Sunday, 21 September 2014

Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962)

5.0 out of 10
Five Weeks in a Balloon is a lighthearted adventure film that is based, loosely, on a story by Jules Verne, the father of modern science fiction. The book, incidentally, was his first novel to be translated into English and it provides the basis for this delightfully realised, though somewhat episodic, technicolor adventure tale. Fluffy to the core, Five Weeks in a Balloon is seldom, if ever, serious. It is based on a screenplay by English writer Charles Bennett who, along with director Irwin Allen, authored this treatment of the classic nineteenth century French science fiction adventure novel. According to this telling of the story, Britain, it seems, must plant a flag in order to claim central Africa before some slavers get there first. If they fail, then the African people will fall under the control of those who only mean harm to Africa. Thus, Five Weeks in a Balloon revels in one of the more ridiculous rationales for British colonialist adventurism on film. Its excuse for the subjugation of the peoples of an Empire upon which the sun would never set is, frankly, risible. God Save The Queen and all that! But, despite the story's mid nineteenth century setting, this film is very much a product of the time in which it was made. So, any justification for British imperialism that is presented here may well be purely satirical or possibly ironic. After all, this American film was produced during an era of decolonisation in Africa. For example, in 1962, the year in which Five Weeks in a Balloon was released, Rwanda, Burundi, Algeria and Uganda would all declare independence from European colonial powers. So, it is unlikely that this piece of whimsy is overly sympathetic to the whole motivation for conquest that is articulated here as a premise for the adventure aspect of the story. So, deep down, the film's heart may well be in the right place. However, lacking the cultural vocabulary of a post-colonial age, what we are left with is a condescending film that features a patronising depiction of non-white characters who are played by blacked-up men and women. The story, as the title suggests, concern a number of characters who assemble within a fantastical unicorn shaped gondola. This sits beneath a wonderful red and white balloon which is heated by a quirky, copper coloured, steampunk styled heating contraption. They all, then, go on a wonderous five week adventure deep into uncharted lands. The balloon itself utilizes both miniature effects and a gondola suspended from a crane to depict their fantastic voyage. The assembled group of actors, in this, portray a series of stereotypes of the colonial age and beyond. These consist of Red Buttons as the token brash American, Cedric Hardwicke and Richard Haydn as two pompous, stuffy, tea drinking British aristocratic alpha males who bicker their way through the feature, BarBara Luna as an infantalised ex-slave girl, Barbara Eden as the white woman in peril while the sneaky Arab role falls to a blacked-up Peter Lorre who's greedy amorality is underscored with a series of snarky one liners. Youth appeal, and excruciating squeezebox numbers, are provided by fifties pop star, turned actor, Fabian. Filmed in California, the feature makes use of a number of stock footage segments involving giraffes, hippopotamuses, and so on, to give the feel of Africa. If the film does deserve some credit for something, then it is for the fact that it at least tries, in an admittedly lighthearted way, to make sense of a rapid changing world by, much like Matthew Kneale's English Passengers, rendering nonsensical the whole reasoning for the bloodstains upon the butchers apron that lay behind colouring much of the globe pink. If it is the case that the film is not especially sympathetic to the age of empire, then the clue to this here is, possibly, in how the film chooses two bumbling idiots to portray the projection of British power overseas. If Zulu represented how Britain would reflect upon a period of upheaval, with an emphasis on the militaristic and the heroic, then Five Weeks in a Balloon would offer an American perspective on the same period. You see, as much as the film is willing to portray empire as somewhat anachronistic, it does, in common with the anti-colonialist theme of King of the Khyber Rifles, to pick a random example, somewhat negate its premise with its own brand of heavy handed orientalism. In other words, as much as British domination is lampooned, the film still fails to resist the temptation to render the oppressed as little more than overgrown infants. Women, especially, are patronised here, as they are throughout "Boys Own" style adventure film in general. Non-white, ie blackface wearing, female characters are reduced to no more than domestic little wifey material in need of a protecting and guiding hand. On the other hand, the white-women-in-peril characters are little more than pneumatic dollies who get hot and bothered for the boys who come to their rescue. Failing this, they are simply the twisted ankles for dramatic effect in chase scenes. All that these ladies require, it seems, is kissing. Mwah!!! Aside from issues of ethnicity, gender, and how these stereotypical portrayals are handled by the film, there is something else here that dates the film to a bygone, less enlightened age. That is, the treatment of animals. Due to the nature of the story a number of animals were utilized throughout. Live chickens, that are used to provide some of the comic relief, come in for some particularly unwarranted treatment. Baskets, full of live birds, are thrown. Meanwhile, another chicken is carried about by its feet, for what seems like an age. It is used as a comedy prop for BarBara Luna. In a late scene a chimpanzee appears to be out of his depth in, what we are led to believe, is a raging river. It is clear that the animal is distressed by all this. This sort of thing is unnecessary and, thankfully, is no longer considered acceptable.

