Basic Instinct

Monday, July 23, 2007

Like a lot of people I remembered Basic Instinct as being nothing more than a thinly veiled grumble flick – lots of skin, lots of blood, and little else. But watching it back I was pleasantly surprised. Yes it's still trashy and sure it's as silly as ever, but it's also quite a lot of fun. Sometimes all you really need is sex and violence.

But another thing that surprised me was that there actually wasn't as much sex and violence as I recalled. In fact, there are only two bits of heavy bloodletting and it's only in the final third of the film that the serious bonking starts. I guess my memory must have cut out all of the extraneous information – you know, little things like plot. But having said that, sex does pervade the whole film. Not only does the film have a very frank attitude to nudity, but everyone also seems to perpetually have the horn. Everyone's got that thousand-yard stare and everyone talks in hushed tones. Probably all these characters do when they're on their own is beat off.

But like I say, up until the final third, there actually isn't a lot of sex – the beginning, of course, being a notable exception. Instead you have a lot of teasing. That old horny bastard Michael Douglas gets a glimpse of Stone in the nude and then later he gets a flash of the one part he missed first time round. And of course, the interrogation scene is absurdly famous for having the temerity to show Stone's cooter (woah, women have vaginas?!? Fuck me, I didn't know that!). But although it's been imitated to death, it's still a pretty good scene. It quite rightly shows that all a woman has to do to gain power over men is have the confidence to flash her genitals. Like Pavlovian dogs men will slobber as they conceal the trouser tents that burst forth. And in the scene Stone even forgoes having a lawyer present. But of course, who needs a lawyer when you have power of the cunt?

However, as enjoyable as the scene is, my mind kept thinking about the décor. Yeah, you heard me right, the décor. The interrogation room looks like no interrogation room I've ever seen – admittedly I've only seen films and documentaries; I have no desire to gain first-hand experience. But then again, the police department looks like it was filmed in a flashy corporate office block, so it should be no surprise that the interrogation room looks like some pretentious, coked-up, post-modernist art student designed it.

But quibbling about the décor in a film like this is rather stupid. As is quibbling about reality. The movie's a riff on film noir and Hitchcock. You have the stupid, lust-filled man; the smart, sexy lady and all the chaos that ensues. Therefore it's best not to think too much about whether they're correctly following police procedure, or if the female psychologist is unfeasibly hot. Verhoeven's taken reality in his arms and then shoved it aside so that he can bludgeon it with an ice pick. Reality isn't needed here.

The most compelling evidence against the need for reality in a picture this trashy is Douglas' famous green V-necked sweater that he wears in the club scene. In what world would a man wear an item of clothing so appalling naff in a supposedly hip nightclub? Hopefully no world that exists beyond the movies. But the fact that he does wear it is absolutely hilarious. It's like your dad has suddenly entered the picture and he's scouting for snatch. But the club itself is also a reason for mirth. It seems to be located in an old church and the arches are lit in neon. And then there's the music. Dear Lord, its some abomination that suited nitwits probably used to shout "Acid!" to in the early nineties to prove that they were down with the kids. (Verhoeven, in the commentary, even says that it took him months to find the right music. Pissing hell, why do Europeans have such appalling taste in music? Left to their own devices they'd probably lounge in their front room, a Rembrandt print on the wall, a pinot noir in hand, an Armani suit covering their tanned body, tasteful pictures of their children skiing in St. Maritz resting upon an art deco walnut sideboard, beautifully bound volumes of Voltaire and Dostoyevsky impeccably arranged on a heaving bookcase, some salmon grilling in the kitchen beyond, and 'Hey, Macarena' blaring from the stereo. They know fuck all about modern music. Jeez, we give them Led Zeppelin, The Sex Pistols and The Stone Roses and they give us Sasha Distel, Dennis Roussos and 2 Unlimited. That's fucking gratitude for you...)

But as well as the music there's the dancing. Everyone cuts some horrible shapes, but Roxy's are the worst (Roxy is Stone's lesbian lover). There's one bit where she's dancing with a guy and she appears to be trying to punch him in the head, only she keeps missing.

But the genius of the sweater continues. Douglas pulls Stone and then we get to see him in bed with her wearing this sole item of clothing. And then he sexily takes it off. I've got to make a note of this: 'Sexy green sweater…chicks come running.' And to cap the scene off, we get to see Douglas make the sexy, post-coital toilet walk while desperately trying to clench his saggy bum cakes. Verhoeven, you're a crazy genius.

But although there's a lot of mileage in the unintentional laughs, I also enjoyed the nods to Hitchcock, particularly Vertigo. Of course the film isn't even in the same league, but the references are there. Most obviously you have the fact that they're both set in San Francisco, but then there's Stone's white, ice-queen look in the interrogation scene which is reminiscent of Kim Novak's grey ensemble, Douglas following Stone, which closely apes James Stewart following Novak, the Herrmann-esque score, the bit where they go to the beach and the shot looking down the apartment stairs which is a dead ringer of the Vertigo shots, only without the distortion. Verhoeven certainly knows whom to homage/rip-off.

However, there are things that Basic Instinct has that Hitchcock didn't have. Ice picks in the eye, for instance, and genitals. Oh, and jokes about come stains, too. "He got off before he got off." But as for the central mystery of the film, there's not a whole lot to it. Just watch the opening scene and compare the breasts that are thrust your way later on. Once you see them again you know who the murderer is. The truth is in the tits.

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