Fifty Shades Of MEH… Reconciling Taboo In The Mainstream

22 Feb

It’s really not such a big deal.

I was there. I sat there on opening night and was about as underwhelmed as everyone else. It’s not so much that I was expecting money shots. I’m not that stupid. This is a glossy Hollywood product, after all. But, come on guys, at least give me SOMETHING.

And that’s just it… BDSM is not even my cup of tea. But I get it. I get that some people are into that and they find it exciting, titilating, arousing… They get off on the fantasy aspect and the role playing. Depeche Mode has that song “Master and Servant.” It’s okay. And I understand there’s value to it. But I watched the movie and came out of there decidedly unimpressed.

Were you there? Describe it. I’ll bet there was this air of anticipation when the lights went down. Then, as the film progressed and nothing was happening for the better part of an hour, you began shifting in your seat. Then, finally there was, like, a PG13 kiss in an elevator…

And then, eventually, you get the sex.

Now… Maybe in your theater there were some nervous giggles, sure. People can’t help it. It’s a public place and you’re all experiencing the communal voyeurism of watching two people do supposedly naughty things.

But, come on people, you’ve seen worse! And you’ve definitely seen better.

Better.

I haven’t read the book. I skimmed parts of it at a Barnes & Noble once. Because they’re nice people over there and they let you do that. You can go to the Starbucks they have up there, and you can grab a coffee and read a book and you don’t even have to buy it. It’s great.

So I did that. I leafed around trying to see what all the fuss was about. I don’t remember much apart from clumsy Harlequin romance type stuff, peppered with slightly explicit but romanticized descriptions of a sexual encounter… Stuff like: “And then he grunted, I felt him shudder and stiffen; and he collapsed on top of me, and he was done…” Really sexy stuff like that. I’m sure a lot of women just love it when he just does his thing and collapses on top of them because he’s done. It must be great. I don’t know. I’m not a woman. I’m usually just the dude that’s very grateful she let me go and do a thing like that…

So, if that’s your thing, terrific. And so you have a best selling novel on your hands and I think that’s just grand.

But, basically, I only have the movie to go by with regards to this thing’s content. And, based on that, this feels to me like a slight variation on the much better film 9 & 1/2 Weeks. 

I’m sure you’ll recall there was quite a hoopla over that when it came out like thirty years ago or however long ago it was. It was also the Sexy Fun Good Time Yeah movie of its day. And, you look at that and you go: yeah, that’s kinda sexy. He’s feeding her hot peppers or whatever, while she’s blindfolded. They fuck in the rain… Standing up. An impossible position, I might add (what, does he have an L-shaped dick?) and she wraps her legs around him and it’s raining and Joe Cocker is grunting on the soundtrack. It’s great.

Where are the peppers?

There isn’t anything like that in Fifty Shades of Grey.

And, again, it’s not that I was expecting money shots. I’m a reasonable man. But, after all, this is supposed to be a big deal…something to get you talking, right? So… I figured there would be, at the very least, something.

I knew it would have to be soft core. That’s fine. I knew that. And the movie was going out with an R slapped on it. And, even though the MPAA is very nice to the good people of the world who bring in the big bucks, while slapping an X on the indie for daring to say the word “fuck,” I knew it couldn’t be too much. But soft core is okay for a studio film. It’s what you should be expecting in a thing like this.

And I was realistic about that expectation. I wasn’t even hopeful for, say, the stylishness of a Zalman King. No… But I figured we’d maybe get some Andrew Stevens Productions going on.

No.

There isn’t even that.

What there is… Well…

There’s a lot of Dakota Johnson biting her lip and stuff.

And so on…

You see her breasts. They’re nice. You see them a bunch of times and from different angles. She’s also very thin. She should eat a sandwich, but it’s okay. She still kind of looks like a real person. A real person that’s probably GF and VG or whatever the code word abbreviations are at restaurants… She tells them to hold the ricotta on her brunch crepe because lactose and that’s almond milk on her quinoa granola or whatever that shit is…

But anyway, she looks good. These are handsome people these two kids.

I don’t really have a problem with the aesthetics. Because, again, I’m expecting a glossy Hollywood production that looks like a perfume commercial. It’s fine. And I accept that even the fucking guy at the Home Depot where she works also looks like a god damn male model; because I know the principal demographic for this fucking thing are the same middle aged housewives that get wet while reading “10 Quickie Dinners That Will Really Get Him Hot” on US Weekly. So why shouldn’t this look like an episode of Days of Our Fucking Lives?

And then it follows… At least show something for Christ! Remember Basic Instinct? I do. They made a big fuss because she uncrossed her legs and you saw some bush.

WHERE’S THE BUSH?!

Bush

I realize I may be coming off as a little boorish. I apologize. It’s just that I’m annoyed. Because this is what happens when a subculture is co-opted by the mainstream. And so, people who aren’t particularly into BDSM, for instance, can act like they’re being edgy because they read some dumb book before going to bed last night.

That’s why this mainstream product can get away with its extremely safe depiction of a sadism/masochism relationship. Safe because it only depicts the surface details on an extremely superficial level. Safe because it holds back… You came to see some action? Good. I hope those three slow motion shots of him swinging that limp whip that looks like it’s made out of black satin is enough to whet your appetite. Because, apart from that, all you get is a lot of talk. People endlessly talking about the things they want to do and never actually doing any of those things.

Safe because it doesn’t seriously explore any of its themes. It doesn’t need to…the idea is supposed to be compelling enough even though, with no real context, it’s meaningless. So, all you get is smoke and mirrors. “Let me show you my playroom.” Come on, man. Get a grip. And then, when it pretends to examine the how and why, its approach is pop psychology. “Oh, I do these things because really I just wanted a mommy to love me and, sorry, but I guess I’m just fucked in the head because, obviously, to be into this stuff you have to be fucked in the head. Right? RIGHT?!”

