(In French, On Cable TV, November 2018) I’m old enough to remember Sliver as a Big Thing back in 1993—almost solely on the basis that this was Sharon Stone’s follow-up to Basic Instinct (1992) and people were wondering if she’d become the Queen of Erotic Thrillers (or something like it) based on how similar both projects sounded and given that both were coming from then-volcanic screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. Stone had quite a career afterwards, but Sliver itself sort of disappeared along the way. A critical disaster but a modest commercial success, it’s one of those very-1990s movies that show up on cable channels once in a while to remind contemporary viewers of the aesthetics of the time. They’re certainly not going to talk about plotting, considering that the simplistic story of the film has to do with a single woman moving into a high-rise with strange tenants and an unsolved murder mystery. After discovering that the owner of the building is a pervert who has installed dozens of cameras inside the building to spy on its residents, the story ends with the discovery of a different murderer only because preview audiences hated the original (and quite predictable) ending. Considering this paper-thin incoherent mystery and a Stone performance best characterized as adequate, aesthetics are the only thing left to discuss. (Not, not the sex scenes, which are comparatively tame.) The early 1990s were a weird time for movies, as the industry was beginning a switch to digital editing and post-production capabilities that allowed many more possibilities, many of them showy and awful. Much of Sliver is spent looking at TV screens, and lending that particular visual style to the film. It’s incredibly dated and not (yet) in a good way. As a result, Sliver isn’t much of a fun watch today, an experienced capped with a terrible ending that attempts to break through the fourth wall, only for the fourth wall to bloody the film’s nose.
(Second viewing, On TV, March 2017) I definitely remember seeing Basic Instinct a long time ago (in French, given that I remember the crude final lines as the ridiculous “… comme des castors”) but I’d forgotten enough of it to be mesmerized by a second viewing. Even today, it remains a pedal-to-the-metal borderline-insane thriller, rich in violence and a degree of eroticism seldom matched since then. I ended up watching the unrated version (on a basic-cable movie TV channel … go figure) and it features three of the most graphic sex scenes I can recall from a Hollywood film—the Jeanne Tripplehorn scene alone is worth the watch. Not that the rest of the movie is dull—under the combined daring of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and director Paul Verhoeven, the film cranks up nearly every single exploitative dial to eleven. It throws in a car chase on twisty backroads because, well, why not? It throws another car chase through downtown San Francisco because, again, why not? When bisexuality and murder are the most ordinary elements of the story, that’s not even getting into the twisted psychos-sexual games played between the two characters. Michael Douglas is in peak form as a risk-addicted policeman, and while Sharon Stone is still remembered for the ice-cold danger she projects, I had forgotten how her character is balanced by some cute impishness. The interrogation sequence has been parodied endlessly, but remains no less effective today in seeing a lone woman defy half a dozen alpha males by sheer (or not-so-sheer) chutzpah. Basic Instinct is pure wilful exploitation, and that’s why it’s so remarkable. The murder mystery is almost besides the point—something that the double-ending practically dies laughing about. I still think it’s far too bloody … but that’s part of the film’s twisted fun. Morally reprehensible yet slickly executed, Basic Instinct almost looks even better twenty-five years later.
(Video on Demand, September 2013) The story of Linda Lovelace, first-ever porn star thanks to a starring role in the wildly popular Deep Throat, is a classic case of she-said-she-then-said: Lovelace (co-)wrote four autobiographies, and their content varied with time: The first two are very much pro-pornography at a time where she was riding Deep Throat’s popularity, the last two very much against it at a time when she was campaigning against obscenity and free to speak against her abusive then-husband. Lovelace unusually tries to grapple with this complex portrait by presenting Lovelace’s life twice: first as a success story, and then as the darker, more abusive version of it. It may not completely work (the scenes become sketches rather than flow harmoniously from one another, and the simplification of Linda-the-victim is unfortunate given the complexity of her life after porn and after being used by feminist activism), but it’s an interesting attempt that brings an unusual twist to the usual bio-drama genre. What is undeniable, though, is Amanda Seyfried’s performance in what may be the first truly adult role she’s played so far –far away from the post-teenage ingénues that fill her filmography. As for the rest of the film, well, it convincingly re-creates the seventies, features a darkly amusing cameo by James Franco as Hugh Hefner and has a nearly-unrecognizable Sharon Stone in a maternal role (!) alongside a gruff Robert Patrick. Lovelace may not be the complete story of Linda Boreman, but it goes further than could have been expected in presenting both sides of it.