Omega 13 “In defence of…”- A weekly treatise in which we analyze publicly derided Box Office Failures using granular convection to piece out the good that might lie beneath.
With the internet taking great pleasure casting an askance view on even the minute of failures in all manner of creative endeavour I thought it might be nice to look at those famously bad films of the past and revealing all the moments where they made the right choice. All movies have them, and they are even easier to see in a bad movie than in a good movie (since good movies are brimming with goodness). Kind of a Devil’s Advocate, but with a Pollyanna attitude; This is Omega 13…
Episode 06- Showgirls (1995)
Release Date: Sept 22, 1995
Budget: 45 Million
1st Weekend Total: 8.1 Million (Domestic)
Filmed in 2:35, the frame size of the Epic, and no journey deserves it more than the tumultuous life of Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley). A woman with a mysterious past leaves the mid-west to find a new life in Las Vegas. With dreams of becoming a Vegas Showgirl, but no idea how, she quickly falls back in to old ways Pole Dancing, and stripping, and making extra money performing private lap dances in the back room.
One night the headliner at the Stardust, Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon) drops by at the club where Nomi dances to check out her moves and, maybe a small inclination to belittle her, ends up offering a spot in the auctions for backup dancers. Nomi wins a spot and quickly learns that fulfilling your dreams is not the end of your troubles, and in Las Vegas everyone is your friend until they don’t need anything from you, anymore.
“Sooner or later you’re going to have to sell it”
On first glance, Berkley’s portrayal of Nomi seems unsettling in its constant bouncing from anger to sweetness, but in truth it’s all there for the viewer to understand, they just don’t spell it out for you. When she is cagey about giving out her Social Security Number to the Stardust you are aware she was hiding something, or running from something, but you don’t know what. The pieces are there but it isn’t until the last Act when we have her history spelled out to us that we get the whole story.
A woman who lost her parents when she was very young, and bouncing through orphanages, and prostitution she learned that she can only count on herself, and most everyone has a game to play. So, it is no wonder that when you first meet her on that lonely highway 342 Miles from Las Vegas she seems happy, almost innocent, but once the man who gives her a ride offers a rather innocuous comment that she could “Sit a little closer” Nomi is quick to pull a switch blade on him. She has spent her whole life like a beaten pit bull, the only thing she can count on is badness in the world. And finally, when Nomi’s soon to be best friend offers to help her out by way of place to stay, Nomi once again switches from snarling animal to wide-eyed child. Could this be a person who will be nice to her…. but for how long?
You just got 500 of a lap dance
You act like somebody died
Regardless of what the trailers tried to sell us, Showgirls is, in fact, not a film about an innocent girl entering the machine of Las Vegas only to be spit out on the other side a cold, withered shadow of herself, this is the story of a woman who picked the wrong industry to work out her inner demons. Fact is this could have played in Hollywood, or Broadway… where looks and public opinion play just as an important role as your quality to do a good job. As the early 21st Century Philosopher, Megan Fox said, “<Actors> get paid to feign attraction and love. Other people are paying to watch us kissing someone, touching someone, doing things people in a normal monogamous relationship would never do with anyone who’s not their partner.”
Nomi’s dream is to become a dancer. It is then implied that she has had this dream for years, and again, it is implied that through an act of hegemony she was never in a position to fulfill that dream because she has come from a place that is like starting at a negative. She had no parents to love her and encourage her, she ran away from a foster home, and on the streets she found she had no choice but to make money through prostitution. She says, “I did what I had to do.” Which, of course, is the truth. The cracks that swallow up kids inside the system are wide as they are deep and on some level Nomi deserves some credit for making it this far without dying… or worse.
I am not a whore.
No, you’re not. You’re gonna be a big star. Your face is gonna be on billboards. Your face is going to make a lot of money for the Stardust.
