Basic Instinct (1992) this week, thanks to the wonders of Netflix. This film had been on my “Don’t Watch” list for the last 20 years. Due to the gay protests over it when it was being filmed and released, it was a big no-no to support this horrible anti-gay film about an ice pick-wielding bisexual murderess.
I’m glad I finally saw it, because that was a load of horse crap. Or rather, twenty years down the road, it now looks like a load of horse crap. At the time, maybe making an example of the film was the right thing to do.
I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area (to San Jose, an hour south of San Francisco) in August 1990, at age 23. I had come out over the previous year in Eugene, Oregon. I think my first trip to San Francisco proper didn’t occur until November or December of that year, for a Silicon Valley gay techies dim sum brunch.
(I still remember walking up the stairs into the cavernous dim sum restaurant, not knowing what anyone who would be there looked like. I scanned the entire place and figured that the table of white people must be those there for the brunch. And then saw many other people in the next half hour come up the stairs and do the exact same thing. This was back in the days where we knew people online pretty much only by their name and e-mail address; there were no social networking or cruise sites where we could see a photo.)
Soon after that, I was regularly coming up to San Francisco at least once per weekend, to country dance at the Rawhide II. After I joined the San Francisco Saddletramps a year later and eventually moved to San Mateo, halfway up the peninsula, my trips to The City would be three or four per week. San Mateo was a great place to sleep, but a lousy place to have a gay life.
One of the first pieces of gay political activism that I remember was the stuff surrounding Basic Instinct, although as one of the first, it’s also something that I only have hazy memories of. The biggest memories I have of the time are the involvement of the activist group Queer Nation, and that the gay country bar Rawhide II was used as one of the sets in the movie, and gay activists did drive-by paint bombing of the front door because of the “sell out” nature of the owner and the business.
Ray Chalker, the owner of the Rawhide II and the Sentinel gay paper, eventually earned himself a worldwide reputation as a jerk — I was once in Florida at a gay country-western dance event and met a couple guys from London who said “You’re from San Francisco? Do you know the owner of the Rawhide? We hear he’s a complete asshole” — but now I wonder what portion of this might stem from the Basic Instinct stuff? That is, while running both a newspaper and a bar already put you at odds with some people in the community, when you get publicly branded as a sort of a traitor to the community and members of the community conduct repeated vandalism against your business, I can see how that changes your view of the community; you start to mistrust motives and you become a degree less pleasant to work with, and that can certainly spiral in intensity over time. Add in the gay community’s institutionalized memory, where we hold grudges and refuse to take actions for years after the reason to do so has evaporated — like the Coors Boycott [see here] [and here], or dare I say it, avoiding seeing the movie Basic Instinct — and it’s easy to see an unfocused perpetual animosity toward Chalker and the Rawhide II festering in the community for years, continually being reinforced by Chalker himself in the way he reacted to things.
(On the flip side, Chalker’s anger and behavior eventually resulted in the creation of the Sundance Association for Country-Western Dancing, a strong non-profit which “owns” and directs the Bay Area gay country community now long after the Rawhide II ceased to be a gay country bar. And Sundance has been an inspiration and model for Seattle’s Rain Country Dance Association, which formed after we lost the Timberline as a dance location up here. Mmm, there’s a lot of stuff thet we can tag as possibly having some roots in this movie!)
Part of the fun with this movie, as with any one taking place in a familiar-to-you city was in identifying where things occur and what has changed since then, such as:
- Nick’s apartment is in North Beach. Although I don’t know that neighborhood much from driving, that is also where some of Tales of the City takes place (Russian Hill is right next door; the TV mini-series was released the next year), so I recognized some of the street locations used in both. (Alas, I don’t know that area of the city well enough to tell where they turn down a one-way street, or turn on one street and end up clear across town.)
- The construction pit where Roxy’s car crashes? That is what would become Moscone Center. You can tell by some of the other buildings seen on the other side.
- As noted before, the country bar is the Rawhide II. The real one’s 7th-near-Harrison location isn’t what is shown in the movie, nor did it have a neon cactus. It never had room inside for a live band where one is in the movie; the room was only 20–25 feet across, narrow and long.
- The looming freeways threw me for a loop at first, since I couldn’t place the locations as near the 101 in SOMA. But when Nick is walking on the pier with the city behind him, I remembered that there used to be a freeway along the Embarcadero, damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 and torn down in 1991, after the movie was filmed.
- Right as the scene opens, a guy with a bushy moustache and a white cowboy hat is seen dancing as the camera zooms through the ceiling fan. That is Jeff Hines (d. 1998), longtime instructor at the Rawhide and prominent member of the San Francisco Saddletramps dance troupe.
- As Nick pays Gus’s tab, a curly haired woman is at the bar. I think that was Jackie, whom I knew from the 931 Cloggers.
- As Gus and Nick leave the bar, they pass by the pool table. Behind the black woman is a blond man in a black shirt, with a pool cue. That is Tim, another of the San Francisco Saddletramps. (Tim and I joined at the same time, in late 1991.)