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New ‘Showgirls’ doc explores one of the most reviled and revered films of all time

They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but for the cast and crew of one film, what happened in Vegas changed the course of the careers of those attached…as well as cinema itself…forever.

Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz announces his latest documentary, GODDESS: THE FALL AND RISE OF SHOWGIRLS, and the launch of a Kickstarter campaign in support of the project. Produced and directed by Schwarz through his production company Automat Pictures, Goddess is slated to premiere in 2020 to coincide with Showgirls’ 25th Anniversary.

“It’s been a longtime dream to make the definitive documentary about a film that has fascinated and flabbergasted audience since its release in 1995,” says director Jeffrey Schwarz, whose past films include I Am Divine, Tab Hunter Confidential, and The Fabulous Allan Carr. Showgirls is a misunderstood masterpiece, and although it is a gaudy, over the top spectacle, it wrestles with issues of sex, power, and the American Dream. Goddess will will dig deep into the intentions of its creators, recount the negative reaction by the press and the public, and chronicle how the cult of Showgirls has grown over the years.”

During the course of the 30-day campaign, which aims to raise $50,000 for post-production expenses, the cast and crew interviewed for the documentary will be revealed on social media. A pivotal interviewee already announced is Showgirls director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, Elle), who has also given this project his full blessing. The first day of the campaign March 19 (aka 3/19) is a significant number in the Showgirls “universe” – the lead character, Nomi Malone, performs her iconic striptease to Prince’s song “319.”

Billed as a searing look into the world of the erotic dancers of Las Vegas, Showgirls was touted as a benchmark in a new era of adult entertainment. Serving as a flagship for the NC-17 rating, the film was meant to be the first in a new era of cinematic experiences geared for audiences looking for mature fare. Offering content beyond the R rating without the implications of X, the opulent Dutch auteur Paul Verhoeven directed a motion picture poised to show that the world was ready for clever eroticism at the multiplex. However, upon the film’s opening, reactions to Showgirls were less than favorable. The critical venom ensured that the notion of the NC-17 was instantly transformed from “the next phase” to a recipe for box office poison. Furthermore, the film’s lead, Elizabeth Berkley, took a personal hit, the shadow of Showgirls’ failure marred her career for years to come.

Over the course of two decades, the film that the industry and critics alike initially treated as an unmentionable stain has been reinvented as a sparkling gem of cult cinema. Like its glittery titular characters, Showgirls has risen from the volcano ashes to become a cultural benchmark. The film’s evolution from demonized celluloid to canonized classic is a tale that mirrors not only the story of the film’s lead character, Nomi Malone, but also the story of the woman who played her.

Bruised by an industry that vilified a woman who unapologetically celebrated her sexuality, Elizabeth Berkley spent years distancing herself from a work that would live infamy. But even as the actress pushed Showgirls away, a generation of fans were rising up and pulling it near to their hearts. Through the veil of sexuality and sequins, fans saw a story of a woman who wouldn’t let the world define her. In Nomi Malone, they saw someone who went to extremes to maintain her sense of self. In the end, it’s not that Nomi becomes a Showgirl that makes her a “Goddess” – it’s that she refuses to let that victory change the core of her being.

Showgirls director Paul Verhoeven has even given his full support behind the documentary, saying “When I was making films in Holland, my movies were judged by the critics as decadent, perverted and sleazy, so I moved to the United States. Then I made Showgirls, which was criticized as being decadent, perverted and sleazy in this country. I am very happy that Showgirls is now embraced and celebrated almost 25 years after its release. I’m also pleased that this documentary is being produced because it will give people a sense of what we were thinking when we made it. I am in full support of this documentary and want to thank everyone who has helped keep Showgirls alive these many years.”

For the growing cult of Showgirls that has risen over the last 20+ years, the film’s audacious sexuality and brazen empowerment have taken the once reviled movie to a status of near worship. Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show before it, Showgirls has inspired audiences the world over to embrace their inner-Goddesses and take that love out to the world. Once considered a failure, the film ultimately has gone on to be one of the largest financial successes on home video for MGM, and the movie that everyone once hoped to forget stands to be remembered for all time. 

Goddess: The Fall and Rise of Showgirls is produced by Jeffrey Schwarz and Lotti Pharriss Knowles, who previously collaborated on I Am Divine and HBO Documentary Films’ Vito.

About Erik Anderson

Erik thanks his mother for his love of all things Oscar, having watched the Academy Awards together since he was in the single digits; making lists, rankings and predictions throughout the show. This led him down the path to obsessing about awards. Much later, he found himself at GoldDerby, led by Tom O’Neill and then migrated over to Oscarwatch (now AwardsDaily), headed up by Sasha Stone before breaking off to create AwardsWatch. He is a member of the International Cinephile Society, GALECA (The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics), the International Press Academy and is the founder/owner of AwardsWatch.

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