Musings About Music In Film

Basic Instinct

basic instinct It’s a real shame that Hollywood doesn’t have Paul Verhoeven around anymore. He had an unique talent of bringing all the entertainment to big screen while also being being able to push his projects slightly beyond what would be normally acceptable. To give them a bit of an edge and be subversive. That being the excessive violence of RoboCop, the Nazi satire of Starship Troopers or, in fact, even over the top cheesiness of Showgirls. Basic Instinct was one of those irreverent films. While the premise is ridiculous and would normally offer us yet another cheap erotic thriller, the execution in all departments is so top notch that it couldn’t help but become a classic. It’s a tough balancing act that only someone like Verhoeven could have possibly pulled off.

One of those highly successful ingredients was the excellent score from one and only Jerry Goldsmith. There is no need to introduce the music. While probably not a classic on the scale of Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Patton, it’s probably one of composer’s most seminal works. The seductive but ominous tone was imitated for cheap thrillers and is a masterclass in scoring of any kind. It rides that fine line between serious and hokey, the seductive and bone-chilling. And it certainly enriched Sharon Stone’s acting performance in ways that shouldn’t ever be underestimated.

Goldsmith would experiment with synthesisers throughout most of his career. And while there are several different projects on which he achieved excellent results, Basic Instinct is among the very best. The composer managed to achieve an amazing balance between the wet acoustics of National Philharmonic Orchestra’s recording with his electric synthesisers performances. They were all recorded in the same room and merge just beautifully with live players. It’s often hard to separate the two, just as Michael Douglas character is having a hard time unraveling the truth behind Catherine’s deceptions.

The main attractions are, of course, all the sex scenes. No surprise there. ‘Crossed Legs’ is all about teasing the listeners, audience and men interrogating Catherine. ‘Pillow Talk’, on the other hand, is where we get to actual... business. It is a beautifully composed piece that manages to both enrich the passion between Douglas and Stone but also create an underline the bubbling tension underneath. The two orgasmic peaks are completely hilarious and yet completely appropriate for this ridiculous, yet highly entertaining, thriller. Yet no all male characters are as lucky as Nick. ‘The First Victim’ uses the same material but ends on a brutal crescendo to punctuate the bloodshed on screen.

For a score that’s mostly based around sultry sexual tension, Basic Instinct contains several surprisingly boisterous and exciting passages. ‘Night Life’ introduces Goldsmith’s busy motif for the scenes involving Nick following Catherine around San Francisco and it seems to be sharing the same kind of kinetic and exciting energy with composer's other urban-themed scores (L.A Confidential and City Hall, for example). It’s a surprisingly macho sounding material for this female-dominated score. A clever touch indeed. Even more brutal is ‘Roxy Loses’, a brilliant action track underscoring the tense confrontation between Roxy, Catherine’s female lover, and Nick on the roads of San Francisco.

The material itself might be a bit repetitive to sustain a complete release. The original 1992 presented all the core material brilliantly on a 44-minute presentation. And, for most people. this disc will suffice. But, as good as that album was, this new expansion brings in some slightly different shades into the mix. Smaller cues like ‘Your Wife Knew’ and What’s Between You?’ push the tone into slightly darker territory, Hitchcockian almost in its tortured and anxious tone.

While the original Varese Sarabande presentation remains one of Goldsmith’s best albums, the latest expanded release from Quartet Records fulfills the needs of the composer’s completists. Basic Instinct did previously receive a generous extended album from Prometheus Records in 2004. It did, however, contain some wrong takes and many people found it lacking. This new set contains a complete score presentation, this time with correct material used, some alternates and the classic 44-minute 1992 programme as a nice bonus. The sound restoration, supervised by legendary engineer Bruce Botnick and producer Neil S. Bulk, does reveal some new and previously unheard detail. Informative notes by Daniel Schweiger are a nice bonus, of course, and explain the film’s production struggles as well as provide an extended analysis of Jerry’s compositions. Finally. one of his ultimate masterpieces receives a definitive edition and is highly recommended to any fan of his music. Catherine Tramell never sounded so seductive and alluring. Proceed at your own risk.

-Karol Krok

Basic Instinct is out now from Quartet Records