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You Don’t Nomi

Year: 2019
Production Co: Grade Five Films
Director: Jeffrey McHale

As I've attested many times before, some movies have lives no differently than people do. The vast majority of them are made, released, make their money (or don't) and are forgotten because the economic machinery of the movie business is centred so much around pushing them fast and then relegating them to obscurity on a streaming services (the modern equivalent of TV reruns or the dusty, faded VHS cover in the sad weekly section of a video store).

Every time a director with a platform makes a movie that fails, they're (along with their peers) the first to waggle their fingers at us about how the first weekend box office is no arbiter of quality or how much its fans love it.

They're also the first to accept all the accolades for shit movies that make a billon dollars (Avatar: The Way of Water, we're looking at you), but that's another story.

Some movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Plan 9 From Outer Space come to occupy very specific niches all their own, ones their makers and backers never imagined, let alone intended. But some, like this film contends about Showgirls, have constantly changing fortunes, their stock rising and falling like fashion trends.

As You Don't Nomi claims, Paul Verhoeven's outrageously overripe, camp and tawdry 1995 film went from being hated and maligned when it came out to going through a period of reassessment by scholars and fans to the point it's now accepted by many to be a legitimately good film.

Is it? No. But there's a reason it's a midnight cult classic like Rocky Horror. Elizabeth Berkley's performance is hysterically over the top, thrown to the back stalls as much as the nudity, the colour palette, Joe Esterhas' violently misogynist script and every other element.

But if you're a cineaste it's great fun to think over issues like this. Tellingly, none of the original cast or crew are in the documentary apart from in archival footage of interviews and behind the scenes material.

Instead, its makes it case by asking a series of film historians and journalists, performance artists and drag queens who talk about how they reacted to it at the time and have since, a stage show inspired by the film, and even how it helped one theatre actress overcome trauma in her life – proof not just of how deep an impact cinema can make on us, but how those impacts on our lives can come from such unlikely films.

It's not clear whether director Jeffrey McHale agrees that Showgirls is (as one respondent puts it) 'a stealth masterpiece', but making a movie that acts as a stand in for a discussion with a room full of friends who are as cineliterate as you are is exactly what the movies is all about.

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