Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Bondage Game: A BDSM Trilogy

By Rich Moreland, September, 2012

 

A couple of years ago I spent a few minutes with Kink.com’s Peter Acworth at San Francisco’s old National Guard Armory where the BDSM fetish giant runs its websites. Acworth talked about a re-make of Pauline Reage’s 1955 novel, The Story of O. His idea sounded interesting, but who would play O, I asked, and how would he tell the story? Where Acworth is today with his idea is only a guess, but Ernest Greene’s trilogy on O’s evolution reveals unique answers to my question.

The Story of O is more than an erotic tale of a woman who acknowledges her obedience and masochism. Trained at Roissy, a remote location where girls are delivered for their initiation into BDSM, O becomes a willing participant in her own sexual slavery. She agrees to her submission, serving her lover, Renee, and his whims and fancies. Now she faces change. Renee takes O to the Paris apartment of Sir Stephen, his older half-brother, and departs. At this juncture in the storyline, Sir Stephen tells O she can have only one master and clarifies that he is now that man. She is to become his submissive, wear his brand inflicted by a burning iron, and become a predator for him, the Owl she symbolically portrays in the narrative’s final chapter.

But who or what is O’s real master? Ernest Greene provides a hint in the first film of his trilogy, O: The Power of Submission. Adhering to Reage’s plot, O is taken to the House for her initiation. Naked, she is fitted with a collar and ankle and wrists restraints. At this moment, Greene lets us in on his secret. O is adorned with a shoulder-length veil as she is presented for her flogging. Later in the film when Jackie, the fashion model Ray desires, is taken to the House and prepared for her first taste of the whip, she, too, wears one.

Courtesy of Adam & Eve Productions

What is the meaning of the veil? A message runs under the convoluted love triangle Greene creates between O, Ray, and Steven. Greene’s interpretation insists O’s story is about a “wedding,” not between or among people, but to a lifestyle. Greene illustrates the self-defeating nuisances of questionable relationships and the failures of actual marriage. O moves in and out her love affairs with Steven, leaving him for good in the last installment, and Ray’s marriage to Jackie collapses in the second film. Through it all, O’s commitment to BDSM is unquestioned. Her real identity lives within the lifestyle that intrigues and guides her, the master/slave relationship she has wed, and it overrides her interactions with the people she meets. The literary Sir Stephen and Greene’s cinematic Steven are conduits that serve O. Her willingness to respond to their BDSM impulses is what drives their desire for her. She in turn, uses them for her satisfaction.

With the House, and later the bondage club of the third film, Greene shows us a BDSM community that was an underworld experiment during Reage’s time. Greene’s O exists within a modernized BDSM arrangement of convenience, a continuous menu of choices offered for the pleasure and power she savors. Reage hints that O’s submission seduces her captors; Greene pushes that revelation out of the shadows and onto the screen.

Choice is always in O’s hands. When the limo pulls up to the House in Submission, Ray, played by Tommy Gunn in the first two films, tells O (the bewitching Carmen Luvana) he is “glad” she agreed to come. Her response is pointed, almost a counter-punch, “Have I ever said anything else to you?” Carmen’s O projects a little cockiness with some indifference stirred in. Before her initiation begins, Ray asks O if she consents to “obey,” reminding her that the option to leave is open. O responds without hesitation, “I’ll stay.” But she does not repeat the word “obey,” cutting into the House’s control of her. Marie, the House’s owner, asks Ray if he ever whipped O. “Sometimes,” he replies. Turning to O, Marie wants to know if she enjoyed it. O repeats Ray’s “sometimes,” but with a nonchalant tone. She throws down the challenge, shifting the burden to Marie and Ray to pleasure her, not the other way round. Attached spreadeagled to a vertical frame, O is aroused by Maria’s application of the flogger, warming up O for the hot sex to follow. Carmen’s O shows off her talents with multiple partners, completing her initiation into the fold.

In conversation later with other house slaves, O discovers their breezy attitude is reflective of hers. Without their collective consent, there would be no House and no entertainment. Everything is voluntary. Greene sets the tone for the series in these early scenes and prepares the viewer for a revelation in the second film, The Surrender of O, where he cannot resist a little irony.

