Color, 1995, 131 mins. 6 secs.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Starring Elizabeth Berkley, Gina Gershon, Kyle MacLachlan, Robert Davi, Gina Ravera, Glenn Plummer, Alan Rachins, Lin Tucci
Vinegar Syndrome (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0/RA 4K/HD), MGM (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Capelight (UHD & DVD) (Germany R0 4K/HD), Pathé (UHD & Blu-ray) (France R0 4K/HD), Umbrella (Blu-ray & DVD) (Australia RA/R1 HD/PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
Following a trio of consecutive subversive Hollywood classics with RoboCop, Total Recall, and Basic Instinct, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven was as close as possible to a sure thing behind the camera in the industry. In particular, Basic Instinct had become a media sensation thanks to the record-breaking sale of its screenplay by Joe Eszterhas, a storm of protests over its bisexual potential murderer played by Sharon Stone, and battles with the MPAA over its graphic, De Palma-inspired violence and sexual content. Since the film was already a barely disguised redo of Eszterhas' earlier Jagged Edge, the writer quickly returned to the same story structure again with the far less successful Sliver and Jade. In the interim, it made perfect sense of Verhoeven and Eszterhas to join forces again -- and the result was one of the wildest films of the 1990s, Showgirls, which was the highest-profile production to bear the NC-17 rating created in 1990. Critically savaged at the time, the film was also considered a financial disappointment but became a major cult hit once viewers caught on to Verhoeven's trademark satirical approach and the pleasures of its glorious visual and narrative excesses.
Here Eszterhas essentially revisits his emotionally volatile and ambitious dancer Alex from Flashdance and brings her into the '90s as Nomi Malone (Saved by the Bell's Berkley), a knife-wielding drifter who hitches a ride into Las Vegas with big dreams and a penchant for ferocious ketchup squirting. Her first night on the strip connects her with Molly (Ravera), a seamstress and costumer for the hit show "Goddess" running at the Stardust Casino. Molly and Nomi become roommates, with the latter eager to join the big production starring Cristal Connors (Gershon). Meanwhile Nomi spends her evenings earning cash as a pole and lap dancer at the Cheetah run by Al (Davi), where Cristal and her sleazy entertainment director boyfriend, Zack (MacLachlan), pay for a very uncomfortable private session with Nomi. Through various dramatic twists and turns, Nomi ends up winning a part in the show and finds herself poised to become its new headliner, if her own aggressive personality and a dark secret about her past don't catch up with her first.
Endlessly quotable and completely entertaining from start to finish, Showgirls is the kind of film that can inspire reactions ranging from rapture to utter disgust, sometimes even in the same scene. Exactly who was in on the joke has been a source of speculation since the film's release, though it's safe to say that at least Verhoeven and the spectacular Gershon were always aware of the tone they were hitting all the way through. Berkley gives a fully committed, highly stylized performance that took a long time to be appreciated, and it's a shame the film ended up denting numerous careers before the world managed to catch up. If anything, the film was way ahead of its time with its depiction of a world where endless cycles of greed, backstabbing, dishonesty, and sensationalism gone mad will look awfully familiar to anyone who follows the news or current pop culture.
