Tag Archives: Fifty Shades of Grey

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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The Finest Slave I’ve Ever Trained

By Rich Moreland, June 2012

Note: Though I am not a film critic, I’ve tried my hand at it with this review. I confess that I enjoyed writing it because I found the picture’s storyline and the cleverness of the director to be refreshing. This is the final film in a trilogy of movies based on The Story of O.

Bobbi Starr as O
Courtesy of Adam&Eve Pictures

There is always a risk attached to intellectualizing porn. Industry people insist that adult film is merely a fantasy of acrobatic sex. However, occasionally a film comes along that reaches beyond the simple parameters of eroticizing our imagination and insists that we pay attention to its statement.

The BDSM literary genre is heating up these days with Fifty Shades of Grey capturing the “mommy porn” consumer. The master of gonzo BDSM, San Francisco’s Kink.com,offers visual delights in cyberspace for anyone fascinated by ways dominance and submission can be fashioned for hardcore lovers who like it rough. Between these polar positions, there is a middle ground where a blend of story, bondage, and sex resides.

Ernest Greene’s The Truth About O has come along at just the right time to fascinate the BDSM curious and fans of explicit sex who like their women to be contradictory to traditional porn. Greene’s girls like to do the dirty deed, but the sex is on their terms using bondage as their erotic trigger. His picture blends the right flavors to make BDSM sophisticated, at least in the adult film world.

Greene minimizes long-standing Porn Valley gonzo and Kink’s addictive heavy hitting. In doing so, he offers a more realistic BDSM product to a growing base in adult film: a female-friendly and couples audience. No surprise, Greene is married to Nina Hartley, a pro-sex feminist porn legend and the assistant director for the film. The dynamic Bobbi Starr plays O. She, like Hartley, is a self-proclaimed feminist. For those who don’t know, feminism in adult film is sex-positive and empowered far from the man-hating, hairy-legged, bra-burning sex-negative shenanigans of the 1970’s. And please note, though Hartley and Starr are industry icons of different generations, they are also two of the smartest and assertive women in the adult business.

How is a feminist-oriented film defined and how has Greene tapped into the women’s/couples’ market with his latest O movie?

First, female pleasure is the anchor; real orgasms are the linchpin. Greene extends male-female connections, giving time for the climatic waves to sweep over the female talent.

Female receptive oral is a filming highlight in this movie. Greene’s cinematography frames these shots to make the sex authentic. He divides the screen, situating the giver in the foreground while focusing on the actresses’ ecstasy in the background. Women want filmed sex that avoids the gonzo anatomy lesson, preferring the actress’s facial expression to receive equal billing with the sex being performed. The finest example occurs when Ray (Michael Vegas) pleasures slave Jillian, a role taken on by the irresistibly sweet Jessie Andrews whose natural breasts and tall physique capture the willowy girl image many porn watchers adore. Jillian’s build-up to pure rapture is a conflation of bliss and frenzy. Greene repeats the pattern in a scene between Danny Wylde and Asa Akira and in an interracial gem that features Nat Turner, whose gentleness belies his large stature, and the voluptuous Krissy Lynn.

Facials are rarely found in woman-friendly film. It’s not something women enjoy and there is no reason for it to be there. Of course, the pop shot is the moneymaker of porn; it’s the external placement of the internal reality. But the “getting off” can be deposited anywhere and Greene prefers other parts of the female body.

A criticism of porn is kissing. If it appears at all, it is passed off as a quick excuse for foreplay and lame exercise in affection, especially from males. Not the performers Greene books. James Deen, Danny Wylde, and Michael Vegas are sexy and sensuous, evidence that this picture hands equal status to men. In adult film, the characters (and the performers who play them) often lack their own personhood, what psychologists identify as their larger reality. A Greene movie insists that pleasure is a two-way street and is there for a reason, women have authentic sexual experiences and men are more than “dicks” in the corner. As a result, character development is a must and Greene’s actors emerge as people, not just bodies.

And of course, there is the Hitachi Magic Wand. Its handheld motor is indispensable in woman-friendly scenes, especially in bondage movies where it is often the delicious wrap-up for the female star. The “little hummer” always guarantees female pleasure and Greene employs it judiciously.

