Let’s face it: many of the movies about San Francisco have lots of sex in them. 1992’s Basic Instinct is no exception, but in comparison to last week’s The Sweetest Thing, this time it’s more explicit, more queer and definitely kinkier. Where do I even begin? Let me count the ways.
- During filming in 1991, concerns over AIDS still ran high, and the actors wore mandated genital pads for their sex scenes.
- Sharon Stone’s costumes, some scenes and the score pay homage to San Francisco-based Vertigo.
- Lots of sex and violence, sometimes at the same time.
- UC Berkeley is apparently the breeding ground for San Francisco queers.
- No one in San Francisco bothers to buy ice trays.
- No one wears a seat belt in San Francisco.
- During filming, the locals protested over the depictions of the film’s lesbian and bisexual characters, namely their penchants for violence and other deviant behaviors.
This last issue I find the most interesting, especially since the filmmakers purport Basic Instinct “to be about Hollywood homophobia.” Which is why the film takes place in San Francisco…right.
To be fair, Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell character is intense. Bisexual, seductive, frank, panties-less, bondage-loving, death-obsessed and polyamorous is a lot to take in one person. In this erotic thriller, she’s also the prime suspect for an ice pick murder. And on top of that she smokes. Geez!
And this upset the locals. Or at least the depiction of Catherine plus a couple other bisexual/lesbian women as murderous and partially psychotic. With not much queer representation in previous or contemporaneous films, the anger is understandable. It’s bad enough Hollywood was wary of the gays, so making all the murder suspects queer was like adding fuel to the fire. Not to mention that the will-they-won’t-they between Catherine and Nick (Michael Douglas) figuratively pisses on Catherine’s lesbian relationship. In retrospect, though, the locals had their own panties in a twist.
To me, the combination of queer and deviant/crazy does not so much point to queer people bering deranged as it points to the hot prospect of glorified violence and sex. Couple that with hot lesbian seduction, and Hollywood’s got a classic guilty obsession on its hands. I mean, who doesn’t get a thrill every time Catherine is screwing cowgirl style and reaches back as if to stab Nick? Sure, the bi aspect pumps up the sex appeal, but queer or not, Catherine is boner material for everyone involved.
What the locals ignored in lieu of the film’s general portrayals was the San Francisco angle. Sure, we’re not unfamiliar to a little blood and sex and queer and kink (NSFW), but Catherine is a different creature. Having graduated magna cum laude from UC Berkeley, Catherine’s position in Basic Instinct suggests that the Bay Area is home to the incredibly intelligent yet absolutely mental. There must be something in the water over at the neighborhood dyke bar.
A big city is never a stranger to wackos, but Hollywood likes to believe San Francisco beds down the real nutjobs: the over-sexed loonies. I’d beg to differ, but then again, I’m sure there are at least a few locals who would pay good money for their own femme fatale to tie them down and run nails down their backs.
Starring San Francisco is Appeal culture reporter, Christine
Borden’s, take on the city’s cinematic past to illuminate today. Have a
locally-set film you’d like to see featured? Tell her at firstname.lastname@example.org.