The Host and Six Other Reasons the Oscars Sucked

oscar

Oi, vay. Where to begin?

Every year the Oscars are painfully bad and every year I tell myself I am not going to watch them ever again and every year I tune back in. Last year’s Academy Awards were absolutely dreadful, which was a step up from the abysmal year where Anne Hathaway lip-synched for her life and drug around the hunk of dead weight known as James Franco for three plus, mind-numbing hours. I didn’t think the Oscars could ever get worse. But they did.

Having seen a very small handful of films this year, I’m not concerned with who won and who lost (although I’m glad Tarantino got his due. Seriously. The best writer in cinema today). No. When I say that the Oscars were awful I am talking about the television show where they hand out awards, tell cheesy jokes, and bore us with a slideshow of dead people, scored by a maudlin tune and smatterings of applause.

The Oscars, as we know them, are meant to symbolize greatness in cinema, the best of the year, the cream of the crop. To the winners and nominees, the Oscars symbolize bigger paychecks, more clout, and longer careers. But to the Academy, and specifically to their Treasurer, the Oscars are about one thing: money. And I’m not just talking about box office receipts for the studio heads. ABC, who has broadcast the Academy Awards since 1960, receives roughly 75 million in advertising for the Oscars, half of which goes to The Academy; The Oscars are essentially a fundraiser for the Academy’s other works like preserving film and education. This is why every effort is made to make it an interesting television show because more viewers means ABC can charge more the next year for ad space, which means more money in the pocket of The Academy.

But every year, it is still a terrible mess of a show, occasionally blessed with dynamite television moments like Woody Allen’s standing ovation and Halle Berry’s speech.

berry

So what went wrong this year? Plenty.

The Theme:

Early in the evening, tossed off like a throwaway aside, Seth told us that this year’s “theme” was “Music in Film.” OK. Fine. You want to have a theme, Mr. Zadan. Fine. Even though themes don’t generally work at an evening like this; remember last year’s awful “Tribute to Comedy”? Eesh. But if you are going to do a theme, Mr. Meron, structure the whole program around it. That’s what a theme is. And this doesn’t just mean using old scores as interstitials (particularly the awkwardly tacky Jaws theme when speeches go too long), having an insanely cute trio of movie stars attempt to dance (not you, Channing; you and Charlize KILLED IT), or pimping your own Oscar winning musical (honestly, how many times were there references to Chicago!).

This means cohesion, this means rehearsal, and this means talent. If you need a visual aid, YouTube the year Bill Condon – you know, your Oscar nominated screenwriter on Chicago – produced the Oscars. This was the best Oscar show I have ever seen in my 15 years of suffering through the telecasts.

The Opening Monologue:

They almost got it right.

Seth – as we learn quite quickly – is not a stand up comedian. He is a comic actor. So standing up and delivering a litany of corny jokes (particularly without the assistance of Bruce Vilanch; I never thought I would long for the Catskills more…) was definitely out. And the idea of bringing in Cpt. Kirk/Shatner was fitting. Anyone familiar with McFarlane’s Universe knows that he is a Star Trek afficianado. The problem is that this was built in as a defense mechanism. He basically told us, “Everyone thinks I am going to suck as a host. Even I think I am going to suck as a host. So I am going to apologize for it now.” Wrong. In comedy, there are NO APOLOGIES! You go balls out. If they dig it, they dig it. If not, you can go back to your billion dollar empire. Instead, we got this half-assed hem-haw, desperately trying to find the tone of the evening (the requisite mock/respect of all successful hosts) that would allude him.

The Writing:

Year after year, this is the one that always baffles me. Theoretically, you have any writer you could ever want at your disposal. And what we always get are descriptions of categories and skills so dull that reading the phone book would be more interesting. Which brings me to…

The Presenters:

The Oscars do a great job of getting star power (star power with projects to pimp or legends to secure) when it comes to booking presenters, which is more than can be said for other award shows (Really Grammys? Beyonce and Ellen Degeneres?). The names are the biggest in the business and some of the biggest in the world, most of them former Oscar winners/nominees themselves.

Then how come they can’t read a damn paragraph without sounding like a Guffman reject? Honestly. This is what you do FOR A LIVING. You have rehearsal for this shit. Your fans are watching. Your peers are watching. Your parents are watching. Put some effort into it. Or don’t agree to do it. And if it’s too complicated for the alloted time you have to rehearse, then it needs to be simplified or cut. What was the cast of The Avengers trying to do up there? Did they practice at all?

The Performers:

This is the one that cut me the most. Seth is a fantastic singer. Why was the opening number not a musical one, completely built around his skills? They could have rolled all the performers they had wanted to use into this five minute opener (in lieu of a monologue/sketch) – like they did mid-show with Hugh Jackman and Beyonce and Zac Efron, etc. This could have been filled with humor, sarcasm, and musical prowess. Why did we need to hear J.Hud sing “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” or see Zeta-Jones mark through “All That Jazz”? Was this so “One Day More” didn’t stand out as a blatant We-Want-To-Hear-Them-All-Sing-Live-Like-They-Did-In-The-Movie bit? (Newsflash: We saw right through it).

Adele, one of my personal favorites in the game, sounded bored and lifeless; Shirley Bassey was absolutely painful; and Barbra…she…I…wow. Age has not been kind. The irony of her song choice was almost satirical.

The only musical performances I enjoyed were “The Boob Song” and “Here’s to the Losers”: an indication of what I think the show should have been.

The Sound Guy:

As if the singing wasn’t awful enough, why were the vocal mics turned way down? Did he know it would be dreadful and was trying to spare us?

seth1

The Host:

I want to start by declaring Seth MacFarlane the Norman Lear of his generation. He is the best comic voice on television and it should go without saying that I think he is a Genius. So if one were looking for someone to bring the funny to a potentially boring television show (and bring the ratings), you really couldn’t go any higher than Seth MacFarlane.

