this ridiculous fairly demands them. Seriously folks, Eszterhas was paid upwards of $2 million for this stuff.)

As Showgirls is set in Las Vegas (the Las Vegas of Joe Eszterhas’exceedingly puerile imagination, anyway), let me take a moment to talk about gambling. The business of making movies is always a gamble. No matter the genre, subject matter, or star, when it comes to knowing how the public is going to respond to a film, screenwriter William Goldman’s famous “Nobody knows anything” quote is still the law of the land. I suspect that one of the chief reasons there was so much anticipation surrounding Showgirls' release, and why the nearly-unanimous negative public response caught the filmmakers so off guard, was because...from a purely marketing standpoint...Verhoeven and Eszterhas appeared to have had such a sure thing on their hands. Sex, violence, nudity, strippers...they must have thought it was a slam-dunk.  
Run, Nomi, Run!
I have a theory that the crazy-eyed casino change-girl (Jean Barrett) Nomi encounters when she has her first (and only) stroke of luck in Vegas is actually a Nicholas Cage-like harbinger of evil.
Showgirls was essentially being peddled as Flashdance meets Basic Instinct (two massive boxoffice hits, both penned by Eszterhas). Hollywood, a town that lives by the motto: "If they liked it once, they'll love it twice," was more than happy to pump millions into a project that promised to deliver all of the most marketable elements of those films, only bigger, louder, gaudier - and a lot more naked- plus, music by Prince!
"Fucker! Fuck off!"
Reasoning perhaps that if one crass, misogynist male fantasy can produce a blockbuster, there should be no earthly reason for an even crasser, more sexually-explicit misogynist male fantasy not to do even bigger business; Basic Instinct's non-dynamic duo of Verhoeven and  Eszterhas were reassembled and given carte blanche to create the most expensive, sexually graphic, mainstream motion picture ever made. And of course, the rest is history...or, more accurately, infamy.
Yes Sir, I Can Boogie

To the chagrin of trash movie fans the world over, changing tastes and the decline of the Hollywood studio system sounded the death-knell for a certain kind of bad film. This once-plentiful genus of awful had once proved a reliable source of cult-worthy camp, but began to disappear with the youth-oriented 60s. I speak of the overheated, overproduced, self-important melodrama. Those high-gloss soap operas made by Douglas Sirk, Ross Hunter, or Joesph E. Levine starring lacquered starlets and lantern-jawed heroes. These films boastfully paraded their pretensions and allusions to loftier purpose while erroneously labeling their crass, commercial vulgarism as glamour and high style. Invariably, upon release, these films were branded instant laughingstocks due to the ofttimes jarring discrepancy between intent and execution.
I must have missed that musical where Ann Miller tells June Allyson she likes having nice tits 
"Showgirls is a throwback to movies in the '40s while combining Bob Fosse and a twist of the Marquis de Sade," said a touchingly delusional Elizabeth Berkley in a 1995 interview.
In my personal roster of the best of the worst, The Oscar (1966) and Valley of the Dolls (1967) signify the apex of the nadir of the 60s. For the 70s, nothing can touch Lost Horizon (1973) for blissful wrongheadedness; and in the 80s, the notorious Mommie Dearest (1981) has to be the gold standard.
Checking out the Competition
All too often Showgirls feels like a film made by men who have never had a conversation with a woman that didn't start with "How much?" or "You're not a cop, are you?"

By the 90s, as mainstream movies settled into a kind of uniform, bland mediocrity born of trying to reach as broad a demographic as possible, I thought the age of the so-bad-it’s-good fiasco had passed. Well, thank God for Showgirls! A grandiose grotesquerie that made even a jaded, seen-it-all, trash-addict like me sit up and take notice. Fully deserving of all the critical brickbats and backhanded compliments hurled its way since its release, the astonishing thing about Showgirls’ unique brand of terrible is that it is entertaining as hell. Not even one minute of the film is ever less than a demoralizing humiliation for all involved, yet unlike other cult classics that suffer from the occasional lag in pacing (Sextette, Myra Breckinridge, Can’t Stop the Music) Showgirls mines a vein of profound godawfulness that pays consistent dividends. There's never a dull moment!
An equal opportunity offender, Showgirls makes galling use of the "Magical Negro" stereotype in the character of Molly, Nomi's ridiculously selfless and self-sacrificing friend, confidante, and 'round-the-clock rescuer

