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Saturday
May042019

Tribeca 2019: "You Don't Nomi" 

Team Experience reporting from Tribeca Film Festival which wraps up tomorrow. Here's Nathaniel R

Of all the titles that I most looked forward to at Tribeca's 2019 edition, You Don't Nomi was at the top of the list. The debut documentary from Jeffrey McHale examines the cult fandom and critical rehabilitation (of sorts) surrounding Paul Verhoeven's trash-masterpiece Showgirls (1995). And readers, I was not dissapointed so much as seething with envy while watching it...

For what this new documentary feels most like, is not a traditional showbiz documentary so much as a polished long-read or even an old school blog-a-thon betwixt cinephiles. Perhaps it's the lack of talking heads (you hear people discussing the film but don't see them)? Or maybe it's the gonzo use of film clips which makes it feel more like a extremely lengthy video essay than a standard doc? In short, I was furious that I hadn't thought to make it as a long-time devotee of this movie, who literally went on opening night in 1995 and then waited impatiently for decades for the world to catch up. (I have never in my life felt this while watching a movie, which is the only reason I bring this up. I despise the popular belief of thin-skinned filmmakers / creatives that every critic wants to be making the thing, rather than writing about it... otherwise I wouldn't add fuel to that particular fire.)

This highly personal response is brought to you by the sad realization about halfway through the movie, that almost everyone quoted, beyond Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Esterzhas in archival interviews, is someone who came to the movie well after its initial run, lured to it by its infamy and fandom rather than having lived through it and grappling with it in real time. This probably-all-the-same-age talking head approach, along with the absence of non-devotees (only one older critic is interviewed who stands by their initial pan), makes for an oddly imbalanced documentary. Were it not for the smart jabs at Verhoeven and Esterzhas for what they say now versus what they said then (hindsight being oh-so flattering when employed this way), You Don't Nomi would feel like a 92 minute genuflection.

Not that there's anything wrong with that! To paraphrase and repurpose a line from the film, when it comes to Showgirls I'll 'never be too old for that whorey look.'

The weakest element of You Don't Nomi beyond the aforementioned imbalance of voices is easily the anonymity of the talking heads. I never thought I'd say this about a documentary that rescues us from the bland visual doldrums of the form, but it really helps to know who is talking if you're trying to follow an argument or want to give them mental credit for their insights.

The best parts of the documentary are, naturally, the film clips themselves which perhaps says less about You Don't Nomi than it does about the indefatigable entertainment value of Showgirls.

Verhoeven directing a dance sequence

Still, to McHale's credit, the film clips chosen are used with great panache, particularly when it comes to the use of the rest of the rest of Verhoeven's filmography. McHale deliciously deploys great moments from just about every Verhoeven picture -- I cherished seeing bits of Fourth Man, Robocop, and Turkish Delight in an actual movie theater since I'd only seen those films on VHS when I was younger. He uses them to comment on Showgirls and sometimes, in even more interesting fashion, to become a part of Showgirls. These fusions of a singular filmography are a demented trick, as flexible and spazzy in their own right as Nomi Malone herself, fucking in swimming pools or thrusting on command from sweaty stages.

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Reader Comments (13)

Gina Gershon deserved an Oscar nom!!! Nathaniel, was she in your Top 5 for Supporting Actress that year?

May 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe

Me -- of course. My lineup that year (yes, way back in 1995 before I was on the internet i kept lists) was

ILEANNA DOUGLAS - to die for
GINA GERSHON - showgirls
MIRA SORVINO -mighty aphrodite (i was hooked at first like everyone else but on the smackdown reewatch it didn't work for me)
WINNINGHAM - georgia
WINSLET -sense & sensibility


I was one of the few who loved "Showgirls" right away.

May 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I reviewed Showgirls for my *high school* newspaper, and also was a devotee from the get-go. Besides the brutally off-putting rape scene, the movie is really quite something, and I always felt badly that Elizabeth Berkley was pilloried for certain script and directorial failures. She did not deserve to be the fall guy so I’m glad that there has been such a reappraisal. Can’t wait for this doc!