The biggest problem with this is that Seth is not a stand-up comedian; a brilliant comic actor, yes, but not someone conducive to live performance. It was evident that Seth was reading his lines from a TelePrompTer. Of course, Billy, Whoopi, Steve, etc. read their lines from the TelePrompTer, but had the stage presence to carry it off as being casual and improvised. Seth was too rehearsed, which made him somewhat rigid. Except, ironically, the moments where he did improv due to the audience’s negative reaction. (The best of which was his “too soon?” slavery joke…)

I return again to the topic of tone. Previous Oscar telecasts have done a good/mediocre job of balancing the delicacies of making fun of the proceedings while honoring them. The tone of Seth’s gig, however, never found this balance. It was either “disrespectful” (read: funny) or stale (“respectful”). And where the hell was Stewie? We had Peter – oh, excuse me, Ted – but not Stewie!? Doesn’t ABC, the Academy, and the team of writers know why America loves him? Why would you hire Seth MacFarlane, a man who has made his fortune on making fun of pop culture in a junior high manner, and then strangle him on network television (owned by Disney, no less) to play nice in a mostly vanilla fashion? It would be like asking Joan Rivers to host and tell her not to yell at the audience.

What started as a great idea was an error in judgment and, yes, despite the bump in ratings, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey will host next year. And will be brilliant.

***

The Oscars don’t have to be boring. You got glamourous girls, hunky guys, beautiful music, and the most talented performers in the world. But no one seems to know how to get this shit together! While better men and women have tried and failed, Saia has a few tricks up his sleeve that can get the viewing audience to not secretly loathe themselves for sitting through this tripe out of obligation.

1) More Acting – The best part about this year’s telecast was the pre-recorded scene Seth did with Sally Field. How are you going to have an evening honoring acting (lets face it. These are the only awards anyone cares about…) and have to suffer through the stodgy readings of “The nominees are…” Here’s an idea. Instead of putting on a thousand press conferences and luncheons, get the acting nominees together in each category and write a scene for them to perform live on the show or to prerecord. Can you imagine the brilliant interactions, the once in a lifetime match ups, you could have? (What possible shenanigans could Quvenzhane and Emmanuel have gotten into…?)

2) Less Awards – I’m sure winning an Oscar for your Short is really exciting for you, but not for us who have to watch people we don’t know thank people we’ve never heard of after winning for films we haven’t seen. They should get their own night – not televised – like they do for the Governor’s Awards. Also, move the Tech Awards (Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Sound Effects, Art Direction, Costume, Hair/Make-up, Editing, Cinematography) to the Scientific and Technical Awards ceremony, which occurs the week before. The winners at these awards are announced already at the Oscars and the recipients get their moment on stage for a round of applause. Just add the winners from all the above categories and call it a day. This would easily shave an hour from the broadcast.

3) Less Music/Dance – I can’t believe a musical theatre nerd is saying to have less music and dance, but let’s face it. The dances are mostly crap and the songs are always a deathmarch of friggin’ dirges sung by people way past their primes. If you are going to have theatrics, make them theatrical. And make them count.

4) Reinstate the Lifetime Achievement Awards – This is the most egregious mistake past producers have made in the interest of time. If anyone should be given five to ten minutes of tributes, video packages, and speeches, it is people who have dedicated their lives to the art of making movies. These are the people we want to hear talk, not the host as he goes through some bit about the length of the show or the President of the Academy telling us what the Academy does. We’ve got Google. We can look that shit up on our own time.

5) Reinstate the Winners Circle – The best thing about the best Oscar telecast was that five previous winners came out to honor the five nominees in each category with compliments and support. It was like they were inviting them to join their club. It felt familial. Plus, you could tell that the actors were speaking from their hearts out of respect, which is what the evening is ostensibly about: congratulating peers. With the time we are saving on cutting the other awards, this would not need to be rushed.

6) Cut the In Memoriam – If someone incredibly famous dies – a Liz Taylor, a Jack Nicholson – an acknowledgment is warranted. But do we really need a slide show – mostly of people that no one, not even this cineaste, knows – to commemorate the dead? Does seeing their picture give us some kind of closure? No, it doesn’t. And it takes up four minutes.

7) Change the format of giving speeches – Many a producer has tried to get people to stick to the 45 second rule and demand that people don’t read a list of names (Gil Cates actually offered a brand new TV to the person who gave the shortest acceptance speech….), but of course it never works. This is their moment in the sun. And they want to thank the people they want to thank, Jaws music be damned. But instead of threats and bribes, the nominees should be given a form to fill out of all the people they would like to thank. In the event that they win, this list will then be scrolled along the bottom of the screen like CNN as they are telling an interesting anecdote about the making of the film or what playing this character meant to them (thank you Julian for this idea. Hopefully by the time you are ready to host, I am ready to produce).

The Stuff Dreams are Made Of

oscar

The Oscars are stupid.

A bunch of rich, pretty, famous people sitting around in their pretty clothes designed by other rich, pretty, famous people waiting to hear if some other rich, pretty, famous person is going to read their name so they can win a statue made of gold, which is bought for them by rich studios, so they can all become richer, prettier, and more famous. Books could be written (and they have been) about the endless stream of people who should have been nominated, the people who should have won, and the people who need to give them back. It is an evening of unrelenting, histrionic narcissism watched with pathetic, sycophantic masochism by hundreds of millions of people as they are proven to be, once again, on the outside looking in.

And I fucking love them.

The Oscars have been a deeply rooted part of my deeply rooted love for the history of the cinema since I was a teenager. One Christmas, I received the Academy’s 75th Anniversary Scrapbook, complete with the winners, the losers, and the drama. In the jacket, my mother wrote: “Someday people will be buying this book with your name in it.” I studied that book more than any textbook I was ever issued in my twelve years of matriculation. I became the Rain Man (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor – 1988) of Oscar trivia. My mom and I even had an Oscar party for my friends, complete with us playing Joan and Melissa, interviewing them in our best couture.

