So Bad, It's Good: Showgirls

Other | Wednesday 7th January 2015 | Gareth

Campy enjoyment of supposedly bad movies reached its apex with Tommy Wiseau’s ostensible drama The Room, a film so profoundly incompetent that it subsequently amassed a cult following of fans obsessed with its outrageous ineptitude.

The failure of the so called ‘Citizen Kane of bad movies’ and its wide acceptance poses an interesting question: why are movie fans so obsessed with trash? Is this simply spectatorship-schadenfreude or is there merit in it? Generally speaking, ‘So bad, it’s good’ is a flawed cliche and the movie I’ve chosen for this piece is in my estimation so good that it’s perceived as bad. With that in mind I present Showgirls (1995) whose reputation very much precedes it.

This film got its director kicked out of Hollywood, decimated the career of its lead actress, rocks a lowly 19% on Rotten Tomatoes and is a straight up masterpiece. The product of sly Dutch subversive Paul Verhoeven, Showgirls confronts notions of good and bad with a blitzkrieg of debauchery and sensory overload. This proudly satirical beast, an epic chronicling the rise and fall of a Vegas showgirl, has become infamous for embodying trash in movies but what Showgirls actually does is aestheticise it. 

Though endlessly mocked for its blasphemous dialogue and wildly uneven performances Verhoeven’s intentions reveal themselves through the director’s formal rigour (Showgirls boasts some of the best Hollywood filmmaking of the 90s) and the latent and sophisticated critique of American capitalism and patriarchy the film represents. The critical tide has shifted for Showgirls in recent years culminating in Toronto essayist Adam Nayman’s great book It Doesn’t Suck, inspired by french auteurist Jacques Rivette’s expressed admiration for the work.

Hate it or love it this vicious satire is undoubtedly the think-piece object d'art of its time, inspiring the kind of re-evaluations that keep film culture interesting and vital.