As I said, I’m not into BDSM myself. But even I found that nonsense offensive.

Designer fetishism.

It’s childish. It’s a brushing away of potentially compelling subject matter so the mainstream can digest it more easily, go: “eew” and return to their boring, pointless lives.

The film’s best scene… Its only legitimately good scene, in fact, is a negotiation scene. In which Christian Grey and Anastassia Steele discuss the “contract” and what things she is and isn’t willing to try. A humorous point is made about her not knowing what a butt plug is. That’s funny. I laughed. Now, just imagine how much more interesting…and even potentially fun…the movie would be if it actually went all the way and did some of these things they’re talking about? Imagine how much more “ooh” and “aah” you might squeeze out of an audience if we actually saw that butt plug and she were forced to use it.

But that’s just it… You do that and the movie doesn’t make 300 million dollars.

Because people only say they want to be dangerous. They don’t actually go all the way. Not in the mainstream. In the mainstream, the bland “idea” of danger is ultimately more thrilling than the danger itself. And so you get neutered, conventional garbage that can only be provocative to the lowest common denominator.

What’s the point then?

So, I already told you about a movie from decades ago that is a lot like this and a lot better than this. And you can also check out the more recent Secretary, which also explores similar themes without passing judgment or reveling in its own embarrassment.

Those are good movies.

And now I’ll tell you about another good movie…

It’s called Sirwiñakuy.

I’ll preface this by saying it’s a movie I myself worked on…as an actor.

Don’t worry. I’m not the “Christian Grey” character. You can sleep easy in the knowledge that my privates and my lovemaking style can continue to exist in your imagination… Where they belong.

It’s just me being honest. Yes. I did work on the movie. But that’s not why I’m bringing it up.

Sirwiñakuy – Amy Hesketh’s debut film – tells of a compelling romance, charged with tension, that is not unlike the one depicted in Fifty Shades of Grey.

It was, in fact, a source of great controversy when released in Bolivia – the country where it was made – in 2010. Its title is an Aymara word that refers to “living together,” it’s a practice in the indigenous community … Where a man will choose his potential bride and they will go off, for a year, to live together. At the end of this period, if things are harmonious, the two are married. If not, she returns to her village – in shame.

Let’s not go into that last part here. That’s not my point, I’m just giving context…

But anyway, the movie is about a young French woman named Anouk (played by Veronique Paintoux) traveling in Bolivia… She meets an enigmatic stranger at a cafe, named Luis Montez (Jac Avila). He takes her home with him and their relationship begins.

As simple as that.

The film cuts to the chase as far as its subject matter is concerned. And it isn’t long before we are made privy to the nature of this relationship.

Much like Christian Grey, Mr. Montez also has his “rules.” He wants her to dress a certain way, he doesn’t like the way she eats…talking with her mouth full, for example… And any infraction will be met with an appropriate punishment.

But Amy Hesketh doesn’t simply tease these ideas. Nor does she shy away from the reality of what her movie is depicting. That’s the thing.

So the movie, almost by design, will make people uncomfortable. If you’re not keyed into this subculture, you will most likely be put off by, and very certainly misinterpret, what you’re seeing.

And that’s the point. Because if this is my thing, there’s a grand selection available for free on the internet that I can jack off to if I want. But, if you put my fetish up there on a movie screen for the masses to enjoy, it should make them feel uneasy. What’s the point otherwise?

And, hopefully, it will actually get you talking. With any luck, it will mean something.

That’s what provocative content is supposed to do: provoke.

There is never an easy explanation given for why Montez does the things he does, or why Anouk is attracted to that. Because that’s not what matters. Does it matter to you why Quentin Tarantino has an obsession with Uma Thurman’s feet? Who knows why we like the things we like? Who cares?

The point of a provocative movie should be self-examination. What part of this do you identify with and why? What does it mean to you? And, if it repels you, why is that?

I know it’s a lot to ask of a mass market paperback of a movie like Fifty Shades of Grey to do that… But they don’t have to be that hollow either, do they?

So, here I am telling you about a movie you’ve never heard of that should be on your lips if this is even remotely interesting to you. Why settle for the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, when you can have a Ritter Sport with almonds?

And I know some will scoff and say there’s a perfectly good reason why this artsy movie I’m talking about stays on the fringes. And of course that’s obvious… I mean, it’s an odd, quirky movie not tailored for mass consumption. Much like the fetish it depicts. But maybe that’s because fetishes are not meant to be so publicly consumed…

Which is not to say that this type of entertainment – both vicariously and actually – is only enjoyed by a handful of people. A lot of people are into this sort of thing, whether they want to admit it to themselves or not. The book wouldn’t have been a runaway best seller otherwise…the movie not such a moneymaker. But it’s there for mass consumption just so long as it’s safe… Right?

I guess what I’m saying is maybe it’s better not to be so safe. Because if this is seriously what you’re into, you don’t need me to tell you it’s a shit book and a bland movie. You already know that.

And the rest of us? We’re curious. That’s why we go to these things. Out of curiosity…

So allow me to present a healthy alternative to mass market crap. A boutique selection, if you will… About a wealthy man who seduces a young woman and brings her into his home, where he exposes her to his dark perversions…and she likes it. Why? How? That’s just it… It’s not about her. It’s about you. What do you think about all this?

And still the resistance.

Because they don’t look like James Dornan and Dakota Johnson maybe?

No. They don’t look like movie stars. They look like real people. And, to me, that’s a lot more interesting. I can relate better to two real people fucking, than to a pair of mannequins moving up and down. There is more immediacy there…

Take a chance.

Sirwiñakuy is available from VermeerWorks

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