The main back and forth of the film comes between Nomi and the headliner, Cristal, and it is tumultuous at best. Their relationship travels between affection and loathing over the course of moments, and back again. Yet, once you follow Nomi’s journey to its bitter end, where she gets one last conversation with Cristal, you understand where the jealousy comes from, and the attraction. Nomi admires Cristal and that little kid inside her that existed before her parents died wants desperately to have Cristial as a mentor, and Cristal’s actions hint at such a union. Yet, Cristal will one day be too long in the tooth to headline and perhaps Nomi will be the one to swoop in and take over. In a world built on looks and sex-appeal- so much so that, much like some kind of porn audition, when Nomi makes it to final round of auditions to be in the show, she is told to take off her top, given ice cubes, and encourages to show her nipples fully erect- that Cristal’s breast will fall before Nomi’s do and no matter how great of a dancer Cristal is she will never compete.
The dance number that marks the end of Act 2, is a ego-filled, ballet(?) of emotions. Nomi has had her understudy status taken away from her by Cristial who has connived the owner in to removing her. Dreams smashed, and emotions high, the two women still have to perform for the people, and as Gay says, “Don’t go on stage crying.” The power play between Gina Gershon and Elizabeth Berkley was spectacular in this scene. The very example of modern dance, we witness Berkley rising to the level of acting that Gershon is brimming with, through every dance movement and knife-filled glare they are fighting each other, and their pasts and soon to be futures. This dance is for all the dances they ever lost, and for all the shows yet to come.
The parts of Showgirls that seem to be overlooked are the wonderful back-stage world of dancing. From the choreographer that is a hard-ass but gets the best out of his dancers, to the inner bickering between a roomful of “actors” (read: most people in the theatrical arts are strong-willed, and prone to bouts of high emotion). The life of professional dancer is a tough one, you are expected to know the choreography and remember it with some times very little time to prepare. Sure, it might be exaggerated in the film world, but no more than the film and TV series FAME did, or the performances in All That Jazz. One missed step, one extra beat; a pelvic thrust not strong enough, or out of place with the rest of the dancers could be more than enough to send you back to lap dancing at the Cheetah.
The stress in the rehearsals and auditions worked well, and conveyed to do or die that floats over the performers like a black rain cloud over Charlie Brown. A VFX Supervisor once said to me after a rather exhausting day on set, “Never let your Vacation become your Vocation.” And I believe him. These dancers, men or women, have spent their whole lives dancing because they love it, and hopefully, one day maybe make money doing what you love… and one day you are standing on stage with fifty other beautiful people, sweating and scared because one slip-up, one false move and you might not get it. Or even more, you get it and then what you did for fun now is something you might get fired from, and one day you are tapped on the shoulder and told you are too old… and then what? Maybe you can teach. The behind the scenes bits are worth the price of admission for any fan of the stage.
Showgirls is clearly not a serious drama per se, from the the director of Robocop, and Starship Troopers, Verhoeven has laced this film with the same amount of social satire, and biting commentary on the public’s need for titillation and how that affects the actors, and performers. One part Hyperbole, one part melodrama, and just a dash of Verhoeven inflicting himself in the scenes by encouraging the actors to over-act, switching from emotion to emotion with almost tornado-like chaos. It is almost as if he was trying to say, Look how much these people take all this seriously. And then, to the keen eye of the seasoned viewer, he seems to be making the statement that if you find this film sexual in any way, you might be the problem yourself.
A film full with over-the-top performances from otherwise great actors, and excessive amounts of nudity, and eye brow raising sex that it will live on with infamy well beyond our years. Gone the way of Rocky Horror, Showgirls is now a midnight movie all over the country where they hand out copies of the script and have Transvestites reenact the dance numbers.
Not one of Verhoeven’s best films, but with revisionist eyes it does seem to have more going on than when first it came out. Not the scathing statement it was purported to be by screenwriter Eszterhas and director Verhoeven, but it tries and sometimes even succeeds.
End Episode 06
Stay tuned for next week’s episode of Omega 13 where we dig through mire to find the appreciable inside 2008’s Twilight.