As far as the so-bad-it’s-good sub-genre goes, it doesn’t get much better than Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls (1995). On Wednesday, January 17, fans of film and comedy won’t want to miss a screening of this filthy cult classic at The Triple Door. writer and performer David Schmader. Proceeds will benefit Planned Parenthood. With the upcoming administration, lord knows they’re going to need all the help they can get!
Showgirls was universally panned when it was released, and the following year it was nominated for 13 Razzies. It won 7, including Worst Film, Worst Director and Worst Actress. By now, Showgirls has been marred by so much folklore that it’s worth revisiting the picture… if only to see if our memory of the movie lives up to the legend.
The Legend of Nomi Malone
The year was 1995. Older Millennials like me were in high school and saddled with a newly formed, confusing libido. Saved by the Bell had only been off the air for three years, and already Jessie Spano the feminist (Elizabeth Berkley) had found her way onto the stripper pole in Vegas?!
Showgirls was among the first high-profile films to hit theaters with the infamous NC-17 rating. The kids couldn’t stop snickering. Snickers in 1995 were up 500 percent.
Re-watching the movie on my own, I am left flabbergasted, exhausted and dry as a bone. The film’s central character, Nomi Malone (Berkley), may also be the film’s biggest problem for one main reason: She’s a terrible person.
People try to help her repeatedly, and before long we wonder why anyone would. She flies off the handle at the slightest provocation. She’s unstable to the point of violence. As if all that weren’t enough to kill one’s sympathy, her characterization is so inconsistent that she becomes utterly unbelievable. Example: She has no problem stripping in a club, but is nonplussed when she, as a dancer at a fancy Vegas show, is asked to perk her nipples with ice cubes.
Is this movie supposed to be sexy? We get plenty of nudity, dancing and sex, but none of it makes me want to lube up or light a candle. Repeatedly during the films so-called erotic scenes, words like “frantic,” “panic” and “period blood” are brought to mind.
Nevertheless, though I can’t quite put my finger on it, there’s still a bit of magic lurking somewhere in this turd. I’ve seen worse films.
The Mad Genius of Verhoeven
Once a movie gets a reputation for being unequivocally terrible, it’s impossible to shake. It happened with films like Gigli, starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, which is pretty bad, but not entirely without its moments. It’s a (well deserved) challenge facing every new M. Night Shyamalan film. (His movies are not good.) And then there are the films that languish for years before their notoriety increases into cult status based on their awfulness (e.g. Room and Troll 2).
It’s hard to say precisely how Showgirls instantly met this fate. Americans like to keep their pornography under wraps, and I suspect lashing out at this titty fest helps to alleviate our embarrassment.
But there’s something to admire in every one of director Paul Verhoeven’s pictures. Heck, it’s even a little admirable that Verhoeven was the first Razzie nominee to show up and claim his awards.
Verhoeven is the eccentric Dutch filmmaker behind Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1991) and Basic Instinct (1992). With Robocop, we have a cinematic masterpiece, perfect in its bizarre social commentary, mirrored structure and uncommon blend of action, intelligence and heart. Even the weird, rapey, not good Hollow Man (2000), starring Kevin Bacon’s translucent genitals, isn’t entirely without merit.
Lest you think Verhoeven’s spotty genius was a thing of the past—you’re wrong. His 2016 French-language film Elle recently picked up two Golden Globes and made my top five for the year.
How can one filmmaker be so all over the map? Perhaps David Schmader will explain. Until then, bask in the glory of the original trailer below.
Showgirls with David Schmader
When: Wednesday, January 18, 7:30pm
Where: The Triple Door (216 Union Street)
Tickets are $20