The Naked Truth About Artistic Sellouts

To: Joe Eszterhas

In re: "Showgirls"

*

I want you to know, Mr. Eszterhas, that I did exactly as you requested last week in your full-page ad in Daily Variety.

You asked women--and by extension, me--to see your new movie with an open mind. Normally, I would not rush to see a movie that is set, as you wrote, "in a world of nude lap dancing and topless casino dancing"--especially not one with an NC-17 rating. This is because I remember being suckered into watching the last NC-17 movie --"Henry and June"-- which turned out to be (surprise!) nothing more than a skin flick with literary airs.

But you asked so nicely. There was even a slightly desperate feel about your open letter as you implored us to form our own conclusions about the film, to free ourselves of the influence of "either misguided, fast-buck advertising . . . or politically correct ax-grinding."

So I did.

And before you jump to conclusions about the psychic axes I haul around, let me assure you that I enjoyed your earlier films, "Basic Instinct" and "Flashdance." Give me a good story--or at least good dancing--and I will gladly fork over my $7.50.

Which is why I'd like a refund for "Showgirls."

I took in a matinee on opening day (make that $4.50), and it only bothered me just the teensiest little bit that the single, elderly gent sitting two seats away kept rocking in his seat during the sex scenes. Oh, I know--you can't control how people react.

How could you possibly have predicted that my local Cineplex Odeon would suddenly seem like the Pussycat Theatre during a showing of "True Thighs"?

Despite your spat with the studio over the way the film is being marketed, the print image that defines "Showgirls"--that extraordinary shot of Elizabeth Berkley with her robe slightly open from the top of her chin to the tip of her toes--is beautiful and intriguing and understated.

Well, perhaps you are right to be upset, as the movie is none of those things. (That swimming pool sex scene, by the way, was as erotic as Marlin Perkins rassling an alligator. Only when Marlin did it, nobody laughed.)

On the other hand, I don't understand why you feel insulted that the studio also chose to market your movie in the sports pages. This decision, you wrote, "reminds me of the kind of man who looks at a woman and sees nothing but her body, ignoring her character and her soul."

Two things:

You should talk.

And could it be that the studio chose a part of the paper that is home to ads for strip joints because your movie features hordes of naked, physically perfect women simulating lesbian acts and grinding their hips into the faces of fully clothed men?

Just a thought.

Now. About your "plot."

"Showgirls" centers on Nomi Malone, a young woman with a shady past who dreams of stardom in the world of nude dancing. It's a pretty sleazy world, and she fits right in, except when she stomps off in anger. Which happens a lot.

She stomps off when a guy on a disco dance floor tells her she can't dance. She can too dance, dammit!

She stomps off when she is asked to perform sexual favors for bosses or hotel clients. She only wants to perform sexual favors if she feels like it, dammit!

She stomps off when she finds that a man she has spurned has taken up with another stripper because . . . well, who the hell knows why?

I guess, Mr. Eszterhas, between all the stomping, the grinding and the humping, you just didn't have that much energy left for a convincing story line, dammit!

"The movie shows that dancers in Vegas are often victimized, humiliated, used, verbally and physically raped by the men who are at the power centers of that world," you write in Variety, and this you depict well. But you also say that Nomi "refuses to be corrupted. She does not allow herself to be damaged at the core of her being. . . . She wins her own pride and dignity through her strength of character. She grasps her own destiny."

Hardly. Nomi is one of the least sympathetic protagonists in cinema history--a scheming, lying, totally corrupted narcissist so pathetically out of touch with reality that she truly believes it (and you expect us to believe it) when she says: "I'm not a stripper, I'm a dancer."

Ah, the age-old struggle between what really is and what we wish could be.

Between being a stripper and being a dancer.

Between being a sellout and being an artist.

Between writing an awful movie that's all nudity, sex and degradation and selling it as important social commentary.

What was that odd expression Nomi used to pay a compliment?

Oh, yeah: "It doesn't suck."

Wish I could say the same for your movie.

* Robin Abcarian's column is published Wednesdays and Sundays.

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