Episode 254: Showgirls

Special Guests: Rena Riffel, Jessica Flowers, David Schmader, Adam Nayman
Guest Co-Hosts: Heather Drain, Jay Bauman

Hey darlin's, was Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls just awful dreck from the pen of or a subversive masterpiece about the subjugation of women?

Guest co-hosts Dangerous Minds' Heather Drain and Red Letter Media's Jay Bauman debate the topic with Mike. Our guests include the writer/director/star of Showgirls 2: Penny's From Heaven, Rena Riffel, the author of It Doesn't Suck: Showgirls, Adam Nayman, the provider of the Showgirls commentary track, David Schmader, and former exotic dancer, Jessica Flowers.

Put on your Ver-sayce, get yourself iced up, and prepare to be thrust into the world of Showgirls!

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Links:
Buy Showgirls on Blu-Ray
Buy Showgirls 2: Penny's From Heaven on DVD
Buy Showgirls 2: The Cut
Buy Trasharella on DVD
Buy It Doesn't Suck: Showgirls by Adam Nayman
Buy Weed: A User's Guide by David Schmader
Buy Showgirls: Portrait of a Film by Paul Veroeven
Buy Hollywood Animal by Joe Eszterhas
Visit the Showgirls! The Musical website
Read Showgirls is a Good Movie by Haley Mlotek
Read Paul Verhoeven on the Greatest Stripper Movie Ever Made by Jennifer Wood
Read The Real Reason Elizabeth Berkley Was So Over-The-Top In Showgirls by Brent McKnight
Find out more about Jessica Flowers
Learn more about Heather Drain
Visit Red Letter Media

Music:
"Private Dancer" - Tina Turner
"You're A Whore, Darlin'" - Showgirls! The Musical
"D*ncin' ain't F*ckin'" - Showgirls! The Musical
"Deep Kiss" - Rena Riffel
"I'm Afraid of Americans" - David Bowie

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7 comments:

  1. Eszterhas's book has so many great stories about this. Best one was when he and his wife first met Elizabeth Berkley and were horrified by what a clueless bimbo she was.

    Apparently 'Nomi' was the nickname Joe had for his wife, so when the movie came out he couldn't being himself use that name anymore.

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    1. One thing that I wanted to bring up on the show but forgot is that NOMI is also an abbreviation that police use for "NO MIDDLE INITIAL". Sounds like something that Polly-Ann might have read on her own rap sheet.

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  2. This was a reassuring listen, as I too consider SHOWGIRLS one of Verhoeven's lesser (and less interesting) films. Love ROBOCOP, STARSHIP TROOPERS & especially THE 4TH MAN.

    What baffles me about Verhoeven's sincere belief that this is a significant film - and even his unironic assertion that ROBOCOP is a Christ parable is that...

    Ok. My favorite Verhoeven film, the long out of print Dutch film THE 4TH MAN, has a great commentary track where he talks about T4M being his first film to be loaded with symbolism & metaphor... as a LARK! Pompous Dutch critics had criticized his prior Dutch films as lacking subtext, being unchallenging social realism. So he makes THE 4TH MAN as an erotic thriller loaded with absurd levels of the most over-the-top & confrontational symbolism (Christianity, male bisexuality & castration fears, a veritable smorgasborg of over the top "subtext" as an ironic riposte to his critics).

    T4M, however, ends up being embraced by Dutch critics impressed by all its layers and becomes his biggest hit on the international film circuit, gaining Hollywood's attention. His prankish intellectualism is perceived by his pompous former-detractors as a filmmaker who's "matured."

    After listening to commentary for this film, it's so bizarre for me to hear him talk about his apparently sincere efforts to make SHOWGIRLS... whatever he was trying to make it about.

    Between THE 4TH MAN and SHOWGIRLS, Paul Verhoeven started taking himself too seriously. THE 4TH MAN is a film that employed subtext with irony, and ended up being a brilliant film that was taken seriously. SHOWGIRLS, on the other hand, is a film that's apparently intended to be serious but results in a film that cannot be taken seriously (as drama OR satire!).

    He regained his mischevious spark with STARSHIP TROOPERS. Then the self-serious HOLLOW MAN flounders...

    It just baffles me the way Verhoeven's career has vacillated between razor-sharp perceptiveness & aloof cluelessness. Subversive Mischievious Wit to Unironic Grand Statements.

    I wish more Verhoeven fans have seen THE 4TH MAN. It must be seen by anyone attempting to contextualize his filmography.

