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DVD SAVANT

Showgirls
Fully Exposed Edition


Showgirls
MGM / Fox
1995 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic widescreen / 131 min. / Street Date July 17, 2007 / 19.98
Starring Elizabeth Berkley, Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon, Glenn Plummer, Robert Davi, Alan Rachins, Gina Ravera
Cinematography Jost Vacano
Production Design Allan Cameron
Art Direction William F. O'Brien
Film Editor Mark Goldblatt, Mark Helfrich
Original Music Rena Riffel, David A. Stewart
Written by Joe Eszterhas
Produced by Charles Evans, Alan Marshall
Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Paul Verhoeven is an immensely talented filmmaker who frequently offends the sensibilities of mild-mannered filmgoers. His habit for emptying theaters started in the 1970s with sexually frank films like Spetters and Turkish Delight. The movies were as often cruelly misogynistic as they were expressive and honest. Verhoeven caught fire with his 1977 Soldier of Orange but continued his extreme ways with the almost unwatchably violent and coarse Flesh + Blood. The Mad Dutchman did his best work when diverted to the political lampoons of RoboCop, which was extreme merely in its violence; collaborating with the same producer and writer, he followed it up ten years later with the grossly under-praised Starship Troopers. The commercial problem with Verhoeven's is that his 'reckless' style is too easily confused with unbridled license, as if the director were a wild man eager for every opportunity to loose his violent sexual fantasies. His newest film Black Book is an excellent thriller that rekindles the spirit of Soldier of Orange, yet still cannot resist an episode or two of unnecessarily gross crudity.

What makes Paul Verhoeven difficult to defend are his films with writer Joe Eszterhas. Their 1995 Showgirls effectively sunk Verhoeven's reputation and threw a monkey wrench into Eszterhaus' moneymaking machinery as the then-reigning king of the screenwriting hustle game. I've read defenses of Showgirls as an intentional self-parody or a subversive anti-satire but the film we can see is, or thinks it is, a completely serious and important work about the backstage struggle for fame and glamour in Las Vegas. It's so far beyond bad that the words 'bad movie' seem inadequate. The combined inner demons of Verhoeven and Eszterhas seem to have created a cinematic Monster from the Id, a hateful pile of irredeemable ugliness for the growing heap of cultural garbage. I'm totally against fundamentalist watchdogs proclaiming Hollywood to be a modern Sodom in need of heavenly bolts of lightning, but I'd not like to be defending Tinseltown if this picture was introduced as evidence for the prosecution.

Synopsis:

Hot-to-trot Reno beauty Nomi Malone (Elisabeth Berkley) hitches to Vegas, there to be taken in by small time hustlers and subjected to various immoral propositions. Nomi gets a foothold in a cheap show and is soon performing as a lap dancer. She eventually works her way into a showgirl job in a big casino, where big star Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon) rules the roost. Nomi leaps at sex with show talent director Zack Carey (Kyle MacLachlan) and watches as ugly politics results in failure for some of her friends. She eventually gets her shot at big time stardom.

There's no point in beating this expired equine of a movie any more than is necessary: Showgirls is jaw-droppingly awful in almost every respect (the color cinematography is very pretty). Not a single character in the script even begins to resemble anything human, from Nomi's air-headed idiot to the entire gallery of fake supporting roles that overdo even the simplest of show-biz clichés. Nomi dances like a spastic chicken and only looks glamorous when performing simulated sex while pole dancing or lap "dancing." Almost all the choreography is laughable and/or unpleasant. In a subplot about an ambitious choreographer (Glenn Plummer) with 'new' ideas about dancing, we just see more of the exact same kind of orgasmic sex dancing nonsense. Although even top-liner showgirls are not big name stars, Showgirls pretends that the obnoxious Cristal Connors is a top-paid, internationally honored celebrity. The backstage 'inside intrigues' are too idiotic to be believed. Vegas stage shows are a smooth-running industry probably managed more carefully than most theatrical endeavors, but Eszterhas turns it into something more juvenile than the poorest soap opera.

What's most damning about Showgirls is that its overriding sensibility seems stuck in the smarmy imaginations of anxious middle aged men revisiting their teenaged wet dreams. The female characters are obsessed with their bodies and constantly strip to touch themselves and discuss their breasts; the constant nasty remarks of the showmen and the dancers' own self-loathing are symptomatic of a displaced hatred of women. Under these conditions what should be sexy or titillating quickly subsides into onanistic decadence. Almost the only reason to see Showgirls is to find out how bad it is. It's not only bad, it's dispiriting -- a real joy killer.


MGM/Fox's Fully Exposed Edition of Showgirls mainly repackages MGM's 2004 VIP Limited Edition. The enhanced transfer is of the same excellent quality, and the film is the same 131-minute cut. Fox may be reissuing many MGM discs that came out only a couple of years back, just to collect their distribution fees.

The disc extras are unusually good; I don't know how many of them appeared on earlier releases. MGM found self-starting film commentator David Schmader lecturing at various fan gatherings championing the film as the worst movie ever made, and engaged him to put his feeling on an audio track. It makes a great commentary. Schmader's opening statements lure one into thinking that he's going to spend his time defending the movie. He instead proceeds to new universes of scorn and criticism, effectively pointing out the wrong-headed truth about nearly every character, plot contrivance, dialogue line and costume. Refreshingly non-fanatic in his attitude, Schmader graciously praises MGM Home Video for having the sense to realize that Showgirls can breathe only in an atmosphere of pure Camp. Most tracks of this kind mainly reveal the personal obsessions of the commentator, but I found Schmader to be reasonable, sane and entertaining all the way through.

Also on hand is a fun pop-up trivia track that offers a steady stream of informational nuggets as the film plays. It too serves a practical purpose, pointing out when the film's view of Vegas or showgirl life conflicts with reality, as well as highlighting continuity issues and actor background information.

Within the commentary is a secondary video commentary for the Strip Club dance scene, by actual exotic dancers billed as "The Girls of SCORES." Anybody wanting a professional play-by-play on Elizabeth Berkley's bump and grind can reference this extra, and also the separate featurette Lap Dance Tutorial where we learn the rules and receive turn-on recommendations from these same pro ecdysiasts. New video shows the experts in action; with their amazing bodies, why these women need do anything at all to excite a man is an open question.

Showgirls Diary combines behind-the-scenes footage of Paul Verhoeven directing with pre-shoot storyboards, dispelling unkind rumors by proving that Showgirls was filmed with real cameras and actual living people. It's nicely edited and will please the film's diehard fans.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Showgirls (Fully Exposed Edition) rates:
Movie: So Awful that it goes past Poor, continues around the playing board at least twice before landing on "Do Not Pass GO, go directly to JAIL."
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Commentary by David Schmader with video commentary by The Girls of SCORES; Lap Dance Tutorial with The Girls of SCORES, trivia track, A Showgirls Diary.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 5, 2007

Footnote:

 1 1. Savant was at MGM when Showgirls was in production and cut various promos for it. I did make one discovery that the horn-dog fan base never seemed to pick up on when they went for their full letterboxed versions instead of the full frame VHS release: Since Showgirls was filmed in Super-35, the 'flat' version opened up the lower extremity of the frame, essentially doubling the visible nudity in at least half the shots. Hey, when reviewing a picture as vile as Showgirls, Public Service is where you find it.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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