Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Reel Thoughts: The Cult of Showgirls

Few movies inspire such love and hate as Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 “morality tale”-slash-camp classic, Showgirls. Now you can recreate the fun in your own home with the brand new 15th Anniversary "Sinsational" Blu-ray, featuring hilarious extras like pole dancing lessons and a commentary by superfan David Schmader entitled "The Greatest Movie Ever Made".

Showgirls is the story of Nomi Malone, played by Elizabeth Berkley in a manner that can best be summed up as “petulant slut”. Nomi hitches a ride to Las Vegas packing a switchblade and a dream. “I’m a dancer,” she tells the first of many men who’ll use and abuse her on her rise to the top; or rather, the sort of sad, middling pinnacle that is headlining a Vegas topless review at a casino that has since been demolished.

Faster than you can lose at the craps table, Nomi is robbed and left with nowhere to go, until she meets and nearly vomits on sweet Molly Abrams (Gina Ravera), a costumer for Goddess, the “hit” show at the Stardust. Molly lets her crash at her trailer, where the two bond over their love of chips and tacky nails, and soon Molly introduces Nomi to the reigning Queen of Vegas, predatory lesbian Cristal Conners (played deliciously by Gina Gershon, who is the only actor who knows what kind of movie she’s in).

Like a naked All About Eve, Nomi uses her inexplicable irresistibility to become Cristal’s understudy and then her replacement. You haven’t lived until you’ve watched Berkley and Gershon spar at Spago over who’s a whore and which of them liked eating Doggie Chow more.

The film’s cynical take on the highs and lows of fame could be viewed as a sublime satire of women behaving the way men who know nothing about women think they do, if not for a truly awful and vicious rape scene toward the end. Shmader wisely advises you to fast forward through it, like he does when he presents his cinematic master classes on Showgirls across the country. Despite all the degradations Nomi endures (including her uproariously awful stint as a lap dancer at the Cheetah, a “Gentleman’s Club”), she leaves Las Vegas with her dignity, switchblade and a newfound self-awareness. Los Angeles, look out!

Why has Showgirls cast such a rhinestone-studded spell over lovers of camp and others? I asked numerous notable people for their opinions as to why Showgirls has become the Citizen Kane of trash cinema, and also asked them to share their favorite Showgirls moments or lines.

“Gosh, Showgirls,” replied Charles Busch, celebrated star and playwright of Die Mommie Die! and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. “You know, I've never actually seen it. Isn't that wild? I'm better versed on Lady of Burlesque with Barbara Stanwyck.”

Ron May, talented actor/director of numerous Arizona stage hits admitted, “Oh My God, Showgirls. It's ridiculous how much I love that movie. It's so deliciously awful. I think the only movie I laugh at as hard as I do that movie is Congo ... with Tim Curry and the talking monkeys.” He also divulged that he’s desperately tried to snag the rights to a “Sock Puppet Showgirls” that happened in New York a few years back. “Even though I have no idea if it's even any good or not.” He also highly recommends the blog Nomi Malone Can Read.

Joshua Grannell, the inspired filmmaker who hosts Midnight Mass screenings in San Francisco as his alter ego Peaches Christ, took time from promoting the cross-country tour for his outrageous new horror comedy, All About Evil (co-starring Natasha Lyonne, Mink Stole and Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson) to say: “My favorite thing about Showgirls is how totally committed the movie and everyone in it was to making it so extreme,” Grannell explained. “It's an extreme movie in every way, and I love it for that. I think it succeeds because it's so relentless and so much fun. It's colorful, outrageous, bizarre, hilarious, depraved, and provides for a wonderful group viewing.

Grannell, who is hosting a giant Showgirls event on August 7 in San Francisco, continues: "I think my favorite part of our Midnight Mass show is always the "Free Lap-dances With Every Large Popcorn". It's just so appalling and wrong watching an audience full of Showgirls fanatics get grinded on by drag freaks, monsters and lap-dancing mutants. And I also love bursting out of that volcano naked! That's a tradition at our show, and there's something so liberating about erupting onto stage that way.”

Zachary Jackson, host of Zack Attack Camp Cinema at the MADCAP Theaters, is a more sincere lover of Nomi and her pals. His favorite moment? “Nomi is sitting on the hood of her car above the flashing Flamingo sign — eating a hamburger nonetheless — overlooking the Las Vegas strip during sunset,” he explained, “The scene lasts less than a minute, but I don’t know …there’s something beautiful about it.”