I recently watched Goodbye, Columbus and The Last Picture Show and found myself struck by how clearly protective and watchful the directors of those films (Larry Peerce and Peter Bogdanovich, respectively) were in shaping the remarkable screen debuts of their novice stars (former models, neither Ali MacGraw nor Cybill Shepherd had ever acted before). Alas, after watching Showgirls, it becomes equally obvious that the same can't be said for Paul Verhoeven's direction of Elizabeth Berkley.
Switchblade Sister
With nearly ten years of television experience behind her by the time she made Showgirls (most notably, Saved by the Bell), Elizabeth Berkley is far from being a novice, but she's certainly not what anyone would call an actress. Giving a frenetically undisciplined performance better suited to a Russ Meyer movie, the very game Berkeley (perhaps too game, in retrospect) would have benefited greatly from some real guidance in modulating her emotive intensity, and was in dire need of a director more determined to show her off to her best advantage and less dedicated to shining a spotlight on her shortcomings. Berkley's 100% commitment to each scene is more embarrassing than laudable, and it's hard to think of someone as red-hot sexy when you feel sorry for them.
Attempting perhaps to pay homage to that weird scene in the 1981 musical, Pennies from Heaven where Steve Martin bullies wife Jessica Harper into indulging his fantasy of having her apply lipstick to her nipples, Showgirls inexplicably has Nomi go through the same ritual just prior to opening up a jumbo-sized can of whoop-ass on heartthrob/rapist Andrew Carver

On the other hand, Gina Gershon as Cristal, the Texas Tassel Twirler, fares much better. She plays Cristal as if she were a drag queen, which proves to be an insight into character wholly appropriate to the depth of Eszterhas' script. Although a considerable amount of her performance seems centered around her rather dangerous-looking mouth (I'm reminded of how Joan Collins was always biting into something [or someone] for evil emphasis on Dynasty), and the script conspires to make her and every other woman in the cast look as foolish as possible at all times; Gershon nevertheless is an exceptionally fun and campy villain and is, throughout, consistently better than the material she's given.  It's almost impossible not to go around calling everybody "darlin'" for a day or two after seeing her in Showgirls.
Irresistible Force...Say Hello to Immovable Object 
Perhaps my favorite source of unintentional comedy in Showgirls is the dancing. It’s plentiful and the professional dancers in the cast are certainly talented, but it kind of reeks. There's a great deal of fun to be had at the expense of “Goddess,” the appropriately cheesy and strangely atonal Las Vegas topless revue that signifies Nomi moving up the sleaze ladder. From appearances, the review is all glitter and g-strings and seems to be comprised almost exclusively of the dancers chaotically running about, gnashing teeth, and letting go with frenzied head-releases.
And then there’s the freestyle dancing that Nomi engages in that’s supposed to reveal her fire and passion, yet looks more like she’s being attacked by a swarm of bees. And then there is the artistic, high-minded dancing promoted by choreographer-hopeful, James Smith (Glenn Plummer), Las Vegas’ shortest nightclub bouncer and Showgirls’ baldly hypocritical voice of moral outrage. Unfortunately, the actor portraying James (“I studied in New York…Alvin Ailey!”) clearly can’t dance a lick, and the “artistic” choreography attributed to him looks suspiciously like the lap dancing he berates Nomi for doing.
Which brings us to Showgirls’ raison d’être: the T&A triumvirate of lap-dancing, stripping, and pole-dancing. Without going into detail, suffice it to say that sexy never looked so unsexy, and unsexy never has, and never will again, look so deliriously ludicrous.

Over the course of my career as a dance instructor here in L.A, I've had a few Showgirls cast members take my class: Gina Gershon (Cristal); Michelle Johnston (Gay Carpenter, "Goddess" line captain and brown rice & vegetables pusher); and Gina Ravera (Molly). But back when I was just a student and learning to dance, there was one surprising member of the Showgirls cast who used to attend beginning jazz class with me at the now defunct Dupree Dance Academy... 
You guessed it. None other than tough-guy, former Bond villain, Robert Davi (as Al, the oafish but fatherly manager of Cheetahs topless lounge). Yes, I've seen Al in spandex. And surprisingly, he's actually a better dancer than Showgirls' Alvin Ailey disciple, Glenn Plummer!

There’s an old Hollywood axiom that says, “No one starts out intending to make a bad movie.” But take even a casual glance at Showgirls and you're likely to be left with the nagging impression that making a monumentally bad film had to have been a part of Verhoeven’s and Eszterhas’ strategic purpose.
What's My Line?
One of these men is sleazy Showgirls screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and the other is actor William Shockley, who portrays Showgirls' sleazy pop star, Andrew Carver. Or maybe they're both the same person? Know's all starting to make sense

