Film, News & Commentary

Razer: Fifty Frames of Bleugh

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Let’s call Fifty Shades of Grey, the movie adapted from the blockbuster “book” that turned mere coffee klatsches into mornings of parallel female masturbation, a “singular” experience. And, no. This is not down to the famous peccadilloes of its antihero Christian Grey. Honestly, this film is to BDSM as The Constant Gardener was to gardening. Which is to say, insufficient dirt. I mean. The sex. It’s not very good or especially copious and whomever forced the achingly hot hips of Dakota Johnson into several unflattering pairs of what I believe are called “cheekies”, and look to be made from a faux-lace the approximate texture of aggregate gravel, deserves to be banned from quality underwear for life. Ugh. Haven’t these people heard of Agent Provocateur? Why is she wearing all of a five-for-thirty-dollars pack from Cotton On? This is FANTASY, people and I expect to see the destruction by litres of semen of undergarments I could not afford without the sale of an organ.
So, let’s get the horn assessment done at the outset: this film did not prompt my own vagina — or, as author EL James would prefer “the deepest, darkest part of me” — to the merest widening. Not. One. Twinge. And, yes, I know my libido can make no claims to universality so I asked my friend, A, who is a former professional dominatrix and, in her own words, “a terrible slut who can be prompted to climax by the merest tickle”, if she had felt anything. “Just the need of a drink”, she said. And, I asked the woman behind me who answered me “Are you a critic?”. When I answered yes, she said: “I feel nothing but boredom. Tear this fucker to shreds.”
Of course, I had attended this premiere with that express intention. I have never enjoyed anything, not even quality sex, so much as I have the exercise of spanking the piss out of Fifty Shades trilogy. Over some ten thousand published words, I have urged anyone who masturbated to sentences like “I can’t wait to be inside you, Anastasia Steele”, to seek immediate medical aid and a remedial copy of Strunk & White, and I have loved it. And so, it is with great personal regret, and sincere apologies to the disappointed lady who sat behind me, that I find myself unable to replicate such public revulsion.
And it is this that makes the movie as “singular” as Christian Grey’s tastes: the movie is disappointingly tolerable.
Actually, visually, it is quite good. Okay, very good save for the underpants. We may not find the graphic vocab of Sam Taylor-Johnson particularly erotic but it is so beautiful and very current in its profuse reference. We have the diffident blue filter of the book’s sexy sine qua non, Twilight in early scenes. We move beyond the YA feel of the Pacific Northwest to the saccharine slick of ‘90s sex-chillers like Basic Instinct when Anastasia is deflowered; Christian and his high-end catalogue home both recall the middle-class fantasy of wealth made famous by Robert Redford in Indecent Proposal. Actress Johnson is shot like an Instagram selfie with her “flaws” — such as they really aren’t on such a heavenly young body — lit up in warm, amateur filters and there are a million quite funny phallic symbols strewn across this visually rich, libidinally poor sex desert that one is prompted to say, as Anastasia might, “Gee! Holy Cow!”. The imagery is clever and lovely.
Taylor-Johnson also manages some dialogue alchemy. By all accounts, the book’s author held unprecedented influence throughout the production cycle and her insistence that certain lines be retained “for the fans” was worked to spectacular advantage. When Anastasia Steele offers up her ridiculous name, for example, which is better suited to a Mills and Boon heroine of the seventies than today’s Modern Bottom, she does so with a palpable wink. And when Jamie Dornan’s Christian Grey is forced to repeat the dire line “I don’t make love, I fuck!”, you can almost hear the director laughing as she circles the exclamation point in red and writes “lol” in the margins of the screenplay.
The story, though, gives us all of the undulating surprise of the Nullarbor. It would take great creative liberty to excite the book’s flat narrative and even a team of credentialed screenwriters couldn’t be bothered screwing with a tale whose intensity is driven entirely by sex acts that aren’t even as hot as something you might have seen Michael Douglas administering to much younger women in multiplexes twenty years ago. (Although, I should say, that my learned friend A gave a thumbs up to the authenticity of the chesterfield in the dungeon. Even if the sex wasn’t evocative of BDSM practice, the interior design, apparently, was.)
So, what we have is a film with a surplus of visual beauty but a pleasure deficit and a viewer is left with a feeling not unlike that of having eaten a Quarter Pounder. It looks good but it is neither nourishing nor substantial and you can’t quite work out why everyone, including you, keeps buying this shit. You know you have been fooled into this purchase of cheap grace and you know that its production relies, somewhere along the chain, on cruelty.
You can taste the pain in the special sauce of Fifty Shades, but not in a good way. Not in a Sassy Schoolgirl or Nightporter way where dominance and submission are erotic, like some sex is erotic, because they evoke and unbind power from the everyday. This film doesn’t even begin to disturb the libido or the shape of gender. Of course, that’s not a crime. It’s just a disappointment.
I am aware of the feminist critique of the film and, bless, there was a knot of young women in Rosie the Riveter doo-rags half-yelling “Stop violence against women!” at the Melbourne premiere last night. But, such critiques, such as this one, are enfeebled by a revulsion for desire. Some of us like to be spanked and some of us who like to be spanked, and Anastasia clearly does, like the matter and the declaration of our consent to be muddied. Unfortunately for a black-and-white feminism, “no means no” doesn’t work in a world of safe-words. And, desire does not conform to even the noblest political goals.
If there is an “anti-feminist” message in the clearly fictional world of Fifty Shades, it is not that some women get off on pain. Which we do. It is that all women are now required to feast on the same mass-produced repast. Nice as it looks, this movie tastes bad when it means that so many of our orgasms are motivated by the same market force.
Read more about 50 Shades of Grey by Helen Razer 

38 responses to “Razer: Fifty Frames of Bleugh

  1. Yeah… Not into it. Dressing up in naughty-girl-lingerie, running around being spanked… I just hear the Benny Hill theme tune in my head. Not sexy at all for me. But each to their own.