Against All Flags (1952)

6.5 out of 10
On the 6th of July, 1699, Captain William Kidd, and his wife Sarah, were arrested and placed in Boston Gaol in Massachusetts. Transferred to Newgate Prison in England, Kidd would stand trial for murder and piracy. He was found guilty and would be put to death in 1701 at Execution Dock, in Wapping, London. His body was then hung, on a gibbet, for no less than three years in order to serve as a warning to other would-be pirates. Though, according to the swashbuckling classic Against All Flags, none of this would be the case. Indeed, the film would tell a different story altogether! According to this film, Kidd would still be at liberty in 1700. This, after all, is the year in which the film was set. However, despite some revisionism, Against All Flags does have some limited grounding in what is understood to be the real story of Captain Kidd. For, despite this schoolboy error, the film is certainly set in the right era, albeit having a timeline that is off by a couple of years. Also, in a nod to history, Madagascar would play a role in the real Captain Kidd story, but not for anything like the events that are depicted in Against All Flags. However, none of this should matter too much. Because, firstly, Against All Flags is not a documentary and nor does it pretend to be. Secondly, even if it were, then Kidd, by played Robert Warwick, is only an incidental character in this. Indeed, it is likely that the name Kidd, one of the most notorious of the pirates, was only thrown into the story because it was a recognisable name and thus to be a familiar enough point of reference in order to lend this fanciful story a touch of authenticity. He really has very little to do and isn't in the film that much anyhow. Another character in Against All Flags, who was clearly based on a historic pirate, is Roche Braziliano. He was portrayed, in this, by Anthony Quinn. However, far from being a Madagascar pirate around the turn of the seventeenth century, the real Braziliano had already been missing for a few decades, his fate unknown. Anyhow, what is certain is that, were he still pirating, he would be around seventy years old, give or take, and certainly nothing like the dashing, thirty something love rival for the hero of the piece here. The hero, by the way, being a British officer who is portrayed by an out-of-shape Errol Flynn. Both men take an interest in the glamorous, Mary Read-esque love interest, named Spitfire Stevens. Played by Maureen O'Hara, she not only has the attention of the two male leads, but she is also blessed with a seemingly endless wardrobe of mostly Lincoln green pirating clothes with which to woo her suitors. These outfits seem to change with each of her scenes! In this telling of the pirate story, Brian Hawke, played by Flynn, is sent to infiltrate the Madagascar pirates in order to report back on their defences. However, his mission becomes complicated when he falls for O'Hara and, together with Viva Zapata! star Quinn, the whole thing becomes a bit of a love triangle. To complicate matters further, Hawke would end up having a fling with a Princess Patma. She is a captured Indian princess who is played by an unconvincingly exoticised Alice Kelley. This then the provides some opportunity for some Mind Your Language style "funny foreigners" with the princess providing the film with another layer of comic relief. Here, much mirth is wrung from the fact that the princess doesn't know how to kiss a man and she threatens, erm... hilariously, to throw those who displease her to the cobras. However, even aside from the blatantly comic thread that she weaves through the film, this is not the world's most po-faced production anyhow. No! This is light hearted matinee fare and as such does not take itself, at all, too seriously. Indeed, the film has all the crowd-pleasing swashbuckling elements one would expect from something like this. It is a riot of bright costumes and these are perfect for the whole brilliant Technicolor vibe. Also, there are a few large, though far from epic, sword fights. Time is even found for the occasional slapstick flourish. The watchwords here are "fun","fun" and "fun"! All this nautical action involves some delightful pirate ship miniatures. Indeed, much of what works can be easily laid at the door of some top drawer cinematography courtesy of Russell Metty and the assembled special effects team. The California coast locations, here, adequately standing in for Madagascar with some half decent matte paintings, courtesy of Russell Lawson who was head of Universal's matte department, occasionally representing the pirate lair and the island coast. Directed by B-western specialist George Sherman, this is really a lesser title in the Flynn canon and it does suffer on a number of fronts. Not least the star of the day, for whom this is clearly a vehicle, is way past his prime and, in between struggling through his action scenes, occasionally appears a little worse for wear. It was said, after all, that Flynn