The Fuck Of The Century
by MOLLY LAMBERT
Basic Instinct (1992)
Wr. Joe Eszterhas
Dir. Paul Verhoeven
"You know I don't wear any underwear, don't you Nick?" - novelist Catherine Tramell
Basic Instinct is a bizarro Vertigo, which is remarkable considering that Vertigo is pretty fucking bizarro to begin with. Joe Eszterhas takes a sledgehammer to Hitchcockian tropes and the result is LURID. And I've learned that I like lurid. Eszterhas's dialogue here is as awesome as it is in Showgirls, with side characters prone to tossing out lines like "there's cum stains all over the sheets" to remind you that this is a SEXY R RATED MOVIE. It's mostly silly and sporadically legitimately hot.
The constrasting "good girl" brunette, Beth, is played by Jeanne Tripplehorn (aka Barb from Big Love) who nonetheless gets hella groped by Michael Douglas in an extended consensual rape play scene. Her character is a shrink, which is about as believable as Sharon Stone's bisexual blonde best-selling novelist's beach house. But Basic Instinct is not a movie about realism. It's about cinematic tropes and Jungian archetypes and film noir plot twists and Verhoeven and Eszterhas elevating pulp to an art form.
"you got nothing better to do than come in here and jack off the damn machine."
I know this movie got panned a lot when it was released, but so did Showgirls, and I'm not being ironic when I say I really love that movie. Paul Verhoeven made five stone cold classic films about America, starting in 1987 with Robocop, Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992), Showgirls (1995), and Starship Troopers (1997).
"You're gonna make a terrific character Nick."
As others have noted, the erotic thriller is a genre that has in some ways been displaced by the internet. It may be hard for younger readers to even imagine the world some of us grew up in where pornography was not an easily accessible boundless and free resource, where filmic nudity is not nearly so precious.
The whole scrambled porn opening scene in American Pie (1999!) would make no sense as a joke nowadays. But lots of people enjoy sex scenes most in the context of a narrative. Just ask John Mayer, who writes fanfic for the porn he's watching. It's weird how much of Basic Instinct's plot I sort of remembered/knew about from having read a Cracked or Mad Magazine parody of it at the library once around 1992.
Off topic but not actually: You know what else is a great erotic thriler? Wild Things.
Like Vertigo, Basic Instinct is a film about voyeurism, obsession, and sexual fetishism. Because it is a 90s movie written by Joe Eszterhas the roster is expanded to include cocaine, bisexuality, BDSM, and vagina flashing. Michael Douglas shows his ass a few times, and tells a lesbian her girlfriend is "the fuck of the century." Nomi Malone in Showgirls is similarly lauded for her magic pussy, which elevates her above all other women and seems to be something of a Joe Eszterhas trademark theme.
Verhoeven sustains heavy suspense during the film, and a scene towards the end involving an elevator is particularly taut. And in both Vertigo and Basic Instinct, the real terror is seemingly a sexually magnetic but emotionless woman. When you get down to it, isn't that what a femme fatale is? A woman who doesn't need men?
"well she got that magna cum laude pussy on her that done fried up your brain"
Having watched Casino recently, I feel confident saying I think Sharon Stone really is a great actress. She may be an insane hard to work with asshole (based on reports), but that doesn't stop a lot of male actors from getting work (cough, Sean Penn). In Casino and Basic Instinct she is basically the walking embodiment of cocaine. Catherine Tramell's even got a giant mirror over her bed so you can watch her blowing you.
"I spend most of my waking hours dwelling on my lies. For my writing."
It also reminded me how the early 90s was full of these new creatures, icy scary blonde women like Madonna, Camille Paglia, and Stone's Catherine Tramell, called Third Wave Feminists. And how it was kind of a revolutionary concept to be like "BEING OBJECTIFIED CAN BE EMPOWERING" and how sick of that shit I became in the 00s from the Vice Magazine/American Apparel version, which was more like "you'd get naked if you were cool." Which is not how it really works at all, hence also "Girls Gone Wild."
Which brings us back to the problems with Free Love and why being objectified doesn't actually usually end up being that empowering. At least not as empowering as being a best selling well-known novelist, which Catherine Tramell also is (and presumably not just because she gives great author photo). Apparently her magic pussy also makes for a magic pencil. Or is it the other way around? It's probably an ouroboros.
In the end, the plot doesn't make a ton of sense when you try to add it all up. But neither does the plot of Vertigo! Or a lot of film noirs, for that matter. What's more uncanny than trying to go back and tie up all the threads so they'll make sense and finding that you just can't? It's inspired me to write my new film Basic Wordpress about a sexy ginger whose blog presages murders all over The Mission.
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