Showgirls With Live Commentary from David Schmader
April 13 at 7:30
Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park
114 Vintage Park Blvd, Bldg H, Ste. J
There are bad movies, and there are worse movies – and then there are jaw-dropping, mind-zapping camp classics such as Showgirls, the infamously awful extravaganza that flopped resoundingly at the box-office in 1995, then rose phoenix-like to prominence (of a sort) as a cult favorite among connoisseurs of cinematic crapulence.
Try to imagine All About Eve set in the glitzy world of Las Vegas casino shows, with a lot of nudity, blood, and girl-on-girl lovemaking tossed into the mix, and you’ll have some idea of what to expect from this over-the-top spectacle concocted by screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Jagged Edge, Basic Instinct) and director Paul Verhoeven (Starship Troopers, Basic Instinct). Or you can do more than merely imagine: You can witness the train wreck for yourself when Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park screens Showgirls at 7:30 p.m. this evening with Seattle-based author and performer David Schmader providing live running commentary.
Schmader—described by the Drafthouse folks as a “noted Showgirls historian,” which may or may not be intended as a compliment—has been sporadically on the road with Showgirls for over 15 years, and contributed a commentary track for the film’s DVD and Blu-Ray editions.
What can H-Town audiences expect from his Vintage Park presentation? “An extremely surprising and enjoyable comedy that wasn't supposed to be a comedy,” he promises. During a freewheeling telephone interview last week, Schmader had even more to say about the movie that has done more for him than it has for anyone actually involved with its production.
Houstonia: I've been going over some other interviews you’ve done, and one statement of yours really stands out: “Showgirls is 10 bad movies trying to kill each other.” I think no truer words have ever been spoken, but I'm wondering if you’d care to expand upon that observation.
Schmader: Yes, that would be my pleasure. That’s really kind of the crux of it, because so many bad movies are boring. They're not a pleasurable experience, like Reefer Madness. Lots of the classic bad movies are actually a torture to watch, because you understand their badness and their ineptitude right off the bat, and then it just kind of repeats that until we’re all wishing we were dead. But that's what makes Showgirls—being the 10 bad movies duking it out—so pleasurable: It's always surprising. That's not often the case with bad movies.
I also think what made Showgirls capable of being that kind of movie is that it was a Hollywood product. Usually, the kind of bad movie called a classic, like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room — no one expected that to be good, and it was made on a [a budget of a] few hundred dollars. I think of that less as a great bad movie, and more like a really interesting piece of folk art. But Showgirls had Hollywood hubris, a huge budget and a billion professionals, and that enabled it to be the special kind of magical bad.
And yet, back in the day, didn’t all these professionals think they were making something – well, serious?
Yeah. And I got a really interesting confirmation of that when Kyle MacLachlan came to Seattle for the Seattle International Film Festival a few years ago. I got to chat with him. He brought up Showgirls—I wasn’t going to do it. So it was great, because I got to ask him a few questions once he did. He made a point of shutting down any kind of retroactive view that maybe was it was knowing camp. He was like, "No, we thought we were making a psychodrama with Paul Verhoeven. There was no camp involved." I think he appreciates what it's become, but I think it still stings because he went there seriously as an artist, an actor, trying to make these crazy things work.
On the other hand, Gina Gershon has talked about [Showgirls], and has said that even at the time, it was clear that it was campy or not going to work, but she wanted to be a professional about it. The funny thing is, her name has been thrown out as someone who’s collaborating on a stage musical version that's been talked about in New York for a couple years.
And then there’s Rena Riffel – she’s the supporting actress who plays Penny, one of the supporting strippers. She loves it. She's the one who runs with it the most, she's the one who’ll actually present herself at a midnight movie and sign autographs and scream along with everyone. She's really sweet, we’re Internet friends. But she managed to actually self-produce and star in a sequel called Showgirls 2: Penny’s from Heaven. Unfortunately, that one is the kind of bad movie that makes its point in the first few minutes – and then you have to sit there for two and a half hours.
So how did you get involved with Showgirls?
Well, I ignored it in ’95 because I was at a point in my life where I was voting with my dollars, and I wasn't going to go see misogynist crap — even if I wanted to. [Laughs] But in 1999 my best friend, who’s a feminist, called and said, “Oh no, you have to see Showgirls right now.” So I watched it, and within six minutes, I was like, “Oh, this is something special.” I saw how it delivers something to horrify or amaze you every 5 to 7 minutes — you never get bored. Like I said, it was 1999, and I had friends who were running a cinema in Seattle, and they said, "Host a screening here.” And that's when I thought, “Okay, let's put my theory to the test.” Other people saw what I saw — and that was it. The crucial moment was in 2002, when I got a voice mail from MGM saying, "Call us back." I was like, “Okay, here's the cease and desist.” But they were like, “Oh no, we would likely agree with you.” And that’s how I wound up doing the commentary for the DVD.
Hence, a star was born.
[Laughs] But I’m still the pointy-headed guy who just says, "Look at this movie," and the movie is the total punch line. I'm the total straight guy, because the movie does all the heavy lifting.