The Best Movie Critic + thriller

Notes on Camp: Introduction: Showgirls

Hey there, Ben here. It is my great pleasure – Who am I kidding? I’m ecstatic! – to introduce you to the newest member of Team Movie Advocate. In the many years of our acquaintance, I’ve never known Ryan Thompson to be anything less than the wittiest, most insightful, and admittedly cattiest person in whatever room he happens to be in at the time. Ryan’s “Notes on Camp” column will appear every Thursday right here at The Movie Advocate. Without further ado, here's Ryan…


“…not everything can be seen as Camp. It's not all in the eye of the beholder.” – Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp”

Fuck off, Sontag – it can so.

What I’m doing here is nothing new. Susan Sontag wrote her seminal essay “Notes on Camp” in 1964 – which was pre-Stonewall, pre-Golden Girls, pre-Madonna, pre-Showgirls. Most of the crap she talks about in it I haven’t even heard of, let alone have any passing familiarity with (raise your hand, everyone who’s read “Lynn Ward's novel in woodcuts, God's Man”!), but I like to consider myself something of an expert on Camp. It is by far my absolute favorite genre of film, because it’s so all encompassing in its breadth: there’s Camp drama (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Mommie Dearest, Showgirls), musicals (From Justin to Kelly, Valley of the Dolls, Showgirls), thrillers (nine times out of ten these will be described as “erotic thrillers” – Basic Instinct, I Know Who Killed Me, Color of Night, Showgirls), and horror (the Final Destination movies, various, lesser slasher film sequels of the 1980s, and, depending on your level of sobriety, Showgirls). Camp comedy is harder to spot, mostly because all Camp is funny, regardless of the genre, and as Sontag points out, the defining characteristic of Camp is innocence; it can’t know what it is, and comedy depends upon a self awareness that good Camp has to lack. There are even Camp politicians, like Sarah Palin!

After reading that last paragraph you’re thinking one of two things:

1. What a fag.*

2. SHOWGIRLS SHOWGIRLS OMG OMG!!!

Well, you’re both right! For the purposes of this blog, and in the interests in keeping my personal life out of this, let’s focus on thought #2. Showgirls is the best, the most, the greatest Camp classic of all time. It is too chock full of ludicrousness to pinpoint where it goes so spectacularly awry. I really debated whether or not to start with Showgirls, simply because it’s so obvious. Ultimately, though, its very obviousness is what makes it the ideal starting point – rather than try and point out the subtle Campiness of, say, Transformers 2 (or EVERY SINGLE MICHAEL BAY MOVIE), we should start with something easy.

Showgirls tells the cliché story of Nomi Malone, a former crack-addict hooker who decides to go to Las Vegas to make it big as a dancer. And make it big she does, but not until she stomps on the lives of every other skank in Vegas. The plot is simple – All About Eve, but with tits! Nomi’s nemesis is Crystal Connors, the star of the nude revue “Goddess”, a nightly spectacular that takes place at the fictional Stardust Casino. In this scene, Nomi reports for rehearsal, only to be treated to a super-fancy lunch with Crystal in the Stardust’s food court.

Embedding is disabled on this clip. Please follow this link to watch it now.

In case you weren’t counting, the word “tits” is said four times in four minutes and thirty seconds. I would tell you how many times it is said throughout the entire movie but I never learned to count that high.

This clip is probably the best way of illustrating the earnestness of Camp. We are supposed to be taking this conversation seriously – we’re to be reading into the power dynamics, the sexxxy lesbian subtexxxt, the glitz and glamour… but, like, they’re talking about doggie chow. (I would explain the “Ver-SAYCE” joke, but it’s too excellent a plot point to spoil here if you haven’t seen the movie).

A rape scene towards the end of the film almost derails Showgirls from being truly, blissfully fun (I hope I’m not in the minority when I say that rape scenes Are. Never. Funny.), but even that can’t ruin the experience completely – it just provides the perfect moment for a bathroom break. Truly repugnant scenes and sequences are certainly not out of the ordinary in the Camp classic, in fact I would argue they’re par for the course. You laugh until you are horrified, and then you laugh because you are horrified.

I wish I could write about Showgirls forever. No, I take that back. I wish you and I could watch it together – so that I could make the same jokes I make every time, and so you could humor me while I drink my fifth juice glass of boxed merlot. Unfortunately for both of us, I decided to write about Showgirls first because I wanted

to use this opportunity to draw your attention to some of the lesser-know Camp classics, films that do not have midnight showings devoted to them, but absolutely should. If you’re a Camp novice, start with Showgirls – we’ll go from there.

-Ryan

*It’s okay when a gay person says fag. TRUE FACT

Next time: The Bad Seed

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Notes on Camp: Introduction: Showgirls + thriller