Courtesy of Adam & Eve Productions

In Surrender, Bree Olson’s O comes back to the house voluntarily and is surprised to learn that Marie runs the show and rewards are to be had.

“You mean we get paid?” O says with amazement.

Mika Tan’s Rita, a House girl, tells O that Marie lets the guys think their money dictates the action. O can’t believe they pony up cash for their privileges with the girls. The whole operation is a “profitable business for all of us,” Rita says, and reminds O that with her return she is now a House girl and “no one’s property” but her own.

Marie keeps a catalogue of the girls and their talents. Regina (played by the gorgeous Kayden Kross) reads to O what is written about her, “orgasms during punishment.” Rita implies that being a “very obedient good slave” has benefits. If her attitudes and talents are noteworthy, O has the freedom to “come and go” as she pleases and the next time she drops by she’ll find “a big fat wire transfer” in her bank account. Bree’s O is hesitant, but Regina is honest about the BDSM bordello. “It’s not like you can pretend to enjoy this sort of thing if you don’t. The masters think this is their club, we think of it as ours.” Rita chimes in amusingly, and “the attendants think it’s theirs.” The girls are playing the game for fun and profit, very much in control of their outcomes. Everyone is a winner.

With an attitude like that, is it any wonder the sex is spectacular.

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O’s ongoing personal journey is a search for emotional satisfaction framed within a fierce desire to hold onto her independence, a task more difficult than life at the House. Though Bree’s O will backslide in the second film, Carmen’s O reveals a shade of defiance. The game is played with her permission and by her rules. In Submission’s conclusion Carmen’s O faces down Steven, ably portrayed by popular veteran actor Evan Stone. He once captured her with his self-confidence but made the fatal mistake of revealing his weakness. She reacts to his sudden declaration of his love for her:

“I never expected you to say that and back then I wanted this more than anything, but right now it’s a lot more than what I want. I did everything you required me to and the only thing I needed in return was that you were different from all the others, stronger somehow.”

She gives back her O ring, the symbol of attachment to him, and delivers her parting shot, a damning statement that shapes the message of film three, The Truth About O:

“You fell in love with what you think you see and not what’s there. I won’t be back.”

In fact, she relents and does return to him in Surrender. Marie, played with wisdom and charm by Nina Hartley, mentors O throughout the trilogy. She is O’s trainer and counselor, offering O a feminist education that flowers in the final installment, Truth, when Marie compliments Bobbi Starr’s O as “the finest slave I’ve ever trained.” Finest does not mean most compliant, rather O is now the strongest and most willful.

In Surrender, Marie sympathizes with O’s emotional uncertainty and arranges a reunion with Steven. But, there is a lesson attached. Giving Bree’s O a key, in reality the key to her happiness, Marie tells O that she can return to Steven if she wishes. Marie also gives her a fabric inscribed with “freedom is deciding whose slave you want to be.” Marie continues, “You have to decide what part of your life is yours and [what] part you would have to surrender totally.” It is the teachable moment in Ernest Greene’s “The Education of O.” The underlying meaning of the entire series is equality and O emerges with her total personhood in tact when the final curtain falls on Bobbi’s O. Once again, Greene’s message is O’s dedication to the lifestyle as a master, not any one person within it. The bondage game is her pleasure and the tool she uses to find a master of her choice who can deliver it. In the language of the real world of BDSM, O is searching for a “service top,” a dominant who arouses her by responding to her needs.

Bree’s O reunites with Steven and promises she will never leave again unless he orders her to. But her promise borders on schoolgirl silliness because the plot is never fated to play out that way. In presenting herself to Steven for sex, O wears a short veil this time, suggestive of a modified version of the “marriage” depicted in Submission. Symbolically, she is renewing her vows with BDSM; Steven is the master du jour. Bree’s O presents a confusion of hope and uncertainty that is later resolved in Truth. Surrender winds down with an extended sex scene between Bree and Evan Stone, the most sensual in the trilogy and there are good ones throughout featuring some of the best talent in the business.

