Home > Movies > Why I Won’t Use my Brain and You Shouldn’t Either – Unthinking Opinions Regarding Showgirls, Basic Instinct, 300 and Sucker Punch.

Why I Won’t Use my Brain and You Shouldn’t Either – Unthinking Opinions Regarding Showgirls, Basic Instinct, 300 and Sucker Punch.

Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop acts as a sort of secret calling card amongst movie buffs. If you deftly weave a mention of this sci-fi masterpiece into any conversation about film you’ll always know that a certain cross-section of people – the serious movie-watchers –  will nod knowingly and accept you into their fold. No need to make mention of its witty, provocative satire on corporate America, or the deftness and brutality of its great action scenes. These things are well known and well-acknowledged and your good taste will be admir’d.  The rest of the world will, however, quickly tune out of the conversation or attempt to move it back to The Apprentice, remaining oblivious to sci-fi B-movie greatness and continuing to lap up, but not necessarily enjoy, whatever dross the Hollywood machine continues to spew out. Sometimes the conversation may descend further into Verhoeven related conversation.   “I prefer the militaristic satire of Starship Troopers” territory maybe, or perhaps the only slightly ironic “of course, Total Recall is Ahnuld’s greatest movie and one of the few great PK Dick adaptations” which is a fine route even though I don’t particulary agree. Instead, on these occasions I have a tendency to find myself wondering why conversations regarding Verhoeven always turn to these other two movies in particular and pass over, not only his entire Dutch career, but most significantly his other great triumphs that pushed boundaries of excellene and appropriacy in American cinema at the time.  Namely, Showgirls and Basic Instinct.

“Total Recall is fun, but I think that Showgirls is one of his best movies” I’ll enthusiastically chirp in, to fill in this perceived gap and to perhaps find a likeminded spirit.
*blank stares* face me.

I feel that it’s probably best to explain myself. “it’s lots of fun, has a great feminist subtext and it satirises the entertainment industry. It’s basically a big budget exploitation movie of the kind rarely seen in Hollywood and its fascinating seeing Verhoeven push those kinds of boundaries”

“You’re joking right?” Inevitable response.

“No, I think it’s a great movie.”

“Oh my God I can’t believe you think that, that film was so completely terrible. I just couldn’t take it remotely seriously.  Terrible dialogue”

“Well, it’s a genre flick not an arthouse epic, it’s supposed to be quite in your face, like Robocop.  And it has Kyle Mchlachlan for Christ’s sake”

“Yeah, but Robocop was great, a really well made film. Showgirls is just terrible. Oh God, man, is it such a terrible movie.!

And the conversation ends. Just like that. Respect for me has left the building. What is striking is that, despite the acknowledgement – through Robocop and Starship Troopers – that as a director Verhoeven is a master satirist, no-one is prepared to engage with the idea that Showgirls might be a satire or have further levels of interpretation underneath its brash, colourful exterior of gratuitous sex and nudity. Showgirls just is a bad film and that fact needs as little discussion as the fact that Robocop is.  Why is that, I wonder?

I dread to think what diseases she’d catch from the pole.

It really doesn’t take too much trawling the internet to find opinions on the movie that read a little bit like this:

“There are three possible approaches that critics and audiences alike take toward Showgirls, director Paul Verhoeven’s sleazy story of an ambition stripper in the phony world of Las Vegas excess. The first is to dismiss it entirely—often before even seeing it—as a reprehensible piece of cinematic schlock, a gratuitous, boob-addled display of boundless misogyny, the stuff of adolescent masturbatory fantasies. And that, I’d say, is a perfectly valid judgment. Women are objectified, breasts are near-constantly bared, and the film’s idea of sex is a grotesque charade that involves much gymnastic flailing. The second, less widely held take is to see it as a cleverly disguised satire, an indictment of the Vegas skin-dustry and a jab at the juvenile desires of the film’s intended audience. While there’s certainly a case to be made there, it’s much more likely that the viewers and critics who ascribe to this approach are fishing for artistic integrity where there simply is none. The third opinion, though—the one that made Showgirls a cult classic on home video—is to watch it as a so bad it’s good guilty pleasure, to ironically revel in the film’s inane dialogue, ridiculous plotting, and sexual absurdities. This is the only reason the film is even remotely worth watching.”

