Friday, February 13, 2015

"Fifty Shades of Grey": aka "The Ocelot the Way He Isn't"


There’s a lot of hype about “Fifty Shades of Grey”  (directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, a woman), based on the novel by E. L. James.
  
The basic setup is that a gradually college co-ed Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) does a clumsy interview with young billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), and he, by persistence, manipulates her into becoming his private sex slave.  Actually, as the movie progresses, it becomes a question of who really controls the relationship, which is always a main point of S-M.  He doesn’t sleep with anyone or marry anyone.  He controls his partner.  In return, the partner gets to have him (or experience “upward affiliation” with him).  He even draws up a legal contract between the Dominant and the Submissive.

Does all this deserve the controversy and objection from some women?  Probably not.  Because the movie is really about what can be done with fantasy life, where someone can take it. 
It’s possible to compare this film to a couple others, dealing with abusive or perhaps S-M relationships.  One of these is “The Duke of Burgundy”, reviewed here Feb. 10.  That was in turn compared to “Bugcrush”.  That is, when a “yielding” person is courted by a “power” person and wants it, where will the storyteller take it, since so much of a fantasy element, which tends to dead-end, is in play? 
  
Christian’s company is housed in a spectacular tower in downtown Seattle.  The movie says that Anastasia lives in Portland, OR, and goes to school in Vancouver, WA.  The film credits say much of the harbor scenery is in Vancouver, BC, and some indoor work was shot in London.  There is also a side trip cross-country to Savannah, GA, which looks real. (Remember “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” from 1997? -- "New York is boring")  That is followed by a glider trip in Georgia mountains, which would be 200 miles away.  There is also a scene that looks like it was shot in Olympia National Park (I have been there once, in 1996).  In fact, I saw John Grisham’s “A Time to Kill” in Port Angeles, WA on that trip. 
  
Christian does have about fifty business suits all in “grey”, which kind of gives him a “cloudy day” look.  (Somehow I think of the antonym, actor Richard Harmon who calls himself “just a big ball of sunshine”).  He does not like to be touched.  He says he is 27 but looks more like 34, as imdb says the Irish actor is.  The repeated disrobings in the film tend to dilute erotic suspense;  the bodies are not the most remarkable in the world, in my taste. The dialogue, though taking itself seriously, often comes across as genuinely funny. Twice in the film Grey says he is not "gay", with some funny effect. (The first time, Amanda indeed is in mandatory "do ask do tell" mode as a reporter.) 


The film (official site here)  is officially distributed by Focus, to brand it for the “indie market”, but produced in part by Universal, which puts its Wagnerian logo on the film.  That’s unusual.
  
Fox has another YouTube video where it reads comments by Robert Jeffress to the effect that this movie in combination with gay marriage will bring about the Apocalypse, here
  
One could make a distant comparison to “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” (1956), which I saw around 2000 on cable, with Gregory Peck, directed by Nunnally Johnson. Not the spelling of the garment tint adjective.
    
Besides these other comparisons, there is a basic similarity to the short story “The Ocelot the Way He Is”, which is the last chapter of my “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book.  Again, a power-submissive relationship, encouraged by the aggressor, in my case in a gay context, but subtle and in a “road movie” setting.  And the “submissive” character winds up doing what he should do after he gets what he wants.  In the meantime, the world around them is being taken apart by external forces. My story involves where fantasy takes you when you are confronted with external realities.  
    
I saw the film at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax, VA before a fair audience Friday afternoon.  The title might also appear as "50 Shades of Grey" (or "Gray"), but correct is to spell the number out. 

Wikipedia attribution link for downtown Seattle picture in public domain, by “Rattlhed”. I have been in the city in 1966, 1976, 1978, 1990 and 1996.

Update: March 8

Vox Media has a story by Kelsey McKinney about the "Bechtel Test" for motion pictures, regarding the engagement and importance of female characters (when not played by Bette Davis), here.  I'll have to consider this test for my own writing.

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