In closing Surrender, Steven presents O with a contract designed for a master/slave relationship but looks a lot like a business arrangement. With this turn of events, Greene sets up the third movie. O agrees to help Steven obtain “love slaves” to serve him and gets approval over their selection. O is free to do as she pleases once she satisfies her “boss.” Again Greene gives O choices, this time spelled out in a written partnership between lovers that strongly suggests equality. Does Bree’s O understand the implications of what she holds? Bobbi’s O steps out of the shadows to answer that question.

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            Pauline Reage’s O is a complex character and the actresses Greene selects to play her are reflections of this varied composition. Carmen’s O is defiant, independent, a reluctant submissive; Bree is submissive, compliant, and easily manipulated. She shows none of the hard edge that sometimes shapes Carmen’s performance. The flavor of Bree’s sex scenes are more BDSM leaning than Carmen’s but they cannot match Bobbi Starr for realism. Bobbi is one of the most powerful adult film actresses in the business and perfectly selected for the final film. (For fans wanting another Bobbi Starr fix, she also appears as a house girl in Surrender.)

Courtesy of Adam & Eve Productions

Bobbi’s O is a different breed. She develops wisdom by the time the script progresses to Truth.  Strong-willed, mature, and ready to demonstrate an obedience that is more attuned to her wishes than to Steven’s, Bobbi’s O plays a game she knows she will win. Like Carmen’s O, she challenges Steven, now played by porn heartthrob James Deen, wanting to know what he thinking. Bobbi intellectualizes her version of O and produces the most powerful scene in the trilogy done via flashback. O is chatting with a new sub (played by Krissy Andrews) and recalls “it was a typical day at home” with Steven. The scene moves to his library.

“You are the only one who can satisfy me,” he says. With a smile, O replies that she would do anything to be owned by him. All seems mutually satisfying, but their body language suggests trouble.

Steven sits her on his desk and she touches his forehead. “What’s going on in there?” she asks, forcing a smile.

“It’s all become so easy for you, hasn’t it?” Steven says, deflecting her question. “Just when you think you have it, it turns out you don’t.” Trouble is brewing.

Steven is addressing his own anxieties and wants reassurance that O is still loyal to their relationship. He asks her to find another girl for their mutual enjoyment. “See if you know me as well as you think,” he says and they hug without a lot of feeling.

Steven takes her hand and she playfully pulls it away. This is the opening they both know is fated: an O replacement for Steven, an exit opportunity for her.

Are the “typical days” a telling message that boredom has set in, or an indication that O needs to continue her search for more stimulation and excitement? Will O now play at BDSM only when it amuses her? Ray (Michael Vegas in Truth), is available again, but she now regards him as an equal, running off with him for the pure adventure of it. Using Ray and providing Steven with another slave, Bobbi’s O manipulates the entire scenario. Marie’s “finest slave” remark unveils the consummate O. She is emotionally grown up.

Truth is set in the bondage club, not at the House, in effect moving the hard lessons of submission into O’s past. There is little need for Marie’s mentoring now; the older woman will assist O in her mission to find a playmate for Steven. When the new slave (played the sensuous Asa Akira) is secured, O returns her contract and takes off, leaving Steven to ponder what he had, lost, regained, and lost again, but through no fault of his own. Like the masked Owl at the end of Reage’s novel, Greene’s O remains an elusive mystery: those around her believe she is emotionally naked and seemingly leashed, but they are her prey, they fall victim to their desires for her. O’s soul is reserved for the mystical master of BDSM, however she chooses to greet him. Desire her, but don’t expect to control her because BDSM is the ultimate leveler of the human equation.

In the real world of adult film, Bobbi Starr and Nina Hartley are feminist soul mates. Both are iconic performers, a rare status for women in porn. Bobbi began as a BDSM submissive and later achieved director status with Evil Angel and Kink.com. Carmen and Bree are also superstars. Each woman has a different “feel” for their BDSM role, a good thing because their performances explore the different sides of Reage’s O, one of the most complex fictional characters in adult literature.