What a fascinating dismissal of the idea that Showgirl’s could have some artistic merit. Apparently, when I watch movies I have an awful  tendency to fish for merit where there is none because I certainly see satire in Showgirls, though perhaps of a slightl different kind than highlighted by our expert reviewer. Needless to say that the review doesn’t return to the idea that Showgirls might have any merit as a movie beyond ironic enjoyment of the bad dialogue and gratuitous nudity, its dismissal of metatextual analysis is absolute. Fortunately for my own sanity there are afew people elsewhere on the internet inclined to look a little harder, I link to it since there’s no sense in repeating this excellent analysis of the movie.

Since by now the idea that Showgirls is a satire should be self-evident to anyone who likes movies enough to click on my blog, my own interest here is largely in understanding why Showgirls has been, and continues to be dismissed to such an extent that to say you enjoy the film is not done in polite conversation without subjecting oneself overtly to ridicule.

The same thing happened to me when I was discussing Basic Instinct with a work colleague yesterday.  The conversation naturally, inecitably, came around to the subject of “have you seen any good movies lately?”. As a matter of fact I had, “Yeah, Basic Instinct was really enj….” I began “What a terrible movie that was” was the response before I could even finish my sentence “Michael Douglas looked like an idiot and that scene in the nightclub. Oh my God that film was so corny”.

Do you ever feel like you’re watching a different movie from someone else? What I saw was a deftly, densely plotted erotic thriller that had strong influences from  Hitchock and De Palma, using the notion of male fears of female sexuality as a way of exploring and criticising repressed heterosexual desires and discussing the notion that feminine sexual empowerment is seen as dangerous to men.  Naturally that wasn’t my response.  My response was “Oh, Ok, I thought it was quite fun”

My colleague simply didn’t get any of the same things that I did when he watched the movie . He may or may not have seen a Hitchcock movie. I’d hazard a guess that he’d seen Psycho before. It doesn’t matter since his instant reaction was to draw out staple criticisms of movies that have been enshrined by popular culture from the moment that the movie came on the scene back in 1991. The actual quality of the movie has become irrelevant.  Political views aside, it’s hard to see how anyone who has seen more than 50 movies in their life could rank Basic Instinct towards the bottom. For instance, Silence of the Lambs is one of my least loved movies of all time, the mere mention of watch makes my blood curdle, but my arguments against the film don’t revolve around bad directing or acting. It seems churlish to me to suggest that Demme, a well proven director would make hokum on the level of Uwe Boll or Tommy Wiseau . No, Silence of the Lambs is a well made film with a politically reprehensible script.

Plenty of attacks on Basic Instinct have been made in this vein and they too have become part of the myth surrounding the film.
Firstly, Verhoeven hates women. We know this because in the movie Sharon Stone – apparently – wields an ice-pick, seduces men and kills them whilst having sex with them. This isn’t just a bad case of misandry on her part, she’s using her sexuality to kill men. Furthermore, she gets away with it by using her sexuality to seduce Michael Douglas.

Secondly, Verhoeven hates gay people, specifically bisexuals. In the movie Sharon Stone practises bisexuality quite openly and it’s all a bit kinky and they’re both evil. There are no good gay characters in the film. Michael Douglas is straight and he’s the hero of the film, of sorts.

LESBIAN NYMPHO ALERT!!!

