Sunday, June 30, 2013

Chic and Dumb and Down and Dirty


Basic Instinct is a 1992 movie directed by Paul Verhoeven, starring Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, that is simultaneously abysmal and fascinatingly stylish.  You get a stomach ache watching it, but in a good way somehow.  Written by the great Joe Esterhas (who would later collaborate with Verhoeven again on the watchable and yet completely awful Showgirls), Basic Instinct is foulmouthed and mean-spirited and just plain vulgar.  But it has a sort of piss-elegance that makes you go along, and a ham-handed, bold, freaky intensity.  You just can't take your eyes off the thing as it spirals out of control.  I remember back in the day, gay people were picketing this, angry about the depiction of gays and bisexuals in it.  Totally a good thing to do of course because the movie does do a great job demeaning lesbians and bisexuals, but it is an equal-opportunity ass-hole of a movie:  no one in it is represented as moral or even maybe really human, especially the center of attention, Mr. Michael Douglas, who plays his cop role with tense jaw muscles and a squint and a tight fist, so much like a drag version of Clint Eastwood you think he could possibly be in on the joke. 

This movie is a cesspool, where everyone is telling everyone else to fuck off all the time.  And "sexual desire" has a sort of animal-porn grotesquery to it.  When people have sex in this movie they turn into over-animated porn-stars, as if their "sexual desire" has made them into idiot robots who have consumed so much pornography they are doomed to repeat it endlessly.  There's no true moment of respite from the sewage, but the sewage is so polished and glossy and intended you take in these moments like "disturbing" paintings in a museum.  Each scene you just walk past, curious about the extreme stupidity and violence and crassness, and then you forget until you're violated by the next sex scene or ice-pick murder or whatever.  But then that blurs into everything else, until the movie finally is over and you feel kind of overextended and glum.  A little perturbed, but somehow satisfied.

You got to love Sharon Stone in this thing though.  She's channeling Madonna circa 1991, but also there's a deep need inside her eyes, like she knows this is her ticket out of being second-rate, and yet somehow that's poignant because the movie is totally second-rate, elevated only by her desire for it not to be, and the Eurotrash greatness of Vorhoeven.  He shows finesse and innocence somehow in the way he sets up each debauchery, until you're mesmerized not by his nerve but by his creepy joy.  And the music by Jerry Goldsmith possibly is the most strident and gorgeous soundtrack ever.  Every goddamn move these characters make, from stepping out of a car to stabbing someone in the chest, is musicalized to the point of camp.  Horns and strings and drums and the kitchen-sink all being orchestrated to create a sort of hyperbolic drama that isn't drama.  It's just loud.  With a lot of people saying fuck all the time.

1992 may have been the apotheosis of this kind of movie.  Before people could easily access the internet and its sea of porn, before CGI really got a foothold and whole city-blocks could be demolished in that plastic-glare of sea-monsters and robots having their way, Basic Instinct was the highend of trashy adult escapism:  chic and dumb and down and dirty.  What's better than that?  I kind of miss it.  I really do.