Showgirls – Best Opening Shot Ever?

So, this is a question that pops up every once in a while: what’s the best opening shot ever? It generally devolves into a discussion of the best “opening”- scene, sequence, first act. But I’m talking the shot, the first uninterrupted image, ending at the first cut. Why just the first shot? It’s the first impression of the movie, and you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls get a lot of crap, and most people think it’s well deserved. The story is ridiculous and insipid, the performances overdone, and the dialog laughable. But it all works when viewed with an ironic eye. It plays like a parody of itself- it’s feels serious, but it’s all supposed to be a joke.

The one part of the movie that really stands out as brilliant is the opening shot. We get the the title in sickly pink-purple. Cut to black. Beat. Then:

Showgirls- shot 1

A woman, presumably, walking through what looks like a strip mall (there’s that humor, she’ll soon be in a strip club) parking lot. The only sounds are her footsteps and the noise of the cars driving by. She seems to have a somewhat garish fashion sense, with the fringey leather jacket and all. Wherever she is, her jacket juxtaposed with the old, dirty trucks suggests she might not really belong there.

Showgirls- shot 2

The camera follows her as she walks. Where’s she going? Well, it’s probably not across the highway, over there there’s…nothing. It’s Podunkville, USA. We keep following as she approaches the highway.

Showgirls- shot 3

Then she turns. For the first time we see her face- she’s young and made-up. Maybe a little too heavily made up. Now we know she’s not from around here, just passing through. And she’s looking at the oncoming traffic, for something.

Showgirls- shot 4

Then the camera moves to the left, pans to the right, and pushes in, getting more personal. We get a closeup as the sign passes in the background: Las Vegas 342. A painted-up, fringey-leather-jacket-wearing woman on the road (literally) to Vegas, this just might be one of the showgirls the title was promising.

Showgirls- shot 5

The camera holds and the woman walks away. She sets down her bag and sticks out her thumb. The road disappears into the Las Vegas sign, underscoring her destination. And note the rather manish stance. It’s a message- the girls might look good, but it won’t be sexy. All in all, it adds up to one of the best opening shots in movie history.

The Usual Suspects

Unfortunately, Showgirls rarely (probably only when I’m around) enters the conversation about best opening shots. The general consensus is for Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil:

The other movie that has been dominating the argument in the past few years in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation:

Pretty good, no?

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