Scope for improvement.
I have written elsewhere of my mixed feelings about the book Fifty Shades of Grey . It’s poorly written, with bad grammar, naively clumsy prose and cringe-worthy introspection. And don’t get me started on the amateurish BDSM behaviour! Adapting the novel to film provides an opportunity to eradicate all of the literary problems; since the text of the story is replaced by dialogue and visual contexts these issues are no longer relevant. So there is some hope.
It is less certain that the gender politics or the dangerous BDSM practices will so easily be improved. If we accept our role as voyeurs in the cinema then the more calculated and obvious plots of films like this provide the cinematic equivalent of foreplay. It will be clear to the viewer, if not to the pretty subject, that she is going to end up in a bedroom – or even a dungeon.
The cinema is full of stories where the unwitting female lead walks blindly into an overwhelming entanglement for which she was not prepared. In so many films this is underlined by having her arrive at some huge, remote mansion where unknown horrors await. With Saló it was a remote Italian Villa. In Fifty Shades we can be sure that Mr Grey’s home will hold it’s visitor in awe. In the 1974 film Emmanuel the wife of an English diplomat finds herself at his luxurious Bangkok mansion embarking on an erotic bisexual rite of passage. Just a year later the same director brought us the Story of O with a sado-masochistic cult in a French chateau. This idea resurfaced in the 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut . The director, Stanley Kubrick, was no stranger to sexual transgressions in his films, and now had Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman titillating us among masked orgies in an extremely grand mansion setting. How much more mainstream can you get?
So far I have mentioned a collection of films that I have grown up with, but which were also widely known and watched in their day. I want to add two more to the catalogue and for different reasons these seem to have passed under the radar of most film goers. First is Bertolucci’s 2003 film The Dreamers, which was based on Gilbert Adairs book The Holy Innocents. There is nothing holy about this film, in which a young American art student in Paris finds himself drawn into a complex and destructive menagé with an incestuous brother and sister.
My second choice here is the extraordinary 1975 french film The Beast (La Béte). This shocking erotic fantasy was for many years refused a certificate in the UK until it was granted an 18 rating – just, in 2001. This time the pretty subject/victim is a naive young English heiress coming to a dilapidated French Chateau with a terrifying sexual curse on it.
If you want true, mainstream, cinematic erotica then it is these films which will satisfy your fetishist needs much more than any pale shades of grey will. Never since then have the sexual boundaries been explored and transgressed so confidently.
Well if you are still with me then tomorrow, with 3 days to go, I’ll consider the gender politics of That Film. We might also consider the position of a star actor who feels ‘dirty’ around the subject matter of his latest film.