Seattle-based journalist, raconteur, playwright and cultural theorist David Schmader has impeccable credentials in the worlds of literature and art. But for more than a decade now, he's been closely linked to the most quintessentially American of films maudit, Paul Verhoeven's 1995 camptastrophe Showgirls.
Schmader's evolving interactive lecture/commentary on the film has taken him around the world to get at the textual and subtextual heart of the journey of Nomi Malone (Saved by the Bell's Elizabeth Berkley), a tough girl from '”lots of places” who just wants to be a star. Showgirls is the story of her rise and fall from lapdance specialist to backup dancer to Vegas star to kickboxing avenger, and it remains a singular cinematic experience.
But Showgirls is also an astounding gathering of talent (director Paul Verhoeven, actress Gina Gershon, dueling sleazeballs Robert Davi and Alan Rachins, the glorious Rena Riffel) and madness (screenwriter Joe Eszterhas; actor Kyle MacLachlan, who looks like he's suffering from quaalusions of grandeur). There's nothing else in movie history like its toxic brew of backstage melodrama, catfight theatrics, lowbrow tawdriness and lofty contempt.
When MGM decided to do up an ultra-glam DVD boxset back in the early Aughts, the studio bypassed Verhoeven, Berkley, Gershon and others on the scene for the commentary — because they knew it was all there already, in David Schmader's show. His commentary track, “The Greatest Movie Ever Made,” is an essential part of the Showgirls home video experience.
But his live performances with the film have built an international following, and he brings that live show to The Belcourt 9 p.m. Thursday for one show only. The Scene had the immense pleasure to talk with Schmader, a columnist for Seattle’s awesome alt-weekly The Stranger, about Showgirls and his relation to it. The interview appears in Thursday's print edition and online, but we couldn't resist serving up an appetizer tray of outtakes (two-drink minimum, of course):
It is fascinating to me to just look at the different visions behind this film, because Basic Instinct remains gloriously sleazy and it feels like they (Verhoeven and Eszterhas) were working in sync, and with Showgirls it just seems like they were coming from completely different angles on the material.
Do you think that it has to do with the actors? That sleaze was pinned on Michael Douglas as a pro and Sharon Stone who was a rare old-school Hollywood star being born before our eyes. I think that they may have gotten away with murder because of the skill and vague class that those two brought to the proceedings.
I think that's absolutely true. With Basic Instinct you’ve got very Hitchcockian forms that are being played with. You have Dorothy Malone and George Dzundza, who are classy people are popping up wherever you look, and you just can’t say that about Showgirls.
There is Kyle MacLachlan, and you mostly just feel bad for him.
Honestly I see it as karma for torpedoing so much of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. I think that Kyle is reaping what he sowed with that one.
He was just here for Seattle International Film Festival and he was the guest of honor, I did an interview with him and decided to take it easy on the Showgirls stuff, but he brought it up. I asked him if there was any pleasure in knowing that he was in something that will live forever even if it isn’t something that he wanted? He said, “I hate what I did, my hairstyle looked bad, but my butt looked good.”
He basically confirmed that they all thought that they were making a serious, serious drama; I have heard that from Patrick Bristow too. It wasn’t until they got to the big premiere screening, and after about three minutes they started to realize that things were not going well. They thought that it was going to be something else, they saw all the money being spent on the sets and they were riding on faith that was not rewarded.
Have you gotten a chance to talk to any of the cast or crew besides McLachlan and Bristow?
Rena Riffel (Hope/Penny, and also the writer/director/star of the semisequel Showgirls 2: Penny's From Heaven) and I are kind of chummy and have talked a couple times, but other than that, no. I have an agent friend who talked to Elizabeth Berkley about it once but he said that he would never tell me what she said because I work in the media — so I get to think about that forever.
You have to find out what is going on with that. I follow her on Twitter and I love that she is an inspirational speaker for young girls, I am so for that. I adore her and it isn’t even in an ironic way, I genuinely adore her because she took on a world of shit and she came out and was like, “I am me and I’m doing my thing!” I have so much respect for her — not quite as much as I have for Gina Gershon, but still I have respect for her. My god, Gina Gershon is great — after Killer Joe last year, I thought people are going to remember her from Showgirls and it’s going to keep her from getting award traction from this performance, but she is amazing and fearless and I adore her. She would understand that no one would come to anything involving Showgirls to mock her. It is more like bowing at her feet and bringing her champagne and drinks and have her regale us with tales of behind-the-scenes mayhem.
Do you have Saved by the Bell feelings too?
It's weird, I never watched it when it was originally on. When Showgirls came out, though, Saved by the Bell was on TBS four times a day. And because of Showgirls, I started watching it, and it is so weird because she is so goody-goody on that show, except when she becomes addicted to caffeine pills — and I swear Verhoeven’s kids are actually the right age to have had that episode on rotation in their house at some point. I can just envision him seeing that caffeinated freakout and saying, “This is the girl,” with her flailing about beyond the control of humanity.
There is a made-for-TV movie finale that they did in Vegas for Saved by the Bell around 1995 where a bunch of them get married and Jessie runs in and she looks like Nomi running into the wedding in a little red dress. She definitely took the plunge from Jessie to Nomi.
Is she wearing (sic) Versayce?
Yeah, it looks like it, but I couldn’t see a label!