would frequently start getting drunk during the day's shooting with the result that filming would have to be wrapped up early. According to co-star O'Hara, Flynn, who would break his ankle during this production, would spend the day consuming oranges that he had laced with vodka after director Sherman banned alcohol on set. This would be evident in the final product, especially in the few Flynn led action sequences. Following one scene where he had to use a rope to swing between ships, for example, the hero would look red faced and a little lost. He then looks shiftily towards something out of our view, possibly a cue or gesture, then awkwardly walks out of shot. The whole scene feels a little uncomfortable. Indeed, there are a number of times where Flynn looks lost, mumbles a piece of dialogue or shows other signs of a heavy session on the sauce. Though, to be honest, despite all this, the film turns out surprisingly well on the whole.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Tarantula (1955)

6.0 out of 10
During the fifties, American science fiction and horror would turn its attention to some of the major political concerns of the era. These were, in particular, the fear of communism, which would express itself in a number of invasion from space features, and the utilizing of nuclear weapons technology with the A-bomb tests of the so-called atomic age. In terms of fifties sci-fi, nuclear material would be adept at promoting both madness in people, particularly scientists, and, more often than not, gigantism in all manner of insects and reptiles. In the 1957 science fiction classic The Amazing Colossal Man we see both the maddening and expanding effects at the same time, as a soldier is exposed plutonium with a result that he becomes destructive giant. On the other hand, the fantastic science fiction classic The Incredible Shrinking Man, from the same year, produces an outcome that is more tragic on a personal level than anything else. Here, exposure to both a radioactive mist and insecticide sees Scott Carey, played by Grant Williams, become smaller and smaller as the day-to-day things of life, such as common house spiders, loom larger and larger and take on an additional layer of menace. Then there are the giant animal films! Them, 1954, sees giant ants as a product of New Mexico atomic tests, for example, while the A-bomb would also provide the pretext for the release of Ray Harryhausen's wonderfully realised dinosaurtastic Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. In this spirit we also get Universal's matinee classic, Tarantula. Directed by The Creature from the Black Lagoon's Jack Arnold, Tarantula, as the title suggests, is a big spider movie. And, in common with so many of the science fiction films of the time, it has, yet again, a radiation theme. Leo G. Carroll's Professor Deemer, who is namechecked for this role in The Rocky Horror Picture Show's Science Fiction/Double Feature song, takes the Frankenstein style mad scientist role in this. Inspired by Malthusian motivations, he is growing large animals including mice, guinea pigs and, as the film is called Tarantula, unsurprisingly a tarantula. Deemer is also testing his radioactive formula on a colleague who goes wild, smashes up the lab and, during the ensuing fire, the Tarantula escapes. The following day, Deemer's new assistant arrives in town. Named Steve, and played by Mara Corday who is also the star of the unintentionally hilarious Giant Claw, she manages to secure a lift with a Doctor Hastings, who is played by John Agar. It is the pairing of Agar, who's filmography would include Women of the Prehistoric Planet and The Brain from Planet Arous, and Corday who drive the on-the-trail-of-a-spider plot forward. If there is a criticism of the film, it is that it does not really maintain the brisk tempo from the opening. Since the spider is introduced relatively early in the film, this weapon in the suspense armoury is dispensed with far too easily and while this means that the viewer will be treated to plenty of on-screen spider quality time, the decision to pad the film out with far too many shots of characters driving up and down the same bit of road sort of negates the brilliant slices of eight legged action that represent the whole Tarantula raison d'être. At least the film uses the familiar rear projection technique, the one that film noir fans will no doubt recognise. That is a trick that is pretty much always fun, no matter whether it is shaky or even if it uses footage for the side window that doesn't seem to match up with that for the rear. That doesn't matter one iota! It is just one of those cool things about 40s and 50s films. You see, as it happens, Tarantula is a really fun film that certainly deserved to ranked fairly high amongst a rather patchy fifties science fiction milieu that has produced films that range, in quality, from the brilliant to the risible. Much of this is down to the spider itself. Using some wonderfully detailed miniatures that stand in for the Nevada desert setting, though in reality filmed in California, and a real spider, which is apparently, a Mexican red rumped tarantula, the film manages to be effective without being too hokey. Even the conclusion where the spider gets to interact with some stock footage of military aircraft is, thanks to British born Song of the South editor William Morgan, effective enough. Also, a scene where the giant arachnid appears at a window is just great and, truth to tell, this alone would really justify the price of admission.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Roller Boogie (1979)

