• From Robert Aldrich’s The Choirboys (1977)

In my long review of Pain & Gain that appears in this week’s issue, I invoke Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls as an example of a film whose predominant attitude towards its own setting is one of pointed disgust. I could have also cited Alex Cox’s Repo Man, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, or Verhoeven’s Spetters and Starship Troopers. I don’t value these films equally, but I consider them all part of a particular lineage—call it the cinema of fighting fire with fire, in which filmmakers exaggerate grotesque aspects of popular culture so they become criticisms of themselves. Most of these films have inspired accusations of hypocrisy and narrow-minded readings that confuse the exaggerations with the targets themselves. But I suppose that’s to be expected: when you play with fire, you get burned.