Though it may have killed off the NC-17 as a viable mainstream rating, Showgirls has fared far better since its theatrical run with a string of home video releases, revival screenings, and frequent references in various media starting with a prominent nod in Chasing Amy. MGM has released multiple DVD and Blu-ray configurations over the years including a standalone DVD and a 2004 VIP edition with insane deluxe packaging (including playing cards and a shot glass), "The Greatest Movie Ever Made" commentary by David Schmader with select video pop-ups from Girls of Scores, a lap dance tutorial by the Scores gang (4m55s), the multi-part "A Showgirls Diary" showing various raw behind-the-scenes segments, the trailer, and a trivia track. English 5.1, French and Spanish surround options are provided, with subtitles in all three languages. A 2011 "15th Anniversary Sinsational Edition" on Blu-ray essentially ported over the DVD and looked very good, with a 2015 reissue swapping out the cover art and the elaborate packaging. In 2015, French label Pathé undertook a 4K restoration of the film and released it on Blu-ray a year later featuring French and English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD tracks with French subs, plus a 22m51s "Showgirls: More Vegas Than Vegas" interview with Verhoeven about the film's origins at Carolco after Basic Instinct, working with Eszterhas again, and the idea of mounting a musical of excess about Vegas culture. Unfortunately the presentation was underwhelming with an ugly beige and gold tint wreaking havoc with the original color scheme. Capelight used the same restoration soon after in Germany for a three-disc set featuring a 4K UHD and two Blu-rays, featuring English and German DTS-HD MA 5.1 tracks, the previous commentary, German and English subs, "A Showgirl's Diary," the lap dance tutorial, an additional 5-minute roll of production footage showing Verhoeven at work, the German trailer, and a batch of interviews with Verhoeven (5m49s, archival EPK), cinematographer Jost Vacano (18m42s), Eszterhas (2m13s, archival EPK), production manager Alan Marshall (34s, EPK), Berkley (1m50s, EPK), Gershon (3m2s, EPK), MacLachlan (45s, EPK), actress Gina Ravera (25s, EPK), choreographer Marguerite Pomerhn-Derricks (1m24s, EPK), composer and music supervisor Dave Stewart (1m21s, EPK), and production designer Allan Cameron (25s, EPK). Included on the third disc is a Blu-ray of the 2020 documentary You Don't Nomi (91m29s), a collection of critical discussions of the film's themes involving feminism, ambition, voyeurism, and the power of sexuality. It's mostly a lengthy visual essay layered on clips from the film, but it also some nice moments of emotional punch including a great finale with Berkley introducing a 20th anniversary screening. You Don't Nomi is currently available in the U.S. only as a standalone release. It's also worth noting that actress Rena Riffel, who plays fellow Cheetah dancer Penny in the film, reprised her character for a 2011 crowdfunded sequel, Showgirls 2: Penny's from Heaven, which she also directed, wrote, produced, and edited.
In 2023, Vinegar Syndrome released the most elaborate and impressive edition of Showgirls to date with a beautifully packaged three disc edition featuring a 4K UHD and two Blu-rays. The UHD is easily the film has looked on home video, using a different 4K scan by MGM with extra restoration work by Vinegar Syndrome; the colors are vibrant and look accurate throughout, finally freed from that weird gold saturation that marred the European releases. The film also features the usual preexisting commentary track, plus 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD MA options (both sound great with plenty of surround activity) and optional English SDH subtitles. The UHD doesn't have video supplements as usual to allow the film itself to max out the bit rate, while the first Blu-ray has the theatrical trailer. Ported over from the earlier releases are the Verhoeven "More Vegas Than Vegas" interview, "A Showgirl's Diary," the lap dance tutorial, and a behind-the-scenes promotional featurette (4m55s). The new extras kick off with "You Gotta Gamble if You’re Gonna Win" (14m25s), a great new interview with Eszterhas about his first meeting with Verhoeven, the project's ties to Costa-Gavras(!) and a potential remake of All About Eve, the development of the script and extensive research with real dancers, the origin of the name Nomi, and the issues with making an NC-17 film. "All that Glitters: Filming Showgirls" (11m55s) cuts the earlier interview with Vacano and a new one with performance lighting designer Peter Morse to cover the process of creating the film's look, the lighting of the dancers' bodies, and the flexibility needed to give it the right hyper-real aesthetic. In "The Rhythm of Chaos" (16m11s), co-editors Mark Helfrich and Mark Goldblatt chat separately about the process of corralling the footage in post-production with Verhoeven and having a blast crafting a button-pushing film they felt was misunderstood at the time. In "Born to Dance" (19m), Riffel shares her own story about her lifelong love of dance, the process of doing auditions, her recording career, the process of playing Penny, and her embracing of the film's legacy. Finally in "Free Lap Dance with Every Large Popcorn: The Cult of Showgirls" (13m12s), Midnight Mass Podcast hosts Peaches Christ and Michael Varrati examine the film's hostile initial reception and its rise to cultdom via an audience who got onto its delirious wavelength. The package also comes with a 40-page book featuring essays by Elizabeth Purchell, Abbey Bender and Adam Nayman.
VINEGAR SYNDROME (Blu-ray)
Reviewed on August 27, 2023.