A flop upon release, Showgirls, through DVD sales and savvy marketing that made peace with the film's overriding incompetence by embracing its cult-classic status, has, at last, become a bona fide hit.This reversal of fortunes doesn't alter Showgirls' quality (except perhaps in Hollywood, where the only bad film is one that fails to make money) but it's nice to know the audience for magnificent cinematic trainwrecks didn't die out with the 60's, the studio system, or Mommie Dearest.
1. James Smith's lead-footed "dancing" at the Crave Club.
2. The allegedly hetero male dancer in Goddess" threatening another dancer with the line, "You want a knuckle-sandwich?" Really? What is he, one of the "Dead End" kids?
3. The absurd insistence that Suzanne (Somers?), Latoya Jackson, Janet Jackson, or Paula Abdul would appear in a tacky, topless Vegas revue. OK, Latoya would, but the others? C'mon!
4. The exaggerated force and sound of the roundhouse punches delivered during the Crave Club brawl. Every jaw would be dislocated. It's like a Popeye cartoon.
5. Nomi's reaction when called "Pollyanna" which she mistakes for someone calling her by her real name (Polly Ann).
6. I may be alone in this, but I think Zack has a waaaay nicer butt than Nomi. Verhoeven should have exploited this angle more. Certainly would have helped keep me from laughing so much.
7. Am I the only one who thought that much-discussed "Ver-sayce" dress was kinda putrid? Like something Mariah Carey would wear.
8. Zack's haircut reminds me a lot of Liza Minnelli during her "Results"/Pet Shop Boys phase.
9. Those two little kids backstage who are shocked by the use of "The F word," but not by seeing their mom in a g-string amongst an ocean of exposed boobs and naked butts.
10. Nomi's "intensity" when she dances (aka, scowling and baring her teeth), eats, has sex, sits.

Copyright © Ken Anderson     2009 - 2012


  1. Bless you for examining this hysterical train wreck, an oasis for my glitz-loving self during the age of grunge and dressing "down." LOL

    My three favorite moments in Showgirls (apart from "I'm gettin' a little too old for that whore-y look" and "You are whore, darlin'," which has taken on a life of its own!) are:

    Nomi's deadly assault on her basket of french fries with a vicious bottle of ketchup.

    Nomi and Zack's pool love scene which creates waves that would have scared even Jon Hall and Dorothy Lamour.

    When Nomi keeps announcing the designer of her newly-purchased dress. ("It's Versace...")

    Like you say, it's filled to the brim with audacious ludicrousness! Love it.

  2. Hi Poseidon
    Thanks for mentioning the grunge thing, because, try as I might I have a hard time putting "Showgirls" in context with what was going on around me at the time. For example, I don't have a direct memory of women coveting those ridiculously long nails that feature so prominently in the film's dialog.
    Those favorite moments you mention number among my own in a film rife with "specialness." (Personal fave: I love how Cristal accidentally-on-purpose whacks Nomi with her bouquet of flowers as she leaves her opening-night press party).
    However, nothing matches that pool scene. Even to this day I have no friggin' idea what they were after with all that thrashing about it (looked so PAINFUL!). Didn't ANYBODY involved think it looked absurd? Thanks for sharing your favorite moments and for always being so kind in your comments.

  3. My favorite moment is when Kyle Maclachlan turns on the neon light palm trees by the pool. Not all at once: it requires three light switches.

    There's an equivalence hinted at in your writing, between Eszterhas and Verhoeven, with which I must take issue. Eszterhas... there's really nothing good I can say about his writing. (For example, his execrable Sliver spends the entire movie making it obvious that both of the suspects performed the single murder. When test audiences saw the final scene, which picks one while giving no explanation how the other could be innocent, they didn't like it. No problem: switch the ending!) But Robocop and Starship Troopers are brilliant bits of direction. (The thing to pay attention to, watching ST, is that humans are the bad guys, and the director was a little boy in Nazi-occupied Holland.)

    It is a shame that Verhoeven doesn't have better standards in actors. He does fine with Rutger Hauer, Jeroen Krabbe, Peter Weller, Ronny Cox, Miguel Ferrer, Neil Patrick Harris. But then there's Arnold, Sharon Stone, Michael Douglas, Casper van Diem, Denise Richards. And of course, Elizabeth Berkley.

    1. Hi Allen
      Love your favorite “Showgirls” moment! I was always so distracted by how gaudy Zack’s mansion was and whether or not we in the audience were supposed to laugh at or be impressed by those tacky neon palm trees, that in all my viewings I’ve never noticed the bank of light switches.

      I think it's great that you're able to separate the abilities of Messrs Verhoeven and Eszterhas and that you avoid painting them with the same critical brush of disdain. I'm not so sure that's something I'm capable of. Joe Eszterhas seems like the bad-influence Eddie Haskell to Paul Verhoeven’s Wally Cleaver. Eszterhas (the example from "Sliver" you provide pretty much sums him up) pulls the once-talented director of "Spetters" and "The Fourth Man" (two absolutely terrific films that I still adore and find hard to reconcile with the guy responsible for Showgirls) down to his level. I sort of gave up on Verhoeven after Showgirls but might consider Starship Troopers since you speak of it so highly. As with late-career Ken Russell, I don’t think working in Hollywood bring out the best in some European directors.

