Saturday, January 19, 2013


I didn’t exactly plan on reading E.L. James’s bestseller,“Fifty Shades of Grey”, although I must confess that it’s popularity and subject matter stirred my interest, but typically, I try not to read a book, until after I see the movie. I know there’s a popular perception that it’s better to do that the other way around, but I disagree with that. I’ve occasionally made exceptions when a book is so popular , that it’s almost essential that I read it, but even then, I usually try to hold out. When my mother asked me to find her a copy, I was slightly surprised, and no, not for the reason you’re thinking of. Actually, it was because I didn’t think the subject matter would interest her; she’s always perceived bondage and D/S-type relationships as a psychological problem, instead of a lifestyle choice. I recalled this after screening, on her request, the film “Secretary”, which is personally one of my favorites, as well as a film that “Fifty Shades…” has clearly borrowed from heavily. (Even the character name of Grey, I suspect is as much an homage to “Secretary,” as it is, a symbolic name.) Personally, I thought Maggie Gyllenhaal should’ve won an Oscar for the film, and I still enjoy it, almost as a guilty pleasure, but my mother wasn’t as perceptive to the film, and was disappointed when she didn’t get better at the end. I’m not gonna pretend to be an expert on sexual relationships, of any kind; my sexual conquests would make a very short and uninteresting blogpost, but yeah, there’s a part of me that’s fascinated by the BDSM world; I guess you can call it a kink of mine.

Anyway, I put her on a bunch of library lists for the book, all of which were long, but she eventually got ahold of her own copy. She read it, as did I, and now she’s debating within herself about whether or not to read the sequels, as am I, although for different reasons, subject-matter wise. I’m hoping that Ana will eventually give Christian another chance, and my mom worries that she will. My thoughts on the book itself, eh, well, actually I wasn’t particularly fond of it, especially in the beginning, the writing is pretty lousy, and the character of Ana just isn’t realistic to me. I mean, she’s 22-years old, still communicates mainly through e-mail, about to work at a publishing house, after graduating college, is an expert on classic literature, especially British literature, but not only is she a virgin, not only, has she never had a boyfriend, or any real interest in sex until now, but she’s never even masturbated before? Look, I’m a shy, misanthropic loner, who doesn’t go out, doesn’t talk to people, and even when I do, I’m pretty thick-headed when it comes to the art of flirtation, much less anything more social than that, but fuck, I couldn’t even buy this character. I understand why she wrote her this way, from a storytelling standpoint, but I’d be hard-pressed to find someone like that in real life. As to Christian Grey, he’s slightly more believable, if for nothing else, than because he’s a bit of a cliché. The rich and powerful, chraming but quiet man, who’s got a secret life that involves constant trips to hardware stores to buy, rope. It’s not exactly a new fantasy, much less a new reality. Actually in many ways, the book blurs a line that’s somewhere between Harlequin Novel and porn film, although the way e-mails are constantly written and exchanged, and the “chance” unexpected meetings, reminded me actually of Jane Austen. It’s definitely got some similarities. The book is hardly a favorite, but at least it builds up from its very boring and cheesy beginnings. (I mean, there’s foreshadowing, and then there’s really foreshadowing. I mean, thank God Ana had ignored sex all her life, ‘cause I think some six-year old would’ve gotten some of the double-entendres that she didn’t.) None of that really matters, because the book is really about that indescribable feeling of being so transfixed with another person that you just want to fuck ‘em, right then and there. Yes, there’s a love aspect to this, but really it’s the sexual tensions, the restraint, if you pardon the pun, that involved in such extreme desires. The book works best when it’s considered from this emotional perspective.

Now, the big question: Can this novel be adapted into a movie? The obvious short answer is of course, yes, anything can be adapted from book to film, and, it can possibly be done well. Now, before we get to how unlikely that can be, there’s some other curious questions that Hollywood has to ask itself. When you’re adapting, a major bestselling book, such as “Fifty Shades of Grey”, the audience comes in, with certain expectations. “Harry Potter…” or “The Da Vinci Code” are two good recent examples. Those books, really had to be nailed on the big screen, or else, the fans would’ve been pissed. (They were a little at “The Da Vinci Code,” although I thought the movie was better than the book, but still….) If you’re going to be deadly accurate with the adaptation, well, you’re looking at a potential problem called, the NC-17 rating. Now, it’s commonly known that movies are often cut to get R ratings or lower because of the MPAA, often for ridiculously stupid reasons, but even the book itself, has a “Mature Audiences”warning on it. The first problem is that, Hollywood doesn’t like R-rated films, because the family is more reluctant to go, which means, that their biggest blockbuster and moneymakers, are PG-13s usually. Forget that problem, they’re gonna have trouble getting an R, without seriously compromising the story and alienating the audience that most want to see it. (They’re gonna have enough trouble adapting the story to make it not seem like a porno too, but that’s gonna be a writer/director/editor problem, but structurally, there isn’t as much difference as you’d like to see if you’re trying to recreate it as art.)

An NC-17 rating is box office poison. Most chain movie theatres will flat out, not carry NC-17 movies, and if they get released at all, they’re only shown for short-runs in independent theatres, many of which aren’t exactly playing in Peoria. There are some who will pretend this is because of some moral obligations to promote family entertainment, or some crap like that, but really, it’s a box office issue. To many people, NC-17, is essentially the same as an X rating that, ironically, the rating was originally created to distinguish itself from. The last time Hollywood made a serious attempt at a nationally released and promoted NC-17 rated film was “Showgirls”, which bombed, badly. Granted, it was a bad movie, but it’s not like the audiences were flooding to the theatres to see “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” or “Henry and June”, either. This is what makes a possible movie of "Fifty Shades of Grey", so intriguing, 'cause this could be the first real opportunity for the NC-17 rating to get national mainstream acceptance. Universal Studios and Focus Features has bought the option and Screenwriter Kelly Marcel has promised an NC-17 rating to the press, before the studio reigned in that statement. No star or director has been attached, and the script isn't finished, although Krysten Ritter has repeatedly tweeted about her interest in playing Ana. If/when it ever does get made, it's going to be one of the most interesting theatrical releases in years, not just because of the box office, but because of the ratings, and when and where it will open, and just what kind of precedent this film can set. Can it be another "Showgirls", and damn the rating for another twenty years or, is the film gonna breakthrough, and possibly allow the NC-17 rating to actually be, the ratings that it was originally intended to be, or will the studio back out, or will the MPAA back down, and possibly loosen their stance on graphic sex, and give it an R rating, without cuts. (I think that option's, unlikely, since they're still giving R ratings, for excessive use of the f-word like in "Bully", last year) It's a few years down-the-road, for sure, but make no mistake about this, "Fifty Shades of Gray," is going to be a milestone film. It's certainly not the first film to deal with this subject matter, or even the first major one at that, ("9 1/2 Weeks", anyone?) but this film has the potential to break the standard that's been set for years, and become a precedent-making feature. What that precedent will be, is yet-to-be determined.

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