It’s hard to think of the Basic Instinct that I watched and not to snort. When misogyny, homophobia and terrible representations of women are so rampant in film and literature, why do Verhoeven’s witty, imaginative and clever movies garner such huge amounts of publicity for their terrible portrayals of women and queerness. This is a little bit more than ironic, it’s one of those clever two-handed misogynistic self-defence mechanisms that tries to shut down anything that might be dangerous to its own traditional way of thinking. There’s a very good reason why the satire of Robocop is acceptable as a cinematic classic but the language of these two movies and that’s because a neat self-protection dichotmoy has been set up in society between good capitalism and bad capitalism  It’s OK to criticise the one so long as you recognise that the other still reigns supreme. Showgirls and Basic Instinct are less liable to be fairly interpreted in the way that they were intended (don’t get me wrong, I think that Robocop is the superior movie of the 3, but not by quite such a huge movie) and that has everything to do with the  female representations within those movies.
I’ll explain, by way of Zack Snyder’s very enjoyable Sucker Punch.

Sucker Punch was being attacked – by women as well as men – before it was even released. I’d like to point out that women can be anti-feminist too The whole mechanism of the male patriarchy relies on women passively accepting their own status quo and believeing that certain representations of women are inherently wrong.   Subsequently when women argue against the feminism of men trying to be feminist, it doesn’t look good for the men.   .
Zoe Chevat wrote the intriguingly titled piece “Why I won’t see Sucker Punch and You Shouldn’t Either”. This is what one woman saying about Sucker Punch on the basis of … only having seen the trailer.  Now, the internet knows I have very strong opinions about movies and I’m prone to rhetoric and to calling many of them – some much loved – total fucking garbage, but I can’t recall the last time I suggested to anyone that they categorically shouldn’t watch a movie, particularly not based on the evidence of the trailer alone.  Zoe Chevat must have some bloody good insight into this film, I thought, to be making such a bold statement so quickly

“It’s about power, ladies, and ladies, and gents. Power and the Gaze, that concept your high school feminist art history teacher liked to rattle on about while you were listening to music under your hoodie. The reason this brand of exploitation is different is that, when female characters rally and kick ass, it’s through the prism of a biased gaze. Women in these movies only take revenge after abuse and humiliation by captors, often of an overtly sexual nature. These scenes of abuse are presented to the audience as another in a chain of action sequences, expected to command as much rapt attention as an exploding 747. Using rape or other forms of sexualized physical abuse to elicit audience outrage is a cheap trick . I didn’t care for it when Battlestar Galatica did it, and I sure as hell don’t care for it from the director of >Watchmen (which also contained a near-rape scene that played out longer than necessary). This pattern establishes a world in which the ‘powerful’ female avatar is still an object without power, because she is still subject to the appraising gaze of the director and the viewers”

The only thing worse than being non-feminist is appropriating and using feminist soundbytes badly.

Zoe mercilessly proceeds to explain why the male gaze is such a terrible problem within a movie that she’s never even seen.

“Moreover, the petite bloodthirsty girly-girls of Sucker Punch still bare their midriffs and cleavages even in what is supposedly their own fantasy scenarios. Maybe I’m alone here, but when I am imagining myself kicking some high-fantasy ass, it’s sheathed in the sort of Kevlar weave, full-body armor that would put a Nolan-verse Batman to shame. Leather hot-pants, after all, have a tendency to ride up when one is jumping out of bomber jets into frenzied combat.”

Oh right, Zack Snyder’s idea of a female fantasy world, according to the trailer of his movie doesn’t co-exist with Zoe’s own fantasies. She continues to explain (I’ll spare you.  Follow the link if you must) that the outfits worn by the girls are all male geek fantasies and she doesn’t want a part of that slice of misogyny.  Zoe’s already got me unreasonably concerned for the legitimacy of my own Britney Spears schoolgirl fetish.  Am I indeed a male geek?? It’s quite tragic that Zoe missed the fact that Kill Bill is a feminist masterpiece or that 300 is a cornerstone of the misogynist movie market, but given her penchant for judging movies based on 30 seconds of material I don’t think I’ll attempt to engage her in a debate about it at a later date.1  There certainly is such a thing as the male gaze in movies but context is absolutely everything when you’re discussing a film, or making assumptions regarding what a film is saying or doing   Further, as well as a gaze, I’d suggest that there’s a male brain that soaks up negative ideologies that tell us how women should act and be, and I think that this male brain tends to fall back into using the male gaze because it can’t relate very well on any other level. The sad thing is, that Zoe Herschal can’t seem to operate on any other level either, otherwise she wouldn’t have been so crassly dismissive of a complex, imaginative movie like Kill Bill.