There are hints of a feminist attitude in the literary O that intrigue Greene. Reage’s character gets to “set the rules” and control the action especially when she is pursuing other women. O achieves a “complete sense of freedom” in the hunt and Reage tells the reader O is an “accomplice of both men and women” though the game is “not all that easy.” But as we have seen, the bondage game has an overlord and O is beholden to his erotic demands.

Ernest Greene never defines the perfect O because she exists only in the imagination. He does peek at the different ingredients that make her up and when he gets to Truth, Bobbi becomes the completed O. In the book and the series, O’s destination is not a place, it is a process: an ongoing refinement of BDSM pursued for its personal satisfaction. The characters she meets along the way are mere stopovers in her quest.

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Ernest Greene presents a female-friendly POV in much of his work. In most of the sex scenes, he is cautious to pleasure women with lots of oral sex and the ever present Hitachi Magic Wand. Orgasms are aplenty. Greene is no stranger to safer sex, by the way; condoms and latex gloves appear regularly. Like all good directors, he gives his performers choice.

In each film, the sex assumes a different flavor. Submission sets the trend of equality in oral sex for women. In Truth, it is filmed beautifully. Female porn viewers are not fond of DPs and anal but Greene knows they are fan favorites for men, so he sprinkles them in to add spice to the story. Surrender has its gonzo moments with group sex featuring Kayden Kross and Ava Rose that is acrobatic at times. Truth has definite feminist overtones. Bobbi is a feminist gonzo girl and her threesome with James Deen and Asa Askira is terrific. Submission is Carmen’s baby. Now retired, her performance in the film is superlative. Bree Olson in Surrender matches Carmen’s beauty and enthusiasm. There are others who deserve comment, newcomer Jessie Andrews comes to mind in Truth. It’s often said that porn can’t survive without the girls, but Greene’s series is a reminder that super male vets like Tommy Gunn, and Evan Stone in the first two films, and James Deen and Michael Vegas in the third, are also important to sustain the action.

On a final note, true BDSM submissives are not that frequent in adult film. One who deserves mention is a favorite of mine, the sensuous Justine Joli. Her scene with Carmen in the first movie and her performance art with the always innovative Claire Adams in the third is a must see. If there is a single female performer whose BDSM submission can steal a scene, it is Justine.

 

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There is so much more in Greene’s trilogy than there is space here. For anyone unfamiliar with the series, watching is recommended. Three decades ago skirting the feds was on every pornographer’s list so combining sex and bondage was a restriction the industry imposed on itself. It took some time for the industry to get more adventurous. But that’s the past and for BDSM lovers your time is now. Check out Greene’s trilogy and do the pictures in the order they were filmed, otherwise, the meaning and message gets confused.

I’m certain Ernest Greene is setting us up for another O film and I, for one, am ready to see it. Should Peter Acworth decide to make his film, I suggest he take a peek at Greene’s work before he ventures too far into his project. By the way, if Greene is open to suggestions for another film, consider pairing Nina and Bobbi as mentors for a new “Academy of O” where willing submissives are trained in BDSM as a sexual delight and a performance art. What possibilities would exist in that hideaway?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Re-Visioned Pornography: A Woman’s “Right to Be Horny”

by Rich Moreland, September, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In her introduction to Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families, Pamela Paul writes that pornography is “seamlessly integrated into popular culture,” creating an “all-pornography, all-the-time mentally” that is literally “everywhere.” Sweeping generalizations rarely take into account personal tastes, cultural and political variances, or in this case, alternative views on sexuality. There is little doubt that sex is commodified; in fact, it is ubiquitous in advertising and popular culture. But continued presence does not translate into unrelenting offensiveness. In fact, sexuality can be enlightening, educational, and a tool for women’s equality, especially when reconfigured to celebrate a female “gaze.” Feminist pornography is doing just that and Anne G. Sabo’s newest study is a welcome addition to the debate

In After Pornified: How Women are Transforming Pornography and Why It Really Matters, Sabo amplifies feminist scholar Linda Williams’ concept of re-vision and explores a reconfigured porn for women. Sabo’s book is a montage of female filmmakers with samplings of their work embedded in summary reviews. Following the trail of American film visionary Candida Royalle, these new century women are not merely playing on the edges of a man’s world. They have a message for society’s “neo-Victorianism,” a cultural condition the late feminist Ellen Willis insists circumscribes female sexual expression. A reworked feminist pornography is symbolic liberation for all women.