6.5 out of 10
If there was ever a film that captured the ephemeral essence of youth cults, then surely Quadrophenia was it. When Jimmy, a young Mod played by Phil Daniels in this Who inspired classic, returns from Brighton, he finds that he is unable to settle. After all, while he was at the coast, he found himself caught up in an heady mix of drugs, alcohol and random violence as Mods and Rockers went toe-to-toe along the seafront. He even, in the excitement of the the moment, found himself in a deserted alleyway alone with Steph, a pretty modette played by a pre-pout Leslie Ash. There, against a wall, the couple managed to have a bit of a fumbly knee-trembler before rejoining the parka wearing throng. To Jimmy, you see, all this meant something. Possibly, to him, it was something profound; something special. But, as the dust settles, everyone, except Jimmy, returns to their normal, everyday life. You see, Jimmy is not satisfied. He wishes to experience more and to continue feeling the high. So, he returns to Brighton. But this time the Mods and Rockers have moved on, and Brighton is silent. The place simply feels different. The beaches and cafes now stand deserted. The summer has ended. That is how it tends to be with youth cults and scenes. They will happily tick along, underground, for quite some time. However, as soon as mass appeal is realised, the seed of destruction is sewn. You see, if the attraction exists in the fact that the cult exists away from the mainstream then, once everyone is doing it, the whole scene, in a mass of internal contradictions, crumbles, like woodwormed Jenga, into a cloud of dust. In the end, fashions break, like waves upon a rocky shoreline. It is just that some, like Jimmy, find themselves caught within the rock pools of life. But, the cool kids are moving on with the tide. It is pretty much the same story with Mark L. Lester's Roller Boogie. This, too, is a film about a youth cult. But, in this case, the kids are not defined by sharp suits, parkas, scooters or the sounds of soul and rhythm and blues. Instead, they wear silky short-shorts, rainbow coloured braces, they ride around on rollerskates and they play funk and disco. Here, the skaters rule the boardwalk of Venice Beach. It is the age of the skater. It is the time of the Roller Boogie! What this film captures, in essence, is that point at which the wave is about to break. The scene has already reached its zenith and everyone, it seems, is a dancing skater in short-shorts. Even the comedy character Complete Control Conway, the wobbly awkward kid who's role is to provoke some comic relief, is now part of the scene. It is 1979, and while every season must ultimately give way to the new, for now it is one long Endless Summer party of sun, skating and the boogie. It is at this point that we meet Terry Barkley. She is played by pretty former Exorcist star Linda Blair, who, fair play, seems to do a lot of her own skating in this. Terry is a rich kid and is about to embark on her studies at the exclusive Juilliard School, New York. But, for now, she simply wants to boogie. On wheels! So, she becomes involved in the whole roller scene at the beach and, for her, the most important thing in the world is to win the big contest at the rink. To achieve her goal she enlists the help of a young, talented skater named Bobby James. He is played by real-life, multi-award winning competitive skater Jim Bray. The pair fall in love. The story is then given a largely unneccessary layer of dramatic tension with the addition of some evil developers who wish to close the roller disco. The kids, blissfully unware of the fact that the wheels will be soon coming off their silly fad scene anyhow, set out to stop them. Of course it is tempting to see the film as yet another forbidden-love across the class divide type story. Or even, more cynically, a story of poverty tourism romance such as that described in Pulp's 1995 hit, Common People. But the film is not simply about this. It is not so much about who Terry loves, but why. It is about her being herself and setting her own goals in life. After all, Terry defies the wishes of her posh parents in order to hang out at the beach. You see, while she has fun, Terry is challenging the educational route to a career that her conservative father, played by Count Yorga's Roger Perry, and her mother, played by Swamp Women star Beverley Garland, have planned out for