Viking Night: Showgirls
By Bruce Hall
April 19, 2016
I owe all of you an apology. Since 2009 I have been living a lie, and I can't go on with it.
All this time, I have dutifully written a weekly column about cult movies, and not once have I written about Showgirls. This is to my eternal shame, and not just because I have deprived my readership of some easily mined comedy gold. It's because I have deprived myself of the experience. I consider myself a fan of Paul Verhoeven and his brilliant, frequently misunderstood eye for satire and social commentary. This is the man who, over the course of a decade, gave us RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and Starship Troopers - all widely considered cult favorites, if not outright bona fide classics.
Right in the middle of all that was Showgirls, a movie that I admit I'd never seen until now. I'd avoided watching it simply because of the way people discussed it. The word “hyperbole” supposedly dates from the 16th century, but I would argue that use of the word was perfected around 1995. It was in that year that America had a collective hissy fit over this trashy, ambitious, baffling film. Everyone has an opinion on it, and none more so than people who've never even seen it. One such individual recently warned me away from Showgirls, claiming that if Hitler were still alive, it would probably be his favorite film.
Because Showgirls sucks. A lot. Worse than anything ever, and according to this person, that is why they had never actually seen it.
That's just no way to judge something (unless you're Tipper Gore, Dan Quayle or Bob Dole), so I decided to proceed on the assumption that Showgirls was as misunderstood as most of Verhoeven's work. This means that somewhere out there was a NC-17 rated film about exotic dancers, stuffed like manicotti with reams of aggressive profanity, glittering costumes, and jiggling boobs - and I had never seen it. It was literally a gift unclaimed, and only one man in the history of cinema could have created such a thing. He is the same brave, wonderful man who stuffed Peter Weller in a suit of armor and taught him to dance.
Yes. I have been a fool. But no more, for I have finally seen Showgirls, and I can confidently report that Paul Verhoeven is a Golden God. I love this movie so very, very much. Yes, it's a satire, and yes, it's deeply flawed. But there's no way you can't have fun with it, if you're willing to allow it. I had some burning questions as I sat down to experience it: Was it really that bad? Would Hitler really like it?
I believe I have your answers. Let us begin.
First of all, the first five minutes of this film are the last five minutes that are not completely bananas. Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley) is a tall, pretty blonde trying to hitch a ride to Las Vegas, so of course she scores a ride in 11 seconds. The first sign of trouble comes when Nomi pulls a stiletto blade on the driver as he tries to make casual conversation. Berkley's jerky, exaggerated movements make it look like she's having some sort of stroke. Later, the driver tricks Nomi out of her belongings, leaving her stranded. She then throws what can only be called a “vomit spraying tantrum” on the sidewalk, before a stranger offers to help. It's hard to find the words to describe how strange this scene is. Just know that I am imagining William Shatner watching it alone in his living room, rising to his feet and performing a reverent slow clap as a single tear rolls down his cheek.