[box cover]

Showgirls

Since its release to an unsuspecting public in 1995, the notorious Paul Verhoeven/Joe Eszterhas collaboration Showgirls has become a cultural touchstone. Consider the possibility, however, that Showgirls isn't a terrible movie at all, but a very effective movie that's grossly misunderstood. That doesn't mean it's brilliant filmmaking, by any means, but returning to it with some distance and some perspective, one can appreciate what Verhoeven was trying to achieve with the film. Showgirls is both a comment on the greedy excess of American popular culture — with the show-biz world of Las Vegas representing the worst of American vulgarity — and an exaggerated, camp-tastic riff on the classic chorus-girl-claws-her-way-to-the-top Hollywood picture. It's a classically constructed fable at heart — innocent girl comes to the big city to make it in show biz, comes up against bad people who try to corrupt her, sells a little of her soul in exchange for stardom, then has a change of heart and turns her back on fame. But Nomi (Elizabeth Berkley) is a wee bit psychotic, with serious issues related to the idea of being a "whore" — the very use of the word makes her see red and respond by throwing tantrums, spitting in faces, and stomping out of auditions. Even though she's working as a stripper and grinding the crotches of the Cheetah Club's customers for lap-dance money, Nomi steadfastly insists that she's a dancer, not a whore — no matter how often everyone she encounters on the way up the ladder, including the Stardust casino's skeezy-but-sexy entertainment director (Kyle MacLachlan) and his bitchy, bisexual star attraction (Gina Gershon), rightly claim that they're all whores, selling tits and ass for money. Working with a sincere screenplay which seems to actually mean its rags-to-riches message, filtered through Eszterhas' trademark woman-hating sexual hang-ups, Verhoeven turned Showgirls into something wholly different than what the writer intended. Like Douglas Sirk (or Todd Haynes emulating Douglas Sirk, for that matter), the film that Verhoeven crafted is far more complex than the story that the writer put on the page. By amplifying and exaggerating Eszterhas' misogynistic, cliché-ridden, hopelessly formulaic script, Verhoeven created both a commentary on the vulgarity of American culture and a vicious parody of unimaginative Hollywood blockbusters — and made the audience actually turn on the very narrative formulas that enticed them into the theater in the first place. Of course audiences hated the movie. They were supposed to hate it. And that's what makes Showgirls a work of art. MGM Home Video's "VIP Edition" box set offers a very good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) of the NC-17 film, gloriously bright and richly saturated, with rather uneven Dolby Digital 5.1 audio that jumps dramatically in volume during the musical numbers. Other than the volume problem, the audio is very clean and clear, with everything from flying French fries to divas tumbling down stairs coming through in glorious detail. There's also an audio commentary by David Schmader, a self-described "biggest fan" of the film who's developed a cottage industry hosting live Showgirls screenings during which he makes snarky comments, plus a picture-in-picture commentary by actual strippers during the strip-club segments, a the "Lap-Dance Tutorial from the Girls of Scores" (5 min.), a "Showgirls Diary" featurette made up of several two- or three-minute "making-of" peeks, a "Trivia Track," plus twoShowgirls shot glasses, a deck of playing cards, rules for playing Showgirls-themed drinking games, and a "Pin the Pasties on the Showgirl" game. Keep-case in a collectible paperboard box.
—Dawn Taylor

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