50 Shades of Grey
John Gore

50 Shades of Grey - Mr Gore will see you now

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John Gore has been Film Programmer at Warwick Arts Centre since ET was on general release, but with the release of the hotly-anticipated (and equally fiercely-dreaded) 50 Shades of Grey, it’s he who feels like a visitor from another world.

Is this what people do these days? Or just the idle rich? Who discovered that so much additional equipment was necessary to perform one of the most basic of acts? Surely, carrying all this extra kit around puts undue stress on one’s back. Is this why young people carry rucksacks, to spread the weight? More elegant than a plumber’s bag, I guess.

I must confess I am a stranger to the dating game, having been in the same relationship since I was 16, so much that I know of the wider world, I learned at the movies. I am therefore at a disadvantage when confronted with a film like 50 Shades of Grey. It begs a lot of questions. I feel the need to read the Coles Notes before embarking on a criticism of it.

It would be trite to suggest that ‘50 Shades of Grey’ is itself a description of a matinee audience but given the appeal of the book, a favourite digital download to be read discretely on the tube, it does intrigue me, visualising the target audience.

Soft porn came into fashion in the mid 1970’s with Emmanuelle and its soft-focus spin-offs of ever more dubious youthfulness, ethnic representation and physical prowess. This was exotic escapist fantasy which broke the ice at dinner parties or revived the weary worker at the end of the working week. By the time the shiny, materialist eighties arrived, casual relationships were drawn into the mainstream and films like 9½ Weeks and Basic Instinct set new benchmarks for the seductive fantasy of wild, abandoned and inventive sex with a strangers or in depersonalised places; uncontrollable animal passion or levels of manipulation and control that inverted the customary, but unfashionable, model of the male gaze. And when does the erotic become the pornographic? I suspect that this is a sliding scale dependent on your own attitudes but I am sure that it balances the implicit against the explicit. Does pornography imply exploitation or gratification without regard for consequences?

The sobering coda to this is exemplified by Steve McQueen’s Shame, a portrait of contemporary urban alienation and sex addiction from 2011. Four years later, where does 50 Shades of Grey fit? Are we revisiting the cinematic erotic desires of the 70s and 80s for those too busy with work, too old for ‘that sort of thing’, or those who never get the chance with the kids around? Or have we encountered a glass ceiling of sexual liberation? Is this fantasy or a Teach Yourself book for our time?

Overall, I feel in sympathy with Tom Hanks’s character in Sleepless in Seattle: “Tiramisu? What’s that? Will she expect me to do that?!”