Actress Angelica Howland wasn’t so enamored of Berkley’s mastication prowess. “My favorite part is when Elizabeth Berkley can't even eat a hamburger like a believable human being and then she throws the hamburger wrapper into the alley like she is tossing flowers into the air ... cuz, well you know ... littering is ├╝ber-beautiful and outrageously sexy. My second favorite part is when she is thrashing around on Kyle McLaughlin's junk in the pool and he's barely able to hold on to her. The look on his face is hilarious — like, 'What the hell?! This gigantic, naked, Saved by the Bell psycho is gonna freakin' break my back and drown me!'”

The pool scene, complete with neon palm trees and spitting dolphin fountains was the stand-out scene for most people I interviewed, but the grand, gaudy grotesquery of the faux show Goddess ranks right behind. Many a backstage tale has made it to the screen, but none other feature exploding volcanoes, garlic-eating monkeys flinging poop on stage and a sassy showgirl berating the costumer with bon mots like “Molly, they're going to see a smiling snatch if you don't fix this g-string.”

Hard to believe, but Showgirls was primed to be a huge, groundbreaking event. Madonna was sought for Gershon’s role, and Drew Barrymore was the first pick for Nomi. Charlize Theron, Angelina Jolie, Jenny McCarthy, Pamela Anderson and Finola Hughes all auditioned. Joe Eszterhas received an unheard-of two million dollars for his script.

Showgirls was the first big budget NC-17 film — and a highly anticipated release,” Jackson explained. “When it opened in theaters in 1995, it tanked. The reviews were beyond harsh and it practically destroyed Berkley’s career. The idea of paving the way for a new line of controversial adult filmmaking was brilliant; however the execution of Showgirls put a swift end to that concept.”

Monique Parent, the gorgeous redheaded actress best known for roles in erotic films like The Witches of Breastwick and Blood Scarab, as well as the new horror film, The Perfect House, related her disappointment. “I only saw Showgirls once, when it first came out. I really, really expected it to be a good film and wanted it to be a good film. As an actor who has appeared in many films with little or no clothing, I hate the fact that most people seem to believe that nudity in a film means it's bad or that only bad movies have nudity. I really wanted Showgirls to be the movie that proved that theory wrong. To be a film that showed beautiful women fully nude and still had strong writing and strong acting.

"But frankly, I hated it. I felt that Elizabeth Berkeley's character ran the gamut of acting emotions from A to B. Not even her fault. That's how the movie was written, as best I can remember.  I still believe a film can feature beautiful people fully nude and be a really good movie at the same time. But Showgirls is not it.”

What really sends Showgirls into the stratosphere of camp, though, is the dialogue, the glorious, mind-bendingly vulgar lines that people can’t stop quoting, from Cristal’s signature “Hi darlin’” and Nomi’s thudding endorsement “It doesn’t suck” to the aggressively unfunny stand-up comedy of Henrietta “Mamma” Bazoom (Lin Tucci). Here are the lines that inspire these notable Showgirls fans. Feel free to add your own.

Phillip Fazio (New York actor and director): Cristal: "I'm gettin' a little too old for that whorey look... "

Kirby Holt (writer/creator of Movie Dearest and The QuOD - The Queer Online Database) Al (Robert Davi) to former lap-dancer Nomi: "It must be weird, not having anybody cum on you."

Matthew Harris (actor and drag performer Rhianna Matthews): Cristal: "I want my nipples to press, but I don’t want them to look like they’re levitatin'."

Scott Pierce (actor and Snatch creator Pandora LeStange) Cristal: "We're all whores, honey."

Jimmy Asimenios (actor): Henrietta Bazoom: "Goddamn it! You're the only one who could get my tits poppin' right!"

Buddy Early (performer/former editor, Echo Magazine): Nomi, showing off her new dress: "I bought it at Ver-sayce!"

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.


  1. so many quotable lines I tell ya, hate to say but my brother and I use them frequently when we catch up with each other...

  2. "You ate all the chips!" and "I'm erect; why aren't you erect?"

  3. Oh yeah!! Alan Rachins in a bad toupee as Tony Moss! His whole ROLE is quotable! Insulting the Goddess auditioners like he's Zack in A Chorus Line, "You look like Pollyanna!" (Smirking) "Oh, Ver-sayce. I love Ver-sayce" "Some people call me a prick. I AM a prick!" It goes on and on! Thanks for sharing your fave lines!

  4. Oh course, ANYTHING Henrietta Bazoom says is priceless, both for its unfunny vulgarity and for the fact that you can physically feel poor Lin Tucci surrendering her immortal soul playing such a ghastly gorgon. "She looks better than a ten inch dick and you know it!", "She misses us like that lump on my twat I had taken off last week." and "What's that useless piece of skin around a twat? A woooooooooooomaaaan!!!" Just poetry!


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