2.2.13

I'm Erect. Why Aren't You Erect? Showgirls (1995)

Do you remember that one episode of Saved By The Bell where Jessie begins abusing caffeine pills as a means to both take care of her school work, as well as attend practices so her and the other girls can perform for a talent show, only to eventually have a complete mental breakdown which leaders to her sing-crying the words to "I'm So Excited" in the befuddled arms of Zach?  Well, one could call Showgirls the extension of that moment from the show some seven to ten years later, even using the actress Elizabeth Berkeley in the lead role.  Showgirls is far from one of those films that has received a cult status because it clearly exudes some degree of cinematic ingenuity, or is a terrible production that covers up a sound narrative, in fact, for the most part, Showgirls is a decidedly unwatchable film in the traditional sense, excluding of course any moment involving the infallible Kyle McLachlan.  The film suffers from some chewed up scenery in the acting department, not to mention a misguided plot that is only fleshed out in a literal sense.  Even the glossy realism mixed with dystopian dreariness that signifies some of director Paul Verhoeven's other works, such as Basic Instinct and Robocop falls apart when the gross day world of Las Vegas enters the picture and consumes any sense of harmony or possible beauty.  Showgirls is at once a set of misguided social commentaries ranging from the objectification of women to the exploitative failures of art, as well as a film that clearly cannot take itself any more seriously, despite dealing with a subject so harsh and debated that any degree of trepidation with plot choices, would assure its failure, something clearly problematized within the film.  The fact that Showgirls because a home video success probably speaks volumes to a pre-internet age in which nudity on the scale within this film meant needing to get creative in one's access, but that, of course, says little for a cinematic appreciation, as much as it does for the ingenuity of a sexual oriented mind.  The absurdism of its existence seems to be the sole factor in the cult status of this sex fueled narrative.

Showgirls begins with the introduction of Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkeley) a down and out, attractive young woman who has decided to hitch hike to Las Vegas to take up dancing as a means to escape her troubled life.  It is within being offered a ride to Las Vegas that she first realizes the deception of the city when her belongings are stolen and she is left abandoned in a casino.  Fortunately for Nomi, a aspiring designer named Molly (Gina Ravera) agrees to take her in and help her get on her feet, even landing her a job as an erotic dancer in somewhat sleazy club.  Yet, Nomi realizes she is destined for something much larger than this when she watches a performance of a erotic dance review called Goddess, which is headed by a star performer named Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon).  At this moment, through deception and a considerable degree of hard work, Nomi begins to climb the ladder of  performance artist in the sin-laden city meeting a classically trained dancer turned bouncer named James (Glenn Plummer) as well as Cristal's lover, the lavish playboy Zack Carey (Kyle MacLachlan).  It is through these varied interactions that Nomi is introduced to the backdoor dealings of Las Vegas, particularly as they relate to advancing as a dancer, she even forms an intimate relationship with Zack, one that leads to a night of wild passion and a heavy degree of distrust from Cristal.  However, when this use of sex does not afford Nomi a chance to understudy for Cristal, the enraged dancer takes things into her own hands by pushing Cristal down the stairs causing her to get a fracture and thus become incapable of performing.  Nomi is then thrust into the spotlight, a place that she realizes is far from comforting, both in the realization of her awful actions by friends like Molly, as well as the jealousy that emerges from other dancers, and even Zack who in a fit of rage digs up information on Nomi's past life, revealing a history of drug addiction, prostitution and violence.  Nomi realizes that escape is, again, her only option and she begins hitchhiking out of Las Vegas, meeting the same man who stole her goods in the films opening scene, although this time she is fa more prepared.  Also she kills a man along the way, but that seems, surprisingly, secondary in the larger narrative.

I would be hard pressed to find a film, excluding the infamous Salo: or 120 Days of Sodom that better captures the sense of decadence and its presence within a modern society.  While the previously mentioned film is decidedly fictional, or at least a viewer strongly hopes that is the case, Showgirls despite its stylized sexuality and preponderance of violence, truly reflects a world that could be Las Vegas.  It depicts the city as a fictionalized dreamscape in its nightlife, one where aspirations can occur, only to cast a less than welcoming hue over everything when the morning light comes.  The characters within the film suffer from their own delusions and excesses whether it be James and his desires to be both a critically acclaimed choreographer and a master of erotic dance, or the dancers throughout who expect their children to be well-spoken and mild mannered but see little issue within bringing them into their foul-mouthed and nudity heavy dressing rooms.  It is easy to see how decadence formulates within Cristal and Zack who spend lavishly on libations and sexual gratification, only as a means to counter their clearly problematic relationship, in fact, the scene in which Zack and Nomi hook up at his house is  so decadent that a viewer will find it damn near incomprehensible, not to mention that Kyle MacLachlan relishes in throwing down some excellent over-the-top acting during the scene.  Yet it is Nomi who seems most apt to describe as decadent, because while viewers are led to believe that she is truly trying to escape her past, her actions often reflect and individual who is self-loathing and purely wants things for her possession, even if she intends not to take them seriously, this is certainly the case with her desire to become a Goddess dancer, something she obtains, but then completely overlooks its importance by gorging on junk food and partying her days away.  Nomi is a decadent and self-involved character who the narrative hopes you will find sympathy for, yet it is so clear that she possesses no desire to change, thus making her a decidedly unlikeable and problematic character.  Who knows maybe this is the major flaw of the film.

Key Scene:  Kyle MacLachlan, champagne, sex and swimming pool.  It is really more of the cultural humor within this scene than anything else.

I mean, I would suggest only watching this if you really have a curiosity about its place in cult history.  It is not endearing like other cult classics and does not have any hidden cinematic value.  I would pass on to something else if given an option.

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