her. However, their girl is becoming a woman and she has her own ideas about what it is she wishes to do. She is making her own choices. Sure, when the sun inevitably sets on the final day of the Venice summer, she will have to do what is right. Terry will, ultimately, have to conform. No matter who she loves today, this is fleeting, and she knows it. Her squeeze Bobby, on the other hand, just like Jimmy in Quadrophenia, is probably destined to be caught in one of life's rock pools. You see, he is from the "other side of the tracks". Even though he, too, is clearly ambitious, there is a sense that he is staying put while Terry is going on to bigger things. For all the intricacies of the story, this is a silly and fun little film that is all about the skating. It is, after all, a movie that attempts, just like Saturday Night Fever or the much later Heavenly Bodies, to cash in on the latest thing and, in doing so, tries its best to capture the all the excitement of rollerskating round and round in circles to cheesy disco music. In doing this, the film succeeds. For, despite all the neon, the garish fashion and some extremely hokey set pieces, this is a film that features some great dancing on wheels that is executed by some genuinely talented skaters. It is just a shame that this is placed in the context of such a generic and by-numbers story. A few years later, incidentally, the plot of Roller Boogie would be recycled, pretty much wholesale, for Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. There we meet another rich girl who is about to go to college. However, this time, she wants to hang out with the breakdancers of Venice Beach. This is against the wishes of her parents. Meanwhile evil developers wish to close down the place where they hang out etc, etc..

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Wizard, The (1989)

5.0 out of 10
The early eighties was, pretty much, the Golden Age of 8 bit gaming. And, since no one else was doing it, Walter Day decided, in the spirit of the homesteaders, to stake his claim. In order to do this, he founded Twin Galaxies with the purpose of recording and collating the arcade machine high scores from across the country. This enabled him to establish the Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard, which launched in 1982. Around this time Life Magazine would take an interest in this and would pull together some of the greatest arcade game players of the day for a photo-shoot. The resulting spread would, incidentally, inspire Lincoln Ruchti to direct Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade. Looking at that Life photograph today, it is striking how ordinary looking, or even painfully nerdy, this band of extraordinary young men looked. There should be no way on earth that they, collectively, could be considered the epitome of cool. It would be impossible, for example, to imagine these geeky “Bash Street Kids” hitching across America and getting into exciting scrapes involving bikers, truckers and a private investigator. No! To cover this sort of ground, the 1989 video game themed film The Wizard would have to be at least 20% cooler than that! Especially when it has something to sell. You see, what The Wizard is all about is product. Just as Mac and Me shoved burgers, fries and cola down our throats, so The Wizard also wants to sell us some things. These are, in no particular order, Nintendo Entertainment Systems, Super Mario Bros. 3, who's release was supposed to coincide with that of the film, Universal Studio tours and the American dream. It tries to do this, so it seems, by harnessing the magic of "pester" power. Because there is no doubt at the junior demographic this film is targetting. It is, pure and simple, a kids film. Just like My Side of the Mountain or The Prince of Central Park it sets out to appeal to the adventurous spirit of youngsters like some precocious child of Times Square. Albeit with a rationale that equates such pioneering with shopping. Of course the film needs a story in order to, at least, pretend that it is not some overblown commercial. So what better way to get a story than borrow one from somewhere else. Indeed, this is precisely what The Wizard does. It borrows its story! Possibly the most obvious influence would be The Who's Tommy with its Pinball Wizard, but beyond that there are elements of the Karate Kid. Indeed, much of the film is the Karate Kid with console gameplay replacing karate and game telephone support operatives replacing the whole Mr. Miyagi inspired paint the fence and wax on wax off training element. The Wizard even has its very own "William Zabka" in the shape of baddie nemesis Lucas who utters badass shit like "I love the Power Glove. It's so bad". There are also bits of The Hustler in there somewhere, some Wizard of Oz, a little bit of Vanishing Point and, surprisingly, Rain Man too. The structure of the film, though, is that of a typical road movie. As a result, watching the film, it is easy to feel that it has all been done before, and that is