Pure objectification. Admit it, you’re aroused.

I eventually managed to see Sucker Punch some time after the damning reviews hit the press. Maybe all of the reviewers were profoundly convinced by Zoe Herschal’s brilliant argument about the male gaze, but I suspect that the 22% rating on the Tomatometer was fueled by something else.  My first thought on seeing this score was “how can this movie be that bad in people’s minds?”.  An obvious discrepancy instantly hit me, since Zack Snyder’s earlier movie 300 is sitting at 60% and 300 was a really terrible movie. Despite the racism, sexism and homophobia, 300 has become a much loved “guilty pleasure” film. Despite its bad dialogue and bad acting, one can, apparently, like it without irony for the fun that it is, whereas one cannot enjoy Showgirls since it has bad dialogue and bad acting. Is it really just me noticing that something strange is going on here. 22% is a notoriously low tomatometer score. Sucker Punch would have to be exceptionally bad indeed to be a whole 40% worth of worse.

Here are some examples of what people were saying about Sucker Punch, then.

A female reviewer wrote the following:

“The movie contains a lot of PG-13 cheesecake, with girls in skimpy, tight outfits running around in heels and fishnet hose. Baby Doll has a sort of “Sailor Moon” appearance.”  Wait, isn’t Sailor Moon…. feminist? Apaprently not, another female reviewer clarifies this for me with the kind of cliche you’d expect to hear written about anime from those that never bothered to watch it.

“From moment one, Baby Doll is a sexualized, Hollywood version of barely legal porn “

Or, sadly from slashfilm

“The thing is, though, that the trope of the ass-kicking hottie is nothing new. She’s a common figure in anime and video games, for example, and appears in films like Kill Bill and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She’s not always offensive, but she’s not inherently empowering, either. If she’s framed in the same old male gaze, she ends up being just another variation of the same old male fantasies. “

“The girls look and act like walking male fantasies, and the movie makes sure we see them that way – by dressing them up in skin-baring outfits, lingering on their conventionally hot bodies, and oh yeah, making their attractiveness to men a huge plot point. In fact, the girls’ entire escape plan hinges on one character’s ability to mesmerize men with her sexy dancing.”

“Snyder’s claim that Sucker Punch is empowering isn’t just false, but damaging. It reframes feminism – or “female empowerment,” if you’d prefer not to use the F-word – in terms of male fantasy. In other words, it’s okay for ladies to kick ass and shit, as long as they do it in a way that turns men on. I’m not saying this was Snyder’s conscious intention – I seriously doubt it was – but that’s the message that comes across to this viewer. “

Male viewers didn’t see the film any differently, apparently:

“Sucker Punch is so excessively bad in so many ways that it feels like a sort of cultural tipping point for mass-marketed mediocrity has been achieved. “

“And the degree to which this film visually engages in the pornografication of women, including women made to look very young, is even worse. It would be wonderful to believe that the over-the-top school girl fetish outfits are some kind of heavily ironic statement but the repeated up-skirt shots and scenes revelling in the girls’ suffering makes it as subversive as wearing a t-shirt saying ‘Porn Star’ or having Playboy bunny car seat covers. Besides, even if you do think the combination and endorsement of sexualised and infantile imagery in a PG film is nothing but good ol’ harmless fun for the kids to enjoy, here’s the thing: none of it is remotely sexy. It’s embarrassing and try-hard. “

So, let me just restate. Showgirls 12%, Sucker Punch 22%, 300 60%. Now, the Tomatometer is not a perfect reference point and its mechanic is flawed, but it’s a reasonable indication of how reviewers feel about a movie (to be fair, I should state that Basic Instinct is at 62%) and I think that this discrepancy, alongside my own personal anecdotes, needs to be explained away.

Stay at home woman, whilst I protect SPARTAAAA!

