It is the start of another London Film Festival! As a resident of this city, it’s also one of the easiest ways (if not exactly cheapest, though it’s not terrible value given how much a regular cinema ticket can be in some venues) to see new and interesting films. As ever, my strategy is to select films that are less likely to come back, as well as ones not directed by straight white men — I can’t promise that every film I see will be super obscure, because I do have my favourite directors and my interests, and my first day’s film is one of the few I’m seeing directed by a white man, albeit it’s a film which has been screened in a number of LGBTQ festivals and contexts. It’s also about one of my (problematic) faves, Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 film Showgirls, which I rewatched a few days ago to prepare. In upcoming days expect more than one review per post, because I’ve packed my schedule with only a few evenings off.
You Don’t Nomi (2019)
There’s something pure about this film in the way it specifically doesn’t try to get in touch with any of the creatives involved with Showgirls, because ultimately that’s not what it’s interested in. Like a number of recent documentaries, it’s about the audience and about fan culture in its workings as much as it’s about how the thing everyone’s a fan of actually got made. That said, it does do a bit of digging about that, presenting clips of director Paul Verhoeven and writer Joe Eszterhas talking about it at the time, and the film is very good about contrasting the way it was understood back then, both by its makers and contemporary critics (mostly broadsheet reviewers giving it simplistic star ratings and thumbs-up/thumbs-down critiques), and how it has come to be understood and embraced. The film is also good about presenting a range of opinions: it’s not just a queer subtext waiting to be uncovered, or a camp classic, or a misogynistic creep’s voyeuristic rendering of sexual liberation, or a pure expression of performance and performativity itself, but it’s also somehow all of these things — and that can be fine. As Adam Nayman (a critic who has written a book about Showgirls and who is heard on the soundtrack) more or less puts it, you can love the film while also accepting that’s it not in any conventional sense ‘Good’.
So what I love here is the stuff that feels like an unpacking of fan culture itself, and of the way audiences respond. The people in the row behind me at the cinema were certainly happy to quote along with the dialogue when we see it (and there are lots of good, high quality clips of all Verhoeven’s films), but it’s good to see a film that is serious about its subject and not just treating it as silly fun (because certainly a lot of Verhoeven’s work is not silly or fun, and there are still serious reservations which have been levelled at his use of rape as a theme across his body of work). Like all the excellent documentaries about films, this will probably end up being seen mainly as a supplementary feature to a deluxe reissue, but I hope that happens (the US 15th anniversary Blu-ray I’ve got is pretty patchy in quality, and while the Dutch Blu-ray has a great transfer it has no extras), because Showgirls is a film that deserves all its admirers and detractors both — whereas this exegesis should mainly have admirers.
Director/Writer Jeffrey McHale; Length 92 minutes.
Seen at Vue West End, London, Wednesday 2 October 2019.