Showgirls: An Unbiased Discussion

I was feeling bored and blue last night. That time of the year when nothing really happens. I was in a kind of frosty lethargic rut that I realised only a glamorous, camp and downright ridiculous movie could lift me out of.

Showgirls. So ridiculous, so awfully, awfully guilty. When I watched it a year ago for the first time, I honestly could not see why it had earned its atrocious reputation. Call me bias – I am a stern devotee to bad taste. Drape it in kinky costumes and sparkles and it will always bring me joy. But I have seen films a lot worse than Showgirls. Films that also had atrocious acting and a cringe worthy plot. But that weren’t even entertaining.

After the 128 minutes of frivolous tack, I found myself wanting to delve more into its critical sphere. I already knew it was a bad cult film – that is what attracted me to it in the first place. But I wanted to find out just how badly it had been received on its release back in 1995. I Googled every reputable movie resource around to find out.

To my dismay, my beloved Empire gave it 1 star. 1?! That places it on the same par as the Friedberg and Seltzer ‘spoof’ movies – the internationally regarded worst films of this decade. It has 12% on Rotten Tomatoes. Every film by Ed Wood, the infamously dubbed ‘worst director of all time’, has a score higher than 12. Google ‘worst films of all time’ and Showgirls never fails to get a mention.

And my question is – really – does it deserve that much stick?

The most recent tale of small-town-girl-chasing-stage-dreams-in-the-Big-City, Burlesque, a nice Hollywood cash in on the current revival of the craze, was met with a plethora of warmth.

3 stars, said my beloved. Total Film agreed. 37% on Rotten Tomatoes. Still pretty bad – but not 12. ‘Guilty pleasure’ was a mandatory buzz tag in every review. ‘Ri-diculous… but fabulous!’ said Claudia.

Isn’t that the essence of Showgirls? Danny Leigh even said that Burlesque lacked its tacky charm.

Apparently not. ‘Too many tits:’ that’s why it’s so painful. ‘Cheap B movie porno.’ The nudity so gratuitously tacky, it exceeds camp. Maybe in 1995. In 2011, raunch culture is everywhere and gratuity is a popstar’s dress code. And they are onscreen at daytime. At least Showgirls has an 18 rating.

Of course, the acting is awful. The characters unsympathetic. Nomi is a topless she-wolf with absolutely no redeeming qualities. But Ali is a one dimensional cliché. At least the former holds more intrigue. We see her soullessly fight from the gruesome bottom rungs of the ladder. Strip bars, caravans, rehearsals, brown rice and vegetables. She leaves a humble heroine, rejecting the men that wronged her and carrying on with life. Ali spends 5 minutes behind the bar before she is granted a ticket to the stage. A montage of media on the ‘Art of Burlesque’ is seemingly all a protagonist needs to perform an amazing dance routine and attain a perfect body. Hers is a modern fairytale that is resolved in the Hollywood ideal. She has landed the job of her dreams, lives in an impossible LA pad and takes back her man.

But really, this is irrelevant. They exist as devices/vehicles for the glamour and fabulous dancing to fester. And that’s why we come to see these movies. Nobody is pretending they hold artistic merit. Both films are bad, but that’s why we loved them. A guilty pleasure is guilty for a reason, after all.

I am not suggesting that Showgirls is a better film than Burlesque. Anything but. I loved them both. But whilst the latter has been met with such sweet surrender, the former is exiled to inclusion in every ‘worst movies of all time’ feature. Now more than ever, we are embracing the camp, the glamour and stripping – because Burlesque is stripping – and no longer defining them under cult status, but as a happily accepted guilty pleasure, helped by the revival of the movement itself. No longer is this behaviour on film banished to late night screenings and VHS, but embraced openly, unashamedly. Is what condemned Showgirls a get out of jail free card for Burlesque? If Dita Von Teese danced in Las Vegas, would we be cutting it with the same slack?

I think it’s about time we should.

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