      Thanks very much for stopping by again, Allen. Perhaps your assessment of Verhoeven will inspire readers who only know him from this clunker to seek out some of his earlier works which better reflect his strengths.

    2. Anthony Lane's review of Sliver is behind a paywall, alas, but it is amazing. Were I Eszterhas and read it I don't think I could have ever made another movie.

  4. I have to pop back in again to comment a little bit more.

    #1 - Two people (I believe it was two) DIED while working on Sliver, which is just a horrible shame, especially given how rotten the final product was (I, myself, would rather been killed making Ben-Hur or Gone with the Wind! LOL) An enjoyable Ira Levin book was basically slimed over and mostly discarded by Esterhaus for his "script." It suffered even further from many cuts and some reshoots (which Tom Berenger refused to take part in.) I do think the movie has a wonderful look to it, though. I can never forget being in a grocery store video rental department and hearing an obese hillbilly, eager to get a look at Sharon Stone in all her glory, turn to his wife, pleadingly, and saying, "Hey, look honey... They got Silver!" (And I am not misspelling the name, here.)

    #2 Yes, Spetters and The Fourth Man are both very good. Even Soldier of Orange, too. Regarding Troopers, I'm about to watch it again after about 10 or 12 years. I remember liking it. I recall it having a quality like Zulu (if you've ever seen that Michael Caine classic, which includes a nail-biting stand-off at an African outpost) wherein the aliens just keep coming and coming and you feel really trapped yourself just watching it. The big upside is early in the film when all the young soldiers (male and female together!) shower off in a group. Ken, I can recommend it to you for that alone (and a cameo by Rue McClanahan!) and then what you hang in for after that is your call. Oh, and Allen, I'm going to try to view it with the perspective you suggested. Sounds interesting!

    1. Nice to see you back, Poseidon! I don’t know why, but there’s something about “Showgirls” that inspires a kind of “salted peanut” response: it’s not only hard to watch the movie just once, but it’s impossible to talk about it without it triggering even more thoughts on what you love/hate about it.

      Yikes! I didn’t know anybody died during the making of “Sliver”! That’s terrible! Both the tragedy and it happened in the making of a totally worthless film.

      I (perhaps foolishly) had high hopes for “Sliver” because I thought the Ira Levin/ Robert Evans/apartment house thing might tap into a “Rosemary’s Baby”-like stylishness that never materialized. I loathed it and only saw it once, feeling they’d turned it into a big budget Cinemax (Skinemax) late-nite soft-porn flick.
      Love that anecdote you shared! The amount of people that referred to it as “Silver” was high, indeed!

      Maybe you and Allen with spark a pro Paul Verhoeven internet movement dedicated to reminding folks that the director had a pretty good reputation before being associated so closely with Eszterhas. Maybe someone can Photoshop a picture of the two with Verhoeven wearing an “I’m not with Stupid” T-shirt).
      Let me know if “Starship Troopers” still holds up for you after all these years. I’ve avoided it because of the Denise Richards factor, but you mentioned Rue McClanahan and I was instantly intrigued! (The group shower thing didn't hurt, either). Thanks Poseidon!

    2. The group shower is one of many brilliant moments that show that in the future there is no privacy whatsoever. A couple others are the point at which people's test scores are revealed, completely publicly, and when Casper watches his Dear John video letter from Denise Richards. Not something you want to do in front of other people!

      The shower, though, may just be more reflective of a Dutch sensibility than anything else. The police in Robocop have a single changing room as well.

    3. Incidentally, the brilliant Rue McClanahan cameo was a man in the book.

      Quite the fascist book, I might add. When a friend asked me whether the movie did the book justice, and I thought about how completely it subverts it, the only answer was "Yes."

    4. You guys really make a compelling case for giving "Starship Troopers" a look-see. Your well-considered comments make it sound very interesting. I might have to give it a try someday. Thanks!

  5. I enjoyed your review, especially you're pinpointing the joys of schlock in Showgirls and its predecessors. I have to admit that, for myself, I found this film depressing rather than fun to watch - I think it's because of its overridingly cynical emphasis on displaying its cast as a meat market. Other campy films, especially the overdone, overheated melodramas, at least have a sense that they're dealing with human beings (and you can enjoy their detachment from reality), but Showgirls, as you point out, seems dedicated to being as lousy as possible. I actually felt sorry for Elizabeth Berkeley, who seemed to have no idea how she was coming across in the film; her director seemed not just unable to protect or guide her performance, but to be cruelly exploiting her. The one cast member who seemed to come out alive was Gina Gershon, who did have the sense (and the awareness) to play it as camp - but what has happened to her? A very talented actress, particularly in Bound, she seems to have disappeared into small character roles.