Re-vision does not mean revision, Sabo explains. It is not a cleaning up process, but a radical rewrite. For clarification, she quotes German-born director Petra Joy who asserts that “erotic and pornographic images” are not exclusive to men. “Why should women not create and enjoy films that express their sexual desires . . . ?” Why not, indeed? Joy wants women to target men as “objects of desire” who focus their sexual expression on pleasuring their female lovers. Joy believes feminist adult film captures authentic sex in a way that creates a different entity, “transformed porn,” an alternative to the established male product that carries a female objectifying label.

A Swede now living in Spain, Erika Lust is part of this new breed of filmmaker. “I see porn as a tool for excitement, education, and pleasure,” she says, and a very powerful one at that. I agree and share Sabo’s delight for Lust’s short film, “The Good Girl” which takes one of the oldest stag film formulas, the delivery boy, and turns it around. When the pizza is delivered and the sex ensues (not without some doubt at first) the female protagonist captures the standard male “gaze” and alters the outcome. By seizing the action to get what she wants, our heroine moves from object to subject, possessing her own “gaze.” The story can stand by itself, but Lust has more in mind. She artistically infuses her film work with an urban MTV flavor that is a tasteful delight of energy and sex, in this case swirling around a pizza box!

The opening chapter on Candida Royalle is a must read for any novice to feminist pornography/erotica. If nothing else, Sabo’s review of Royalle’s professional standards from safer sex to “content and style” is an educational primer. Royalle is unique. As a filmmaker she weathered the political storms of feminism’s second wave “sex wars” when anti-porn feminists excoriated adult film. Her political efforts fighting censorship in Feminists for Free Expression and her classic film on oppression, Revelations, preserve for the New Yorker a seat among the liberal icons of our age.

Modern sex-positive feminists package adult film into a fast-paced, music dominated product. The short vignette is their cinematic bread and butter. Of particular interest is the “cell phone art porn” of another Swede, Mia Engberg. Her question, posed in the Dirty Diaries collection, is central to feminist pornography: how do women “liberate” their “sexual fantasies” to escape the commercialization of porn that Paul sees around us everyday? Offering takes on that question, Sabo deconstructs film narratives, casting a light on the message of all the filmmakers she presents. This process is particularly informative in the Dirty Diaries series. Incidentally, I commend Sabo’s emphasis on the Dirty Diaries manifesto, an enumeration of the elements composing the mission of feminist porn. Here are a few that stand out. “[B]eauty ideals” are of no consequence in feminist porn, it is a sexual collage of any body and every body. The genre confronts “narrow gender categories,” encouraging “gender plurality.” And, best of all, the practice of safer sex is foremost because feminist porn supports a woman’s “right to be horny.”

Sabo raises a contentious question that is still a work in progress among feminists. The chapter on Puzzy Power films hints at this conundrum. The Puzzy Power credo prohibits scenes “where women are subjected to violence or coercion,” though “rape or assault” passes muster if the woman is “living out her fantasy” with someone she can trust to accommodate her desires. Sabo references second wave feminist Robin Morgan whose fantasies of sexual stimulation via domination presented difficulties for her though she apparently got off on her mental images. Likewise, Sabo mentions third wave journalist Martine Aurdal who frequently “caught herself in a role-play right before orgasm” that centered on “power relations.” This was vexing for Aurdal because it represented “gender roles” locked in a Paleolithic mentality. But one suspects she liked it. The question then becomes: Can women enjoy role-play if it means they are submissive and dominated? Take a look at Erika Lust’s two short films, “Handcuffs” and “Love Me Like You Hate Me” to get a spin on this question. Later when reviewing the work of feminist directors Anna Span and Tristan Taormino, Sabo brings up a another issue that is also divisive among feminists: gonzo porn, a method of filming often condemned for degrading women. Sabo lets us know that both Span and Taormino shoot in a gonzo style: the camera and director participate in the action. Character portrayal is abandoned and performers play themselves for the pleasure of the sex alone.