300 is a film about men living in a men’s world acting very much like men have always been expected to. The film fetishizes masculinity from the bulging pecs of the perfect hard body to Leonidas powerfully fucking his wife, dispatching his enemies in manly slo-mo and shouting and growling a lot in very manly ways. Men, of course, for the most part think that this is a little over the top but all in good fun. Gay men apparently like looking at Butler and co’s naked, powerful, rippling flesh and so the movie is becoming heralded as something of a queer classic (I don’t personally find the men in 300 attractive, so can’t really relate on this level. I like a little sexiness with my nudity and there’s nothing sexy about the masculinity on display). Most women I’ve spoken to give the film a free ride for the same reason. Butler’s Abs. Isn’t there something a little bit pathetic and facile about all of this? I could approve that the film was a guilty pleasure, despite not being remotely well made or entertaining, because of hot male bodies, but I have an issue with the fact that this seems to allow people to staunchly overlook or disregard how misogynist it is. Not only are there no strong female characters in the film (common in Holywood, of course) this is very deliberate since the film is trying so hard to espouse its masculine ethos. The only real female role in the film is for Gorgo to be a good fuck for Leonidas, and make no mistake that sex scene is shot with the male gaze very much in mind.  The film is homophobic – not only is the Persian leader a mockery of camp stereotypes, but far worse, the ethos of the movie is spelled out clearly when the hunchback that Leonidas meets is deemed to not be a perfect enough alpha male enough to join them in battle.  he’s a deformity, an aberration, because he’s different from the other men.   Only alpha males succeed as role models in the world of 300 and there’s certainly no place for homosexuality. Yet, despite this celebration of alpha-maleness, the gay community have fully embraced this film because many are naïve enough to think that gazing at male bodies in a movie is empowering. It isn’t since, the way we  gaze and what that means is completely dependent on other narrative contexts.

The irony would be humorous if this did not point to such a massive gap in society regarding the perception of men and women. Whether one perceives, ultimately, Showgirls and/or Sucker Punch to be profound feminist statements will depend on your final interpretation based on fairly subtle points in the movies, but one can hardly deny that these are movies about women and feminism and that they manage to raise serious feminist questions. Yet, they have spawned far more adverse criticism towards them than 300 precisely for being about feminism and apparently failing, because one has a lot of “gratuitous” sex and nudity aka “invites the male gaze” and the other has women in various sexy outfits also known as the “Zoe Herschal male gaze effect”. It’s nice, I suppose, that male critics care about the male gaze but kind of hypocritical of them if it transpires that they do actually have sexual thoughts about women that involve them naked or in skimpy clothing and spend their time at home browsing pictures of hot girls on the internet (I’d bet money that many of them do).  It’s kind of sad, also, that some female commentators want to shoehorn all women into an asexual box as if there’s no hope for the potential of women to enjoy sexuality in diverse ways to the extent that one cannot fantasize about these things in movies . Either way, to reiterate, understanding the narrative context within these movies is crucially important if we’re going to understand the meaning behind the images of sex and sexuality that we’re watching.

a) In Showgirls, aggressive female sexuality is a positive thing. Nomi Malone isn’t just naked a lot of the time, she is aggressively so. Unlike Gorgo in 300, she doesn’t just passively get fucked by her man (we see a lot of Gorgo eye-candy btw) she is constantly the aggressor, looking to use her sexuality in order to get ahead but also denying men the trump card that is falling in love with – and for the most part sleeping – her. Furthermore the movie takes pains to point out that this is ultimately a losing battle for Nomi, who is destined to be used and abused by a patriarchal dominated society that seeks to use her sexuality for its own ends.  The sex and nudity within the film is not just there for viewers to passively consume as T & A as it is in pornography, though it’s perfectly possible to do this if you don’t like to be entertained and think at the same time(and neither am I commenting that nudity isn’t entertaining).  The nudity is there as part of the world of the film

