Sliver may seem like a weird movie to look back on, but back then they would try adult fare counterprogramming in the summer. Single White Female was a summer movie the year before. Sliver interests me because it was Sharon Stone’s follow up to Basic Instinct. She could write her own ticket if a woman ever could in this business (she couldn’t), and for better or worse Sliver is what came next. At least she got paid $2.5 million. Arnold was already making $15 a movie plus jets. Granted, it took him a decade of hits to get there, but then Bruce Willis got $5 for Die Hard. Moonlighting was big but I don’t think it was as big as Basic Instinct.
Carly (Stone) moves into a new apartment whose previous tenant was pushed off the ledge in the opening scene. Building owner Zeke (William Baldwin) has security cameras in all the apartments so watches the women in their intimate moments, but also may have evidence of the murder (which had been made to look like a suicide).
Sliver was another sex movie with thriller elements. It seems engineered to capitalize on the success of Basic Instinct, but it’s actually based on an Ira Levin book. Look, Basic Instinct didn’t invent the erotic thriller. It just made them big again.
The big deal scene was a masturbation scene in the bathtub. It’s pretty much the polar opposite of the Basic Instinct interrogation scene. I even remember some behind the scenes interviews at the time where Stone insisted it be reshot because the first version was too much of a male fantasy that isn’t how women behave. We’ll never know if the original version was hotter, but I call bullshit on this version being accurate.
I actually found it much more sensual just to see Stone practicing putting in her apartment wearing only an unbuttoned shirt, panties, and socks. Of course, this was contrived too. She had the buttons undone just right for the cameras, but at least it’s contrived to be provocative.
There’s a whole scene where Carly and Zeke work out at the gym together. I guess to show what great shape both Stone and Baldwin were in. It turns the movie into Perfect, but perhaps it inspired the LMFAO song “Sexy And I Know It.” “Girl, look at that body.” “I work out!”
Carly cries during sex with Zeke. This was not Catherine Trammel in control and dominating men. I suppose it’s admirable that Stone wanted to avoid playing the same character again, but it’s where the eroticism in Sliver becomes downright laughable.
A dinner game where Zeke dares Carly to flash him becomes ridiculous, like trying way too hard and relying on extras’ reactions. By the time Zeke does Carly from behind it looks like two people who’ve never seen sex before, let alone had it. Zeke’s move is telling women they smell so good during sex. Is this what they want to hear? Maybe I’ve been doing this all wrong.
Films have dealt with voyeurism from the classic Rear Window to the highbrow Peeping Tom to the heartwarming The Truman Show. Sliver is the very lowbrow end of analyzing voyeurism.
Look, it’s the very nature of cinema, although most of cinema is fictional so it’s not really the same as spying on real people. Someone gives Carly an anonymous telescope and at a party her guests spy on a couple doing it. Carly is tempted to watch but she hates mirrors. Get it? Voyeurs will watch others, but she hates to see herself!
Maybe if it spent less time on gratuitous sex scenes that only draw attention to how unerotic they are, Sliver might’ve had something to say about voyeurism. As it stands, the theme gets short shrift so that the audience and voyeurize some soft core sex.
I think there is an interesting subplot about the application of these cameras that would make a better movie. Zeke threatens a father who’s molesting his stepdaughter and scares him straight. That’s good, but how many times do the ends justify the means? And if Carly takes down his surveillance, how many criminals get away with it in the name of privacy? That’s a story worth telling but Sliver isn’t interested in that.
It’s interesting how a film so contrived and orchestrated to check boxes got it so wrong.
This was not what the audience wanted, even the audience that wanted to be titillated.
Stone would trade on the sexy thriller thing a few more times: Diabolique, Intersection, The Specialist and of course Basic Instinct 2 which is the only movie ever made because it was literally cheaper to make a movie than settle a lawsuit.
My hat’s off to Stone for remaining a box office draw for a good decade. Hollywood is still unforgiving to women and it was even worse decades ago. She had a calling card which oddly never quite paid off again. Here more interesting departures like the badass The Quick and the Dead and the Oscar-nominated Casino were far more interesting.
And she’s not gone. Sliver probably did more damage to Baldwin’s leading man career. This and Fair Game, although Fair Game is magnificent ‘90s action excess. But television found him. Tom Berenger seemed to escape okay. He still got a few more leading roles (I love The Substitute) before turning character actor. Maybe because he didn’t have to have any sex in Sliver.
Screenwriter Joe Esterhas had further to fall before seemingly leaving the business. The debacles of Showgirls and Jade eclipsed Sliver, but hey, Showgirls earned a sort of redemption. Director Phillip Noyce went on to great success but stayed away from any more sex movies.
Listen, I still miss the’ 90s erotic thrillers. Even the bad ones were interesting for the way they’d try to twist the formula and provide a thrill to an audience that’s seen it all before. When someone can write an original script that’s more provocative than 50 Shades of Grey and actually mature, I predict they’ll have a hit.