Can women like rough BDSM oriented sex if it suits their fantasy and they are equal participants in it? Can they actively support close-ups of piston shots, oral sex, and external ejaculations that might be deposited on the eyes rather than the belly? Tricky issues for a female cinematographer because gonzo has a male reputation dating to the early work of Evil Angel’s John Stagliano’s Buttman series. Sabo’s suggests that gonzo female-style is more about legitimating the voyeur in all of us; and those who are watched are there by “mutual agreement.” Fair enough. I’ve always believed women can have sex for its pure raw fun. Now that feminist porn is inching closer to the longstanding male gaze, gonzo represents a long awaited evolution for women. Like Sabo, I believe that it works if it is framed from a female POV, represents the director’s artistic vision, and is a legitimate turn on for both performer and viewer.

My interviews with feminist director Bobbi Starr (who as a performer is noted for her BDSM, rough edged gangbangs, and anal shoots) reveal that gonzo is her filming taste. Starr is open about how she does things her way and being male-identified, should that criticism be raised, is not a concern. Queer feminist performers Dylan Ryan and Madison Young (who sits in director’s chair on occasion) also relish the submissive role and are no strangers to anal scenes and facials. So, what does this tell us today about feminist re-visioned porn? Are women directors succumbing to an ensconced filming that appeals to a male fan base? Or have women, mainly through their indie companies, seized ownership of the very thing that anti-porn feminists insist is their source of oppression? Sabo introduces this question and for that alone, After Pornified is worth a read.

The organization of the chapters merits comment. Sabo reviews various movies to give the reader a feel for her thesis. I am a social scientist/historian, not a film studies scholar, so I appreciate her in-depth look at the narrative and stylistic format of film. Sabo sets off her movie analysis in gray print to distinguish it from the rest of the text. I found this to be an effective tool that enabled me to get a complete picture of her message. It is a boon for any reader who, like yours truly, is largely unfamiliar with the intricacies of film study techniques.

Sex-positive feminist porn filmmakers are making a difference in how a “pornified” society looks at modern adult film. Anti-porn acolytes in the manner of Pamela Paul will continue to fire salvos at pornography as intrusive on society and debasing to women. Give them their due and move on. Take porn, re-vision it, and in the process pay close attention to Anne G. Sabo’s newest book.

 

 

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Where Every Woman Should Be: Smash Picture’s Fifty Shades

By Rich Moreland, September 2012

Courtesy of Smash Pictures

A blindfolded Anastasia Steele, gagged and strapped to a St. Andrew’s Cross, struggles against her bonds in the opening sequence of Smash Pictures’ Fifty Shades of Grey: A XXX Adaptation. Her voiceover asks, “How did I end up a sex slave?” and answers, “I met my fifty shades.” Two and one-half hours later, a bookend image of Anastasia lingers in the final moments of the film. Once again attached to that cross, she is smiling now, no gag, no blindfold. Anastasia’s voiceover tells us her “inner goddess is happy,” romping through the playroom. Ana is now “the center of attention where she should be,” she says, “where every woman should be.”  This story of how a virginal college student becomes a sensuous BDSM lover is a cinematic delight shot in HD by director Jim Powers.

The movie is terrific. Appealing to a female and couples audience, the sexual chemistry between Anastasia (Allie Haze) and Christian Grey (Ryan Driller) intensifies as the film follows his attempts to convince her that his lifestyle should become hers. Their sex scenes are gripping, far surpassing the formulaic action that can be a yawner in today’s porn. Much of their lovemaking, though Christian likes to think of it as ‘hard fucking,’ is missionary and only once does she pleasure him with oral sex. There are no DP’s, no anal (Haze doesn’t do them), no facials, limited close ups of the piston shot, and little acrobatic sex of any variety except in one dungeon scene I’ll get to later. Healthy doses of Christian orally pleasuring Anastasia make Powers’ directing female-friendly. Anastasia orgasms, bodies are sweaty, and there is post-climax cuddling sprinkled with conversation. By the way, early in the film Anastasia’s virginity demands a condom and Christian pulls one out when needed.

