“Basic Instinct” opened in theaters in late March 1992. People flocked to the theaters to see Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas in this sexual thriller. I was one of them. I remember going with friends to the Gateway Cinema in Edwardsville. The film, according to boxofficemojo.com, would gross $117M in the United States and another $235M worldwide. It placed 9th overall in domestic grosses for 1992 sandwiched between “A League of Their Own” at 10 with $107M and “Wayne World” at 8 with $121m. The top movie for 1992 was Disney’s Aladdin with $217M.
The film did create controversy due the sex scenes (some violent involving ice pick) and the portrayal of lesbian and bisexual characters in the film. A few weeks after the movie opened, Times’ staff writer Margaret Emery wrote about the controversy and a another film that caused a stir when it premiered – “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Her commentary appears below.
‘Instinct’ Compares with “Temptation’ – Both Hollywood, Not Reality by Margaret Emery, Scranton Times, April 4, 1992
Not since “The Last Temptation of Christ” was released in August 1988 has there been such an uproar over a Hollywood movie.
“Basic Instinct,” a thriller that opened March 20 across the country, is the tale of a San Francisco cop who’s dumb enough to get involved with a major suspect in a series of ice-pick murders. So much for his survival instinct.
This femme fatale suspect is also a bizarre bisexual, a detail that wasn’t lost on some feminist and gay groups.
Some activists even tried to disrupt filming last year, arguing that “Basic Instinct” perpetuates the idea of gays and lesbians as either victims or victimizers.
All the noise about “Basic Instinct” made me curious, so I went to see it for myself one Saturday night.
Casting one of the lead characters as bisexual seemed incidental. After all, Catherine spends most of her time pursuing Nick, the character played by Michael Douglas.
Two other women are also lesbian or bisexual, and the portrayal of one of these was indeed offensive. Roxie was stereotypically cast as a man- hating lesbian who gets her just desserts well before the final reel.
Outside theaters on the movie’s debut weekend, a San Francisco- based group calling itself Catherine Did It! handed out statistics about hate crimes and rape. After that initial bit of leafleting, “We declared victory,” group member Anne Keating said. “People around the country are talking about homophobia in Hollywood.”
Catherine Did It! argues that “Basic Instinct” is merely the latest distorted picture of gay people to emerge from Tinseltown. In the 1962 film “The Children’s Hour,” for example, Shirley MacLaine hangs herself because she’s a lesbian. Two decades later, in “Personal Best,” Mariel Hemingway forsakes her girlfriend to find true happiness with a man.
“There aren’t any movies that portray lesbians and gays as sympathetic characters,” Keating said. To her, a woman named Beth was the most offensive character in “Basic Instinct,” because “She played right into the victim role.”
There’s some question about whether an episode in Beth’s living room is rape or merely rough sex. Director Paul Verhoeven defended the scene, saying Nick just “uses more force than he normally would.”
Unlike the opposition to “Last Temptation,” members of Catherine Did It! aren’t trying to prevent “Basic Instinct” from being shown.
They say they’re simply exercising their First Amendment right to criticize the movie for defaming gay people.
“Our approach was to educate,” Keating said. “People get their information from images in the media.”
Even a movie like “Fried Green Tomatoes,” commendable in other ways, “perpetuates lesbian invisibility” with its strong but curiously asexual women, Keating said. “We don’t want to settle for innuendo.”
The dearth of positive portrayals contributes to self-hatred, Keating said, adding that one out of three gay youths attempts suicide.
What would happen if ordinary gays and lesbians appeared on the silver screen? Keating predicted most moviegoers would be accepting. “The people who are going to object are the ones who object to everything,” she said.
In spite of, or perhaps because of the controversy, “Basic Instinct” was the biggest-grossing movie nationwide the weekend of its release. It slipped to second place a week later.
“Basic Instinct” is showing locally at the Eric Scranton theater. Manager Rich Reviello said there’ve been good crowds and no protesters. Moviegoers see it as suspenseful, and others don’t understand what all the fuss is about, he added.
Remember the fuss over “The Last Temptation of Christ”? The local pressure was such that the movie never made it to theaters here.
I rented “Last Temptation” on a vacation to California a few years ago. By the end of the 21/2-hour epic, I was the only one still watching. Everyone else, bored silly, had long since sneaked off to bed.
Go see “Basic Instinct” if you’re so inclined.
Don’t go if you’re not.
That’s what this country’s all about. Just remember that what was true for “Last Temptation” is true for “Basic Instinct”: it’s Hollywood, folks not reality.