b) In Sucker Punch the girls use their sexuality aggressively as a means of escaping from a living hell controlled by the patriarchy. Placed in an asylum where they are physically under male control day and night, one of them creates a fantasy world, a world in which she still cannot escape from patriarchal domination (an astute point that highliughts the idea that the very essence of patriarchal society is convincing women that their role is to be subservient to men) whereby the Asylum becomes a strip club and the girls attempt to escape by using their sexuality against their oppressors, distracting them with lapdances in one version of reality and taking on traditional male heroic roles, such as soldier, samurai etc in others.  Again, the failure is almost absolute because – and this is the crucial point regarding this film -the masculine patriarchy is currently subjugating all attempts at female sexual empowerment.  Whereas some commentators have seen the film as anti-feminist because the women in the asylum are only empowered within their dream states, I’d argue that this is the very point that Syder is attempting to make.  The film certainly doesn’t fail as as a work of feminism purely because the heroines are wearing semi-sexual attire.  I wouldn’t be averse to seeing our heroines in jeans and a t-shirt, personally, but I think that would make a less persuasive point about sexual iconography in this narrative context.

c) In Basic Instinct – the movie with the most complicated subtext – Catherine Trammell (Sharon Stone) is a threatening presence to Nick Curran (Michael Douglas, portrayed as very hetero, masculine and increasingly unpleasant to the point of being a potential rapist) precisely because he does not know what is true. The reason he doesn’t know is because the movie deftly blends fact and fiction with the idea that Catherine is writing fictional accounts of the murders she’s about to commit and possibly using this as an alibi itself.  As in Showgirls, Verhoeven/Esterhasz create a complex narrative that highlights the vicious lose-lose circle that Catherine is in. She’s considered to be guilty before the event so effectively she may as well be guilty, since she has a lot to gain by destroying the patriarchy. There’s a thin line between portraying women as the vengeful, wrongly abused victim and the misogynist psychopatic witch (and I think that Verhoeven fell on the wrong side of that line in the Fourth Man), but it’s worth bearing in mind that we never know in this film that Trammell is in fact the killer. All we do know is that in the final shot she seemingly intended to kill Curran with an ice pick. The movie cleverly leaves the viewer to make their own  assumptions about Trammell just as Curran and the police did,  based on the narrative that’s been written (similarly to Trammell’s books), thus exposing our own attitudes and prejudices towards supposedly dangerous, sexually agresssive (lesbian?) women just as the other aggressive heterosexuals in the movie do.

To sum up, men are frightened of the potential power that liberated female sexuality could end up having.  The reason that these movies, therefore, score so low in critics eyes and subsequently on the Tomatometer, is because they are so on the money regarding their attitudes towards the patriarchy.  It would not be good for that male patriarchy (to clarify, I don’t think that this is necessarily a conscious process) to promote movies that suggest its controlling existence, since there’s far more mileage for men in propagating the myth that we already have an attitudinal equality. Conversely It’s fine to promote 300 as a “fun” movie, rather than a crass one, because it enforces the idea that the patriarchy and masculinity are positive forces within society. It’s not a good idea for the male patriarchy to promote movies that celebrate or could be seent to encourage aggressive female sexuality because this could be a hindrance to the success and prevalence of the real male gaze that likes to enjoy its imagery of women as the dainty sidekick, the sexy , the beautiful, the disposable. The Bond girl, if you will.  Despie the hush-hush nature surrounding movies that recieve the dreaded NC-17 certificate, there’s really no fear in the US or UK surrounding nudity or sex.  The real fear is that of liberated sex that breaks the heterosexual norm.  Despite its reputation, Showgirls certainly does that.

As such, there really shouldn’t be any argument concerning the quality of these movies , but it has been aggressively turned into one by the patriarchal establishment for its own gain. After repeatedly reading negative reviews, it’s easy for punters to recycle the things that they’ve heard and myths that “the acting and dialogue is so bad” become propagated very quickly. There are moments in these movies that don’t work, of course, but overall the scripts are more than serviceable and the direction very strong (For instance, Sucker Punch’s fantasy mash-ups are quite delightfully entertaining, Showgirls dance routines quite brilliant) so it’s frightening to see how easily swayed punters are regarding the idea of good art vs bad art and how unaware people are that when they say something is good or bad, they’re really being coerced into believing a particular political ideology, not just having a balanced opinion on a particular movie at all.  It’s not just Zoe Chevat who isn’t using her brain and encouraging others not to, it’s an entire  industry.

