Has it really been two decades since Nomi Malone first aggressively danced her way into the hearts, minds, and laps of moviegoers? Opening on September 22, 1995, Paul Verhoeven’s $45 million stripper epic Showgirls has progressed over the decades from critically-derided bomb to much-obsessed-over cult favorite. On the occasion of the controversial film’s 20th anniversary, Rolling Stone has published a warm reminiscence by the film’s proud director entitled “Paul Verhoeven On The Greatest Stripper Movie Ever Made.“ Best known for sci-fi hits like Robocop and Total Recall, Verhoeven calls Showgirls “perfect” and “the most elegant movie I’ve ever done.” The film owes its very existence, the article explains, to the lucrative succès de scandale of the 1992 erotic thriller Basic Instinct. After that film brought home a whopping $350 million, producers were eager to re-team director Verhoeven with infamous screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, even though the two had what Verhoeven calls “a falling out” during the making of Basic Instinct. Upon reuniting, Verhoeven and Eszterhas decided that the best course of action would be to make a hyper-charged, nudity-filled, Las Vegas update of All About Eve, and thus Showgirls was born. The men took their task seriously, says the director, and “spent weeks and weeks going to Vegas and talking to everybody in the sex industry.” Nice work if you can get it.
Verhoeven claims he was unprepared for the extremely hostile critical reaction to the film, some of which stemmed from the prominent casting of actress Elizabeth Berkley, previously best known for the wholesome TV series Saved By The Bell. “I had never seen Saved By The Bell,” says the director. “That didn’t count too much for me. I chose her because she was the right choice. There was no competition.” He also says that critics who blame Berkley for her over-the-top performance should blame him instead. “I pushed in that direction,” he admits. “Good or not good.” What Verhoeven was aiming for with Showgirls was not eroticism, he claims, but intentional banality, right down to the music by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. Ultimately, even though Showgirls became the highest-grossing NC-17-rated film of all time and a reliable DVD and cable TV cash cow, the project did more harm than good to its director’s career. “After Showgirls,” he writes, “nobody trusted me anymore.” But Verhoeven holds his head high, insisting that he did not make a “dirty” movie. Reflecting on the abundant nudity in his film, he is downright poetic:
For me, the female body is extremely inspiring and beautiful. When I was in high school in Holland, my art teacher said: The breast of a woman is the most beautiful thing in the world. I never forgot that, and I’ve always felt that way.