Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Hats off, everyone, and pasties, and G-strings—Oh, hell just take it all off and salute with me the 15th anniversary of Paul Verhoeven’s brilliantly randy Showgirls, which made its ill-fated NC-17 debut in American theaters this very day in 1995. As part of the celebration, I will shamelessly recommend my own defense of the movie’s glorious excesses, as well as a much better piece—the piece that actually opened my eyes to what was going on in the openly sleazy widescreen worldview Mssrs. Verhoeven and scandalous scenarist of the day Joe Eszterhas—by Charles Taylor. Taylor doesn’t presume to explain it all for you, but he does offer a compelling case for why the critics (and audiences) were at the very least misguided (by the media and the conventional wisdom surrounding the movie after its premiere) for snidely dismissing the movie in the first place. At the very least, Showgirls, if you haven’t given it one already, deserves a second look, and its 15th birthday (old enough to get a learner’s permit in most states) is a great occasion to do so.

Coincidentally, Paul Verhoeven himself will be appearing at the Aero Theater here in Santa Monica tomorrow night to host a screening of another of his terrific pop masterpieces, Starship Troopers. This one sailed over the heads of a lot of folks who chose to get all sticky about the movie’s garish violence at the expense of the satire at the foundation of the entire enterprise. Or perhaps it was just that audiences didn’t care for a snazzy entertainment which posited humanity as a largely interchangeable nation of Aryan-esque Ken and Barbie dolls who engage in a war in which, thanks to manipulation tactics on the part of a fascistic world government (and the attendant media), the mindlessly aggressive forces turn out not to be the giant cockroaches but (if you’re paying attention) us. Doubtful this one could even get funded in this current atmosphere of global destabilization, which makes Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier’s prescience (based on Robert Heinlein’s book) even more valuable. This is a can’t-miss appearance—Verhoeven will discuss the movie after the screening, and if you get to the Aero early, around 6:30, you’ll have the chance to press the flesh with the director himself, who will be signing copies of his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, a seriously iconoclastic account of the life of Christ written from Verhoeven’s studies with the Jesus Seminar. (Paul Schrader recently wrote a very positive reaction to the book in Film Comment)

I’ll have a copy of Jesus of Nazareth ready to be signed, certainly, but I’m hoping Verhoeven will have time to scribble on my Showgirls and Starship Troopers Blu-rays too.

(Thanks to S.T. VanAirsdale for the most appreciated heads-up!)



Free Movies Online said...

Don't praise 'Showgirls' too much, they'll end up re-releasing this crap. Or have they done that already?

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I don't get it, FOM. How would rereleasing Showgirls be a bad thing?

Steven Hart said...

The other group offended by "Starship Troopers" was the Heinlein claque who failed to recognize that Michael Ironside, in all his creepy glory, was the very embodiment of the Heinlein Man. I can't think of another flick that worked so well by displaying such open contempt for its source material.

Chris said...

Showgirls is easily the most entertaining pre-code movie made in the post-code era. Let's face it: if Stanwyck had taken her top off in Baby Face and showed us her perky tits for a second or two, she'd be ten times more immortal than she already is.

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Beveridge D. Spenser said...

Speaking as a Heinlein claqueur, my main objection to Starship Troopers is that they left out the jumpsuits: mobile armor that can fall from orbit, jump a mile or more and are armed with nuclear grenades - best infantry uniform ever. They skipped the best part and spent the money on the cliched aliens?

And most of the troopers had latin surnames - are those still Aryanesque?

Steven Hart said...

Beveridge: As I recall from the novel, the characters have Latino surnames but are depicted in such a deracinated fashion that Heinlein might as well have given them African or Nordic handles. I took Verhoeven's casting as a mockery of that aspect of the novel.

You're right about the powered suits. The novel's opening would have been a smashing action sequence in its own right. Nothing about the bug society makes much sense: no evidence of technology for space travel, no clue as to how those plasma bugs can fire with such accuracy, on and on. I think PV chose to make the aliens as disgusting as possible so we would identify completely with the pretty humans, only gradually realizing that the humans are even less appealing than the bugs.

PV didn't adapt the Heinlein novel so much as cock a leg over it. But, speaking as someone who enjoys Heinlein's work without seeing the author as a font of wisdom, I think a straight adaptation of "Starship Troopers" would be even creepier -- and less entertaining on such a guilty pleasure level.