I have watched every Oscar telecast since 1998, although my fevered, obsessive passion truly began in 2000 when American Beauty won Best Picture, a personal favorite of my friends and me while we were trapped in our own MidWestern ennui. Of course, as every wannabe actor/writer/director/icon does, I have practiced various versions of my own Oscar speech in the mirror with shampoo bottles. I remember seeing Adrian Brody’s surprise, Julia Roberts’ glee, and Robert Benigni’s utter insanity upon winning, the way the room embraced them, loved them, celebrated them, and I could not wait to get there myself. And I didn’t merely want one and then to drift into oblivion like Mira Sorvino. No, sir. Saia wanted the Lifetime Achievement Award! The standing ovation! The thank you from my peers, friends, and fans for 50 years devoted to challenging the culture. But that all began to shift about two years ago.

Living in LA – specifically working for a certain catering company that is hired for many Hollywood parties, including the Governor’s Ball – actually has a negative effect on one’s feelings towards the industry and its annual prize. Everywhere you turn are billboards, magazines, commercials, and subliminal messages piped through our microwaves that we should vote for X. I also read a lot of books/watch a lot of documentaries/listen to a lot of commentary tracks that shatter the illusions that the movies try and feed us; I also work in production. I am an informed fan.

The older I get and the more informed I become, I realize that’s it’s all a bunch of malarkey. Honestly. How can you compare performances when they are playing different characters? (Bogart once recommended that everyone should play Hamlet to duke it out for the gold) Some characters are just flashier than others. Some actors have never won before and “deserve to” so they win. It’s a crap shoot. Unless you have Weinstein behind you. Then it is a set of loaded dice.

But I still watched. As other award shows began to fall by the wayside (the They-Take-This-Shit-Way-Too-Seriously MTV Movie Awards; the There-Are-Way-Too-Many-Categories/Random-Celebrity-Pairings Grammys; and the My-God-Is-This-Over-Yet Golden Globes), I still tuned in each year, after doing my best to see all of the nominated films (unauthorized triple features, bootleg screeners, and the occasional film that is released early enough in the year to hit the Redbox/Netflix circuit), and waited on baited breath to see if my favorites would go home winners. Until this year.

Partially informed by poverty, partially informed by my lack of interest in the films/people nominated and my disgust with the politics, this year I have only seen two of the honored films (Django Unchained and The Sessions, both of which I enjoyed). I didn’t even bother to download the others. Honestly, I was over it. I was ready to return to my own projects, my own life, and not get swept up in Tom O’Neill and his foolishness.

And yet, as the day rapidly approaches and I start thinking about being back in that room with all of my idols, the desire returns to be famous. No, not famous. Legendary. I just finished reading The Big Show, Steven Pond’s behind-the-scenes account of fifteen years at the Academy Awards and I needed to be there. Needed to be at Bruce Vilanch’s writing table. Needed to be watching Babs act a diva. Needed to know the smell of the green room. Needed to know what it would be like to hold him.

Working the Governor’s Ball is a surreal experience, but a frustrating one. It’s like staring through the lowest glass ceiling ever. And yet, as a boy from Troy, Illinois, I have gotten closer to Hollywood than I ever really thought possible. I work on Judge Judy, for Christ’s sake. And in two days, I will be right back in the thick of everything I want.

It’s very easy to get discouraged in this city. Everyone has a product to sell; mostly, themselves. Absolutely everything is based on the connections you make and very little to do with talent; a trope you learn as fast as the 405 is slow. And if you do have talent, watch out. These are the ones who will last longer than one hit movie or the time it takes for the public to forget you were the one they voted for on a dumb TV show.

The connections happen if you make them so. But they take time. The road to the top is a slow climb. But it is not Sisyphean. This town is full of comers, which, if you can tap in to it, is a really exciting energy. I know I’ll get to the Oscars one day as a guest. Hopefully a nominee. And maybe a winner. But for now, I’m happy tray passing macaroni and cheese to Kathryn Bigelow.

Bad Cinema: Showgirls (Dir: Paul Verhoeven, 1995)

“It is ultimately about personal moral choices. It is about life, music, and dance and about the death of the spirit. It will be raucous, joyous, and powerful. It’s about rock ‘n’ roll, the flesh, dollars, and dreams. It begins in the world of erotic dancers, lap dancers, table dancers, strippers, and sleaze. It moves into the world of big hotel showgirls, billboards, and glamour. It examines the sleaze and glamour and asks the audience at the end to make its own moral conclusions.” – Joe Eszterhas

s1

What other film could begin a column on Bad Cinema? Showgirls is the end-all be-all of So-Bad-It’s-Brilliant-Cinema, the gift that keeps on giving, viewing after viewing, like free chocolate ice cream for life.

Showgirls follows the tragic tale of Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley in her star-destroying turn) who hitchhikes to Vegas to be a dancer – not a whore. A point she needs to reiterate time and time again. There is a huge difference when you are a topless “dancer” giving lap dances in the back, apparently. One of the first things we learn is that dancin’ ain’t fuckin. (We also learn that all dancers eat is brown rice and vegetables, and all women eat are potato chips and fajiiiitas. And their only topics of conversation are their breasts, other women’s breasts, and their nails)