The trickiest part for a female audience is anal, now a standard in its own right though overuse can make it a yawner in many movies. Greene limits his anal scenes because backdoor sex remains a debate among women. It is not personally pleasing for some, they don’t want to do it in their own lives and often see it as degrading. Yet, on-screen anal action has spawned a growing interest among others to experiment in their sex lives.

Feminist adult film directors tend to shy away from anal except with toys in some girl/girl scenes. Greene has compromised, striking a balance for those who want to see a girl’s rump penetrated and others who find it tiresomely repetitive.

That being said, an enthusiastic anal shoot is a welcome variance and Greene’s lead, Bobbi Starr, is a true analist who loves its eroticism. Greene obligingly gives her the go ahead. Two scenes in the film, one with Starr and Wylde and another with Akira and Deen, sparkle for posterior aficionados.

To Serve or Obey?

The film’s opening scene is in a bondage club, and Greene turns BDSM play into superb performance art featuring the incredibly sensuous Justine Joli and Claire Adams, Greene’s rigger for the production of O. Adams is a premier fem dom and Joli is the consummate sub whose winsome and sassy look is a reminder of San Francisco artist and adult film feminist Madison Young. A glorious example of Adams’ shibari rigging ability is on display with the opened legged suspension of Joli. It rivals the best of Young’s Femina Potens  “Art of Restraint” workshops which, incidentally, often feature both performers. Joli clearly relishes her submissiveness, giving “do me” looks to Adams who navigates the scene with the precision of a mechanic.

Performance Art with Justine Joli and Claire Adams.
Courtesy of Adam&Eve Pictures

Incidentally, Greene pays a subtle tribute to his northern neighbor, Kink.com. Marie (Nina Hartley), the owner of the bondage club, speaks briefly with Thomas (Danny Wylde), who has his “not really enslaved” submissive, Yvette (Asa Akira) on a leash. Thomas mentions that he found Yvette “at a party at the Armory” where a “fantastic scene with one of the upstairs girls” played out. Kink’s Upper Floor website and its house slaves are a recognized part of the BDSM porn genre. The Armory’s top floor facility often hosts live parties and offers its online viewers access to the events. In fact, most of Greene’s cast appears regularly at Kink’s edifice.

Thomas with his reluctant slave, Yvette
Courtesy of Adam&Eve Pictures

Listening closely to Marie’s words with Thomas, the viewer will hear a telling political message in the film. O, who is at Marie’s side, tells her at the opening of the movie, “I’ve not forgotten how to serve or obey,” an interesting statement coming from an owned slave. Marie introduces O to Thomas, referring to her as “the finest slave I ever trained.” In those few words, there is meaning that steps outside the film’s narrative. Nina Hartley is the consummate feminist in adult film, coming into porn in the days when feminism was a collective notion, a movement.  The public face of feminism excoriated adult film and Hartley fought accusations from “mainstream” feminists that porn debased women. In the story, Marie has “trained” O to serve and obey, but there is an interpretation here beyond the storyline of mistress and slave. Nina Hartley laid the feminist groundwork in filmed pornography, passing along her wisdom for later performers like Starr to find their own way. Bobbi Starr is a feminist who is individualistic in her approach, a modern update that has partly abandoned the collectivism of a unified political voice so familiar to Hartley. But Starr’s generation has clearly benefited from Hartley’s presence, becoming more outspoken because of it.

The storyline revolves around O’s master Steven, played by porn heartthrob James Deen, who wants to procure another woman for their sexual enjoyment, “a regular part time playmate,” as he puts it. O becomes Steven’s collaborator in his search while questioning her status with him, and as it turns out, her desire for him.

The pivotal sequence in the film is without sex. Steven is a lawyer whose aloofness is a challenge for O. He tells her she is the only one who can satisfy him. O responses with doubt. “Are you sure?” she says. O reminds Steven that she once told him, “I’d do anything to be owned by you,” though her words to Marie that she still remembers how to serve and obey clouds O’s declaration.

They briefly kiss with the affection and tedium characteristic of long-time lovers. O touches his forehead. “What’s going on in the there?” she asks, smiling though a little hesitant. Steven deflects her question. Interestingly, he does not chide her for asking it, though its very nature is an overstepping by a slave.

