Showgirls (Umbrella)

There was this golden moment in Hollywood in the mid 90’s, where Sharon Stone had just flashed her genitals across the screen, and the audience yearned for the kind of sleaze and titillation usually reserved for exploitation cinema. The budgets grew and celebrity screenwriter Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct) started pocketing two million per script for turkey’s like Jade and of course this. Teaming up with Basic Instinct director Paul Verhoven they were the dynamic duo of questionable morality, keen to push the boundaries and give the audience what they wanted. So the money flowed, the cocaine and the blow-jobs followed, but the audience didn’t respond to this flaccid flesh fest. In fact they turned on it venomously.

So where do you lay the blame? Eszterhas suggests the casting of Elizabeth Berkley as Nomi (the name of his real life partner – bet he regrets it now) was the problem, referring to her in his memoir as ‘a blow up fuck doll.’ Yet there are many problems in this film, and to be fair it’s these issues that make this film worth a second look. It’s really peculiar, it’ sounds surefire, with all the ingredients you’d want, sex, power, greed, ambition, but when they attempted to light the match it’s like all the fuel had been left out in the rain, and all we get is smoke. There’s no spark. No fire.

It’s the story of sexy hard-bodied Nomi, who hitchhikes to Vegas to pursue her dream as a dancer, beginning in a seedy strip club, before working her way up to a glamorous topless revue in a casino, discovering that the sleaze and corruption follow her no matter how high she rises. Certain interactions, like Nomi’s with principal dancer Cristal (Gina Gershon) are bizarre attempts at psycho sexual tension that border on delusional, however Kyle MacLachlan couldn’t be further from Agent Cooper and is clearly having a ball. Berkley’s though lets her dancing do her acting, strutting and prancing, eating up the scenery, nude and proud. Like Noni this is her big break and she thinks she’s in Citizen Kane – which only adds to the enjoyment.

This film is an essential mix of so bad it’s good and so bad it’s bad, alongside so nonsensical it’s stupid (such as the monkeys let loose backstage). It feels like a fairy-tale version of Vegas sleaze, a fantasy that doesn’t ring true. It reeks of excess and that’s part of its charm, which is why even when it’s terrible it’s still compelling. Now finally released on blue ray the print is pristine so you can be confused in high definition as to why this wall to wall flesh fails to titillate.

Bob Baker Fish

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Fragmented Fish – Best Film of 2010

There is a man. He is old. Two other elderly people are watching him intently. They’re in a seedy nondescript laneway. He sidles up to a rubbish bin and begins rubbing his genitals on the cold black plastic. Pretty soon he is thrusting aggressively. Later he pulls down a branch from a tree and simulates oral sex with it.

This is the best film Fragmented Fish saw this year.

It is of course the latest opus from Harmony Korine, the writer of Kids and Ken Park and director of such box office failures as Gummo and Julien Donkey Boy. His previous film, Mister Lonely, was his most commercial yet, a tale of celebrity impersonators who retreat from a cold dark uncaring world to a utopian Scottish commune and featured name actors such as Samantha Morton. It seemed our Harmony. Our deeply troubled Harmony, a young man who has been banned from The Late Show with Dave Letterman due to his erratic, possibly drug affected performances had finally made a move towards the mainstream.

Trash Humpers is his answer to those sick pathetic thoughts. Shot on a crappy old VHS camera and edited on video, it looks terrible. Fuzzy, ill defined, the shots at night could be anything. But if feels like an antidote, a rally to restore sanity to the HD 3D Blueray obsessed industry determined to capture in widescreen glory the bacteria on the pimple on the face of the model desperate to be an actor pretending to be a cop on your favourite TV show. In fact it’s just Harmony, his wife and a couple of mates with old persons makeup, drunk on wine and drugged on glue (maybe?) being vandals and idiots. Destroying televisions, lighting firecrackers and just generally being elderly delinquents. It should be boring. After all, he gave it away in the title, but the first seven minutes of copious refuse thrusting is nothing short of side splitting hilarity. Everything about it is wrong. What kind of sick fool would film this madness. In fact if it was solely 120 minutes of random rubbish bin rooting Fragmented Fish would be more than satisfied, however Korine expertly reels in a bunch of eccentric randoms from his neighborhood, bringing racist jokes and very long toenails to the party. One duo joined at the head even eats food coated with dishwashing liquid. It’s nonsensical and base, weirdo slapstick that disturbs and annoys but also confuses. The jokes aren’t obvious, most of the humour stems from the audiences pain, but you can’t look away. Who knows what they’ll do next.

It’s definitely a film of our times, our thirst for manipulated reality to consume is at an all time high, when the lights of the camera often seem to fall on those with few discernible talents . There’s no doubt it’s backwater exploitation, the beauty of course being that Korine is exploiting himself and his friends. But ultimately it is a film with a heart, heart that’s admittedly obscured by furry sleaziness, the overwhelming wrongness and meaningless violence and stupidity, but ultimately I don’t know whether it’s due to intent or simply duration, but after a while the film begins to take on almost transcendental qualities. Trash Humpers isn’t a film it’s an experience. After playing in the Melbourne Film Festival it hasn’t made it back to Australia, even on DVD, it’s just too un filmlike. According to Korine it’s meant to be the kind of strange poorly labeled video cassette that you find in a dumpster take home and freak over. So my advice is to find this film take it home and disturb your friends and family with the best film of 2010. They will hate you.

Otherwise Roberto Rodriguez continued his Grindhouse obsession with Machete, which is actually better than his most recent opus Planet Terror. It’s actually quite incredible that Rodriguez is now in a position to make big budget exploitation, reigning in name actors like Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson, and Robert De Niro. Last time Hollywood pumped out the big bucks for sexploitation the result was Showgirls and a strangely aggressive reaction from the cinema going public. Yet both Machete and Planet Terror are so much fun, taking a nostalgic, reverential and outlandish delight in the seediness, that this time it feels like everyone is along for the ride. Let’s hope this is just the beginning.