s3

Nomi dances/fucks her way into a spot in the chorus of Goddess, the gaudy show that is supposed to pass as high art and the pinnacle of a dancer’s career. Here she meets Cristal (played with drag queen aplomb by Gina Gershon, who, after realizing that the movie was going to be horrible, actually tailored her performance so drag queens would want to imitate her), the star of the show (although exactly why she is revered and adored is a mystery, other than being unbelievably sexy) and her boyfriend/producer, Zach (a bad haircut attached to the actor formerly known as Kyle MacLachlan). There’s Molly (played by Gina Ravera, who ran from – or was run out of – the movies to a steady career in television), the roommate who gets raped in the third act as some sort of recompense for Nomi’s sins…or the apotheosis of Joe Eszterhas’ darkest fantasies and his ever so subtle thesis: In Vegas, Everyone Gets Fucked. Molly is the seamstress for Goddess and the only decent human being in the movie (incidentally, she is also the only actress in the film who plays her character like a human being instead of caricature). There’s James, the Alvin Ailey trained dancer (ummm….ok) who wants to turn Nomi’s thrashing gyrations into even thrashier gyrations and call them Dance with a Capital D because she has more natural talent when she dances than anyone he’s ever seen (clearly, those Ailey girls had nothing on Jessie Spano). He is also her pseudo-love interest, which we never buy even though Berkley, bless her heart, tries her best to show us how hurt she is when he goes to bed with another girl in the chorus.

As all backstage dramas go from 42nd Street to All About Eve to Chicago, Nomi and Cristal are rivalrous friends, chocked full of enmity – and lesbian longing, of course. We can see from space that shit is going to go down between them (“She tripped. I saw her.”) and it’s only a matter of time before Nomi is the star of the show. The only originality points Showgirls gets is by putting Margo Channing in pasties and Eve Harrington in a G-string. It is chocked full of every showbiz trope in the book.

And yet, Showgirls shines bright like a diamond (or a beaded gown from Ver-sase). There are many reasons: the terrible dialogue, wigs that look like they came out of bag at CVS, the wild sexual exploits of a naif in the big city, the fact that a 40 million dollar film can look professionally polished and like a bad high school dance recital simultaneously. But there is one element that makes Showgirls the Best of the Worst: the unintentionally comedic performance of Elizabeth Berkley.

s6

Berkley began, as any kid of the 90s knows, as the good-girl-straight-A-feminist Jessie Spano, whose most daring exploits involved getting temporarily addicted to caffeine pills so she could have more time to study for her college exams on the how-was-this-a-hit-series, Saved By the Bell. In order to break out from being typecast, Berkley decided to jump headfirst (after Drew Barrymore had turned it down and Charlize Theron seemed like the wrong choice) into a big-budget MGM, no less, “musical.” And she took her role very seriously.

Which is funny because in subsequent interviews, she likes to play off like it was either no big deal – light, fluff, not to be taken seriously – or she will jokingly tell the interviewer, as she did Craig Kilbourne in 2002, “When I am nominated for a Golden Globe or an Academy Award, you can ask me anything you want about Showgirls.” So of course that will be never.

But what’s all the fuss about her performance? How bad could it really be? Lucky for you, I have written a play by play of the “Berkleys,” Elizabeth’s most terrible moments:

1:49 – Berkley wields her trusty pocket knife at the man with the mullet, screaming “Chill, OK!” This is the first of many examples of her psychotic outbursts that can only be explained as Tourette’s Syndrome.

5:09 – Berkley tentatively tosses her slot machine winnings in the air for no apparent reason, a restrained version of the way winners do in commercial’s for Harrah’s Casino; one of the few instances in the film where Berkley shows restraint when the option to go balls out is available.

5:23 – Berkley, having lost her precious winnings, punches the machine before remembering, “Oh, shit. I left my suitcase in that guy’s truck! Oh, the allure of Vegas! Damn you! Damn you all!”

5:58 – Berkley starts hitting the hell out of a stranger’s car after she realizes the truck has gone missing; then the owner of the car, soon-to-be-best-friend Molly, and she get into a shoving match that ends up with Berkley vomiting on the asphalt before almost getting hit by a car and then sharing a pseudo-lesbian stare and an embrace with her new BFF; Berkley breaks into her crocodile tears.

6:50 – Berkley violently files her nails, devours fries, flings ketchup, stabs her straw into her 64 oz cup, throws her food, and intones through tears her classic line, “Different places!” This is all after a total stranger has bought her dinner. Berkley then switches from pissed to seductive within nano-seconds.

10:28 – Berkley, after Molly explicitly tells her that she can go up to the showroom, inflects her line, “Can I go up there?” as if she is asking permission instead of repeating in disbelief.

11:48 – Berkley scissors her hands in mimicry, learning the dance moves from the back of the room. She is just that good. Christina Aguilera repeats this action almost verbatim in the hot lava mess of disaster known as Burlesque.

14:52 – Berkley goes from comatose to violent, screaming “You don’t know shit!” when insulted by Cristal (incidentally, the role of Cristal was originally offered to Madonna; who, if cast, would have gotten lumped in with   Madonna’s other cinematic failures, instead of taking on a life of its own as the brilliant flop it became).

15:27 – Berkley struts like a five year old whose favorite doll was just torn to shreds by the family dog, screaming “I’m sorry!” at Molly, before pounding into her car. Then, turns on a dime to a piercing scream of jubilation when she finds out they are going dancing!

16:17 – This is the first time we see Berkley dance. Berkley’s – excuse me, Nomi’s – version of dancing, resembles epileptic fits of Ants in Your Pants (incidentally, this is also how she fucks, which we are forced to stomach at 1:26:51). (See the video above for Berkley’s “explanation” of this ridiculous behavior). The highlight of this scene is at 17:07 when Berkley runs her long index finger across her lips, something we can only assume she thought was sexy.

18:38 – “Back off, motherfucker!”

24:26 – Berkley licks the stripper pole, manhandles her breasts, tweaks her nipples, and fingers herself; then, in a final act of “I Am Woman, Watch Me Fuck,” Berkley jacks off the stripper pole and storms off stage.

26:03 – Berkley flings her sweaty towel at the pimp/manager in a moment of indignation.

