Showgirls is one of those films that defies all expectations. Upon its release in 1995, the film garnered a slew of negative reviews and was considered a commercial failure. However, in the 25 years since its release, it has gained a cult-like status through Midnight Movie viewings. In Jeffrey McHale’s YOU DON’T NOMI the documentary takes a look at the complex afterlife of the film and the cult status that has been bestowed upon it.
Prior to the release of YOU DON’T NOMI, I had the opportunity to chat with director Jeffrey McHale. During the interview, we discussed everything from the genesis of the documentary to how Showgirls lends itself to a bigger conversation about the critical way in which films are viewed.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today, Jeff. To start things off, what inspired you to want to make YOU DON’T NOMI?
Jeffrey McHale: You know, it was funny, I didn’t set out to really make a documentary. In the beginning, I was mostly just curious about my own fascination with the film. I was actually at Cinespia when Elizabeth Berkley came out to introduce Showgirls and it was kind of mindblowing to be there for that. I like to say that was the closest thing I’ve had to a religious experience. After that, I was just kind of curious. I started reading everything that had been written about [the film], started reading all the reviews, and just dived a little bit deeper. Once I started to reach out and contact some of the contributors, as well as the people who have shaped the afterlife of Showgirls, I thought, okay, I think that there might be something here for a documentary. I was a big fan of [documenteries] like Room 237 and Los Angeles Plays Itself. I found those inspiring in terms of what could be done so I used those as a format/model. I didn’t shoot a frame of video for this, it was all audio interviews conducted over Skype. I had FedEx’d an audio kit for the interviews and then would get on Skype and help them set up the microphone and everything. After we spoke for 90 minutes or two hours or whatever, they would box it back up and sent it back to me. I did that for about six to nine months and then started the editing, just transcribing all the interviews. I did that for about a year and a half until we started submitting to festivals.
That actually brings me to my next question. Did you always want the documentary to be more about the critics and people that had an emotional attachment to the film as opposed to speaking with the cast and crew?
Jeffrey McHale: In the beginning, I wasn’t sure, but after hearing everybody’s take and all these really interesting personal relationships to the film, theories about the film, thoughts about the film, I really knew that that’s where the story was. I thought that, specifically with Showgirls, the job of [director] Paul Verhoeven and the cast and crew finished after they finished the film. It was the audience that has taken it and made it into what it is today. It’s the main reason why we’re still talking about it because it’s been so beloved and celebrated during the Midnight Hour for years.
In regards to the presentation of the documentary, I enjoyed that you used VO as well as Verhoeven’s other films to bring home the points being discussed in YOU DON’T NOMI. Can you elaborate on your decision in doing that?
Jeffrey McHale: The decision was finding [those films] and seeing them. I hadn’t seen any of [Verhoeven’s] earlier works, I was just familiar with the American films. Part of the process was to sit down and watch his earlier works. My mind was blown because so many of the weird, funny, strange things that happen in Showgirls, the references, the motifs, all pop up in other earlier films and I wanted a way to show that visually. None of the contributors necessarily pointed that out or said, “Oh, here he does this or here he does that” etc., it just kind of came up during my own viewing. I wanted to find a visual way where I could make another subplot where the characters in Verhoeven’s films were interacting and speaking to the contributors in my film while living the Showgirls experience through Nomi.
For my last question, what are you hoping people take away from this documentary and do you think YOU DON’T NOMI lends itself to a bigger discussion on the critical way in which films are viewed?
Jeffrey McHale: Yeah, that’s one of the main things I would just love for people to take away from it. The way in which we consume media and the way that we discuss it and what’s considered bad, as well as what do we deem as a success and what do we deem as a failure. There’s so much in here that Showgirls specifically lends itself to for those kinds of conversations. Something like this just draws you in for multiple revisits and it’s a new experience every time. I just hope that people look at what current culture, current media and TV, and other writings are showcasing in regards to talking about the way in which we criticize things.
YOU DON’T NOMI is now available On Demand and Digital. For more on the documentary, check out our review here.