1 I love the little signoff “Perhaps I am wrong about Sucker Punch.
Somehow, though, I doubt that I am.”

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  1. May 18, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    I still haven’t seen Sucker Punch or Showgirls, so I feel a bit bad commenting without knowing half your source material, but I have seen 300, The Fourth Man, Basic Instinct, and Robocop. My viewing of Basic Instinct was more than a decade ago; what I remember of it is a decent cheeseball thriller. Your assessment of the subtext jives with what I remember, particularly because I remember Douglas’s character as such a raging alpha male stereotype that seemed obviously calculated to critique machismo. Stone’s character seemed like the only complex person in the film — possibly because her cards were never all laid on the table, whereas you have a pretty solid idea of Douglas right from the start. It is worth noting, I guess, that the film was vociferously denounced by gay-rights groups in the U.S. This was only a small part of your overall commentary, but it’d be interesting to ruminate on the part that you think special interest groups — even ones to which, in theory, are in the right — play in the machine.

    The only other thing I’m informed enough to comment on is the discrepancy in viewpoints between the critical consensus of 300 vs. those other films. You’re dead-on when you say that movies promulgating macho fetishism tend to get a “dumb fun” pass, whereas films promulgating crypto-feminism in genre form tend to get lacerated. I’ve honestly never understood the love for 300. I didn’t hate it; it looked purty. But it was, first and foremost, rather dull. Secondly, it was decidedly misogynist. For me, the entire film was torpedoed early on when Snyder/Miller try to score points against the corrupt theocracy by showing how they objectify and demean women… by objectifying and demeaning a nubile young almost-nude woman in a protracted Snydervision dance. There was a total lack of self-awareness to the technique there that pervaded the entire film. My experience with 300 is one of the main reasons I had no interest in seeing Sucker Punch in the theater (though I will certainly rent it).

    One little addendum I would make to your final point, “Despie the hush-hush nature surrounding movies that recieve the dreaded NC-17 certificate, there’s really no fear in the US or UK surrounding nudity or sex. The real fear is that of liberated sex that breaks the heterosexual norm,” is that the real fear seems to surface more often only with regard to films that seem to be made with the pop culture in mind. A film like Shortbus is about as full of omnisexuality as you can get, and it received a 66% on the T-meter. But it was not a mainstream film. For all its Woody Allen-esque accessibility, even Allen isn’t really popular entertainment anymore. But at the time, Verhoeven was a hugely successful director. Snyder is a name director. Nobody cares when J.C. Mitchell makes a boundary-busting movie — that’s all perfectly wonderful at the art house! — but when Zack “300” Snyder wades into the fray, all of a sudden… well, it’s just not O.K. Showgirls, despite the NC-17, was primed for mainstream success. The new rating, to me, seemed like part of the campaign. It backfired, but Verhoeven makes movies for the masses, but with his own twist on them. It’s almost as if non-blockbuster films are cordoned off into a special little corner where it’s legal to admire them, but anything designed for mass consumption that sticks its toe in those waters is given a mighty slap upside the head.

    Also, did you ever read Charles Taylor’s piece on Showgirls? Quite enjoyable: http://www.salon.com/entertainment/feature/2004/03/31/showgirls/index.html

  2. Alex M
    May 18, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Ridiculously thoughtful comments Matt, thank you!!