30:15 – Berkley stretches her leg across Kyle MacLachlan’s shoulder, grinds her hips, and plays with her G-string. Not only is this entire lap dance asexual, but it looks incredibly uncomfortable!

32:04 – Berkley shows her Hitler mustache for the first of many times.

43:28 – After being humiliated by the producer of Goddess and Gershon, Berkley whispers, “I hate you” before sniffing her nose in what is meant to tell us that she is on the verge of tears.

45:29 – Berkley attacks a cheeseburger like she hasn’t eaten in weeks.

49:57 – Berkley, without a hint of emotion, hears that she has made it into Goddess. This is supposed to show us how utterly in shock she is. Now, her whole life will change! She’s on her way, baby!

50:53 – “I’m a dancer!” (In this shot Berkley, in her leather jacket and bad attitude, bears a striking resemblance to “Tori,” the inexplicable last season replacement on Saved By the Bell when Berkley and Tiffani-Amber Thiesen didn’t renew their contracts).

57:23 – Berkley’s arms on her piques tournes.

1:15:20 – Berkley storms off like a bat out of hell, flailing and screaming, after she learns that the 1000 dollars she thought she earned for the boat show (“For this! FOR THIS!”) was really so she could get fucked by some Japanese investor.

*The film continues for another 47 minutes, an almost endless stream of nudity, rape, double crosses, and terrible dialogue. It’s not that Berkley gets “better” in the second half. It’s just that we have become anaesthetized to her awfulness. We are settled into the universe of the film and there is no turning back.

But to blame Elizabeth Berkley for the quality of the film isn’t (completely) fair. Someone had to give her those words to say and someone had to guide her performance.

While Eszterhas’ tongue in cheek humor worked brilliantly in Basic Instinct (an almost text book example of pulp trash noir, and one of the greatest screenplays ever written; written and sold in two weeks btw…), Showgirls is a lazy slapdash of All About Eve meets Skinemax. Some “highlights” from this 2 million dollar screenplay:

“We could have brought anyone into this show. Latoya. Suzanne.” Apparently in some alternate universe, Latoya Jackson and Suzanne Sommers are hot commodities who could fill a theatre. Is this a wink on the low highbrowness of it all or is Joe that out of touch to know that these women were way past their primes (or absolutely irrelevant) by the mid-90s?

“You aren’t just a pain in my head and a pain in my dick. You’re also a pain in my ass.”

“You know what they call that useless piece of skin around a twat? A woman.”

“You got something wrong with your nipples? They’re not sticking up?”

“Goddamn it. You’re the only one who can get my tits popping right.”

“I’ve had dog food.”
“You have?”
“Lone time ago. Doggy Chow. I used to love Doggy Chow.”
“I used to love Doggy Chow too.”

“She looks better than a ten inch dick and you know it.”

“Must be weird not having anybody cum on you.”

And my personal favorite…

“Dancin’ ain’t fuckin’.”

Eszterhas claims that the film was meant to have humor, that he and Verhoeven had agreed upon this going in. But the “problem” with the film is its tone. It rides this serio-comic tone the whole time (which is the perfect raw material for satire), but never fully commits to either.  If you are going to make a satire (which sadly I no longer think they were), you up the anty and go to the farthest degree possible. Although, I don’t know what that would look like because absolutely everything about this film is excessive, tacky, and over the top. Which brings me to Paul Verhoeven.

Here’s the bitch of it all. Paul Verhoeven, who was paid a whopping 6 million dollars to helm Showgirls, is actually a really talented director. His Dutch debut, Business is Business about…well, prostitutes, is a sex comedy questioning a woman’s place in power and domesticity. Katie Tippel is about…well, prostitutes and the ways women have to sell what they got to get ahead. His Total Recall is a great mix of humor and action, essentially spoofing the genre while paying homage to it, something he started honing in the horribly written, well directed RoboCop. And Basic Instinct is one of the best Hitchcock films Hitch never made. Seriously. Watch it again. (And for added fun, shitkicker Camille Paglia does a commentary track…).

s2

So what happened? It’s not for lack of “authenticity.” Joe and Paul went to Vegas and interviewed over 200 people on the ins and outs of Sin City. It’s not for lack of “vision.” Verhoeven, who tries to infuse Christian iconography in all of his films (being a member of the Jesus Seminar, a controversial group of biblical scholars), designed the Goddess numbers (originally part of a planned commercial for Chanel) to be epic battles of Good and Evil. He actually wrote a number of essays about the Biblical symbolism in Showgirls, published in a giant coffee table book of photographs. (I need to get my hands on this book, STAT). He also claims to have studied the way 8 1/2 and Touch of Evil were shot for inspiration, “to explore the potential for expressing emotion through movement.” And some of the cinematography, one of Verhoeven’s strengths, is breathtaking. But for what? A film about cut throat bitches who flash their shit every ten seconds? Verhoeven, that crazy European, intentionally infused as much nudity as possible to numb the audience to it so they could focus on the story:

“What you see is the sex and the violence that already exist in modern societies…As a director my goal is to be completely open. Just look at how I portray sex in my films. They’re considered shocking and obscene because I like to carefully examine human sexuality. It has to be realistic.

But what ended up happening is that a film that could have been really sexy becomes completely asexual. And what we are left with is a mediocre, trite plot, terrible acting, and even worse dialogue. This “expose of the struggle to the top” becomes a second-rate skin flick that isn’t even masturbatable. It fails in every way. To paraphrase David Schmader, who is a Showgirls “enthusiast” that supplies the film’s only commentary track despite three editions, everyone is making every wrong decision at every moment.