  6. Hi Grand!

    The point you make about “Showgirls” being more depressing than fun is a very good one, and an observation I've heard voiced by many (I have a similar response to the film “Mandingo,” a howlingly abysmal antebellum melodrama whose camp appeal is tainted by film’s exploitative look at slavery).
    Not even fans of the film can abide the thoroughly reprehensible rape scene, and indeed as you point out, the film’s overriding cynicism turns every scene into a meat display.

    It’s one thing to make a movie about how show business treats women like objects, but when the filmmakers are guilty of the same thing, it leaves “Showgirls” with nothing at its center: no heart, no humanity, only humiliation. Had “Showgirls” been a better film, I daresay it would be wholly distasteful. Its overall ineptness is what makes it bearable.

    As for Gina Gershon, around the time she was taking my class, she had appeared on Broadway in “Boeing, Boeing,” then she hired me (this was 2009) to help her prepare for a limited Broadway run of “Bye Bye Birdie.” I thought she was terrific in “Bound”, too. I think you’re right though, she still works a lot, but in character stuff.
    Thank you so much for providing more food for thought on the topic of this film!

  7. "Knuckle-sandwich"..."Dead End Kids"...hilarious! I laughed out loud at that.

    I saw this film on television many years ago, and I actually found it a chore to endure. That said, there's no telling just how many television cuts had been made to the theatrical/video version of the product.

    Being a "Saved By The Bell" fan from way back, it's amazing how in just one film, Elizabeth Berkley's wholesome-Debbie-Gibson-type image was forever altered (to put it mildly), and how her entire career was flushed down the S-bend. Jessie Spano (Miss Berkley's hyper-feminist, priggish alter ego from "Saved By The Bell") would have been horrified by Nomi Malone's shameless behaviour.

    Nomi's childhood love of Doggy Chow, her murdering the french fries by way of drowning them in ketchup, and how could anybody forget the scene where the doofus with the Whoopi Goldberg hairdo (Glenn Plummer) finds out that yes, it really IS that time of the month for Nomi: "I got towels!"

    I'm not going to sit here and pretend that I object to Elizabeth Berkley strutting around with barely a thread of clothing adorning her amazonian frame, but boy oh boy, was it to much to ask for all this strutting about naked to appear in a decent film? Removed from the terrible film itself, many of those screen captures are quite enjoyable.

    I last saw Miss Berkley in an episode of the short-lived 21st century version of "The Twilight Zone"...presumably looking for the career that might have been (oh come now, you were thinking exactly the same thing!).

    Not much love for Joe Eszterhas here, but it's amazing that "Showgirls" came from the same fellow who started his Hollywood screenwriting career back in the 1970s with the seriously underrated "F.I.S.T.", the Depression Era union drama starring Sylvester Stallone and directed by Norman Jewison. Well-worth checking out: Sly might never have been better than he was in this one.

    So what did Joe do next? "Flashdance". Talk about not wanting to surpass yourself.

    Paul Verhoeven, despite what some might say about his Hollywood career, shall always have "RoboCop" to his credit. What could have been a generic comic book action flick turned into something really special, a brilliant satire of the technological age, advertising, and the dehumanising influence of a greed-driven corporate world. But not even he could turn shit to shinola with "Showgirls".

    1. Hi Mark

      I understand that the TV edit of “Showgirls” has developed a cult of its own. I’ve heard all the cuts, overdubs and creative obscuring of nudity renders the film hilarious on an entirely new level.
      I’ve never seen “Saved by the Bell” but folks who have tell me that seeing Berkley in “Showgirls” would be akin to Blair from “The Facts of Life” appearing in a Quentin Tarantino film. As you describe Berkley’s character in “Saved by the Bell”, her appearing in “Showgirls” is entirely the other end of the spectrum. I still can’t believe she took her parents to the premiere. Their heads must have exploded.

      I’ve seen Elizabeth Berkley in a couple of things since this, and she just reminds me of someone who would find daytime soaps to be her métier. She’s just stupendously adequate as an actress, although I understand she is a very sweet person.

      I love your description of those terrible (memorable) sequences and dialog. Glenn Plummer…his character and that very unflattering hairdo really annoyed me. And I hated the idiotic “jive” dialog he was given. But then I don’t think Eszterhas is capable of writing human dialog at all. (I “met” him and Sharon Stone once at a Virgin records in Beverly Hills. I was pontificating loudly to my old roomate about some soundtrack album and they thought I worked there. They asked about some classical album and tried to act like I knew whati was talking about. She looked great, he looked kinda like hippie Santa Claus)

      I remember when F.I.S.T came out and how quickly it disappeared. It shows up on cable every nowand then. Maybe I’ll give it a look.

      If you ever get a chance to see “Showgirls” at a theater, I think you would enjoy it. First of all, it is rather dazzling visually. Very gaudy color cinematography and a loud soundtrack. Just hearing an audience respond to it is a riot.
      Good to hear from you again, Mark!

