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SHOWGIRLS @ TIFF Bell Lightbox



Friday, March 14, 10:00 PM

The theatre is packed for a sold out show with no director or composer in attendance, so it’s mind boggling not only to the Head of Film Programmes for TIFF, Jesse Wente, but also the guest of honour, film critic and author, Adam Nayman. Wente who has programmed a Paul Verhoeven retrospective lets us in on a little secret: a Verhoeven retrospective is one of the most requested events that the TIFF Bell Lightbox gets. No, actually. With films like BASIC INSTINCT and the amazing THE 4th MAN, it’s no wonder why. But these people aren’t here to see TOTAL RECALL, or even ROBOCOP, we are here to see Elizabeth Berkley get naked and lick a stripper pole. Yes, SHOWGIRLS has sold out a theatre at the Lightbox on a friday night, and thanks to a show of hands, many of the audience goers are Nomi Virgins.

Wente goes on to explain that in the 18 years since SHOWGIRLS’ disastrous release, the movie has seen a critical turn around and audiences and critics alike have been discovering that maybe the movie isn’t as horrible as everyone initially thought. Well, maybe not completely horrible anyways. In his new book (and only book on the subject) “It Doesn’t Suck: Showgirls”, Nayman admits that one of the reasons for the negative reception is due to the acting, and not just the over the top nature of it either. He specifically references Elizabeth Berkley’s acting as why it flopped, but argues that is partly what makes the movie so interesting. When the film was released and critics bashed the film from the get go, taking the brunt of the hits was Berkley herself, which seems to emulate the life of her character Nomi Malone. Life imitates art, and all that. But despite this shortcoming, SHOWGIRLS is still a great film to watch; it’s funny, tacky and outrageous, which Nayman says is on purpose. The critique of American celebrity and show business culture in SHOWGIRLS is an astute observation by an intellectual European director whose commentary on American views of war and colonialization in STARSHIP TROOPERS would have even more relevance post 9/11. So perhaps now people have begun to realize just how clever SHOWGIRLS actually was, and is.


Unfortunately Adam Nayman didn’t speak long enough to really go into the details of his book and what he finds so appealing, but does admit he was a bit late to the SHOWGIRLS party. Any critique of the film you can find written in the past 5 or so years is drastically different from pieces you would have read upon its release, so the validity of the movie is spreading, and rather quickly I’d say as well.  It’s usually a lot longer than 18 years for a film that was once seen as terrible to have a full turn-around, but SHOWGIRLS managed to change the minds of critics and hopefully fans as well. Yes, we love the campy, back-stabbing bitchiness of it all, but there are technical merits as well.

Unfortunately the evening concluded with what I think is the most effective argument for pre-screened questions I can think of: the post-screening Q&A. Granted it was past midnight when it got going, but Q&A’s always end up the same awkward, overly long sessions of audience members saying “I have a comment and then a question”. As interesting as you may think the story of how you first came to view and/or love the movie is to you, it isn’t as interesting to the rest of the audience. I promise you. The session was jeopardized by three inquisitive minds who just had to share their personal stories for 5 minutes before getting into their questions. I would have loved to have learned more from Adam about the movie, but I guess I will just have to read the book.

“It Doesn’t Suck: Showgirls” is available in book stores now.



SHOWGIRLS is one of the most ridiculous and outrageous movies you’ll probably ever see. Billed as a musical (for whatever reason, I don’t know), it stars Elizabeth Berkley as a dancer who will stop at nothing (and I mean nothing) to get what she wants in the high stakes business of the Las Vegas showgirls scene. Some may think this movie is terrible. Others call it crap. But with the upcoming screening this Friday the 14th, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, film critic/professor and author, Adam Nayman, is going to convince a crowd of eager fans that “It Doesn’t Suck”, which is the title of his new book. Having not yet read it, I can only imagine it champions for the validity of Paul Verhoeven’s widely misunderstood and disregarded camp masterpiece. But if you ask me, he is simply preaching to the choir. Over the past few years, SHOWGIRLS has undergone a critical re-evaluation by critics who have finally caught on to what the rest of us have known all along, SHOWGIRLS is an intelligent satire and critique on showbiz that some have even compared to ALL ABOUT EVE.

Boasting an amazing (or embarrassing) record breaking 13 nominations and seven wins at the 1996 Razzie Awards, it almost immediately began to run at midnight showings, a la Rocky Horror, after its initial release. Is the acting terrible or intentional? Its almost impossible to say, but having seen Verhoeven’s other films, such as ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL or STARSHIP TROOPERS one can only conclude that the over-the-top acting is part of the director’s signature style. While definitely not as violent as his other films are known to be, there is enough back stabbing and back stage bitchery to satisfy even the most cynical drag queen.


When TIFF announced that they would be screening SHOWGIRLS, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to attend the event, remembering my own personal experiences with the movie, which usually involved lots of drinking and laughter. So when Black Sheep Reviews editor, Joseph Belanger asked me to create a cocktail or drinking game for the event, I couldn’t say no.

I originally thought that a great drinking game would be to take a shot every time Elizabeth Berkley’s character says the word “dance”, but let’s be honest, you’d be suffering from alcohol poisoning less than half way through the movie. So when trying to come up with a cocktail I remembered a very delicious concoction by my good friend and bartender, Sheila Chevalier, called “Miss America”. Sheila explains “the reason for the name is because pageant girls are all bubbly with a good full dose of delicious bitterness”. It’s a sweet yet bitter drink that encompasses the trashy-glam tale of SHOWGIRLS. And with that, I give you …


The Miss America


4oz Prosecco

1oz Amaro

large orange peel, without the pith


In a well chilled champagne flute (or a rocks glass because the déclassé trashiness works compared to a flute), add the Amaro and top up with prosecco. Rub the rim of the glass with the orange peel and drop it in the glass. Enjoy!

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