Snow White Does Las Vegas
The fact that Showgirls is back in theaters speaks volumes about reevaluation, and as far as prep talks go it says a lot about media hype and the burning of idols, too. That movie would be a cautionary tale if anything of the sort still existed; as such, it nevertheless takes part in a conversation about Short Attention Span Disorder that no one is able to follow, and that’s the irony of it.
Irony is not exactly foreign to Paul Verhoeven, as demonstrated by Robocop, Starship Troopers (is it the best bad movie ever, or is it the worst good movie, the jury will ever be out) or even Basic Instinct. The man is one of the few European directors to have left his mark on Hollywood at the end of the 20th century, directing big budgets blockbusters which were hot topics at the time, mainly for their violence but also for their sexuality (remember that particular piece of the True Crotch?) But, but, violence is good, violence is fun, and sex is not. Sex is evil, well, women sex is. The female sex in general. Whores and witches, all of’em, ya know.
By switching focus from violence to sex, Verhoeven spoke the unspeakable and committed a cardinal sin. Backlash was swift, the same ones who enjoyed Total Recall (Violence + Comedy) and Basic Instinct (Violence + Sex) rejecting with puritan horror Showgirls (Sex + Comedy). What the hell was he thinking, desecrating Las Vegas, the Wedding Meccah? Focussing on strip clubs and tacky shows, when there is so much to gamble about, what Ocean’s Eleven, a perfectly apt American movie made by a less controversial European director, made six years later?
But what about the movie itself, you think? Well, think of it as an adult version of Snow White and fuggettabout the Seven Dwarves. If you can’t, you have a fetish and you are very much welcome, but you have a problem, too. So: Snow White, the Evil Queen, and Prince Charming. Las Vegas is the mirror on the wall, the bad guy who says to the Queen (Gina Gershon, one of the most carnivorous actresses who ever were) that there is a fairer of them all. Snow White (Elisabeth Berkeley, not a great thespian by any mean but the quintessence of bimbo, and as such an inspired casting) does what Zach Snyder’s limp dicked Sucker Punch was unable to show: she dances like hell, thank you very much, and when she does it is impossible not to watch (the impossibility of the male gaze not to stare at beauty being our fetish of the week).
Showgirls is a great movie, but it’s the Versace in a row of Prada. It’s tacky, expensive and camp, yet smart as a whip and, at the end of the day, surprisingly human for all the caricature involved. Its backstage scenes are as superiorly filmed as its show scenes are flatly vulgar, all organised confusion and petty revenge when no natural empathy is involved. And a lot of empathy is at work here. For all its bare breasts, implied sex and titillation, Showgirls is at its core a feminine movie, its men helpless or unable to touch (Kyle McLachlan, miscast but not as Prince Charming). It’s Grrrl power two years before Spice World. It’s a shame to the Razzie Awards, which Verhoeven was the first director to attend to collect his. Irony, see, is a tightrope, but if you get to the other side the same ones who derided you will clap, given time. And balance.
Also, writer Joe Eszterhaz was at its best with this one. “They wanna fuck Hope. This is a classy joint”. This is screwball for the millenium. A perfect companion to Wall Street (1987), except that one got an Oscar even though it is much inferior, Showgirls is like its “Goddess” heroin, ambitious as hell and how fuck does it know the moves to get there (this one pool sex scene with Prince Charming a cyborg terror one). But when a drag queen becomes the closest she has to a mother, Nomi is genuinely happy to see her again. “Full of shit”, the fat lady sings. Irony, yes?