Every decade gets the blond icon it deserves. Depression audiencesfound posh refuge in the ultraglamour of Marlene Dietrich. Therepressed ’50s sought the luscious dizziness of Marilyn Monroe. Thesilly ’70s had the big hair and bland smile of Farrah Fawcett-Majors.The over-the-top ’80s ate up Madonna. And the ’90s have Sharon Stone.
Why? There’s the obvious: As the sexually ambiguous CatherineTramell in 1992’s Basic Instinct (LIVE, R/unrated, $49.98), Stoneexemplified a certain type of ’90s woman, a sexual maverick with agreat body and Amazonian attitude-a woman in complete control. Aphenomenon, though not necessarily a star, was born. Proof of thatdistinction arrives on video with her follow-up film, Sliver (1993,Paramount, R, $95.95). Reputed to have cost as much as $50 million tomake, it was a dismal failure at the box office, grossing a paltry$36 million.More people will certainly see Sliver on video, although they maynot be all that happy about it. This tacky turn-on thriller, with itstheme of creepy voyeurism, gives Stone yet again not a love interestbut a sex interest (William Baldwin) who monitors the private livesof the tenants in his apartment building from a state-of-the-artcontrol room. It’s the perfect Sharon Stone movie-all sex, ploys, andvideotape.What she mostly provides in Sliver, as she did in Basic Instinct,is sex and plenty of it-at a time when having lots of sex is a deeplysubversive act. But to come to a fuller understanding of Stone’spersona, you have to peruse the video shelves, where most of herearly films have been planted by video companies eager to capitalizeon her newfound fame. These strikingly idiosyncratic screenappearances reveal a performer whose unique appeal seems to be herutter lack of appeal-perfectly fitting for this cold era ofdetachment and isolation.Take Scissors (1991, Paramount, R, price unavailable), in whichStone (improbably) spends nearly the entire movie locked inside amodel apartment, terrorized by an unknown tormentor. Histrionic butunaffecting, she goes through the motions; nothing else is happening.(Madonna suffers from a similar condition in her movies, althoughStone is technically far superior to the impoverished Madonna.)Released the same year, Year of the Gun (1991, Columbia TriStar,R, price unavailable) is similarly telling. Stone plays a somewhatabsurdly glamorous photojournalist trying to break a story about theRed Brigades in Italy during the late ’70s. Most scenes Stone haswith other actors seem to be played to the camera instead of theactors, which is quite alienating, whereas her navel-gazing in BasicInstinct is very much in the character’s nature. (In fact, theproducer of Sliver, Robert Evans, noted a pattern: Stone was lesseffective in shots with other actors than she was in her close-ups.)
To a degree, it seems, Stone appeals to the voyeur in us, the partnot interested in either mystery or ambiguity-and certainly not inemotion. There is something entirely of the moment about SharonStone-skin-deep beauty with a harshness of spirit and underlyingself-interest.Even so, she can, admittedly, be very funny, as she is in WhereSleeping Dogs Lie (1992, Columbia TriStar, R, $89.95), playing avoracious literary agent who urges her client, ”Write me somethingthat grabs me between the legs.” But then again, she was in asupporting role, where she can be more relaxed.Perhaps that’s another clue to Stone: When the stakes are high,something inside her tenses up. In some of her earliest movies, likethe silly and dim- witted King Solomon’s Mines (1985, MGM/UA, PG-13,$14.98) and Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold (1987, Media,PG, $9.99), there isn’t that off-putting remove. But when thesubstantial role of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife in the big andexpensive Total Recall (1990, LIVE, R, $14.98) came along, it provedto be pivotal in her career, landing her the lead in Basic Instinct.The playing to the camera and the disregard for the audience set in.Those flaws just might make her, if Sliver is any indication,yesterday’s blond of the day. Basic Instinct: B- Sliver: D Scissors:D Year of the Gun: C+ Where Sleeping Dogs Lie: C+ King Solomon’sMines: D+ Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold: D+ TotalRecall: B