Fifty Shades is a romance. Each character tries to get inside the head of the other. He is as frightened of what his past forces him to deal with—no touching, no commitment—as she is fearful of the unexpected. Can Anastasia decide if there is a difference between being a sex slave, a term narrowly defined by BDSM lifestylers (which Christian appears to be), and a submissive? Is Christian Grey, despite his culturally redeeming first name, a sadist?

Lovemaking in the film focuses on her. Christian and Anastasia express an eroticism in their couplings that is not often seen in adult film. When they have sex, it is her experience more than his, at least early on, and the camera celebrates her as a lover, not a gonzo girl. When she ends her virginity, it is given, not taken, and Powers explores this highly complex and impassioned moment every woman faces with a series of scenes. The bathtub one is particularly dynamic. Christian introduces Ana to oral sex; she wants to accommodate his desires. She kneels in the water and the camera captures her look of wonderment and discovery. For a newbie, Anastasia is not shy and quite talented as she ‘learns’ this technique quickly and without hesitation. A porn veteran, Allie Haze must have found playing the scene naively a little difficult. When she gets into her skills the viewer’s imagination is stretched a wee bit to believe she is an oral novice. Nonetheless, Powers’ camera work is superb. There is a mirror at the foot of the tub and Powers frames the action so a rear view of Anastasia compliments her deep throat technique seen close up. It’s a complete picture, showing both sides of the erotic coin; the viewer is drawn into choices between participating and looking. Though the scene is primarily for male viewers, it doesn’t take away the connection Christian and Anastasia have with each other. Powers’ uses the shoots’ lyrical quality to deepen their bonding. It speaks of lovers getting to know each other and experimenting with their intimacy.

Courtesy of Smash Pictures

In the final sequence of Anastasia’s early education, the silver tie appears. Christian binds her hands. She is willing and allows her “dark knight” to take command of her sexual self-discovery. Ana intuitively knows her ‘training’ is beginning; her eroticism and carnality will be forever molded by his mind and hands. She playfully asks him later when their intimacy deepens, “Are you going to collar me?” He amusingly responds, “Is there somebody who’s been studying?” Yes, and she is succumbing to a sexual entanglement that will define her ecstasy.

Lovers who dabble in bondage for the first time often use neckties. In this movie his tie will restrict her physically while uniting them in love and lifestyle. It celebrates the double meaning of ‘the tie that binds’ and is the central image of the story.Powers’ artistry strikes a glorious intimate moment. Once again, safer sex demands a condom and Christian is prepared. But Ana’s journey will soon accelerate as the sex becomes more sophisticated. Christian introduces the next step to her. He takes a sip of wine and lets the fluid flow out of his mouth into hers as she is bound to the bedpost, her shirt pulled up over her eyes. She cannot see, only feel. The stream is the camera’s focus; it is a concluding statement. In the future, his fluid will flow directly into her, unseen by either of them.

Courtesy of Smash Pictures

Fifty Shades really has two audiences, the woman/couples friendly one and BDSM lifestylers who will take to this film, though they will encounter a little disappointment. First, the good part: Christian Grey has a dungeon in his home complete with standard BDSM equipment, best illustrated by his variety of whips, floggers and crops, and a four poster bed lovely for bondage and discipline. Despite a ragged start over a botched spanking, Christian eventually convinces Anastasia to familiarize herself with his pleasure room and what ‘play’ means in the lifestyle. The film gradually moves her deeper into the bondage toyshop where the ground rules of BDSM are enforced: safe words, hard limits, consent, and most important, trust. In the best and hottest BDSM scene in the movie, Christian attaches a spreader bar to Anastasia’s ankles and suspends her fully taut. His cropping leaves marks on her. For Ana it’s a turn on, not painful and repulsive like her first spanking, and the stimulus that leads both of them to perform an awkward rear penetration while she is hanging in suspension. This is acrobatic, but not foreign to true lifestylers. Incidentally, Allie Haze knows what submission is. She has shot several times for Kink.com, the fetish porn giant in San Francisco. Her bondage performances in Fifty Shades are genuine and add credibility to the film.

