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January 11, 2006

Showgirls

Paul Verhoeven - 1995
MGM Region 1 DVD

What is it about Gina Gershon? It really didn't take much for her to steal Showgirls from Elizabeth Berkley. Berkley's character manages to be unlikable from the beginning of the film. Of course it doesn't help that the explanation for her hard attitude isn't offered until Showgirls last ten minutes. Berkley's appearance is also hard, as if she was dipped in body shellac. It's Gershon who pours on the charm, calling everyone "darlin'", showing off a great big smile between two very full lips.

Viewing the DVD today was my first time with Showgirls since its initial theatrical release. I may be pushing a bit here, but Gershon made me think of Barbara Stanwyck. Neither woman is conventionally attractive, but both are compelling as screen personas. It's more that the fact that Stanwyck also played a kind of showgirl in Lady of Burlesque. Even in her role as Cristal in Showgirls, I could easily imagine Gerson palling around with the professors of Ball of Fire, or riding around the old west with a whip in her hand in Forty Guns. Too few films have taken advantage of Gershon, notably Bound, Demonlover and Prey for Rock & Roll.

Which brings me to screenplay writer Joe Eszterhas. In the "Making of . . ." featurette, Eszterhas describes Showgirls as "a rock and roll musical". This is a pretty astonishing statement. Sure, the soundtrack is composed by David A. Stewart, and a song by Prince is used but, Eszterhas, a former staffer at "Rolling Stone" should know better. A rock and roll musical is Jailhouse Rock, A Hard Day's Night, or even Rocky Horror Picture Show. What is also suspect is that Showgirls main character is Nomi, and Eszterhas' wife's name is Naomi. Be that as it may, Showgirls combines Eszterhas' fantasies about professional dancing in Flashdance with a topping of his sapphic fantasies from Basic Instinct. Unlike the superficial and silly films he is best known for, it is notable that Ezsterhas's best, and most personal work, is titled Telling Lies in America.

The America of Showgirls is about consumerism. Others have noted that aspect of the film. Cocaine, champagne, double-patty hamburgers, designer clothes and cars all are prominently featured. The film also suggests that behind the glitter, are much humbler lives of the supporting players. Nomi's friend Molly lives in a trailer park, while would-be choreographer James lives in a run down neighborhood.

And is it just me, or does anyone else think that William Shockley looks like an American Idol?

Paul Verhoeven may not have made his best film here, but Showgirls fully anticipates an America where image, no matter how false, is the only reality.

Posted by peter at January 11, 2006 02:16 PM

Comments

Peter, I think your actress comparison is very apt. I wouldn't be surprised if Gershon studied Stanwyck's moves; it feels like the glint in Cristal's eye when she's watching her schemes play out might have come directly from Stanwyck in[b]Double Indemnity[/b].

Posted by: Frisco Brian at January 11, 2006 04:28 PM

I totally get that Gershon/Stanwyck comparison though I doubt I'd ever have thought of it on my own. The gleam in Cristal's eye as she watches one of her schemes unfold seems like it could have been directly borrowed from Stanwyck in Double Indemnity.

Posted by: Brian at January 11, 2006 05:23 PM

I've heard a lot of theories on blogs today about Nomi's junk food fetish, and a lot of mentions of it without a theory (like mine!), but your idea about consumerism, with a dash of Fagistan's predator theory, are the ones I'm buying, so to speak.

Posted by: nilblogette at January 11, 2006 08:17 PM

Gershon was the only vaguely watchable performer in the movie, for me. In addition to charisma, however, she shares a problem with Stanwyck -- can't disguise her own California cadences, any more than Brooklyn was ever entirely absent from Stanwyck's speech.

Posted by: Campaspe at January 11, 2006 09:21 PM

Oh... that's what I had against Bo!

Posted by: Eric Henderson at January 11, 2006 09:27 PM