Sunday, February 15, 2015

One Three One: Red

I've not been to see the film version of "Fifty Shades of Grey", and I can't really see myself making the effort. I never read the novels for the same reason--- I couldn't see myself making the effort.

Nonetheless, I suppose it's something I should comment on, at least in passing. The initial reviews say that it's not much of a film, though that was to be expected. They also say that there's very little on-screen sex or nudity, and that strikes me as a grave failing. A film about s/m that steers away from sex? Unless it's a film that can rely on a deeply thoughtful and clever script--- unless the sex can be made into something very meta ---that's a very grave failing indeed. And even then, you'd need a certain stylish presentation of the young heroine's body.

The BDSM community seems to have joined the moralists  and the gender studies crowd in despising the film.  There are two strands of argument there. One is simple enough, of course: the argument that the film promotes abuse and violence against women. The other argument, the one made by the BDSM community, is that the film fails to present what BDSM is "really" about. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by that. The studies I've read about BDSM scene all talk about how "the lifestyle" tries to downplay the idea that BDSM is about sex rather than "building community".  Do I have to say that I have no use for either set of arguments?

I've always said that an s/m film or novel should be a Bildungsroman, that it should be about a kind of learning experience, about learning how to move into a new world and master its rituals and styles. I can't see how an s/m story would work that isn't about discovery and new worlds. That there's a young and innocent girl at its heart is a key thing. Oh, it would still be interesting to write about a young man learning to be a dominant, and I've said before that I'm surprised that no one has done that, but it's the story of a young, lovely, innocent girl discovering a new world and new kinds of pleasure that'll attract me. I'll make a note about about "innocent", though. It doesn't (or needn't) mean "virginal", and here in the second decade of the new century, is there a middle-class or better girl in North America who doesn't know that s/m exists? Still, an inexperienced girl exploring a country that's new to her--- it's the thrill of discovery that's the heart of the story.

Thinking about that for just a moment, it strikes me that of course I'd feel that way. So much of my life has been about learning and discovery. I've been an academic, after all. Learning and discovery mean a great deal to me, and the experience of both learning and teaching is at the core of what my life has been about. Isn't one of the deep pleasures of being a roué that experience of introducing a lovely young companion to new things?

I suppose I don't have any problem with the idea of an s/m story based on the heroine's diaries. That's a classic structure, after all. But I'd want her to be both more introspective and more literary, more willing to associate what's happening to her with books and film. And however shy and innocent she might be, I'd want her to be someone who asks questions, who applies all the things that have made her studious and bookish to the experience she's sought out. That may just be me, of course, and something that's from my own memories. I can close my eyes and recall a lovely young companion grinning at me: I've figured this out. You tie my wrists up with silk scarves because you just totally can't tie knots in rope, right?  I can recall long, slender fingers through my own and a girl looking at the displays at a very old-school English riding shop: This one's a bat, this one's a crop, she said. What makes them different from a whip? The girl who's learning about new worlds would do her homework, of course. Any girl who'd be with me would do her homework, would ask questions, would want to get the details right.

Let's note, too, that I find some things in the film silly. A...Red Room of Pain? Really? There's nothing that can't be done there that can't be done in a smallish, book-lined living room with a couch. Minimalism works in these matters, and so does imagination.

I have no moral or political objections to the film. The actress playing the heroine is rather lovely, though of course she could be taller and thinner. Those things go without saying. I don't see that the film promotes abuse, and I'll give the back o' my hand to any moral objections. If the film doesn't do anything for me, it's because it's not sexy enough, because the director stayed away from emphasizing the sexual connection. If the film doesn't do anything for me, it's because there's no sense of delight and discovery.

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