Monday, September 04, 2023


You See Berkley

Jacques Rivette, 1998, "The Captive Lover": In Starship Troopers [Paul Verhoeven] uses various effects to help everything go down smoothly, but he’s totally exposed in Showgirls. It’s the American film that’s closest to his Dutch work. It has great sincerity, and the script is very honest, guileless. It’s so obvious that it was written by Verhoeven himself rather than Mr. Eszterhas, who is nothing. And that actress is amazing! Like every Verhoeven film, it’s very unpleasant: it’s about surviving in a world populated by assholes, and that’s his philosophy. Of all the recent American films that were set in Las Vegas, Showgirls was the only one that was real – take my word for it. I who have never set foot in the place!


A whispered legend, at least until Rivette's 1998 interview from Les Inrocks, which over the years initiated a gradual spread from cine-cult circles to a wider realm, and seems gradually to have set into motion a re-evaluation of the film by, well, let's not call it the mainstream — but by a somewhat wider audience. Perhaps more than to Rivette's remarks, the film owes its reappraisal in part to the old adage of "They don't make 'em like they used to." It behooves me to step around a commentary dedicated to the fact that Verhoeven's 1995 moral tale couldn't be made in 2023 — too sexual, too non-PC, and to repeat Rivette, too guileless. A film that conflates the male and female gazes in lanes of unmitigated tragedy and desire.

Elizabeth Berkley provides a fearless performance, one that critics and commentators in the past have traduced by referring to it in so many misogynist (PC?) terms as ditzy and blank-eyed. Berkley throws everything into her performance, a tour-de-force of raw physicality coupled with a naïveté misread as evidence of cerebral deficiency — no sympathy or empathy for either character or actress: I'll take Berkley's Nomi over any role of Meryl Streep's in the latter's crafty career.

Gina Gershon 'gives a best-ever career turn' as Berkley's bisexual nemesis, the lead of the "Goddess" show at a mid-level Vegas outlet, with Kyle MacLachlan as Gershon's svengali lover. Once the trio's card-house collapses, all routes point to a Thelma & Louise climax — but instead there's only a masochistic tenderness remaining between Berkley and the then-hospitalized Gershon, before an ironic ending that few directors or writers would aim towards in the present-day, in which they'd err instead on the side of the non-scenaristic — which, of course, is needless to suggest, explicitly, 'the storytold.' Showgirls is no longer a story the studios want to hear, which practically by default alone registers this film as an American classic.


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