    Basic Instinct is largely a Hollywoodized retread of THE 4TH MAN, whose sexual politics work much better as a Dutch arthouse thriller. His Dutch films deal with sexual perversion in a subversive, complex & queer-friendly way that seems to be lost in translation w/ his "erotic" Hollywood films. (Also a great leading performance by Jeroem Krabbe, best known to American audiences as the corrupt Dr. Nichols in 1993's THE FUGITIVE. He's much more of a pervert than Sharon Stone in BASIC INSTINCT, but it never comes off as homophobic.)

    In summation, not a very graceful rant, but I've been waiting for the right comments section to chaotically explore THE 4TH MAN in! (If only my thoughts were as structured as The Foreign Viewer's.)

    Keep up the great work, Rondo-nominated Mr. White! :)

    J.P. the Arizona viewer

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  3. listened to this because of Jay Bauman whom i respect. After 183 mins learned absolutely nothing of interest or consequence. Unfocused clap-trappers in love with the sound of their own voices.

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    1. Hey Anonymous! Thanks for giving us a shot. Sorry it's not your cup of tea!

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  4. I enjoyed this podcast a lot, the interviews were a neat and to me very original approach.

    I own a book in which Paul Verhoeven discusses a bunch of movies, and the one movie of his own that is discussed is Showgirls. The book is in Dutch but a while back I made a summary of it on another site. The perspective of Verhoeven didn't seem to feature prominently in the podcast so it might be interesting and it might be interesting to share it here as well:

    Verhoeven said that he originally envisioned a 'morality tale' packaged as a musical and Las Vegas was used as a metaphor for American hypocrisy. He didn't want to make a glorified porno, which was suggested at the time.

    Verhoeven admits he did not like the original script by Joe Eszterhas (saying it was like a Flashdance sequel and that Eszterhas problably had it laying around), but he felt like he couldn't reject filming it since the same producers had spent $10 million on a failed movie Verhoeven wanted to make (Crusade, a big action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger). Furthermore, Mario Kassar of production company Carolco (which was a long-time partner of Verhoeven) already paid Eszterhas a $4 million advance. Verhoeven thought he could help save the company from bankruptcy. He called this a stupid gesture, especially since Cutthroat Island starring Geena Davis bankrupted the company not much later.

    Verhoeven thought he'd be able to make something out of Showgirls despite the initial script, working hard on improving it after confronting Eszterhas about the poor quality. Verhoeven explains that he and Joe Eszterhas analyzed 'All About Eve' and almost directly copied the character of Karen to create the character of Molly in Showgirls.

    When making the movie, Verhoeven was satisfied that this was the first 40 million dollar movie in which every character is amoral. Except for Molly, and she gets punished for it. Verhoeven calls this the crux of the movie. Carter of course won't get punished for his actions, because he is succesful and makes money for the Las Vegas theatres. Verhoeven felt that American reviewers refused to accept that a foreigner (or two, because the Eszterhas is Hungarian) would have these presumptuous observations about Las Vegas and their society. He recalls a "xenophobic" review by The New York Times, which stated that he would never be able to understand the United States.

    Verhoeven consciously made everything over the top, the characters, the story, the banal dialogues, everything was meant to show extravanganza and was part of a hyperbolic style. Verhoeven maintains that Showgirls most closely shows the American reality in the way he got to know it and calls it his most realistic film about/in the US. The script was based on about 50 interviews held in Vegas, with all kinds of people around the business (showgirls, producers, casino managers, etc).

    Verhoeven does not think the movie was worth all the trouble it created in his live, and would do things differently if he got the chance. He would add a thriller aspect, like a murder that needs to be solved and the story would unfold like a detective. He thinks that would be the solution to the movie, to help create a drive in a movie about opportunism, jealousy and sexual exploitation. He think the nudity wasn't necessarily the problem - Basic Instinct had plenty of it, but it also had a plot that kept going while showing nudity.

    Verhoeven likes the cinematography a lot, with the camera movements and capturing of Vegas' lighting being a reason he likes to rewatch this movie even though he rarely rewatches his own films. He also doesn't agree with the negative criticism on Elizabeth Berkley's acting.

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    1. (final words of the summary that didn't fit in the first post due to character limit):

      That said, Verhoeven is aware of what a failure Showgirls is, and he thinks he's the only one that really likes it. He has heard that Steven Spielberg stopped watching the movie halfway through and said about it "Sometimes I hate this town". Verhoeven says that Showgirls went through a phase in which it was appreciated as a campy movie and later received some praise by filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, Jacques Rivette and Quentin Tarantino. Verhoeven finds this praise sympathetic, but feels nobody needs to defend the movie.

      In the end, Verhoeven does feel happy about making Showgirls, because that movie will only come about once and something like it will never be made again. "Nobody would be crazy enough to make a 40 million dollar movie in this way. Neither will I, by the way", Verhoeven conlcudes.

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