    re: Basic Instinct, I think that it’s a movie that has “aged” particularly well (if that’s not horrible cliche) I first saw it over a decade ago and recently rewatched it and away from all opf that horrible hype it was a lot easier to appreciate it as the quality, thoughtful – if very in yer face – thriller that it is, rather than getting caught up in questions of whether you can see her vagina and how overtly sexual it is and so forth. At a guess I think you’d find it still very entertaining. Regarding special interest groups… well, I have a peculiar relationship with those because I tend to believe and think very different things from the main body of gay activists or feminist activists or what have you, so their voice to me can be as averse to sense and reason as anybody else’s. It’s interesting that in both cases, 300 and Basic Instinct I feel that I want to give gay groups a bit of a slapping, although I do fall down on their side a lot more with something like Silence of the Lambs (although that’s hailed as a feminist classic, so eh!. I’m in two minds – if they don’t get it right then the stir that they create will make a cause look very facile and trivial, but also it’s important to remain aware of these issues…. I think that issues of gay representation *should* be discussed in Basic Instinct but it’s awfully frustrating that they won’t create more momentum where it’s really needed. I thnk part of the point of this article is that I feel frustration with feminist voices that get it so horribly wrong that they allow the patriarchy easy routes to maintain dominance. I’ve ragged on poor Zoe Chevat pretty mercilessly here, but really you can’t afford to make such crass judgements about movies and representations if you’re fighting a cause so important as feminism. Just waving soundbytes around and proclaiming a film terrible based on its trailer is ridiculous and thoughtless. It doesn’t help…. I think discussions need to be opened up, not closed down so peremptorily.

    I think you’ll find Sucker Punch as dissatisfying as you found Watchmen tbh. I genuinely really had a blast watching Sucker Punch but I also think that Snyder has grown a little as a director since 300 even if his choice of material makes it look like he hasn’t. I think he’d like to be Tarantino but doesn’t really have the scriptwriting ability, the imagination or the knowledge of cinema….he does have a lot verve and vigour and will though, and he’s a bit of a fanboy it seems. I’m happy that 300 was just a blip. Sucker Punch was a fun movie.

    Thoughts of Shortbus went through my head actually. As did thoughts of The Dreamers which *was* damaged by an NC-17 rating and ridiculous amounts of censorship in the US and I could see how that film would have an ethos that would be terrifying to some (incestuous sex threesomes). I completely agree with your comment on pop culture overall though and find that a fascinating and scary thought. Ok, you could see it as Shortbus getting a bit of free pass on the assumption that no-one is going to see it. Obviously the only people I know who have seen Shortbus are die-hard liberals anyway and I daresay the rest of the world haven’t heard of it or wouldn’t watch it. I don’t rightly know… I’d hazard a guess that there’s a very different dynamic for arthouse movies if It weren’t for the fact that The Dreamers got raped by the system.

    In short, I wish I had the answers to this as I think it’s a really big question

  3. May 23, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    It’s well written homeslice but I disagree with your final conclusion. It runs completely in the opposite direction of the critiques. The aversion to ’empowered’ women stems from the idea that women are special and that great care must be given into crafting their characters because they are so often exploited. We can agree on Showgirls though.

  4. Rastergamer
    August 29, 2011 at 3:54 am

    Being a rabid Verhoven fan I must speak. First the 4th man kicks Basic instinct out the window for the simple reason that Renee Soutendijk was hot and Sharon Stone wasn’t. The MOVIE was well done, but Sharon Stone was in over her head. I agree on 300 and Silence of the Lambs but for different reasons, 300 wasn’t remotely historically accurate, and Silence was just plain ol’ stupid. Plus CSI and its ilk wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for that multiple academy award winning kindergarten scribble. Showgirls is worth watching if only to see the very unique looking Elizabeth Berkley and her fearless heartfelt and exhausting performance. The films cheezy lighting and very artificial staged look is its worst enemy. If only the film was as authentic as its star. I guess Vegas managers weren’t keen on allowing madman Verhoven and company into their place of business to run amuck, but imagine a cinema verite version of showgirls and you have a completely different movie. I haven’t seen Sucker Punch mainly because of its stupid title, and I don’t plan too, but I think movies should find female empowerment from real women, like Henry and June’s Anais Nin, Norma Rae’s Crystal Lee Sutton, and Erin Brockovich’s uh, Erin Brockovich. Verhoven is the king of all directors anyway.

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