Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Something to Talk About

From time to time in my life, a movie has come along that literally had everyone talking.

Usually, I suppose, that has been because the movie pushed society's boundaries in some way — and, to be honest about it, there were several such movies that were released in 1992.

But I really don't think anything — at least, up to that point — generated the kind of buzz that "Basic Instinct," which premiered 20 years ago today, did.

At first glance, it had the appearance of a first–rate murder mystery with just enough of a sexual angle to arouse the interest of those who weren't necessarily drawn to whodunnits.

It opened with a visual montage during the credits that was accompanied by a haunting score, all of which was worthy of Alfred Hitchcock at his best, in which a shadowy woman and an apparently prosperous man were making love. The woman appeared to be playfully tying the man's hands to the bedboard, introducing an element of bondage to their lovemaking.

And it seemed to be working. Judging from the sounds they made, both were excited, and the woman seemed especially so, grinding her hips on top of the man and appearing to flail her arms in a bit of a sexual frenzy.

But, in fact, she was reaching for a hidden ice pick, which she stabbed repeatedly into her partner.

And the stage was set for what could have been a great murder mystery.

Ultimately, though, the viewers got what was a good murder mystery that could have been — should have been — much better.

I always thought it would have been better if certain things hadn't thoroughly distracted the viewers' attention.

I mean, Sharon Stone was a sexy woman in 1992. She always was, I suppose. I mean, she was a model in her late teens, and she did some acting work in her 20s, but it was her role as murder suspect Catherine Tramell in "Basic Instinct" that opened the door to international stardom.

And a big reason for that, I have always believed, was the fact that Stone exposed herself on screen in the infamous interrogation scene. That sure got people's attention.

Stone was not entirely unknown at the time, but it is safe to say that her name was not a household word. It didn't remain that way for long, and she never seemed hesitant to cash in on her notoriety, but still she protested that she had been a victim.

Stone claimed she didn't know in advance how revealing the scene would be. "I knew that we were going to do this leg–crossing thing," she said, "and I knew that we were going to allude to the concept that I was nude, but I did not think that you would see my vagina."

The first time she saw it on the big screen, she was "shocked," confronted director Paul Verhoeven and slapped him.

That may be true, but it is also true that, shortly after the interrogation scene, Stone's character could be seen having a revealing conversation with the detective (played by Michael Douglas) in the car.

They were talking about lie detector tests — Stone's character had just taken one — and how easy it would be to beat one. Stone's character observed that Douglas' character had beaten a lie detector test — which was true, although he had never mentioned it to her.

"You seem to know a lot about me," Douglas said, and Stone replied that Douglas knew a lot about her, too.

Douglas protested that all he knew about Stone fell under the heading of police business, and she smiled. "You know I don't wear any underwear, don't you?" she asked.

Seems to me that it would be hard not to know the graphic nature of such a scene if one must deliver a line like that.

I mean, I understand that scenes are shot out of sequence, but, still, Stone must have at least read the script before filming began.

And it seems like common sense to me that, if a character tells another something like that, the audience must be aware of it, too.

Tellingly, Stone acknowledged experiencing a thrill when watching the film with a room full of strangers who hadn't seen it before. "It was so fun!" she admitted.

And lucrative.