    2. Note that Edward Neumeier was the writer of both RoboCop and Starship Troopers. (The writer/director track on ST is very interesting but rather depressing, by the way.) I think the latter would have as much lasting critical acclaim as the former if they'd put competent actors in the fore.

  8. "I must have missed that musical where Ann Miller tells June Allyson she likes having nice tits."

    This made me smile endlessly.

    1. Hi bathubginjazz
      Your comment made ME smile!. I'm happy you enjoy the blog and I hope you continue to stop in from time to time.

  9. Thank you for considering and reviewing this peerless movie. I don't just love, I LUV Showgirls and its insanity and incompetence. And it features a movie line so putrid that it's warped the fabric of space/time. When James hysterically shouts at Nomi the morning after watching her strip, "Everybody got AIDS and SHIT!!!" So offensive and so terrible...

    1. Hi Percy
      I agree. That's why I think it's so reprehensible that Eszterhas and folks like Quentin Tarantino are trying to promote the notion that "Showgirls" was intended as a satirical comedy. That's bullshit. Offensive and ungrammatical lines like the one you quoted (which James spouts totally out of left field given that he has a self-professed, "...problem with pussy")and the thoroughly distasteful rape scene have a dramatic gravity that has no place in satire.
      Luckily there are reams of pre-release press where Eszterhas and clan reveal how serious was their intent to create an empowering, feminist morality tale. It just blew up in their uncomprehending faces.
      I'm glad someone else found that line equally offensive. The audience I saw it with almost gasped when he said it, then let out one of those uncomfortable guffaws.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one-of-a-kind
      movie experience!

  10. You've located the one real flaw of SHOWGIRLS: when the helpful seamstress/sacrificial lamb character Molly is raped by Andrew Carver; it's so ugly and needlessly prurient that it throws me out of the movie. And the fact that Nomi abandons Molly in the hospital at a point when, you would think, she needs her best friend the most. However, I did read that the final scene where Nomi hitchhikes to Los Angeles was a Sequel Hook that never came to be. Anyhow, thanks again for your awesome SHOWGIRLS review!

    1. I know what you mean. No matter how much one loves the film, there's no enjoyment that can be derived from that scene. It's such a huge miscalculation. One knows that something dramatic was needed to incite Nomi to look at what she had become, but a director more sensitive than Verhoeven was needed to convey the rape's narrative impact without thoroughly assaulting the audience. Had the film not been so patently artificial up to this point, there might have been some mounting tension leading to it, but as it is, it's as out-of-place and jarring in tone as Mickey Rooney's scenes in "Breakfast at Tiffany's".
      I think we all can be grateful to have been spared a "further adventures of Nomi" sequel to "Showgirls" (I hear there exists a sequel of sorts focused on one of the film's least interesting characters...the bubble-headed, Penny). Thank you again, Percy. A terrific comment and points brought up!

  11. Quentin Tarantino wants you to believe that "Showgirls" was intended as satire, because QT just doesn't want to admit that he enjoys watching crap. It's a strangely twisted form of snobbery from Tarantino. He's not secure enough to admit that he likes crap because it's crap. He likes crap but then feels the need to convince people that it's not crap, lest he be judged by the film world as "unsophisticated". Hey, I enjoy "Robot Monster", but I'll be the first to tell you that it's a horrible film, and that its immensely poor quality is a major part of its appeal. QT watches "Showgirls" but would have people believe that it's on par with "West Side Story". It's that sort of separation from reality that makes it difficult to like QT. I'd love to see somebody put QT on the spot by showing him clips of Joe Eszterhas and Paul Verhoeven stating that "Showgirls" was intended as a totally serious film. QT would undoubtedly find a way around the question, though. Any fellow who managed to get crap like "Grindhouse" released at cinemas and steal an Oscar with "Pulp Fiction" must have a few Jedi mind tricks up his sleeve.

    1. I have to agree with you, Mark. QT has always signified to me the worst of film-geek mentality: a basic personal unfamiliarity with human experience beyond that which he has ingested from a movie screen. The inability to create real art (born of insight, growth: aka, real life) renders everything arch, cynical, and satiric and exalts trash culture to high art.
      Like you, I have a real affinity for the crappy movie now and again, but resent the revisionist need to turn the inadvertently awful into intentional satire. "Showgirls" is great because the crass vulgarity of the filmmakers seeped into their hamfisted artistic pretensions without their knowing it.(I love the Jedi mind tricks line). Thanks, Mark!

