You Don't Nomi

 

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The trials and tribulations of Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls.

 
You Don't Nomi   

Pole position: Elizabeth Berkley

 

Here we have a film about a film: the title is a reference to Nomi Malone, the name chosen by the heroine of Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls when appearing in a Las Vegas strip show. That movie dates from 1995 and in theory it should have disappeared from view since it was one of those films which, largely reviled by the critics at the time, also found the public in accord with them. But this documentary by Jeffrey McHale, built out of archive footage but with fresh voice-over comments, argues that we have not done with it yet - and the very existence of You Don't Nomi is proof of that.

 

Showgirls is a film with an odd history since the virtually unanimous verdict of 1995 has been replaced by a division of opinion. Some still hold to the view that it was nothing but sleaze, while others now regard it as a misunderstood masterpiece. This movie's contention - with author Adam Nayman its chief proponent - is that both elements co-exist in it and that neither viewpoint is altogether wrong, but that argument although promoted here is hardly proven.

 

This film is dominated by contemporary views expressed over clips from Showgirls alongside earlier footage from 1995 and after in which Verhoeven, three of the stars (Elizabeth Berkley, Gina Gershon and Kyle McLachlan) and Joe Eszterhas, author of the screenplay, all give us their views. However, even these comments from the participants offer contrasting notions (it was, according to whom you believe, made as a serious film/a fun movie/a work centred on moral choices/a provocation). Turn to the present-day assessments and the conflict is at least as great: it is a film to appeal to feminists because of its splendidly strong heroine, a real survivor, or it is exploitative misogyny that relishes the inclusion of a scene in which a woman is raped; it is a work intended as a satire, or it is a type of comedy that you can't make on purpose.

 

You Don't Nomi does look at Showgirls in the context of Verhoeven's other films (there is even a clip from 1975's Katie Tippel which was never released here) and McHale follows through to trace the subsequent career of Elizabeth Berkley and the changing reputation of Showgirls as it became a cult classic of gay appeal and yielded an adaptation as a stage musical. One argument that has something going for it is that it is not the kind of cult movie like Plan 9 from Outer Space which is seen as being so bad that it's good but one that has gained this standing because it was always intended as a piece of performative camp. This links to the fact that Berkley's acting with its unrestrained melodramatic power as positively encouraged by Verhoeven has always carried the film. But You Don't Nomi abounds in conflicting opinions that leave one questioning everything about Showgirls as much as ever. Late on, the argument about the value of having such a strong heroine is itself questioned due to the fact that the film appears to support Nomi when she eventually resorts to violence. So it's all questions and no satisfactory answers: in consequence You Don't Nomi is not uninteresting but never meets one's expectations. I had hoped for something more insightful, be it by way of defining what the film really is or by making us understand why reactions to it over time have proved so diverse.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  the voices of Adam Nayman, David Schmader, Haley Mloyek, April Kidwell, Matt Baume, Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Jeffrey Sconce, Peaches Christ, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeff Conway.

 

Dir Jeffrey McHale, Pro Jeffrey McHale, Ariana Garfinkel and Suzanne Zionts, Screenplay Jeffrey McHale, Ed Jeffrey McHale, Music Mark degli Antoni.

 

Grade Five Films/XYZ Films-Bulldog Film Distribution.
92 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 12 June 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 18.