Tuesday, April 4, 2006
Basic Instinct: Paul Verhoeven, Sharon Stone, and Those Giblets in Full
Sharon Stone’s charismatic pudenda have returned to our screens courtesy of Michael Caton-Jones in Basic Instinct 2.
The film has not been well-reviewed, which is hardly surprising, as few critics are likely to admit a liking for anything as obvious as Miss Stone’s muff, as revealed in that leg-crossing interrogation scene in Paul Verhoeven's original movie.
Certainly, Caton-Jones found it a hard act to follow, describing Verhoeven's effort as a “retro noir Hitchcock Hermannesque rip-off” which became famous for that scene. “So everybody was saying 'is she gonna do this, or do that?’ And I thought, what other part of the anatomy can I show that is going to top that?”
One of the problems Caton-Jones encountered was the fact that pornography is now a part of mainstream culture, though this is not quite accepted by the American censor. “I was obliged to make an R rated film for the States. The studio wouldn’t have accepted an NC-17, because they couldn’t get it placed and they couldn’t get ads. I was at the mercy of the US censors, but that was the deal from the beginning, so I shot a bucketload of sex and cut a load of it out, because in the end, it was whatever they would let me get through. But it’s completely absurd, because what was risqué back then was mild domination and bondage. You can’t switch your computer on without getting slapped in the face by any kind of deviant sexuality now, so to top it was never going to happen. So I referred to it a lot in an ironic, arched-eyebrow way.
“It would have been so much easier to shoot some porn, because then you don’t have to care about what it is that you’re showing.”
A few years ago, I suggested to Paul Verhoeven that he was likely to be posthumously remembered for that one shot. He replied - a little optimistically - that he might also be celebrated for Showgirls, before explaining the story of his - and Stone's - most famous moment.
“You can see a bit [of] pubic hair. We had a big argument and we used a magnifier to check it out between me and the editing assistant. He said: you can see her vagina, I said: no you can see her thighs.”
Verhoeven pronounced this word as “ties” and gestured with his hand on his crotch.
“They are coming together, and there is a fold.
“We never figured it out. The suggestion is much more powerful. What you actually see is four or five frames. A big German magazine, I think it was Stern , stole it from the movie and put that one frame on the front page. You can argue what it is. There is certainly some pubic hair to be seen. But if the split in the middle is the coming of the thighs together, or is that really the vagina, I have no idea. When we shot that, we didn’t even think about that. And we shot it with full knowledge of her. And at that point, looking at the video, we thought it was fine. We never thought it was so impressive really. It was just when that film came out that it became that thing. But I hope, perhaps naively, that the fact that the scene works makes that shot work too. And if the attitude of these four or five men sitting there, and her, would have been not interesting, and not tense, that you would feel the sexual tension, let’s say with the cigarette and her thighs, or when she brings her arms up and shows her armpits, all the sexual things that are connected with her defying authority, and trying to, let’s say, get them down their knees, ultimately by doing this,” – he opened his legs – “I think that shot works because all the rest is there too. If it had been a bad scene, then it would have been gratuitous. But it was so well-integrated.
“It was not in the script. I picked it up from an old memory of a friend who was in our circle when I was a student. She was married to a journalist of the local newspaper. They came to our parties when we were in our early thirties, and she was very audacious, very sexy and obvious girl. My friend and her were sitting opposite her and she was doing the same as Sharon, to show that she had no underwear on. My friend said, you know, when you do that, we can see right into your vagina. She said 'are you kidding? That’s why I do it.”
So there you have it. Paul Verhoeven is the Orson Welles of Kleenex Kinema; the man who sold the guilt of top shelf sex to the multiplex.
Posted by Kirk Elder at 4:25 PM