And yet, Showgirls lives on as a camp classic, and an undeniable good time. A great film to have on as the background track to pep up a lame party or to guide innumerable drinking/smoking games. (For the record, you will be cooked less than 20 minutes in, causing the film to teeter somewhere between ridiculously hilarious and mind-numbingly unbearable). It was once a show at Upright Citizen’s Brigade entitled Showgirls: The Best Movie Ever Made…Ever and is now, believe it or not, a musical. Showgirls has become an intrinsic part of our culture, the fabric of our lives, because not only is it one of the prime examples of what can happen in Hollywood when two successful people are given way too much power, but Showgirls is a film with a message. It is a tale as old as time: We all must sell ourselves for something – or get out of town with what’s left of our dignity (apparently even if we are the star of a show and our life’s ambition has been achieved). Oh, and lest we forget, women are whores. And dancin’ ain’t fuckin’.

And what as become of its cast and crew? Paul Verhoeven has continued to spiral into oblivion with the terrible, A-List, big budget junk he once turned into gold (Starship Troopers, Hollow Man); Joe Eszterhas has yet to have another film produced by a major studio; Gina Gershon has remained blissfully unfazed, cranking out indie project after indie project (the only member of Showgirls who got good reviews, deservedly); Kyle MacLahlan and his hair have gone onto roles on Sex and the City and Sisterhood and the Traveling Pants Part 2. And Elizabeth Berkley, thanks to Goldie Hawn insistence, made a semi-redemptive comeback in The First Wive’s Club, netting her supporting parts in Woody Allen’s The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, CSI, and a co-starring role on Broadway with Richard Dreyfuss. Not to mention, she became a cult legend in the process. Clearly, Nomi has had the last laugh. Which after years of laughing at her, seems only fair.

s4

Is Showgirls a Car Crash? Colonoscopy? Or Berkley?

***BERKLEY***

What are your thoughts on Showgirls? How has Showgirls changed your life?

*Check out Fiasco: A History of Hollywood’s Iconic Flops by James Robert Parish for more drama on this and other trash epics – and this fantastic trailer that makes the film look like a thriller:

Nomi Malone and Friends: A Trip Through Cinema’s Trash

nomi No one sets out to fail. Especially artists. With reputations, futures, and millions of dollars at stake, Hollywood will fight to the death to make something that the American people will want to buy. Sadly/sadistically, sometimes Hollywood will underestimate itself and overestimate its audience, turning in duds. Some movies are bound to fail. The law of averages. And they will disappear as quickly as they came. But some movies are so awful, so painful, so egregiously full of WTFuckery that, like Alex Forrest, they WILL NOT BE IGNORED! Lucky us! My new column, BAD CINEMA, will feature bombs, turds, and stinkers from the an(n)als of Hollywood’s sewers. I will take you through the worst of the worst, wading knee deep in their schadenfreude-ian shit.

There are five types of Bad Cinema:

1) Car Crash – films so ugly, so disconcerting, yet you can’t look away

2) Colonoscopy – films so painful you feel physically violated

3) Berkley – films so full of terrible moments that they become enjoyable (named for the brilliantly awful performance of Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls)

4) Rip van Winkle – films so boring they put you to sleep

5) Kardashian – films that know they are terrible and revel in it

Enjoy and Discuss.

CHECK OUT MY BAD CINEMA REVIEWS BELOW:

Showgirls (1995)

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)

Roller Boogie  (1979)

What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969)

Compliance  (2012)

The Wedding Planner  (2001)

Mother’s Boys (1994)

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Gigli (2003)

White Chicks (2004)

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987)

Airport ’75 (1974)

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

Vamp (1986)

How to Be a Player (1997)

Ernest Goes to Jail (1990)

Another Gay Movie (2006)

It’s Pat! (1994)

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Angela, The Fireworks Woman (1975)

Battleship (2012)

Can’t Stop the Music (1980)

The Exorcist (1973)

The Three Stooges: The Movie (2012)

The Next Best Thing (2000)

Myra Breckinridge (1970)

Sex and the City 2 (2010)

Catwoman (2004)

The Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence (2011)

Movie 43 (2013)

The Main Event (1979)

Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Glen or Glenda? (1953)

Cleopatra (1963)

The Sound of Music Live! (2013)

The Bling Ring (2013)

A Dirty Shame (2004)

Nine (2009)

Spice World (1997)

W.E. (2011)

Alien3 (1992)

Sextette (1978)

The Big Wedding (2013)

Body of Evidence (1993)

Diana (2013)

The Happening (2008)

Heartbeeps (1981)

The Apple (1980)

Trapped in the Closet (2005-2012)

Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

Norbit (2007)

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)

Nymphomaniac (2014)

Ishtar (1987)

Tyler Perry’s Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (2013)

Prozac Nation (2001)

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Bad Cinema: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Dir: Michael Schultz, 1978)

pep1

“The instruments were safely back in Heartland. But at what a cost? Was it worth it?”

What do you get when you take some of the most famous and beloved songs ever written, $18 million, the most random cast ever assembled, and throw them in a blender with a lot of acid and ’70s excess? Give up? I’ll tell you.

A hot mess.

Many films have passed through and around Hollywood that really serve as nothing more than an omnibus of celebrity Look-E-Lous, a way of cashing in on some weird cross section of Julia Roberts, Ashton Kutcher, and Taylor Swift fans OR by making us watch Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, and Sid Caesar outmug Ethel Merman. Any way you slice it, it is disastrous. Unless there are Muppets. Somehow this mitigates the schlock of cameos.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a special breed of a bad idea gone horrible, one of those rare movies that are so bad it makes Sextette – the film where we are supposed to buy 85 year old Mae West as a viable creature of lust, without irony – look like a masterpiece.

What the fuck were they thinking?

pep3

Why would the Bee Gees, at the height of their Saturday Night Fever fame, decide to play second rate versions of what is chronically considered the greatest band in history in a “scripted” version of what is always referred to as the Citizen Kane of albums? Why would George Burns – George Fucking Burns – who had recently won an Academy Award, sign up to narrate this cockimame tripe? Did he owe Robert Stigwood a favor? Or just want to cash an easy check in the second chapter of his American Life? In what universe is Tina Turner, Etta James, and Carol Channing – yes, that Carol Channing – mumbling the lyrics to a Beatles’ tune, looking like they are in the last days of Jonestown?