May 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I am completely intrigued now! I saw the movie in the aughts and thought it was terrible: in fact, the years of bad reviews were nestled in my head before viewing. As it was in the space and/or room of fellow travelers who's first viewing mirrored mine. The response was unanimous: a terrible, yet hilariously funny camp creation. But, for us, Verhoeven seemed intent on destroying his career. The rationalization was that he was homesick or bi-polar sick. Other notions were unfathomable. So things played out as planned, at least we thought, though the director of The Fourth Man, Spetters, Turkish Delight, Robocop, etc., proved a staunch defender. Regardless, his career was pretty much over. Not even Starship Troopers could redeem him (financially). And then there was Elle! Still, the Huppert film did not convince me that Verhoeven was a misunderstood master. Katie Tippel convinced me that he was an auteur and, then, Showgirls introduced the idea of director as iconoclast, revealing that his entire career was an elongated Jonathon Swift parody along the themes of A Modest Proposal. The nutrients in this case were bodily fluids and grease on polls rather than succulent children. I think Verhoeven has yet to make that movie, but will, as a dastardly last act, perhaps. His motivation still remains a mystery to me, and more clearly farcical. But so far,I am in the dark as most everyone. This documentary may open doors to my perception,but the real test to this mad hatter may be Benedetta. Charlotte Rampling as star just adds fuel to the confusion. Could it possibly be as topical or as important as famine and cannibalism versus gay gang-rape, with a hyper-erotic scenario of Christ molestation on the cross (no less)? Freeze-dried Total Recall , I think is more likely. Though it ultimately relies on the producer (which is unknown to me at the moment). If it's Alberto Grimaldi (what an ending), anything goes! But Jeremy Thomas would... could be confounding and supply gravatis, especially to an aging L'enfant terrible. Asthma doesn't allow me to hold my breathe very long. And I'm 25 years younger than the major players. But something rules; a propensity for disappointment perhaps, an unfettered rebuke towards critics, or an urge of defiant confidance in one's vision. The reach really is from heaven to hell, with, perhaps a pit-stop in Saved By the Bell. With Verhoeven, the door is open. Nous allons donc voir.

May 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterIshmael

1995 Nathaniel had good taste, rewatch hurt that sadly, but as we grow older our senses dim, perhaps taste is similar.

May 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCrystail

Showgirls is one of 10 movies I've seen in my life that truly made a lifetime impression on me. I love it so much.

Does anyone know why it's not available anywhere on streaming? All of my DVD copies (including the Limited Edition VIP lmao) are at my parent's house. (Don't ask.)

May 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

Sorry Quentin! Sorry Terrence! Sorry Martin! This is most anticipated movie of the year since today

May 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Anyone can share their response to a creation but very few are actually driven to create. And those who complain about systemic gate-keeping can have a seat next to too ugly to smile and too fat to eat.

Showgirls remains a challenge for me. I love Verhoeven. I love female-lead / centered stories revolving around sexuality. But Showgirls is an empty calories exercise to nowhere. I wish it were shocking in the way it was advertised as. Just playing as dinner-theater camp for the ironic crowd while looking like a real movie but behaving like a strange hybrid of good intention (large budget and competent ensemble) and something I'm at a loss for words for, well I guess you don't Nomi either.

May 5, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

No Supporting Actress for 95 is complete without Gershon.

May 5, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Also, You Don't Nomi = Best Title of the Year

May 5, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

SHOWGIRLS is my favourite film. I watch it at least once a month. Excited for this and the other documentary coming our way.

May 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

There's also Jeffrey Schwarz's documentary coming soon as well, which will likely be more traditional and safer. He makes solid movies that I often wish were ever so slightly better, but which I always enjoy so much watching (Tab Hunter Confidential, I Am Divine, The Fabulous Alan Carr).

I so wish I could watch this. I am a SHOWGIRLS fanatic. I didn't see it in 1995, but I saw it around 2002 and thought it was hilarious. Love every second (well, except that rape scene - that's just so sleazy).

May 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Nathaniel, so fun to see your '95 Supporting Actress lineup! Didn't the Film Bitch archives on the site used to go back further? Following along with the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast has had me curious about folks' personal ballots in years of way past!

May 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

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