Shining Stars

A Michigan native, Jeffrey McHale has over 15 years experience directing and editing short films, commercials and music videos. He makes his feature-length debut with You Don’t Nomi, a documentary love-letter to Paul Verhoven’s camp Las Vegas-set cult classic Showgirls, starring Elizabeth Berkley as the ambitious dancer Nomi Malone.

ASFF: What was your first encounter with Showgirls?
JM: I came to it late in life, so I was probably a little bit too sheltered to see it when it first came out in ’95. I was probably still watching Saved By The Bell! So it was about 10 years after. It had already become a queer cult classic. It’s probably similar to the way that a lot of people experience Showgirls – a friend sits you down and says, ‘You have to watch this right now.’ And that’s what happened to me. I was just hanging out with a friend in his apartment. Showgirls came up – I was living in Chicago going to film school at the time – and it just blew my mind on first viewing. I’d never seen anything like it. It was bad in such a unique and special way, you just didn’t want it to end.

ASFF: Why do you think it has this appeal to the LGBTQ+ community?
JM: On face value…it’s over the top. There’s these elaborate stage productions, the dialogue is vulgar. There are these two female characters – and A Star Is Born, All About Eve type story that I think appeals. Then there was a rejection from the mainstream. Maybe it was seen as a little bit more rebellious – the counterculture embracing it and taking it in. And there is this deeper level that that queer people can identify with Nomi Malone personally – her journey and some of her struggles.

ASFF: What made you decide to pursue a documentary around the film’s reputation and rehabilitation?
JM: I’m a television editor by trade. I didn’t necessarily set out to make a documentary, but I wanted explore the subject further and figure out my own curiosity around it, why we’re still drawn to it, why we’re still talking about it. And so that’s when I just started to consume everything that had been written about it. Read the books, the poems, the reviews, articles, the think pieces over the years. I was really inspired by just kind of a wide range of opinions in relationship to the film.

ASFF: You don’t do fresh interviews with the cast or creators of Showgirls, but instead approach it more as an essay, with contributions from critics and fans. What was behind that thinking?
JM: I was very much inspired by Room 237 and Los Angeles Plays Itself. And I love those as formats. Knowing what could be done, with clips and commentary, I thought, ‘There’s a lot of creative opportunities here to explore the subject.’

ASFF: Where do you stand on it now?
That’s a good question. If I were to kind of pick one of the one of the three categories in the film, it would definitely be the “masterpiece of shit”. I approached this, obviously, as a fan of the film and I wanted to have an honest conversation about it. Flaws and all. I really wanted to explore those things and one of the interesting things was even the people who have devoted significant portions of their life to creating Showgirls artwork and writing can all see those flaws. And I find that interesting. Yes, there are people who say it’s a masterpiece, but I think it’s like a wink and a nod masterpiece.

You Don’t Nomi is available to demand from 12 June. For more details, click here.

James Mottram