I read Kawabata's "House of Sleeping Beauties" years ago, and I have seen the German film version done a few years back. There's a new version out this season--- "Sleeping Beauty", with Emily Browning. The reviewer at New Yorker was very much taken with Ms. Browning--- certainly understandable ---but less than taken with the premise of the film.
The reviewer despised the clients in the film--- the older men who pay their money for the chance to lie there next to a beautiful girl who's been given a sleeping draught. "Foul and foolish" he calls them. Kawabata's novella and the German film both had more sympathy for the elderly clients. Foolish, yes, in those versions. But also deserving of sympathy. Kawabata wrote the novella in late middle age, and he understood that age not only takes away one's own beauty and power, it disqualifies one from being around youth and beauty. I identified with his hero, just as I identified with the main character in the German film. A film made for Australian and American audiences here in the new century can't show any sympathy for the older men who purchase nights next to Emily Browning' s character. The politics of the day don't allow for sympathy for older men who'd buy time with a sleeping girl.
The reviewer at New Yorker disdained the whole idea of ritualised sex as well. He dismissed high-end, high-fashion s/m costumes as looking "like Victoria's Secret had been bought out by the Freemasons". He also found something distasteful in all efforts of males (meaning especially older males) to make sex seem "grand and sinister", efforts that he claimed only and ever emphasised how ridiculous ritual sex is and how pathetically ridiculous the men are.
We're back to Andrew Holleran's claim that "intelligence leads directly to s/m", I think. That's a phrase I've agreed with all these years. Well, more specifically, being literary and bookish leads to s/m, or at least to ritualised sex. I came to sex through books, and expected that all the actions and settings for sex would be like those in books I'd read. My young companions over the years have all shared that. The lovely girl sitting across a table and kicking off a ballet flat under the table to graze an ankle or a bare foot along her lover's leg learned that from somewhere--- a book, a film ---and is re-enacting a scene. And the seduction, the conversation, going on across the table is its own re-enactment of scenes read or viewed.
I have to have sympathy for the older clients in "Sleeping Beauty". After all, who am I but one of them? Though it is hard to imagine what I'd do with a girl--- however naked and lovely ---who'd been given a sleeping draught. Sex for me has always been based on conversation, on building up stories and exchanges as my young companion and I create scenes and try particular things. I can imagine kissing a sleeping girl--- lips and eyelids and all the places I've loved ---and I can imagine brushing fingertips over her. But penetration at all wouldn't appeal to me without conversation, without stories being exchanged. Paying for the services of a lovely girl is beyond my resources, but I have no moral or political problems with the idea. What I'd pay for, though, is the stories as much as the flesh or her skills with mouth and hands and hips.
I've always sought young companions who can tell stories with me, who can create worlds with me. A sleeping girl is a beautiful nullity. She's not even the girl in fashion/erotica photos. Talking to a sleeping girl isn't sex. It's only emptiness. I need voices to catalyse beauty, to bring beauty to life, to metamorphose beauty into stories and rituals.
Do I expect sex to be "grand and sinister"? That's not a bad idea, though I expect things less "grand" than simply crafted and literary. I can't imagine sex that isn't at least those two things. As far as I can tell, even sex that's nominally purely carnal and wordless and only about physical urges and acts is all mediated through what we've seen in films or read in novels about raw, overwhelming passion. I haven't been able to imagine sex that isn't about the artificial and ritualised and mediated since I was...in my teens? None of that dispenses with love or affection, mind you. But it does mean that we have a repertoire of acts and costumes and poses and words in our memories and imaginations that's based on books and films and photographs, a set of tools and references that we use to build up the worlds we need for love and lovemaking.
I want to see Emily Browning in "Sleeping Beauty". She's a lovely actress. But I'd want her fully awake across a futon from me, fully awake and going through a set of shared rituals. Costumes like "Victoria's Secret bought out by the Freemasons"? Well, why not? We'd both be aware of having constructed a world for intricate games. And I'd want her to respond to my touch and kisses with stories and carefully choreographed shared moves.
My age may make me ridiculous, though there are young companions who've found it an asset. I do have stories and a sense of craft to offer. I have a sense of safety in the dance to offer a young, literary companion. All sex may be foolish, though sex and love are always examples of where a bit of foolishness or even madness is welcome. But there's nothing "foul" here. I won't give the reviewer at New Yorker that.