Thursday, March 19, 2015

An Addendum to Psihopați, Fifty Shades și anxietăți feministe (3)

Do you trust me?

The hottest moments in Fifty Shades of Grey are merely tangential to the sex. The moment before he ties her hands for the first time, when he asks her "Do you trust me?" and she nods affirmatively. Her leaving after the negotiation. In the Red Room, when he hits her for the first time and asks "How did it feel?" and: eyes downcast, a naughty smile on her lips, she answers "Good, Sir."


Dakota Johnson's performance outshines Jamie Dornan's, there's no doubt about that. And after having seen him in The Fall, his performance here is rather disappointing but I wouldn't go as far as to say it's a disaster, like most reviewers seem to suggest. In fact, I think he brings to surface smth essential, that I don't know how many people have noticed. At the end of the third book, there's some bonus material: scenes from Christian Grey's perspective - from his childhood, but also the first two times he meets Ana. It's where we finally see his insecurities (Is she gonna be into what he has in mind? What's the best way to approach her, let her know he's interested? Is she interested in him?). I don't know how much this might have informed Dornan's performance, or how much of the credit is due to Sam Taylor-Johnson's notes, but I do think he's played Grey's vulnerability really well. Moreover, when he's about to take her to see the playroom for the first time, his hand is shaking. And I'm sure that's just Dornan's body reacting to sleep deprivation, or whatever, but it's one of those details that makes all the difference. After coming across like such a cold lover ("I don't make love. I fuck. Hard.") the light shaking of his hand allows me, as a viewer, to think he's still nervous about revealing his secret.

Dornan is tall, he's 32, and yet there are moments in this movie when he almost looks like an insecure teenager falling in love for the first time. It's as if the suits he's wearing are the suits the teenagers from 80s movies are wearing - a symbol of adulthood and nothing more. Fifty Shades of Grey is, in spirit, a teen movie. In the same way Sofia Coppola's movies, even those with adult characters, are inherently adolescent. Naturally, Fifty Shades of Grey doesn't reach the level of sophistication of Coppola's movies (mostly b/c of the source material). But the thread that connects this movie - that so many are quick to dismiss as junk - to Coppola's work (besides Jamie Dornan) is the lack of cynicism and condescension. It was only when I read Sylvia Day's Bared to You, which did contain a considerable dose of cynicism, that I realized why I responded more positively than negatively to 50 Shades. How rare it is to find smth devoid of cynicism these days! Even the irony in the movie - directed at the source material - is so light that on screen it's translated into sweet playfulness.

It's certainly been interesting to see how people have reacted to the movie. To see who's willing to do what I call "an exercise in intellectual humility," and who's forgotten to leave their 21st-century cynicism at home. Who's gotten stuck at a first level of feminist interpretation, and who's willing to acknowledge the ambivalence and the gray areas that come with diverse expressions of female sexuality.

The best text that I have read is by far Richard Brody's The Accurate Erotics of "Fifty Shades of Grey." Thoughtful and nuanced. Critics that take their work seriously will write like this no matter how much they like or dislike a certain movie. I was particularly impressed and moved by the reference to Godard. How generous. And how appropriate - since Godard's Nouvelle Vague films are so much about blurring the line between high culture and pop culture.

I suspect this review is also an attempt on Brody's part to acknowledge the good work of female directors. And Sam Taylor-Johnson did do a good job with this one considering - again - the source material. I don't think this has been a bad career move, as other reviewers have said. I do hope she gets the chance to direct movies based on better material, though. I see her directing movies like Point Break, or Women in Love. Movies about strong male bonds. Men who love each other but who are ultimately incapable of expressing their love.

On feminist blogs, the best text I've read is this one from Bitch.

As for jokes on 50 Shades, most of them are so tired. Seriously. If you're gonna make a joke about a mass phenomenon, at least make an effort. I mentioned the Vaginal Fantasy book club in the first part of this addendum. As Kiala said in the latest episode, she talked about 50 Shades when she was a guest on this podcast. I laughed so much listening to this. Once you think of Christian Grey as a hoarder, it's impossible to go back. I mean, can you imagine him on an episode of Hoarders? That would be hilarious.

As a rule, when writing a review, it's maybe a good idea not to insult the audience of that movie in like every single paragraph. I'm refraining from linking to a review that does exactly that because then I would have to quote one of my favorite writers, and I guess part of me thinks it would be insulting to quote her in such a context. Also, when reviewing a BDSM-themed movie, do not use the word "perversity," even if you don't mean it in a negative way. Just don't.


As it happens with obsessions, one becomes more attuned to things one wouldn't normally pay attention to.

Like this Anne Sexton quote that I stumbled upon:
About three weeks ago, he said to me, "Were you beaten as a child? I told that I had been, when I was about nine. I had torn up a five-dollar bill that my father gave to my sister; my father took me into his bedroom, laid me down on his bed, pulled off my pants and beat me with a riding crop. As I related this to my doctor, he said, "See, that was quite a royal strapping," thus revealing to me, by way of my own image, the intensity of that moment, the sexuality of that beating, the little masochistic seizure - it's so classic it's almost corny.
(So far, I've thought of spanking as infantilizing, but what if it's the other way around? What if spanking is essentially sexual, and parents - clueless as they usually are, and in denial about kids' sexuality (Guy Maddin's movies would be relevant here) - don't even realize they're doing smth seriously fucked-up?)

Or like when I clicked on this link - I didn't pay attention to the main article, because my attention was drawn by what was in the sidebar: Nick Broomfield's Fetishes, about a BDSM dungeon in New York. (I haven't had the chance to see it in full as it's already disappeared from youtube. Digital ghosts and all that.)


The only genuine alternative to 50 Shades is actual BDSM erotica. Like Maria Beatty's films. I discovered her a few years ago, reading the Wiki page for John Zorn (whose music I still haven't really explored). What I've seen from her films is definitely more extreme than 50 Shades (pretty much everything that's on their list of hard limits), but at the same time so elegant. It's odd that I've mentioned Guy Maddin earlier, because now that I think of it, their style is pretty similar. Imitations of German expressionism, silent films, and all that.

John Zorn's music for Maria Beatty's film The Elegant Spanking


I wish I had insisted more on female agency / sexuality / desire / gaze. And maybe for a minute I actually thought I could have done that. But the truth is I still have so much to read. I'm particularly interested in the female gaze. Is it truly possible? And when does it become a lesbian gaze? Do these questions even make sense? I guess my problem with feminist theory and gender theory is that the more I read, the more confused I get about certain concepts.


I'm not done thinking and writing about and around 50 Shades, but to end this three-part addendum (an unintentional trilogy):

You're suspending me up
With a feeling
From up here
I do surrender
In the trust that up high
Lie here together

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