We’re very happy to have a guest post from one writer who knows his stuff. Justin LaLiberty is a student at the prestigious L Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation. To be accepted into this program you need to have a near encyclopedic knowledge of film history, and Justin certainly does. Today he graces us with his story of learning to love Paul Verhoeven, and even his seminal masterpiece; Showgirls. For more of Justin’s writing, check him out over at The Dreamin’ Demon or The Liberal Dead.
The SHOWGIRLS Effect: Or, How I Learned to Stop Doubting Verhoeven and Love His Masterpiece
ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL, STARSHIP TROOPERS, BASIC INSTINCT. I was wondering if I was ever going to come across a Paul Verhoeven film that didn’t play out like some adolescent boy’s wet dream. Let’s see; giant alien bugs, half man/half robot cop, Arnold causing a ruckus on Mars, rampant lesbianism. Yup, all things I dreamed about when I was twelve. However, as fate would have it, just when I was about to lose hope in the would-be-auteur that is Verhoeven, he stunned me. I, against my better judgment, picked up a copy of SHOWGIRLS. Between the horrible word-of-mouth and the fact that it was another Verhoeven joint, I had low expectations to say the least. What I didn’t expect to find was an intimate, endearing, and even unique portrayal of one young woman’s ascent to stardom as a Las Vegas showgirl. What I’m trying to say is: SHOWGIRLS is Verhoeven’s masterpiece.
You all know the story of SHOWGIRLS by now. If you don’t, than you should stop reading this and watch it. And then watch it again shot by shot so that you can truly revel in every exquisite detail. And by every detail, I clearly am referring to Ms. Elizabeth Berkley’s portrayal of “you don’t” Nomi Malone; a performance that was clearly robbed of numerous awards in 1995. She did manage to win the Razzie for Worst Actress, which is something I’ll never understand. Clearly her work is too cerebral for mere awards voters to properly recognize. Joining Ms. Berkley we have Special Agent Dale Cooper himself, Kyle MacLachlan as well as the ever loveable Gina Gershon. So, we have Verhoeven going from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Douglas to a cast comprised of stars of TV shows: SAVED BY THE BELL, TWIN PEAKS and MELROSE PLACE, respectively. Most would scoff at this idea, but it is a brilliant move on Verhoeven’s part. Working outside of the Hollywood star system allowed Verhoeven to breathe and to take full control over his film. It also gave him actors that would be daring and in roles that truly required them to be. Sure, he may have got Sharon Stone to flash some camel toe (or did he?) and he may have convinced Arnold to candidly pick his nose but nothing compares to the revelatory moments he garners from his impeccable cast here. Take the scene where Berkley and MacLachlan get jiggy with it in his pool for example, these two don’t merely “fuck”. No, they apparently have champagne induced seizures and appear to genuinely be engaged in coitus. This isn’t a brief vag-flash or gargantuan booger removal, this is passion at 24fps and it can only be seen in SHOWGIRLS.
Of course, this film isn’t just about the characters or how beautiful they are. No, SHOWGIRLS boasts a 128 minute run time and uses every minute to its advantage. Being a film about Las Vegas showgirls, there are plenty of elaborate, brilliantly executed dance numbers. Hell, one of them even includes a volcano! And people claimed STARSHIP TROOPERS was spectacular, I don’t see a fucking volcano surrounded by topless dancers in that movie. This isn’t mere style over substance however; after all, this is Verhoeven’s CITIZEN KANE. The script for SHOWGIRLS, which is often unfairly criticized, is exceptional. I’d say it is in the top scripts of the 1990s, and I’d potentially say one of the best screenplays in American cinema history. Joe Eszterhas has written a masterpiece here and has still not gotten the recognition he deserves for it. I get the feeling that is all just bad blood over BASIC INSTINCT and if someone like Mike Nichols name was attached to this than people would be praising the naturalistic, conversational nature of the dialogue. It is unfair to share lines of dialogue out of context, but these are so well written that I can’t resist: “Life Sucks. Shit Happens. I’m a student of T-shirts”, “I liked it when you came. I liked your eyes”, “Dancing aint fucking, right?”.
Honestly, there is not much left to say about the pinnacle of Verhoeven’s career that has not been said yet. The acting is some of the best to get the screen in the past twenty years, and from actors who were not stars (but should have been) at that. The script reads like a poem on the fragility of the human condition and contains some of the most resonant, natural dialogue to appear in an American film. Verhoeven even gives us spectacle without feeling the need to be spectacular. He knows that this isn’t taking place on Mars and that real life is dramatic enough. And that’s what SHOWGIRLS is: real.