because it has been! It all feels so familiar. To be honest, it would probably not come as a real shock if it emerged that most viewers managed to figure out much of the story arc well within the first half hour or so. It really is that predictable. The star of the film is young Luke Edwards. He plays Jimmy. Jimmy is a young boy with unspecified emotional problems. When Jimmy is stressed he builds things from blocks and he is forever running away from home. Unable to cope, his mother places him in a care home where stark grey walls and funless rooms warehouse children who are sat in front of television sets all day. Luckily, brother Corey, played by Fred Savage, springs Jimmy, and the pair go on the road from Utah to California. Along the way they meet Haley, played by Jenny Lewis, and she too joins the young men as they go westwards with thoughts of growing up with the country. On their travels, as the result of a fortuous pause for breath at a roadside store, they discover that Jimmy has an exceptional talent for playing Nintendo Entertainment System branded games. Which is just as well, as they seems to be everywhere in this. The film then acquires a purpose when the trio decide to enter Jimmy into Video Armageddon, a national Nintendo Entertainment System themed championship hosted at Universal Studios Theme Park. Of course every Wizard of Oz needs its wicked witch and this one, instead, takes the standard libertarian line of casting the state and its agents as villains. For, even though it is not explicitly laid out that the child catcher is, in fact, a state employee, it is worth noting that his role is one of returning Jimmy to the grey, stark, uninviting social care home. He is the joyless face of authority in all this. Played by Will Seltzer, he is, in effect, the police by proxy. He is the anti-fun. It is his role to stop the kids getting to their destination where they can play some Nintendo Entertainment System games. Also, on the tail of the kids are Christian Slater and Beau Bridges. Their role in this, as brother and father, respectively, can be summed up as providing a nememsis for the child catcher, playing some Nintendo Entertainment System games, talking about playing some Nintendo Entertainment System games and lending some heavyweight names to the poster. Neither role is really necessary to the story, however, and both overact somewhat. Sadly, despite being mostly harmless, The Wizard is likely to be a film of limited appeal today. That said, though, it would probably play well to the nostalgia market and fans of retro gaming on a certain console. After all, few kids today are likely to be enamoured by a film about something as crude as blocky old 16-bit video games. Beyond this, there is really little here to entertain a wider adult audience as the film seems to eschew those knowing, adult-friendly, obscure references that Pixar, and so on, throw into the mix for mum and dad. Sega fans would certainly need to look elsewhere.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Showgirls (1995)

7.0 out of 10
During the late eighties, and early nineties, Paul Verhoeven could do wrong. None whatsoever! While his cult status had long been established with the likes of Soldier of Orange and Flesh+Blood, both starring the wonderful Rutger Hauer, he absolutely exploded onto the international stage with RoboCop and Total Recall. These were easily two of the great era defining science fiction films and the follow up of the smash erotic thriller Basic Instinct would surely cement Verhoeven's reputation as the director with the Midas touch. Then came Showgirls and, erm, the critics hated it. So much so, in fact, that the film would be nominated for a whole bunch of Golden Raspberry Awards. These are, of course, the awards for the worst pictures of the year and Showgirls swept the board. Showgirls would even earn a special award as Worst Picture of the Decade! Interestingly, though, director  Paul Verhoeven took all this in his stride and would even turn up in person to collect his awards. He was, apparently, the first director to do so. The result was that Showgirls only had a limited success at the box office. It is telling that this, the least “genre” of his American films, happens to be the one that has the most opprobrium heaped upon it. This something that even Verhoeven would later acknowledge and stated that, with hindsight, he should have maybe made the film into more of a crime film. Showgirls would, nevertheless, fare much better in the home video market. There, it managed to make over 100 million dollars. It even began to take on something of a cult status. So there was certainly a disconnect between the impression of the critics and that of the public at large. But, on this, the people are right and the critics who panned this film are so way off the mark. Because, despite all the crap heaped upon it, Showgirls is actually a great film. However, anyone hoping to see a warts and all exposé of Vegas life would likely come away from this