(15/09/08) – 16 years ago a Hitchcockian thriller took the world by storm with its brazen appeal to sexuality and a bonkers plot, famously priced at $3million dollars. Basic Instinct, directed by Paul Verhoeven from a Joe Eszterhas’ script, made an overnight star of Sharon Stone, whose performance attracted hyperbolic comments from then-fashionable academic diva Camille Paglia, who said of the famous leg-crossing scene: "What we’re flashing here is the center of life as it was understood in pagan goddess cults. The mere sight of the female sex organ seems to destroy the men. Catherine signals her victory by lighting up a fire, as if to immolate them."
It feels so long ago, maybe because Basic Instinct came out before the internet, webcams and the total mainstreamisation of pornography. Looking at the film from a 2008 perspective, it is hard to believe that such a film could cause so much commotion. But it did because times were different and, despite its dubious standing among critics, Basic Instinct is an entertaining post-modern assemblage of references, a brash film that encapsulated the ethos of a burgeoning decade marked by hedonism and the end of artistic seriousness. One thing that can’t be denied is that Basic Instinct did make film history and, in all fairness, credit is due to a feature that can be summed up with two just elements it contains, namely an ice pick and a crossing of legs.
The film is set in San Francisco, in itself a reference to Hitchcock and Noir cinema. Sharon Stone plays a bisexual writer called Catherine Trammel, a rich and beautiful novelist with a psychology degree. But everyone who gets close to her seems to die in unexplained circumstances, which, coincidence or not, are described in her novels. So is she a killer or the victim of a damning campaign? Enter Michael Douglas’s boozy cop Nick Curran, assigned to investigate the murder of Trammel’s boyfriend, an ex-rock star and nightclub owner, who was killed with the aforementioned ice pick during a kinky sex session. Of course Nick falls for Catherine like an insect caught in a spider’s web. Tension mounts when Trammel starts writing a book based on Nick’s life, including a swept-under-the-carpet past incident envolving the killing of two tourists. Cop and audience are constantly ensnared by a manipulative, messy script that is more concerned with thrills than any logic. But does it matter, really? If you take this film for what it is, all adult-ness and insanity, it can be quite hypnotic. It is a legitimate case of a bad-good film. Besides, Stone is quite a vision in the shoes of her skillfully crafted femme-fatale, perhaps one of the last memorable ones to grace the screen.
The new Blu-Ray DVD edition, released today by Optimum Releasing, includes the Blonde Poison featurette, commentary by Ms Paglia and the trailer.