  12. The Showgirls sequel is called Showgirls 2: Penny's from Heaven, and while it's a "bad" movie, it's also, sadly, pretty much unwatchable. The production values are putrid, the plot makes no sense, and at 2 and a half hours, it just drags on and on...I'm guessing it's a vanity project for Rena Riffel whose most famous role was Penny/Hope. Glenn Plummer makes a few cameo appearances, and he gets to say his infamous, "AIDS" line yet again -- yay...

    1. Oh, Lord...
      That description sounds terrible (2 1/2 hours???)
      The missed opportunity of "Showgirls" is that there has yet, to my knowledge, been a really good film that deals with what "Showgirls" purported to be about but which it proved to be merely a glaring example of: the willingness of men and women to prostitute themselves for vague concepts of fame. Clearly dignity had no place in whatever career Elizabeth Berkley assumed she would get by debasing herself for "serious" director Verhoeven in ways that porn performers would think twice about.
      That non-entities Rena Riffel and Glenn Plummer would attempt to mine a paycheck from what should have been a professional wake-up call for them both, points to the anything-for-a-buck side of show biz "Showgirls" flubbed the opportunity to expose.

  13. The book "It Doesn't Suck", about Showgirls, sounds rather interesting:


  14. I really want to watch this again after reading your write-up Ken. It been ages since I've seen it. But, I have to say something:

    This film scared the livin' SHIT out of me

    Really! I mean, for me, it's right up there with things like THE EXORCIST and the remake of CAPE FEAR.

    It uncovered every buried gynophobic nerve in my body.
    Except the females in this film aren't real women ---- They're demonic wraiths.

    All night long, after seeing this movie, I dreamt I was being sexually assaulted in weird ways by an endless succession of succubi. We were not only engaging in a Kama Sutras-worth of positional arrangements, they were surreptitiously trying to drain me of blood, semen (obviously), bone marrow, and spinal fluid. They were also morphing all the time between sirens and reptilian bitch-goddesses.

    It was all very reminiscent of the very first time I had Thai food. The restaurant served the real stuff and there were many courses which were progressively hotter and hotter and hotter. As we left, the owner's rather demure wife politely thanked us and said good bye. I'd had a few tsing taos under my belt and I swear as I caught this lady's eye something very David Lynchian happened to the look in her eye and I thought "Uh-oh . . . "

    All night long I dreamed of amazing, rapturous, transcendental intergalactic sex with a series of the most disgusting looking alien beings one could ever imagine. And I mean ALL night long. And I couldn't get enough. They had slimy stuff oozing out of the pores of their bodies. One of them had about 18 bizarre tentacles that kept invading orifices I didn't know I even had! One induced shifting ecstatic states me by enveloping me in a vibrational net which changed time and again. And on and on . . . .

    Hands down --- Best sex EVER!!!!

    Let me ask you something: How in the hell did Kyle McLachlan end up in this film? Now here's a role that Tobey "Stare-athonia" MacGuire should have been forced to take. The fear it would have instilled in him might have just broken him down and snapped him straight out of his catatonia.

    Glad to hear you have an appreciation for THE OSCAR (1967)
    Definitely one of the finer pieces of trash Hollywood ever produced.

    1. Hi Gregory
      Ha! I guess this movie kind of got to you!
      When I was very young I had a kind of gynophobic reaction to seeing Raquel Welch on TV. That big, lioness mane of hair, her cat's eye makeup, and especially those really dangerous-looking capped teeth, just made me feel uneasy.
      I could well imagine Gina Gershon's teeth having the same effect.
      Kyle McLachlin in this smacks of someone having a mortgage payment due or something. I can't imagine why he accepted the role.
      (Had to laugh at the Tobey McGuire comment)

      I'm waiting for "the Oscar" to come out made-to-order DVD or something. I love that terrible film!

  15. PS I think Nomi Malone is the "boy-was-I-drunk-last-night" abandoned musical theater love-child of Mitzi Gaynor and Joel Grey.

  16. Hi Ken. Great blog, usually I comment nothing as I struggle in english.
    This must be one of the films in history that generates more irreconcilable views. Rivette and Rosenbaum regard it a great film. And they are very far from Tarantino in every way. I need to see this film again.
    By the way, you point at Mandingo as a similar case and really it is. As controversial I mean. I think is a masterpiece and not exploitative at all.

    1. Hi Igor
      Thank you for commenting. I see no sign of your struggle with English. In fact, you write more grammatically than a great many college kids in the US!
      Yes, I too think "Showgirls" is one of those movies that will inevitably divide critical tastes.
      I think that is the legacy of film criticism. It is a "living" form of journalism and analysis that allows for works to be reassessed in different eras, affording changes in subjective observation.
      I'm all for people seeing it as a classic or as trash...that's their right. Everyone should take from the film what they want. Just so long as they don't try to convince others that their perspective is wrong in some way.
      Like in "The Emperor's New Clothes" critics have lost a lot of their relevancy and legitimacy over the years due to a dogged insistence on trying to convince people NOT to believe their eyes or aesthetics, and instead accept dross as treasure. I think it's more complicated than that.
      Much like Russ Meyers' artfully-filmed exploitation films like "Faster Pussycat..." have been reappraised over the years, who knows what future generations will think of "Showgirls"?
      But even if some people (esteemed and intelligent) find it to be artistic, it really doesn't mean that it is. It means that art is subjective. As it should be.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and for you kind comment. Sounds like you are a film fan who knows his own mind. Always the best...others can tell you if THEY like or dislike a movie, but they can NEVER tell anyone that a film is good or bad. We make that choice alone.