Apparently, this shit was based on an Off-Broadway show that was supposed to be filmed for television, but ended up getting scrapped. Perhaps because, oh, it was a horrendous idea. But that didn’t stop Henry Edwards from attempting to add some sort of story to a random amalgam of tunes, many of which don’t even appear on the Sgt. Pepper’s album.

We begin with George Burns – as Mr. Kite – telling us the tale of Sgt. Pepper and His Lonely Hearts Club Band. Sgt. Pepper dies one day during a performance and their is much sadness. But twenty years later, his grandson, Billy Shears (Peter Frampton, who serves as nothing more than a warm body…or a walking corpse, I’m not sure which…) gets his buddies together (The Brother Gibb, who are only slightly less comatose than their leader) and they revamp the band with a couple magical instruments. Billy’s girlfriend is the completely vacant Strawberry Fields (played by an even more vacant Sandy Farina, looking like a road company Shelley Long meets Shelly Duvall).

pep2

As luck would have it, they are discovered by a big time agent (played by Donald Pleasance, who made this travesty the same year as the horror masterwork, Halloween). He brings them to the big city, where they achieve big dreams, take big drugs, meet big girls, and get into big boy type trouble.

The plot, as it were, is assembled as an after thought to the songs. Some of the numbers work, like Billy Shears and Strawberry Fields waking up together singing, “Here Comes the Sun”; some are incredibly forced – “I Want You/She’s So Heavy” played over the sleezy producer trying to get them to sign a contract, as well as the band, the chaueffer, hookers, and drive by bikers, trying to get their fuck on.

But Strawberry can’t stand her death-inducing distance from Billy any longer! (the slow, romantic moving camera over his giant effigies that hang on her wall to the tune of “The Long and Winding Road” lets us in on this oh so subtletly) so she runs away from her parents and goes to find him! Then upon getting off the bus, she sees a billboard for Lucy and the Diamonds that comes to life singing…yep, you guessed it…in some horrible, trying to be sexy, bizarro Xanadu meets Sparkle time warp that is supposed to tell us Strawberry fears Billy is being untrue! Ah, but don’t fret Strawberry! The very next scene the band is recording “Oh Darling,” which lets anyone who had doubt know that Billy would never do anything to hurt his beloved Strawberry Fields.

But there is a foil (as there must be): Mr. Mustard (that “Mean Old Man”) who waits for instructions from his boss, F.V.B. (Future Villian Band, played with sexy Satanism by Aerosmith: “the evil force that would poison your mind, pollute the environment, and subvert the democratic process…and worst of all, change Strawberry into a mindless groupie…”). F.V.B.’s conduit is some Hal 9000 wanna-be computer who fulfills his master’s quest for world domination by destroying Billy Shears’ hometown because…because…well, it’s not important. Who needs motivation and plot when you have Peter Frampton singing the Beatles! F.V.B. instructs Mustard to steal and disperse the band’s instruments and end their reign!

This is when the “film” – if one can even really call it that – becomes interesting. Well, at least not painfully terrible. Knowing that this is really just a series of shitty music videos, director Michael Schultz, decides to just make music videos and not worry about anything resembling plot. The van-computer leads them first to Dr. Maxwell who has their coronet! (his “silver hammer” gives him his magical powers, you see), a mad doctor who takes his patients for all they’ve got (played with fantastic gusto by some new comedian named Steve Martin; eight years later he would play a more refined version of Dr. Hammer as Little Shop of Horror’s mad dentist). They all break into a Broadway dance number before some Star Wars style light-saber showdown gets them back their beloved instrument (apparently, we are supposed to believe that The Bee Gees, in their tight pants, are lovers and fighters. That makes sense. Even though we can’t tell by the way they use their walk, they are women’s men).

Next up is Alice Cooper, I mean Father Sun, who is brainwashing children into mindless machines (a very obvious nod to Nazism) over a trippy Clockwork Orange style video projection. They retrieve their prized tuba (although when we see the band play – or watch them poorly mime playing instruments – all they play are two guitars and a set of drums; coincidentally, the same instruments those pesky Beatles play!).

But look out! Billy has been knocked unconscious in the shuffle! Oh, but Strawberry is there to bring him back to life with her tears (and the tune “Strawberry Fields – “Strawberry Tears”? – Forever”)

Then, in order to get as many musical acts in the film as possible, the only way to save their town, save the band, and save the world apparently, Billy and Company decide to stage a benefit concert in Heartland to…raise money for the fledging band?…try and help them find their missing third instrument…? Have an excuse to record more Beatles’ songs?

But it must be postponed because Strawberry is kidnapped! And the band must run to the rescue to save her from the clutches of Steven Tyler’s lips. Until he falls to his death, signature mic stand with scarf tied around it’s base in tow, atop a giant dollar bill with his face plastered in the center (P.S. Aerosmith’s cover of “Come Together” is the only song in the whole bloody affair that actually equals – Hell, improves upon! – the source material). Then Strawberry catapults to her own death by way of disco orb.

Which of course sends Billy over the edge into suicide attempt mode, to the tune of – you guessed it – “A Day in the Life.” But fear not, the old white man Sgt. Pepper returns to life in the form of Billy Preston (who, in case you didn’t know, is black…) to save the day and belt out “Get Back.”

It is pointless to even comment on the “acting.” The four leads basically stand around lip-synching poorly, looking lost, as if they know the movie they are in is absolutely abysmal. The “direction” looks like it was achieved through high, half-glances into a Magic 8 ball (“You will now do a close-up.” “You will now put the Bee Gees in a hot air balloon.” “You will now bore the audience to a maddening fever pitch akin to hours of Ben Stein reading books on tape.”)