Instead, Steven reveals his weakness for her. “It’s all become so easy for you, hasn’t it?” He says dryly and sits her on his desk as if she were a child. She forces a smile and the viewer senses this D/s relationship has control issues.

As if to ground O’s wandering and troubled vibes, Steven predicts Greene’s film. “Just when you think you have it,” he says, “it turns out you don’t.” He touches the “O” ring she wears on her right hand and she pulls her hand away, a gesture that is a cross between playfulness and uncertainty.

That’s what the “truth’ of this film is all about.

Seeing Their Dreams, Not Yours

Ernest Greene learned his BDSM film trade back to the days of director Bruce Seven. Fem doms like Bionca and Alexis Payne with a host of submissive beauties, Aja, and Lia Barron coming immediately to mind, graced Seven’s work. In those times, the right wing Meese Commission sent a harassment message to the industry. Too much “spank” could spark interest from the feds and penetrative sex in bondage was verboten. BDSM filming took the safest avenue, concentrating on girl/girl shoots. Remembering those troubled years, Greene reconfigures BDSM in a way that is a bit softer than current online fare. He adds penetrative sex (there never were any legal restrictions on it in bondage filming, by the way), but with sensitive males who respond to a woman’s desires, thus turning his female talent from object to subject. Greene does not ignore gonzo fans, however. He expends footage on the oft-repeated bound girl, on her knees and blowing away. Starr, Lynn, and Andrews display their oral techniques with vigor, not to mention Akira in the climatic sex scene with Deen.

The second disc in the DVD package contains interview material. Greene discusses the evolution of O in his film series. She has gone from defining her desire to becoming a more self-confident woman. The real “truth” about O is her character development. Greene points out that the cultural context of BDSM has moved forward since the publication of Pauline Reage’s original The Story of O almost sixty years ago. The BDSM community is no longer closeted; today’s D/s and BDSM relationships have evolved and can be read in different ways, thus vacating the deviancy label once hung on bondage and discipline. That women are enjoying BDSM possibilities and variances is evident with the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

In his film work, Greene extends permission to O to explore a diversified eroticism. She expresses her desire for a variety of lovers so that she may individualize her sexual expression. Choosing Bobbi Starr as his lead and giving Nina Hartley space as assistant director assures that a sex-positive feminist element is an honored message in the movie. By the way, acting and dialogue in pornography can remind the viewer of Frankenstein’s monster stepping on eggs. If he doesn’t crush them with his plodding, he will clumsily try to avoid touching them at all. Hartley and Starr are exceptions. Starr, in particular, can act and delivers dialogue well; she is a pro and makes her parts in the script more natural than is normally seen in porn.

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The film’s final scene highlights the return of the contract O once signed with Steven. New slave Yvette, whom O has procured for her master, brings the sealed envelope to him. He instructs her to open it. Hesitant, Yvette asks, “Are you sure?” not knowing the proper protocol with him yet. Steven rebukes her, pointing out that a slave does not question her master. Yvette quickly apologizes; apparently unaware that it’s a rule Steven does not apply universally.

Greene adds a clever twist here. O is off to the “Mysteries of the Orient” with Steven’s brother while leaving her now former master with an Asian slave. Will Yvette be a reminder for Steven of where O is now in her larger reality and the decisions she has made? Will O return? Perhaps none of these questions matter in the end, as the contract O signed was on her terms, not Steven’s. But Greene, the astute director that he is, leaves the viewer with a tantalizing thought. Is there another O film in the works?

Steven’s earlier words to O that it’s likely you never quite have what you believe you do, reflect on the totality of O, BDSM, and the state of human sexuality. That is surely the message at film’s end when Greene reminds his audience that submissives are free to walk away in today’s D/s world.

But a final thought is added.

“No one will ever know the truth about you,” Steven muses, thinking of O. “They look at you and see their dreams, not yours.” O transcends the object of desire; she is the huntress for her own erotic satisfaction, using a beguiling submissiveness as one of the arrows in her quiver. That she has choices is the greater message of feminism and BDSM in pornography today.

 

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