  17. Ken, you're really kind, taking time to answer to so many commenters. Something unusual. All these divisions remind me of Douglas Sirk, now a quite respected author but many, and still a few ones , regarded his work as trashy. I see you don't write much about Sirk and I am courious about your opinion.
    Dou you like it in a straigh or campy (or both, perfectly possible) way?

    1. Hi Igor
      Thanks, I actually enjoy "discussing" movies in this fashion. I am not a huge fan of Sirk, but of the few film of his I own I fall into the "two things can be true at once" category: I think his films are often stylized to the point that I can't help but appreciate their camp appeal, but at the same time, I can appreciate certain films (Imitation of Life, Written on the Wind) are effective melodrama and very influential.

      I'm not much for revisionist cinema, but I do think that a great many studio system contract directors were able to be journeyman workers and artists simultaneously. Hitchcock, Minnelli, Donen.
      That's why so many "trashy" films from the 70s are actually some of my favorites- if a filmmaker is working with enthusiasm and creativity, even exploitation and B-movie fare has the potential for art ("The Honeymoon Killers" comes to mind). But I also know that otherwise incompetent films can be enjoyable, too, and that it is a critical inevitability (since critics hate to say they love a lousy movie) that a poorly made film that entertains can be reimagined as a work of quality. But that's just me.

      Part of the reason I started this blog was because in film school I noticed film scholars did this thing- They start out with the theory: "I like good films"...then, what they did was, whenever they liked a film, convinced themselves that it was because it was "good" rather than it being just their personal taste and that there is no objective standard of good. In other words they manipulate films to fit their perception of themselves and their ahestics.
      Me, I like to say I am capable of liking well made films and poorly made films. My personal aesthetics can tell the difference in ways suitable for me, but I don't feel a loss of status if a film I adore is one that is largely awful (like "Xanadu") i see it's benefits and flaws, and I love it dearly, but it will never be a "good" movie to me, it's a poorly-made film that nevertheless speaks to my soul and spirit. A film I'd rank far above many superior films.

      You sound like such a film enthusiast with unique, personal tastes. If you ever find yourself favoring a film that is much-reviled, stick to your guns. Just be wary of "reconstructing" a film in order to justify it's value to you. Someone once quoted Noel Coward to me "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is"
      It's a great reminder that we go to movies for an experience. If a film reaches us, it isn't always a work of genius. Sometimes it's a cheap, pop entertainment...and that is enough. It doesn't need have to be anything else.

      Thanks for giving me the opportunity to ramble on at length (again). Much appreciate your comments and questions, Igor!

  18. SHOWGIRLS would make a good double bill with STAYIN' ALIVE, the God-awful Sylvester Stallone-directed sequel to SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. If they weren't made 12 years apart, I would have assumed they were shot, designed and especially choreographed by the same people. The acting is of a similar caliber as well. Unfortunately, STAYIN' ALIVE was always planned as a pg movie in the ROCKY vein so its missing that vital soft core porn element that makes SHOWGIRLS a yearly favorite.

    I have a fond memory of watching a tv show where a bunch of critics and directors were discussing current movies, among them POLYESTER auteur John Waters. SHOWGIRLS came up, and they all agreed that it was a horrible, deeply misogynstic movie. Waters disagreed. "I don't think that movie hates women." Appalled expressions from the others on the show. "I think it hates all people. And that's fair."

    1. A double-bill of SHOWGIRLS & STAYIN' ALIVE is very nearly ideal! Especially as Travolta & Berkley make for compatibility sleazy & unlikable protagonists. And I love your (keen) observation that they both appear to have been shot, designed and choreographed by the same people. It's so true! And the 12-year-gap makes it all the more uncanny. I don't know that that would have ever occured to me before, but now I'm likely never to forget it!

      And that very funny John Waters anecdote reminds me that one day I have to write about how much I love his films but ultimately find Waters, the man (and mainstream counterculturalist) to be a bit of a privileged drag.
      Thanks, Kip!

    2. I work very hard to try to come up with observations that you will never forget... As you say, Nomi's rise to the top of the Showgirl world is pretty much identical to Tony Manero's hell-bent path to Broadway Chorus Boy immortality!