You show, girl! Documentarians to explore campy cult classic

You show, girl! Documentarians to explore campy cult classic

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The filmmakers behind documentaries about gay icons like “I Am Divine,” “Tab Hunter Confidential” and “The Fabulous Allan Carr” are getting their ducks in a row for their latest project — a documentary about the film “Showgirls.” 

The 1995 film, written by Joe Eszterhas and directed by Paul Verhoeven, is about an ambitious drifter and topless dancer who ruthlessly claws her way to the top of the Las Vegas entertainment scene. For all its hype and exhibition of flesh, it was a box-office bomb that hamstrung a lot of careers for those involved. It later found success as a cult classic and had a very profitable DVD release. 

Still, there aren’t too many people singing the film’s supposedly unsung praises. Perhaps we weren’t looking in the right places.

Out Emmy Award-winning producer and director Jeffrey Schwarz recently announced a Kickstarter campaign for “Goddess: The Fall and Rise of Showgirls” to support the project, slated to premiere in 2020 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the original film.

Lotti Pharriss Knowles, producer for “Goddess” and “I Am Divine,” said this documentary definitely fits into Schwarz’s choice of subject matter.   

“Jeffrey always likes to make these movies about the underdog,” she said. “A lot of his subjects in the past like ‘Divine’ have been these underdogs that went on to glory, showing the world that you don’t have to fit a traditional mold to be a star or be successful.

“‘Showgirls’ is the cinematic equivalent,” Knowles added.  “The film was so reviled at the time of its release. Star Elizabeth Berkley bore so much of the blame and so much vitriol for unabashedly celebrating her sexuality. Now that same film that was an embarrassment has become a cult classic. And maybe even beyond a cult classic, where people are still talking about and quoting it and analyzing it almost 25 years later.”

While it’s questionable that a project with a successful writer and director and a $45-million budget qualifies as an “underdog,” Knowles at least makes a case for the film’s queer street credibility.    

“I’m a bisexual woman myself, and I’ve always found the movie really hot,” she said. “Even though, yes, it’s a male fantasy, sure. But it’s a lot of our other fantasies too. There are even gay men I know who find it a turn-on.

“The movie itself is a gay icon. It’s so celebrated within the queer community. It started with the over-the-top camp value. Peaches Christ, a San Francisco drag queen who we interviewed, said that there are a lot of queer people that identify with Nomi Malone, the main character, because she’s so in-your-face, but she’s got this power.  She’s clearly bisexual. Peaches said some people can’t deal with the fierceness. Some people thought what was going on was too much, but a lot of gay men and drag queens thought it was just right. It’s not a movie that was just about an LGBT icon. I think it qualifies as a cultural touchstone. But it’s not about a person. It’s a departure, but there are very similar through lines to a lot  of Jeffrey’s other works.” 

Knowles said she appreciated the film from the beginning.

“I loved it immediately. I dressed as Nomi for Halloween in 1996. At the time, I was on the ‘It’s so bad, it’s good’ train. I loved the camp sensibility of it. It is the same reason I love ‘Mommie Dearest.’ Love it or hate it, it’s indelible. I’ve watched it hundreds of times over the last 20 years. I can’t think of another movie from 1995 that I can quote end to end, or that I can watch over and over.”

Meanwhile, “Showgirls” definitely shows its age.And Knowles is keenly aware that the increasingly woke and feminist audiences of 2019 might have a few bones to pick with the original film, not to mention a documentary celebrating it.       

“It’s especially interesting now to revisit it in the era of Trump and #MeToo, where suddenly the over-the-top qualities and the in-your face-misogyny doesn’t seem so bizarre anymore,” she said.

“For a younger audience just discovering it — for them it doesn’t seem that over-the -top. It seems like, ‘Oh yeah, this is America.’ There are always going to be people who are offended by ‘Showgirls’ or who are going to think that the movie itself is misogynistic. But there is also a very powerful argument that it is exploring misogyny and that it’s an examination of how women are treated, especially in the entertainment industry and in Las Vegas.”

Knowles added that many millennial women believe the film simply reflects reality. “It kind of explores what it’s like for women to be working for someone who is like a Harvey Weinstein. So obviously there may be some people offended, but I think there’s also a lot of people already embracing it as a reflection of our society. And we’re exploring that a lot in our movie. We’re exploring what this movie really has to say, and how does that resonate now versus then?”

For more information about “Goddess: The Fall and Rise of Showgirls,” visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/showgirlsdoc/goddess-the-fall-and-rise-of-showgirls.


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