Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Showgirls Blog Party

Dear Elizabeth Berkley,

So here you are at this metal pole. You lick the pole because it is "hot" for you to do so. You're to be "hot" because you were once Jesse Spano on Saved by the Bell. For the money they paid you, your role was not simply to be a stripper in a movie story, but something larger than that, something that expands outside of the diegesis and outside of the film itself, into the larger celebrity sphere. You were to be--not just play, but be--a "girl gone wild." That bearded man in the background of the film still I've linked to (sorry for only linking but Blogger's photo function is being melodramatic with me): he's as much a part of your role as you are, because your role necessitated from the first a spectator. Maybe, preferably, a "dirty old man." Maybe someone whose children watched Saved by the Bell (because, after all, your fan base on that show was not yet old enough to legally see Showgirls in American theaters).

Did you know that you sold yourself and not your acting talents, not even your good looks? You were a sacrificial lamb in this multimillion dollar T&A flare-up. You have unfairly shouldered the blame for this "travesty." Paul Verhoeven, Gina Gershon, Kyle McLachlan? They've all done fine post 1995--popular discourse may consider Showgirls a blemish on their careers, but it's just a blemish, not a cancerous tumor. (Of course, Joe Eszterhas achieved notoriety precisely because he wrote cancerous, scandalous material. So take that for what it's worth.) What people who laugh at the naked Jesse Spano fail to realize is that it was never your fault, at all, and that had they gotten any comparable starlet to play Nomi Malone, should would have been burnt by the flare-up, as well. It's a pity that you've been left on the curbside, referenced only by your humble rise on television and your ignominious fall on film. (I see you've since been in at least two moderately praised films I've managed not to see: Rodger Dodger and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.) I sincerely long for a bigger Berkley resurrection--just to see where it goes!

What was so shameful about Showgirls was that only it made transparent the stupidity behind the star success story, the girl-making-good, the triumph "despite" the machinations of a greedy system. Eric Henderson has already stated it perfectly: the film made viewers feel bad not about wanting T&A, but about wanting the conventional dramatic payoff. (At least pure sexual desire is honest and upfront, like "dancing at The Cheetah," while the cultural pedastal Showgirls topples is embodied in the Stardust's Goddess.) And as Christoph Huber has pointed out, director Paul Verhoeven "somehow represents the only Hollywood filmmaker who constantly exposes the cynicism inherent in blockbusters."

When you, Elizabeth Berkley, throw down your french fries in dismay early in Showgirls, you're acting in a completely unbelievable way. But when this film provides the viewer with such palpable unbelievability so early in the film (and this isn't the first instance of it in the film, either), and when the film's director has consistently given us variations on this register for years in either direction of 1995, well, you'd think that people would understand a little something about what Showgirls is and is not trying to be. You'd think so, anyway ...

Something Showgirls actually does try to get across is a sense of a system, a corrupt and crushing system, which immediately makes this "unrealistic" film more honest about our world than a great many "realistic" films. There is no evil little man pulling the strings that keep our plucky Nomi Malone and her friends down: no villains, really, only villainous behavior. On the flipside, no saints: only the occasional saintly act, and often depressingly limited, as Nomi's climactic "victory" over a lion-maned Vegas singer demonstrates.

One final recurrent aspect to consider as an example in favor of the film's complexity--every time that Nomi and Cristal (Gershon) trade a line or a sentiment about Nomi's nails, the meaning is never singular and clear, but instead carries with it layers of positive/negative, constructive/destructive, sincere/scheming emotions. That's sharp filmmaking, filmmaking in tune with the gut as well as the head, and a far better criterion on which to judge a film like Showgirls than whether or not you, Ms. Berkley, were believable in your sex scenes.

In 1995, my sentiments would have had no effect, they'd be viewed as only contrarianism. Now, in 2006, we have a network of fans who will sing praises for you and for this film. No longer contrarianism, we're quickly making inroads through reconsideration, and with luck will soon pass into revisionism. And why not, with Jacques Rivette on our side!?

Sincerely,

--Zach

11 comments:

Brian said...

Awesome. I hope she reads that. She was by far the best thing in Roger Dodger, which I otherwise pretty much hated.

Darren said...

Great post. For thirty minutes or so, I considered writing my response to Showgirls in the form of a letter addressed to Jessie Spano, written by A. C. Slater. Great comedic potential, I think, but it would have required more creativity and effort than I could muster for the film.

Aaron Hillis said...

If I hadn't only re-watched Showgirls last night and finished writing my piece at 6 or 7 in the morning, my original plan was to do a what-if timeline of the last decade in cinema if the lap-dance spectacle has been nominated AND won the Best Picture Oscar. In a parallel universe, that post is written and it's pretty damn funny, I think.

Mubarak Ali said...

Someone needs to send this post to Elizabeth Berkeley like, right now!

Eric Henderson said...

Great stuff, Zach. (Letter to) Jane Fonda couldn't possibly have had it this good.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I haven't read them all yet, Zach--I'm relishing taking my time-- but this may be the best Showgirls Day entry yet. I can't say "excellent" often enough, but I can keep thinking it. Thanks for your terrific work.

Campaspe said...

I completely agree that Elizabeth Berkley has had way more than her fair share of Showgirls ignominy. I don't think she's any worse than MacLachlan, or even than Gershon. Gershon gives the most enjoyable performance, but that doesn't mean it's good.

Zach Campbell said...

Thanks, everyone, for your kind comments!

22 said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.

Clenbuterol said...

Very emotional and sincere essay

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