There is a second intensely erotic scene in the dungeon that begins with Anastasia on her knees in a Gorean slave position next to the four-poster. She ends up blindfolded and bound spread-eagled to the bed with Christian’s tongue licking her body. He pipes music into her brain to dull her awareness while heightening her senses. Once again Powers’ veteran directing holds the images beautifully.

My one letdown with the film will be appreciated by the BDSM crowd. Fault finding here is not what the script does, but what it leaves out. In a dream sequence, Anastasia is haunted by images of Leila, one of Christian’s former subs. Glimpses of Leila and Christian playing in the dungeon momentarily flicker through Ana’s mind and across the screen. A flashback here would help drive the story forward and explain Leila’s character. She appears unannounced in parking garage with a bloody bandage on her right wrist and later in Ana’s apartment with a gun. Stalker is written all over her, but everything stops there. What remains is her self-description. “I’m a nobody,” she laments, who is “just alone.”

Jaslene Jade as Leila
Courtesy of Smash Pictures

She tells Anastasia she and Christian just “whipped and fucked.” We never get to see this or to know her. In other words, why include the sensuous Jaslene Jade to play Leila and give her only a few lines of dialogue? She is never seen sexually except for those fleeting dream images and bondage lovers are denied a fabulous scene with Leila’s erotic submissiveness. I suspect her scene with Ryan Driller may have ended up on the cutting room floor due to time considerations. If so, it’s a tragedy. I might add there is brief hint of Christian’s submission to Mrs. Robinson, but it is also passed over and never contributes to our understanding of how his character came to be defined. A few minutes expended to play out this encounter would benefit the storyline. After all, we are like Anastasia. We seek an answer to the question with a double meaning that she asks Christian, “What made you like this?” She wants to understand him, but she also desires to see where she fits into the greater scheme of their relationship. Does she want to appreciate his lifestyle preferences or does she want her sexual personality to be more attuned to his?

Courtesy of Smash Pictures

Though a porn film, Fifty Shades is more than sex scenes maneuvered around a script, it is about relationships. Penetration is there but as a compliment to the film’s totality, not as a reason for it. Consequently, the sex between Christian and Anastasia is authentic. They sweat, they nestle, they talk; they relate to each other with intimate caresses. Their chemistry wraps around them.They communicate with their mutual gaze, looking inside each other. Incidentally, Christian forewarns her in the lipstick scene that it is not possible for her to see him intimately; a film sequence women will adore because it’s his barriers that eventually collapse.The power of her womanhood will sustain their intimacy; she becomes his partner. Their BDSM lovemaking is her gift to him, not his demand of her. This reality cracks the code that shields his tucked away soul.

The central question we are left with is even more profound. What drives the story, is it the adoration of lovers, or their affection for BDSM as a statement of their connection? If Christian were addicted to the BDSM scene alone he would have stayed with the other subs he put under contract. But with them communication was void and the arrangements short. Anastasia forces him to compromise, as she compromises, accepting sub status in the playroom in exchange for sharing his bed. Throughout the film, there are references to the contract Anastasia never gets around to signing. But there is a contract at the end. Is it negotiated through the BDSM lifestyle and is it sustainable? He accepts that she will play in the dungeon but she is not his submissive nor his slave in the sense the others were. That’s not her style. Can stopping short of total immersion into BDSM accommodate both of them? At one point, Anastasia questions the whole scene with him and asks, referring to Leila’s misery, “What if I end up like Leila, running around stalking the next girl that follows me?” Christian assures her otherwise and she says as the film ends, “We’ve come so far together. We have so far to go.” Perhaps a sequel can explore how far things must go. I’m not convinced the answers are simple and I know Jim Powers doesn’t want me to be.

The beauty of Fifty Shades is within Anastasia Steele. She remains her own person, growing from a girl into a woman. It is the joy of the film. Perhaps from the beginning Christian lured her into his web of bondage and hard sex, but in the end who captures whom, and who owns whom? Listen to Anastasia’s final thoughts as we see her fading image bound to the cross. “We were made for each other . . .  my sometimes dominant, my fifty shades.” But what or who is their true master? Love, or BDSM, or a game they play with each other? We are left wanting more . . . .

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