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Gays Bashing 'Basic Instinct' : Movies: Activists take to the streets of San Francisco to battle a film they call offensive. The writer and director are considering script revisions.

April 29, 1991|DAVID J. FOX and DONNA ROSENTHAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN FRANCISCO — Filming the sexual murder thriller "Basic Instinct" in this city is turning into your basic nightmare.

At every turn, Carolco Pictures seems to be running into difficulty with protesters, city officials and vandalism.

Even the film's star Michael Douglas has had his bad moments. As columnist Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle reported, Douglas was dining at the city's famous Washington Square Bar & Grill when he was asked for an autograph by a waiter who took Douglas to be his father Kirk, the star of "Spartacus."

To which an amused Michael Douglas replied: "God, do I really look that old?"

"Basic Instinct" has members of the local gay and lesbian community concerned because of what they feel are offensive portrayals of women--and lesbians in particular. Some of the more vocal activists have attempted to disrupt the shooting, and vow to continue doing so, until the script is revised.

The activism has generated concern among San Francisco's small, but durable, filmmaking community. Some believe the current publicity may discourage Hollywood from using locations here.

Said one filmmaker: "We're mad as hell because once again it doesn't seem that San Francisco is a city very conducive to making films. This liberal fascism has been going on for years."

If so, you couldn't prove that by screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, who makes his home in nearby Marin County and whose earlier film, "Jagged Edge," was set here. Eszterhas, who was paid a record $3 million for his "Basic Instinct" script, and director Paul Verhoeven met last week with representatives of the gay groups.

Eszterhas told them he understood their concerns and would make some revisions. He is to present the revisions today.

Last week's meeting also produced some openly heated words between Eszterhas and Verhoeven, who only recently had announced they had patched up a public feud over Verhoeven's interpretation of the screenplay.

Parties on both sides doubt that Eszterhas can make changes acceptable to the protesters and Verhoeven without destroying the structure of the movie, which has already been in production for three weeks.

"Not unless the script is completely rewritten and the premise changed, will we stop demonstrations," said Jonathan Katz of the Queer Nation group that, along with the radical ACT UP organization, have led the protests.

Katz said demonstrators plan to use "sophisticated strategies" to disrupt shooting this week. "We have the shooting schedule of the film, and we'll really go into action while they're shooting on public streets."

This message hasn't been lost on Carolco. Last Wednesday, the company and producer Alan Marshall won a temporary restraining order against the protesters from a municipal court judge. The filmmakers said they feared disruptions and had evidence of threats. They asked that the demonstrators not be allowed closer than 200 yards from filming. The judge made it 100 feet.

Despite the order, the protesters Wednesday night confronted riot-gear-attired San Francisco police as filming began outside the Moscone Center downtown. They chanted slogans such as "Hollywood, you stink" and yelled and blew whistles. The demonstrations continued each night through the weekend.

Carolco's crews arrived at First and Clementina streets one night to find that the temporary sets that had been constructed were splattered with paint and were unusable. Filming had to be relocated while workers repaired the damage.

On Thursday night, the demonstrators returned to Moscone Center, this time waving American flags and signs advising unsuspecting motorists to honk their horns if they love the local 49ers football team, or if they support U.S. troops. The ploy worked, in as much as drivers sounded their horns, but the noise had little effect on filming of a car chase, since sound in such scenes is usually replaced in the studio.

Few seem happy with this latest battle by the bay. Mayor Art Agnos has issued a statement saying he agrees with the protesters about the negative images of "Basic Instinct." But the mayor added that his city will not be "in the position of censoring a movie script. Nor should we be giving a Jesse Helms-like seal of approval to programs or scripts."

Nor are the police pleased to be cast in the dreary role of standing outside from dark to dawn in chilly weather to protect what normally would be routine movie making.

In a city where there are about 300 demonstrations a year, about 100 police were dispatched on Wednesday night alone, leading to more than a few grumbles about civic priorities.

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