Sunday, June 13, 2010

Showgirls - The Many Faces of Nomi Malone

After spending two weeks in the hospital with my son, who is now steadily recovering, there was only one thing that could snap me out of my freaked-out existence: Showgirls. I caught it one night when I was home, in between hospital sleep-overs.

The last time I saw Showgirls was when it came out on VHS. Somewhat wasted as I sat in a room full of bad-movie aficionados, I marveled at the misogynistic, inane, ineptitude for a solid two hours, eleven minutes. At the end, I turned to one of my friends and said, "I feel so dirty." My friend, who produced hardcore gay porn at the time, looked completely shell-shocked as he replied, "Me too." It was that kind of evening.

Time has not been kind to Showgirls. It still blows chunks. But it blows chunks in large, explosive, hard-to-fathom ways. And I'm glad I caught it again, if only to relieve myself of a little reality. There's nothing whatsoever real about Showgirls. But there's plenty of fancy manicures, mega-false eyelashes and stripey hair glitter. Also boobs. So many boobs, in fact, that by the second hour, I was completely numb to the thrill of it all. One scene follows another in glue-stick fashion, in Joe Eszterhas' crazy-quilt screenplay. And eventually I gaped at the screen, noting dully, "More boobs."

Elizabeth Berkley, stunt-cast as Nomi Malone (great stupid name), was completely savaged by critics. Her portrayal of a desperate drifter from nowhere, rising from the dregs of seedy stripper clubs to top-showgirl goddess status is not exactly legendary. More like a really bad hallucination. Not all of it is her fault. As directed by Paul Verhoeven, she's required to flip her lid every time anyone refers to her as a whore. Since there's plenty of whore-baiting, there's a lot of anger in her performance.

In contrast to her delicate sensibilities, she's savagely sexual in her workaday world. In fact, I'd say she's the most rabid sex worker who doesn't want to be called a sex worker in the history of big-budget softcore NC17-rated porn. She's either ready to cut a bitch or laugh giddily and hug a pink teddy bear. There's not a lot of middle ground with Nomi Malone. But that's what makes her so lovable, except she's not. With dead eyes and snarling features, Nomi Malone is not having a good time any of the time in Las Vegas. And neither are we. And now...

Whoo! Five minutes in and you know it's going to be a fun ride. Eszterhas seems (or seemed; he's all Roman Catholic now, apparently) to have a thing for blond women wielding pointy objects.

I love this title card which is completely unnecessary. All that's going on is that Nomi has a job stripping at a sleazy club and her roommate and brand new friend, Molly, ate all the chips in the trailer. Nevertheless, it is six weeks later than the opening shot of the film. Just so you know.

Close-ups of psychedelic manicures are always welcome around here. And it adds another layer to Nomi's complex personality. Yeah.

Molly gets Nomi in to see the new Goddess show at the Stardust. It's all she ever dreamed of and more.

Gina Gershon rises from an exploding volcano--the stuff dreams are made of.

The blankness in her eyes says it all.

Starry-eyed or dead-eyed, you decide

Backstage, there's an All About Eve vibe, but this shot in particular reminds me more of Valley of the Dolls. Except Valley has classic (if ridiculous) story arcs for its three main characters, whereas Showgirls kind of meanders along in a coke, boobs, violence, simulated sex kind of way. Nomi starts out as a fucked up girl with lots of problems and ends as a fucked up girl with lots of problems wearing a shinier, more expensive wardrobe.

It's unfair to freeze-frame someone in mid-snarl, but Berkley's expressions only range from this to blank moments of glassy-eyed emptiness, with occasional manic glee thrown in here and there. The many faces amount to three total.

This is a moment of Nomi Malone foreplay, since the guy she's kneeing (for daring to suggest she take dancing lessons from him) will stalk her for most of the film. Erotic city.

The guy bails her out of jail and she's furious. She's a lot of fun.

This guy, owner of Cheetah's, the strip club where Nomi gets her start, has the best line of the movie. When she ultimately lands a part in the Stardust show, he visits backstage, musing, "Must be weird, not having anybody come on you." That must be weird indeed!

"Mama" Bazoom is supposed to be (intentional) comic relief but she spouts the most misogynistic jokes of the film. A grotesque in a pop-off dress.

Nomi's big stripper scene. Everyone's excited, claiming she "burns" on stage. I guess if burning means "looking pissed off all the time," then yes, she burns.

But then, manic glee!

And new and disgusting ways of dealing with ice.

Offering coke like it's a stick of gum. Showgirls might be the most autobiographical screenplay ever written.

Getting down with Cristal Connors. Gina Gershon brings a campy relish to her negative-stereotype role of frustrated predatory lesbian.

That's entertainment!

Our trail-head to the infamous "porpoise" sex scene, full of splash and fury.

Nomi is about to be accused of assaulting the show's star attraction. Her reaction is electric (during a brown-out).

But all's well because she is now the Stardust's new firecracker Goddess. She burns!

Them's fightin' nails.

Here's how I best like to remember Nomi Malone--fierce, furious, psychopathic, and made up to the teeth.

All the film stills in the world cannot convey the lunacy of this filmic endeavor. It must be seen to be properly experienced, preferably with a fifth of champagne (for each viewer), a pack of ciggies, and a journal to record your feelings afterwards. Celebrate our cultural legacy with Showgirls.

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