It is inevitable to compare this film with the equally terrible let’s-throw-a-bunch-of-Beatles-tunes-together-and-make-a-movie Across the Universe, Julie Taymor’s last project before she began attracting theatre patrons to another train wreck known as Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. In Across the Universe, Taymor subjects us to Bono’s bastardization of “I am the Walrus” and watching a girl named Prudence get coaxed to come out to play while being serenaded the song…well, you get the idea.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band is beyond painful and should be avoided at all costs. If you are in the mood to hear Beatles’ music on film, rent A Hard Day’s Night (1964). It is just as foolish, just as non-sensical, but it actually has, you know, The Beatles in it.

Is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band a Car Crash, Colonoscopy, or Berkley?

***COLONOSCOPY***

*Check out the podcast from Mighty Movie’s Temple of Badhere.

**Available on Netflix Instant

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE FILM?

And Solitaire’s the Only Game in Town

solitaire

I am lying under the blanket my grandmother made for me, with Dodger at foot, both of us half-watching Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and neither of us wanting to move. But in an hour, I must saddle up for the 90 minute car ride to Riverside to get through two performances of Hello, Dolly! It’s not that I have not been having a good time, nor that I don’t love being on stage, but today, as truthfully most days, all I want is to be alone.

We’re taught from an early age that being social is a virtue. That humans are interactive creatures, thriving in the company of others. But what happens if we don’t feel that need? If we dread getting dressed and stomaching others’ banter and attempts at being interesting? Does this mean there is something inherently dysfunctional about us or is it just the way we are wired?

I have always thought that I have some sort of happiness deficiency, but what if I don’t? What if I can’t stand people because I know that most of them really serve no function and are not worthy of my time. Perhaps I am secretly a narcissist. Could this “narcissism” be a cover for the Shame or is the Shame a manifestation of misguided narcissism; the discovery that I am not as brilliant and beautiful and Special as I believe myself to be, sending me to crash land from Heaven with some Luciferian grudge that is easiest to turn inward? Or this is all bullshit and I really think I am worthless? Either way, I’d rather figure it out by myself.

garbo

It’s no coincidence that my favorite activities, the times I am “happiest,” are solitary: watching movies, reading, and writing. Watching movies and reading allows me to vicariously exist without actually having to put forth the effort. Writing allows me to live inside my own brain. Perhaps this is why almost all of my writing is autobiographical in nature; I am constantly trying to unravel the mystery that is me – the only person, creature, object that actually matters.

To be fair, there are a very small handful of people that matter (almost) as much as I do. There are the no-brainer duo of my parents, the ones who give me the most love and the ones to whom I actually want to give it back. There is Trevor, one of my best friends from high school who has reappeared as a daily correspondent, my partner in crime to sit through terrible movies (Lord, Xanadu…), read books and screenplays over the phone, and dissect the fabulous career of MC. There is MHP, another high school hold over full of sarcasm, trying to find her way in LA. There is Joshua, my longest and bestest friend, the only one who has truly seen every disgusting, ugly, fabulous crease of my origami. And of course, there is Julian: the one who shares my universe, for better and for worse. Since making a real connection is so difficult – damn near impossible, even – I cling to these people with whom I have connected as if my life depended on it, longing to never leave their sides. I thrive with these people, loving the insular, safe, fantastic sanctuaries they create, allowing me to be an asshole and encouraging me to be a saint. But outside of these very select few (among others who come and go through varying days and moods), the rest of the planet can kind of pretty much go to Hell.

Being a misanthrope has its perks: you don’t have to worry about what you are wearing because well…no one is around to judge you (except maybe the dog and he knows not to shit where he eats…most of the time). You don’t have to worry about other people’s feelings, which, fuck, is exhausting. You aren’t expected to interact when forced to be in groups, like work. Your attitude tells everyone that you would rather be anywhere else (unless you have co-workers who love your misanthropy and practically beg you to be rude to people, even on those rare days where you don’t hate everyone).

I loathe being in groups – unless, of course, I am the center of attention. Coming up with shit to say and think and feel is not worth the effort most of the time. Being in groups of straight people, I feel lost and pointless. Sometimes it’s nice being in groups of other gay men – the showtune sing alongs, the RuPaul’s Drag Race banter – but after a while it is just as exhausting and obnoxious. Gay men – well, to be absolutely specific, theatre fags (the garden variety in which I belong and find myself most often) – are competitive and cutthroat, huntie.

In regards to doing theatre, it allows me to “exist” in the “real world” with others by pretending to exist in a fake world. When the show is great and/or I have a big part and/or it is a universe in which I want to be a part, it is a joy to live there. Playing Bobby in A Chorus Line comes to mind, a part that screams of my “real life”: the sarcastic misanthrope who shuffle-ball-changes through the day, trying to make it and very over not being famous.

Achieving fame, while a small sliver of it is dedicated to changing the world for whatever that will be worth, is really about gaining enough money so I don’t have to participate in the duldrums of day to day BS. To be able to essentially exist in my own world, only on a grander, more wealthy scale. Some Midler meets Mariah/Lynch meets Lars vortex that lets me dominate any project or room when I need to and then escape into my cabin on the hill to count my money and plan my next pop cultural sensation. Basically, I want to be famous so I can be wealthy. And I want to be wealthy so I have more time to watch movies. To live the hedonistic nihilism that comes so natural to my being.

And yet, yesterday, while going around the passarail during “Before the Parade Passes By,” I saw this old woman smiling, erupting with the joy that we were giving her, and I felt a pang of connection. A bolt so strong I almost tripped over the damned lights and fell off the ramp. What the hell was that about? Is there a balance? A middle ground of selfish divadom and Oprah-like pseudo altruism? Or was I filled with pride and excitement because she was justifying my belief that I am fucking awesome, able to bring little old ladies to their knees while pretending to be a goddamned fireman in a 50 year old musical?