This documentary explores Paul Verhoven‘s 1995 film Showgirls.
In three stages it explores the film as a disaster, a masterpiece and a camp classic. Considering the impact of the film on the lives of those involved in its production and those affected by it, You Don’t Nomi is the conclusive film about the eventually self-styled worst film of the 90s.
Disparate voices are heard from critics, performers and fans of the film, all of whom offer different reactions. If one voice claims the film is exploitative, another suggests it is liberating. If one critic praises the use of mirrors as a visual motif, another says it’s meaningless and hackneyed. If someone claims the revenge sequence is gratuitous and clearly a male fantasy of female empowerment then a female spectator will reveal that the scene helps her rectify her own troubled past. It’s a very balanced film that seeks contradicting perspectives. It’s a great reminder of the flexibility of film as an art form.
The film is a fascinating study of camp. Commentators who tie the film to traditions of camp cinema and representatives from queer communities who have embarrassed the film as a gay parable offer brilliant insight into what makes the film such a cult favourite. Reinterpreting the narrative of the film as analogous to common experiences of dejected gay people who are forced to develop their own support networks to survive the abuse they suffer, is a very unique perspective.
What’s most beautiful is that the film focuses on Elizabeth Berkely, the lead performer of Showgirls. It doesn’t shy away from the difficulty of her experiences making Showgirls not the devastating effect it had on her film career. But it also emphasises that Berekly is the heart of this movie and the reason so many people have such a strong emotional connection to the narrative. Berkeley is shown to be relatively at peace with the film and its reception. The tragedy of Berkeley’s experience of the film had always been a barrier for me genuinely enjoying it. Her catharsis goes some way to rectifying this, but nothing is simple about Showgirls.
Director Jeffrey McHale takes a similar approach as Room 237 director Rodney Ascher to bringing the commentary to life. As well as footage from the film played at varying speeds, McHale uses footage from Verhoeven’s other films to illustrate these reactions. This makes the commentary more interesting as well as offering context and some interpretation to the text. For example using a triumphant moment for Issabelle Huppert’s character in Elle as the backdrop for a point about the film’s feminist credentials creates a new layer of meaning.
You Don’t Nomi is an extensive and insightful documentary about a very difficult film to quantify. Its fascinating to hear so many individual, contradictory views on the same twenty five year old film. This is a film about cinema as a discussion and a subjective art form as well as a celebration of a true camp cult classic.