disappointed. After all, this is not what the film trades in. Sure we meet the struggling artist who has ideas for his own production, the small time lapdance club owner and even the woman who fixes the costumes. But, lip service is only paid, in passing, to the nature of the lap dancing business and the world of gambling, the whole Vegas raison d'être, only appears briefly with a few seconds at the slot machines. Instead, the film concerns itself with one woman's pursuit of a career in Vegas. Nomi, played by Elizabeth Berkley, is an ambitious former hooker who seeks to be a lead dancer in a topless stage show in what is, in effect, a retelling of All About Eve. It is a tale of blind ambition and ruthless determination in what is something a glitzy, but somewhat amoral, environment. The medium, which is dance, and the location itself, all are secondary considerations. The film does not really comment on Vegas itself, nor really cast judgement on the world of adult entertainment. No, it simply remains concerned with how, when unchecked, raw ambition can be so destructive and ultimately lead to an unfulfilling emptiness at the top. To underscore this point, Verhoeven keeps the focus very much on one character throughout. A cacophony of amoral supporting characters such as producers, rivals, and so on, surround her and are constantly circling like sharks, but, nevertheless, Nomi ploughs onwards. She is doing exactly what it is she has to do in order to get where it is she feels she needs to be. Even those who, from the outset, help her along the way are ultimately reduced to becoming as much spectators as the sea of onlookers among the waiting flashbulbs or even the paying audience. The camera simply continues to remain on our star. Everything in Showgirls places Nomi at the centre of its universe. The quest for fame, here, is portrayed as existing in a dizzying alternative reality. Visually, this is consistently shiny, garish and never for a second really steps outside this character. Here the bright lights of the stage merge with those of the Las Vegas Strip to create what could best be seen as a form of hyper-reality. Just like Total Recall, Showgirls exists in a sort of semi-fantasy world that is conjured up in the imagination of the main protagonist and realised with lush Jost Vacano cinematography. Casino interiors are almost totally absent throughout this world, for example, and we are only concerned here with their dazzling façades. The bright lights are the bright lights of show business and it is the draw of the spotlight that falls upon the lead dancer that dazzles Nomi first and foremost. Nomi, resembling a tiny topless dancer cast amongst a box of pretty illuminated Christmas decorations, seeks the affirmation that comes from basking in the glow of stage lighting and feeding upon the very gaze of the awestruck. Unfortunately, where the film leaves a little to be desired, is when it comes to filling out the backstory of our lead. At the beginning, for example, we are informed that she wishes to be a dancer. And, as she desires, she manages to become a successful a dancer. We are also informed, during the film, that she isn't quite who she claims to be, with her real identity teasingly revealed early on in what appears, initially, to be a throwaway remark. Yet, the connection between the two things isn't really made. So we simply have little idea, really, of what it is that makes her tick. It does seem evident, though, that there is very little time for love in Nomi's world. Even those who she chooses to sleep with are the ideal helping hands that will guide her up the rungs of the ladder. Is this, in short, simply the tale of unsentimental sociopath? It may well be! After all, it is occasionally suggested. In one scene, for example, when an acquaintence, and one time suitor, tells her that he is to be married and work in a shop her expression, in response, seems to convey something between confusion and disgust. It seems that she is unable to comprehend those who simply wish to get by. Why does Nomi want to be in the limelight? What drives her? We know that she is ambitious, after all. But, why topless dancing? Why is she so driven that she will do anything to be the lead dancer in the Vegas equivalent of the Raymond Revue Bar? After all, Nomi is clearly very talented and there are surely better paid dancing jobs for one with her commitment. Whatever her motivation, she is even prepared to be incredibly ruthless to the point of seriously injuring a rival along the way, suggesting this is no passing whim. The answers to these questions, unfortunately, are not really forthcoming. So, even by the conclusion we do not, in truth, really understand Nomi. Nor why she does what she does.


Films are rated by giving them a score from one to ten green pickles. The actual score depends on my mood at the time of writing and reflect no worthier a quality than how much the film actually entertained me. It is not a judgement of how good or bad a film is. Nor is it rocket science.