In a head-on collision with American sensbilities, it was laughed at, derided upon, torn apart with weighty adjectives and the battle lines were quickly drawn up by those who either loved Showgirls or hated it. However, in director Jeffrey McHale‘s You Don’t Nomi you will be presented with a series of different perspectives to help balance the argument.
-Will it change your mind, turn hate into love or (at a push) deliver admiration for a ‘failure’ that was too far ahead of its audience?
... You Don't Nomi becomes that essential après déjèuner amuse-bouche that throws the previous courses into a different context.
Well, the basic faultline (then as now) seems pretty clear. It was sex. Paul Verhoeven wanted to show it and mainstream 90s America wasn’t ready for it. Whether shocking audiences with such movies as Flesh + Blood, Basic Instinct or Starship Troopers, Verhoeven always knew how to get a reaction. However, when Showgirls arrived in 1995, his Hollywood run of form quickly ran sour. Far from being taken seriously, it was taken apart. In press, in print and on TV, and with the usual “save America’s soul brigade” taking up their banners outside participating theatres, Showgirls‘ infamy was duly born. And yet now in the more permissive noughties, some would argue that Showgirls is now due a proper third act of appreciation.
Taken as either an intentional (or unintentional) comedy, Showgirls has become a film that you can laugh with, rather than at. Much like 1974’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre which hinges upon actress
Teri McMinn’s ability to scream throughout the entire movie, Showgirls’ magnetism is solely charged by Elizabeth Berkeley’s ability to be constantly manic, contrary or both. And herein lies the next strand of Nomi’s modern appeal.
Elevated into the same stratosphere of mania reserved for the likes of Isabelle Adjani in Possession or Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest, Nomi’s high voltage antics have become cocaine-coated catnip for drag queens the world over. Where camp is an exaggerated form of seriousness that bursts its own bubble, Nomi indded has that covered with a single toss of her first slush-puppy. Also factoring in Nomi’s escape from a past so as to recreate herself anew in a distant place and her journey chimes bigtime for many in the queer community.
Is showgirls still a mess? -Yes. Was it always intended to by one? Well, that’s the fun with on-going mysteries. They can’t be categoirically solved and Verhoeven, arch prankster that he is, loves still prodding his audience with every interview he gives. -Did Verhoeven really manage to get Hollywood to finance a slew of 1990s blockbusters that served nothing more than to lampoon American culture? I don’t know but if yes, then its a delicious fantasy because with this Las Vegas romp, he busted his flush in spectacular fashion.
By seeking and being duly granted the industry’s kiss-of-death certification “NC-17”, Showgirls did die a death at the box office and since then its NC-17 rating has slipped to slumped to a lowly 16. That said, taken as a double bill, You Don’t Nomi becomes that essential après déjèuner amuse-bouche that throws the previous courses into a different context – and this is exactly what a good movie documentary should do.
If nothing else, it certainly beats “brown rice and vegetables”.0