maybe you missed something . . .
Maybe you missed something . . .
Here's a capsule review I wrote on Showgirls for an upcoming book I'm contributing to:
dir: Paul Verhoeven
The time has come to reevaluate one of the most universally loathed films of the last decade. Showgirls is a wicked piece of satire that went over everyone's head--including mine--on its first release in 1995. Being a committed Verhoeven fan, I went with higher expectations than the critical bandwagon had dictated. Nonetheless, I dutifully hated it. Cut to, five years later, and I come across a review in which the Chicago Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaum refers in an article wherein noted French director Jacques Rivette "[defends] Showgirls as the best and most personal of Verhoeven's American films." Intrigued, I donned a fake mustache and rented it. I was stunned. Stunned I tell you. Five years' perspective made this second viewing an entirely new experience. Yes, Elizabeth Berkeley is awful. But we don't object when John Waters uses bad actors intentionally. Perhaps that's because Waters is ultimately very affectionate toward his characters, while Verhoeven clearly hates just about everyone. It's crucial to Verhoeven's vision that Berkeley be unable to convince us of her character's humanity, because Nomi ("no me"?) is inhuman. In a deeply subversive twist on the Hollywood cliche of the stagestruck ingenue's rise to stardom, Nomi finally achieves her full potential when she stops pretending to be human and embraces her inner monster. At the end of Showgirls, I had a mental image of Nomi shedding her showgirl skin to reveal a hideous monster, and this was confirmed for me by the song that played over the closing credits: Siouxsie Sioux singing "I Need a New Skin." Please, don't wait for the French to point out our myopia once again: see and reevaluate Showgirls as film that perfectly fulfills its every intention, unpalatable as those intentions may ultimately be.
Here's a bio of Verhoeven I contributed to the same book.
Paul Verhoeven might the most controversial film director to achieve mainstream commercial success. Many serious critics consider him a dirty-minded hack; others, equally serious, would have you believe he's the postmodern lovechild of Alfred Hitchcock and Jonathan Swift. Count me among the latter.
Paul Verhoeven was born July 18, 1938, in Amsterdam. (His childhood memories of Nazi occupation inform his work on many different levels.) While earning a doctorate in mathematics and physics, he became interested in making films. His later work as a documentary filmmaker for the Marine Film Service of the Royal Dutch Navy provided him with opportunities to learn the craft of filmmaking. After a stint in Dutch television, he began directing feature films in 1973 with "Business Is Business," an awkward sex comedy with a prostitute as protagonist. (He would rarely--though with a couple notable exceptions--stray far from such subject matter as his skills matured and his themes solidified.) Over the next 12 years, Verhoeven became the Netherlands' most successful director with the critically and commercially successful films "Turkish Delight," "Keetje Tippel," "Soldier of Orange," and "Spetters," culminating with the explicitly Hitchcockian and feverishly stylish thriller "The Fourth Man," which features a beautician named Delilah (get it?) who has a frightening flair with scissors. The international (read: American) success of this film put Hollywood onto him, and all of his subsequent features have been American productions with wildly variable critical and commercial reception.
Like Hitchcock, Sirk, and Fassbinder, most of Verhoeven's films are about the power of female sexuality. And, also like them, he seems by turns--and sometimes concurrently--fascinated and appalled by this awesome power; many of his heroines are more like superhuman fertility goddesses than like real human women. Explicitly or not, the central image of much of Verhoeven's work is the Freudian concept of the vagina dentata. This combined with the other pillar of Verhoeven's artistic vision--an overwhelming misanthropy (see childhood, Nazi occupation)--serves to make much of Verhoeven's work problematic for many viewers. Like Lars Von Trier, the most frequent target of Verhoeven's viciously gleeful anger is the film audience itself, an approach which warms very few cockles. In "Flesh and Blood" (1985), an abducted medieval maiden seizes control of her rapist by pretending to enjoy it; in his homage to Hitchcock, 1992's "Basic Instinct," and in the 1995 vicious satire "Showgirls" (a highly controversial film which some critics, myself included, consider Verhoeven's masterpiece and one of the most grossly underappreciated films of all time), Verhoeven's mythology of the vagina dentata is fully--almost literally--realized, with two of the fatale-est femmes since "Diabolique" or "Mademoiselle." (In "Basic Instinct," Verhoeven pays sly tribute to Sirk by casting Dorothy Malone, Oscar winner for Sirk's "Written on the Wind" and an obvious foremother to "Showgirls"'s Nomi Malone, as murderer-mentor to Sharon Stone.)
In his science fiction movies, the femme fatale tends to be less in evidence (though never completely absent), but Verhoeven's guiding misanthropy remains in the forefront. "Robocop" (1987) is a satire of corporate greed (as is "Showgirls," on one of its many levels); but it's also a special-effects thrill ride with lots of explosions. "Total Recall" (1990) is probably his most straightforward blockbuster, but with a story taken from Phillip K. Dick Verhoeven still manages to ridicule the government. "Starship Troopers" (1997) is a twisted homage to Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" and a vicious satire of jingoistic patriotism, but it's also got some very cool giant bugs in it. "Hollow Man" (2000) is a meditation on voyeurism and personal responsibility, but it's also a pretty cool special-effects vehicle about an invisible mad scientist.
Paul Verhoeven, by working well within the visual vocabulary of the Hollywood blockbuster but upending the audience's expectations at every opportunity, is at the same time one of the most commercially polished and politically (and sexually) subversive directors working today.
Here's this newspaper's own Jonathan Rosenbaum (arguably one of the most respected movie critics in the world today) on Showgirls:
. . . it must be admitted that, as with Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers , which I also underrated initially, this movie has only improved with age--or maybe it's just that viewers like me are only now catching up with the ideological ramifications of the cartoonlike characters. In this case, the degree to which Las Vegas (and by implication Hollywood) is viewed as the ultimate capitalist machine is an essential part of the poisonous package.
And this forum's resident moviegeek, Cervaise, wrote a very clearheaded treatment of Verhoeven and Showgirls in a thread titled "Verhoeven reconsidered," but the hamsters are obviously not fans: it no longer exists.
Occasional blogger: http://drunksunshine.com/author/charley/