This Is the Script That Joe Wrote, Again and Again and Again

By Jackson, Kevin | The Independent (London, England), January 9, 1996 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

This Is the Script That Joe Wrote, Again and Again and Again

Jackson, Kevin, The Independent (London, England)

Showgirls, which arrives in Britain this Friday, may not be the most ridiculous film ever made, but one can only assume its makers were trying their damnedest to achieve that distinction. These men, after all, are scarcely amateurs. Paul Verhoeven, the director, made a heady string of erotico-political dramas in his native Holland before blasting his way on to American screens in the late 1980s with the raucously entertaining RoboCop, Total Recall and so on. And Joe Eszterhas is notorious for being, with Shane (Lethal Weapon) Black, the most highly paid screenwriter in the world: he was given a record-breaking $3m (pounds 2m) for his previous collaboration with Verhoeven, Basic Instinct.

Before it opened in the States to a flood of indifference, Showgirls was touted as the most shocking, sexually explicit film ever made by a major studio. (In fact, there is more potent eroticism in a single Bogart- Bacall exchange from The Big Sleep than in Showgirls' acres of perky nipples.) Thereafter, it became clear that, as was widely observed about Basic Instinct, the only shocking thing about the film was that Eszterhas can obtain such gorgeous sums of money for writing what amount to minor variations on the same script. If you wanted to be respectful of Eszterhas, you could say that his recurrent theme is betrayal: a compromised protagonist (in Showgirls, a young dancing girl) discovers that something or someone (in Showgirls, various Las Vegas sleaze balls) in which they have placed their trust is not as it seems. If you want to be less respectful, you summarise.

Hence Jagged Edge, in which a lawyer (Glenn Close) becomes too closely involved with a man (Jeff Bridges) who may or may not have murdered his wife; Basic Instinct, in which a cop (Michael Douglas) becomes too closely involved with a bisexual novelist (Sharon Stone) who may or may not be an ice-pick murderer; Betrayed, in which an FBI agent (Debra Winger) becomes too closely involved with a farmer (Tom Berenger) who may or may not be a right-wing terrorist; Music Box, in which a lawyer (Jessica Lange) is already dangerously involved with her father (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who may or may not be a Nazi war criminal; Jade, in which. . . well, you get the picture. The cardinal rule: TANATS (Things Are Not As They Seem). Surely it's harder, though, to write an Eszterhas story than such brusque summary implies? Perhaps so; but for anyone who is interested in following the Eszterhas path to screenwriting millions, here is a breakdown of his formula's key elements, which I have tried to illustrate with my own plot.


Before getting cracking on the story outline proper, it would be a good idea to have an appropriately lurid title. Sometimes Eszterhas goes for the obscure/ poetic angle (Music Box, Jade), sometimes for the prosaic, if enticing (Betrayed, Showgirls). But he has never come up with anything quite so good as the slobbering phrase Basic Instinct, which leered at you insolently from the poster like Sharon Stone's feral eyes. No matter that it didn't have much literal connection with the plot (what was the instinct in question? To kill during acts of bondage? To adopt the identity of one's classmate? To wear V-necked sweaters to a discotheque?): it was a means of titillating the audience's lowest impulses. The ideal Eszterhasian title would combine sex and death with some kind of multiple meaning; but we won't reveal it until after our first sequence, which is as follows.


Such as Bloody Murder, Preferably with an Eccentric Implement, during Sex. (In Basic Instinct it was an ice-pick, in Jade an antique hatchet.) So: our film begins in a bedroom, with a naked man - he will prove to be a diplomat from an Islamic state on the brink of attaining nuclear status thrashing his way towards climax. The face of his partner is hidden behind long hair. As his excitement mounts, a whirring noise begins.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

This Is the Script That Joe Wrote, Again and Again and Again


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?