Sex on film: why we deserve better than "Fifty Shades of Grey"
The phone scene in 'It's A Wonderful Life' contains more sexual tension than all of the 'Twilight' inspired BDSM combined.
Back in April, I wrote about how the insanely popular book series "Fifty Shades of Grey" pales in comparison
to the indie film "Secretary:" a far superior exploration of BDSM culture than the "Twilight" fan fiction tripe upon which the "Fifty Shades" trilogy is based
Now, the first novel is being made into a feature film; and after much frenzied speculation over who would be cast in the lead roles of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, "Fifty Shades" author E.L. James took to Twitter on Monday to make the big announcement.
that Dakota Johnson ("21 Jump Street," "Ben and Kate") has agreed to play Anastasia, while Charlie Hunnam ("Sons of Anarchy," "Pacific Rim") has been cast in the BDSM Mark Darcy role of Christian. Both are fine actors, and Johnson has a fancy pedigree (her parents are Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith), but will their talent save them when their script inevitably cannot?
I have read the first "Fifty Shades" book, and it was awful. James' writing is thin and pedestrian at best; the story not so different from one you might find on a fan fiction website (not surprising, since that was exactly where this amateur ode to "Twilight" originated) or in the bodice-ripper section of a CVS. Plus, Anastasia and Christian may be the most insufferably vapid bores that I have ever had the displeasure of sitting with for two hours straight. I had to force myself to finish, just so I could say that yes, I had read the book—and it was indeed as mind-suckingly horrendous as I had feared.
The film could be
a vast improvement upon its source material, but that hardly matters. Sex sells; and with a built-in female fanbase, many of them repressed housewives
who had never been introduced to the BDSM lifestyle before "Fifty Shades" took it mainstream, the movie is sure to cash in.
Scenes of dominant/submissive sexual acts can be intensely erotic (ahem, "Secretary"), but I doubt that the romance novel clunkiness of "Fifty Shades" will set the screen on fire. In my opinion, the sexiest movie scenes are not the most explicit, but rather the most withholding. The best erotica lies in what we cannot see, teasing with innuendo and allowing our imaginations to piece together the rest.
For example, the phone scene
in "It's a Wonderful Life," when Jimmy Stewart presses his body against Donna Reed's and takes in the aroma of her hair, contains more sexual tension than any of the mass-marketed kink from "Fifty Shades." Similarly, the moment in "Shame" when Michael Fassbender locks eyes with a beautiful stranger on the subway
is perhaps the only scene in a very sexually explicit film that actually feels erotic, as opposed to just numb or sad.
I'm not expecting much from the film version of "Fifty Shades of Grey," since the book that spawned it is grossly undeserving of bestseller status and essentially a "Twilight" retelling for the mommy porn
set. Will the erotic scenes match the poetic grace and beauty of those in "The Dreamers," "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" or even "Secretary?" I highly doubt it.
Still, just as the story of a Bella-like submissive and her dominant, Edward-esque partner became the fastest-selling paperback
of all time, perhaps the movie will throw audiences off-guard in a whole new way: by achieving the kind of erotic subtlety and true, powerful nuance that the book failed to deliver.
At least, I don't think that it could be any worse.
Leah Pickett is a pop culture writer and co-host of WBEZ's Changing Channels, a podcast about the future of television. Follow Leah on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.