Not as bad as was said after its catastrophic premiere, which has just turned 25 years old, nor as good as its feverish fan club insists. Showgirls, the most inexplicable work of Paul verhoeven, transcends these binary categories and demands more complex ones from those who aspire to lecture on their quality. Observed from the willing distance of what camp, this moral tale about a stripper Set to take on the world that becomes queen of Las Vegas, remembered for her dire performances and incomprehensibly anti-erotic nudes, she transforms into a festival of caustic humor and political subtext. Neither good nor bad, quite the opposite: Showgirls It is a “shit masterpiece”, as the documentary maintains You Don’t Nomi, just released on Filmin, which recounts how one of the greatest failures in Hollywood history became, against all odds, an object of worship.
The documentary follows in the wake of other recent attempts to decode the hidden signals in the cinema of the last decades, such as Room 237 (2012) on the esoteric meanings of The glow; Beyond Clueless (2014), who analyzed the content, not always bland, of the teen movies, or Romantic comedy (2019), reflection on the hidden politics in the romantic comedy. You don’t nomi part of the same media economy: voice in off of different experts, whom we never see on the screen, comments on images transferred on behalf of the fair use, Politics of copyright that allows you to use film clips for free in documentaries. Among them are the poet Jeffery Conway, who turned the film into an epic poem narrated in sextinas; critic Adam Nayman, author of the book It Doesn’t Suck, cornerstone of this rehabilitation; wave drag queen Peaches Christ, who has orchestrated an annual show in San Francisco since 1997 with which he pays homage to the most unlikely of the classics.
You don’t nomi underlines the satirical nature of the film, the work of a Verhoeven who said he was inspired by the new objectivity, the German Expressionist school with a pronounced taste for social caricature, a sophisticated aesthetic choice that many viewers failed to capture. Even so, he also doubts that the director did not take seriously what he was saying. The documentary prefers to see Showgirls, perhaps the last blockbuster that believed in sex as a sales pitch, as a failure more interesting than most hits, and that hid, among the thick foliage of countless failed and sensational scenes, a forceful diatribe against spiritual corruption of American society and crimes committed in the name of the American dream. You don’t nomi also pays justice to the actress who played the ineffable Nomi Malone, Elizabeth berkleyvilified by commentators who went well beyond the merely interpretive – the critique of The New York Times Janet Maslin went on to write that she had “the open mouth and the blank stare of an inflatable doll” – and that she would never redo this setback, while Verhoeven yes it managed to be reborn from its ashes.
The most poignant part of the documentary shows Berkley reappearing in front of hordes of admirers at an open-air screening at Hollywood Forever, the graveyard of the stars, to come to terms with the film that made her believe she would be one too. The actress, who went from faking an addiction to caffeine pills in a laughable scene from Saved by the hood to have acrobatic sex in a pool with Kyle MacLachlan —Jessie Spano and Dale cooper: That must have been the most unnatural mating of all nineties television—, she unsuccessfully underwent the classic rite of passage for every child prodigy, from Marisol to Miley Cyrus: sexualizing her body to the maximum to be taken seriously as artist. The film seems to expose him in an interesting segment, in which he draws a fascinating parallel between Berkley’s impetuous performance and the Cobra Woman played by María Montez, another victim of the relentless Hollywood game.
Faced with one of those career-destroying failures, of which only American cinema seems capable, a film usually has two powerful support groups. The first is culture queer, so capable of extolling the absent-minded beauty of beings with defects. Just a few months after the premiere of Showgirls, the movie revived in the midnight screenings, those midnight sessions in which, once, ridiculed or misunderstood films were reborn as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Valley of the dolls or Dear mom. The documentary aims at reading queer that contained Showgirls, the story of a small-town girl who reinvents herself by changing her name and identity, and surrounding herself with a false family, like so many homosexuals. The second of those lobbies It would be the French cinephilia, always ready to bring out the colors of a Hollywood that considers incapable of appreciating its own authors. It happened with Hitchcock (thanks to Truffaut) and with Jerry Lewis (of whom Godard would say, in the Cahiers du Cinéma, what was it “The only one who made progressive movies” in the United States) and it would happen again with Verhoeven. The French premiere of Showgirls was sunk by devastating criticism pouring in from across the Atlantic – “the void, even if you are aware of its voidness, is still empty,” he said. Le Monde—, but a second wave soon came to his defense. Another genius of the nouvelle vague, Jacques Rivette, called it in 1998 “one of the greatest American films of recent years” and called Berkley’s performance “amazing.” “Like everything in Verhoeven, it’s very unpleasant: it’s about surviving in a world populated by garbage”, Rivette explained to those who would not have understood.
This chapter recalls that nothing, not even a shower of oscars, confers as much cultural legitimacy to a film as a rereading in code camp. As the big studios limit the risks in their investments, industrial accidents like the one that starred Showgirls they have become scarcer. This does not mean that they no longer exist, as the recent case of Cats, the big bet for the 2019 Oscars that crashed into the box office and ended up being the victim of derision on social media. Like Verhoeven, director Tom Hooper also lost the hibris. But there is hope even for his terrifying musical: the slutty sessions of some cinemas have already taken pity on him.
You don’t nomi (2019). Jeffrey McHale. Available in Filmin.