Film Society of Lincoln Center
Nov. 9 through Nov. 23
Here’s a crazy, perhaps insane-sounding idea: “Showgirls” isn’t bad. It isn’t even so-bad-it’s-good. It’s a masterpiece. It knows exactly what it is — and what it isn’t. Here’s one thing it’s not: a camp classic. It’s always felt wrong that, after its disastrous run at the 1995 box office, it was only “reclaimed” when people started watching it the way they now watch “The Room.” It deserves more than a box set that contains shot glasses and nipple tassels. You don’t laugh at it; you laugh with it. And you laugh with it because it’s a fun house mirror of American excess, that steals the plot of “All About Eve” only to soil it, turning it into a garish, live-action cartoon. To steal a quote from Public Image Limited, it says, to a country that would one day make Donald Trump a presidential nominee, “This is what you want, this is what you get.”
This line on “Showgirls” makes a lot more sense if you patron the Lincoln Center series “Total Verhoeven,” which fetes its maker: Dutch provocateur Paul Verhoeven. The complete retro arrives on the heels of “Elle,” tragically the director’s first proper feature since 2006’s “Black Book.” Doing a deep dive, you can see how “Showgirls” fits right into a CV that has chipped away at the same ideas: that the world is run by greed and lust and self-interest. People survive by exploiting themselves. His movies are trash with lofty ideas about how we’re controlled by systems and by our own animal urges. They give us what we want — guns and explosions and boobs — but still give us something else.
If Verhoeven is a name your mom knows, it’s thanks to his cash cow of a Hollywood run. Starting with “RoboCop” (and ending, ignominiously, with his lame but legitimately nasty “Hollow Man”), he was one of the industry’s great saboteurs. He fed Americans a fatty diet of action movies and erotic thrillers. Thing is, they were really healthy foods; they secretly made America smarter. It’s best to read Sharon Stone as the hero of “Basic Instinct,” the fourth biggest movie of 1992; watch as this killer bisexual, the smartest person in any room, takes out a legion of stupid, horndog, old school man’s men. “Starship Troopers” is the $100 million popcorn movie as fake propaganda film from a fascistic future. “RoboCop” concerns dehumanization in a police state in the early throes of corporate ownership. "Total Recall" isn't terribly deep, but it is somehow more ludicrious and absurd than Arnold Schwarzenegger himself.