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  • Stefan Riedlinger

Basic Instinct - Jerry Goldsmith - Soundtrack Review

The idea to discuss this week Jerry Goldsmith’s “Basic Instinct” was a result of the hype about “Shades of Grey” these days. A female (!) friend of mine here in San Francisco asked me to join her watching the movie. Funny experience, I think I was one of the few men in the theatre and perhaps even the oldest, and the best was really the two girls sitting two rows behind us who were giggling during any bondage scene… result of own experience? Anyway, that is not the topic here.

The movie

I personally think that “Basic Instinct” is a far better movie. This was the second collaboration between Jerry Goldsmith and Paul Verhoeven, and Jerry created one of his best scores of the 90s with this music. The script was written by Joe Eszterhas, a terrific writer, and if you ever have the time read his autobiography “Hollywood Animal”, a great read about the daily business in Hollywood. I suppose the book gave too much inside information, therefore, Eszerhas was not hired as a screenwriter again.

Here is the trailer:

Interesting is also the big discussion about the character development in the screenplay. Especially the lesbian and gay community in San Francisco protested against the script and made some crazy noise during the shooting. Eszterhas was willing to make changes in the script, Verhoeven did not want that, and he explained in the interview that he was fighting for the authenticity of the script against the author, a crazy situation.

I am a big fan of Verhoeven, and it is sad that he is not working as a director for any big Hollywood movie right now. All his movies are in a good way crazy, he has a sense of naughtiness and especially of the weird aspects of the human personality. So, each of his movies is also like a mirror into your dark side. About the famous scene with the shoot between Stone's legs, I found an interview with Verhoeven:

The music

For Goldsmith, “Basic Instinct” was the first erotic-thriller he has to compose the music for. There is a deluxe edition of the music with 26 tracks, and I will just discuss a few tracks here. Let me start with the “Main Title” which introduces the haunting main theme. It was funny to watch the reaction of the audience during this scene in Germany. I knew what was happening, but most of the audience did not, so the people were shocked, and the music reflects this shocking scene in a great way. Here is the haunting main theme:

“Pillow talk” is the music for the first sex scene between Douglas and Stone. The music underscores the scene in a perfect way; again, you can hear how a composer is able to transform an orgasm into music. Goldsmith has really built up the tension here and then you can hear the release of all the … tension…, of course.

“Night Life” is played when Douglas is following Stone on her way during the city. It is a cat and mouse play, and the music reflects this in a great way. Listen especially how Goldsmith uses the percussion while the strings are pushing the music forward. I really like how Goldsmith let the brass section entering the stage. The scene is furthermore beautiful shot, and you see great part of San Francisco and the Bay Area. Here is the famous car chase:

The best action track is “Roxy Loses”, what a wonderful piece of music! Nearly four minutes long, this music is a perfect example how to write an action piece and how to build up suspense. Goldsmith let first the strings start to create a haunting atmosphere, and when Roxy suddenly attacks Douglas with her car, the music erupts. Goldsmith is building up a fabulous action piece, not as sophisticated as in his scores of the 70s such as “Wind and the Lion”, but “Basic Instinct” is not a movie for a sophisticated underscoring, so I think he did a great job. The xylophone is greatly used in this piece, and during the last seconds of the track, listen how he uses the percussion. A wonderful piece of music!

The last track “Unending Story” is also one of the best, nearly 10 minutes long. I love how Goldsmith is using the trumpets at the beginning to give the audience a feeling about Douglas’ emotional situation. Again, the piano is used to build up a haunting atmosphere, again Goldsmith is then underscoring a sex scene, and then perfectly let the main theme coming in with the credits. A great piece of music, with a dramaturgical structure you have to admire, and wonderfully orchestrated.

If you compare this movie with “Shades of Grey”, you really can see how good “Basic Instinct” is. Stone and Douglas are great actors, Verhoeven is director who each time pushed his actors nearly over the limit, and Goldsmith is the best film music composer ever. Also “Basic Instinct” shows a kind of a submissive dominant relationship. Stone is the active part, not only in bed, and she is really dominating Douglas emotionally and “fucks his brain” as Nick’s friend in the movie said.

I am sure a movie such as “Basic Instinct” cannot be produced anymore. These times are too obsessed with political correctness, and “Basic Instinct” is really not politically correct at all. “Shades of Grey” is the sex-movie for nowadays, and Christian Grey is symptomatic for the male characters in most of the movies. He gets emotionally hurt by a “Mrs Robinson” and therefore, he is not able to have a normal sexual relationship. Holy crap! So, this guy is not even a dominant or a sadist, he is acting like a hurt animal that is fighting for life…He pretends to be a strong character but he is emotionally weak, and the woman even though a virgin and shy is the strong part. The difference between Douglas and Stone is that both characters are much more interesting than the characters in “50 Shades”.

“50 Shades of Grey” is still enjoyable, and what I really like is that this movie is in the end not a typical sub dominant movie: in “50 Shades”, the man is weak, the woman is strong, and he needs her help to escape out of his erotic nightmares. He needs her help to be able to accept sexuality as it should be, passionate, romantic and fulfilling for both sides, and concerning to this idea, “50 Shades” is a feminist movie and perhaps that kind of erotic movie we need these days. And because of this plot, it is not surprising that a lot of women love to read these books: a rich man, hurt in the past, looks for a woman who can heal him… That might be a dream of a lot of woman these days! But I still prefer to see “Basic Instinct” because it is weird in a very good way.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2015, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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