  2. Out of curiosity, what was the ‘whoa’ count? And will we be seeing a musical soon? I must say, I’m looking forward to the Movie World 50 Shades of Grey Theme Ride and Action Show – every hour on the hour.

    1. THERE WAS NOT A SINGLE “WHOA”.
      Very disappointing.
      However, I am delighted to report that Anastasia Steele bites her lip (“you know what that does to me, Anastasia Steele!”) throughout the film to a point where I am certain an on-set dermatologist was retained.
      Oh. Also, the tampon scene was sadly absent. Shame.

  3. Dear Helen,
    I commiserate with you.. sometime it,s a very tough job to be a critic!
    It took me about all of 20 minutes to peruse 1500 pages of “50 shades of terribly Grey junk”. It’s a pity that E L James didn’t find time to enroll to at least a 3 day course of “introduction to basics of writing”.
    I do understand the curiosity of moviegoers who did not read the “book”, but for those who did, we should probably advice a course of “Learn to appreciate good literature”
    and no silk brand of “knickers” will improve a sleazy flick.

  4. A singular viewing experience was had by several hundred patrons at the 10.30am premier of the film at Top Ryde on Thursday 12th. Some thirty or so women in head scarves talked, laughed, ate, called out to each other across the cinema, answered mobiles, flashed around torches and ignored all pleas to be quiet. Were they just rude and inconsiderate or had they gathered intending to disrupt the viewing pleasure of others? I guess we’ll never know.

    1. Critics enjoying their democratic right to gentle protest at poor quality film?
      I guess we’ll never know. But, what we do know that you couldn’t resist the public opportunity to mention what I suppose was hijab.
      People with glass manners and all that.

  5. Seriously, everyone is OVERTHINKING these books and now this movie … it’s a chick flick love story with a bit of sex, just one thing to remember people .. she sold 100 MILLION copies … in 52 languages …

    1. Not even an ellipsis can bring weight to the old and sad argument that market achievement is the only measure of success

    2. It is NOT a love story. If you think being spoken to like a naughty toddler, being told who you can see and spend time with, being stalked, having your job chosen for you and several other things I could mention ad nauseam, then you need to redefine what a love story is.

  6. My reading of the book was mercifully free, from my local library. Thank goodness I didn’t fork out cash for this tripe: it was unbelievably trite and as stimulating and satisfying as the McDonald’s crap Helen refers to.
    As a septuagenarian of wide and varied experiences, I couldn’t be bothered to see the film, as the book was QUITE enough of a turn-off!

    1. You were brave, reading a previously thumbed copy… For curiosities sake I gave the Kindle preview a go. I almost died of boredom.

  7. there is nothing like a Razer Review to rip the fork out of one’s nightie…I think I chipped a tooth on my magic wand just reading this.

    1. Actually, high fructose corn syrup, which is contained in hamburger buns, has been shown to have a deleterious effect on general cognitive ability. Additionally, recent studies have shown HFCS contains mercury which is associated with a range of adverse neurological effects.

      1. Thanks Nelson, another guilty pleasure rears its head as a possible explanation for my mediocre IQ.
        My general cognitive ability is lower than a ducks arse, so I’m going to keep on scarfing down those burgers anyway. Just need to find something decent to watch.

  8. At a time when many are working flat out to help young women avoid controlling, manipulative, emotionally and physically violent relationships, comes a film which presents these behaviours as romantic. And this anti feminist drivel is the best Crikey can come up with! So much for my trial, I will not be subscribing to a Crikey with a Razer in the house.

  9. I have a high tolerance to crap but what I read of this book almost made me spew and not necessarily because of the content. The writing was just so bloody awful. I won’t bother with the movie but enjoyed your review.

  10. wonderful (as always!) article. From what I’ve read recently, the critiques leveled against 50SOG are less about the ‘red room’ and more about the controlling and manipulative nature of the relationship. Now having read all three books, there are many reasons why no one else should suffer through it but the portrayal of the relationship and normalization of that type of relationship is what leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

  11. Well damn.
    Everything I know about this – uhm – phenomenon I got either from posters on busses or from your many thousands of words.
    And I was so looking forward to your ripping this fecker to shreds.
    Ah well, we can make do with the whimper instead of the bang, I guess.

  12. I want to know if the producers of this “chick flick” would have the ‘Niagara Falls’ (think about it in the context of a part of Mr Grey’s anatomy) to follow-up with a film version of Charles Bukowski’s “Women” ? Now that might bring out a somewhat different audience to the one currently flocking apparently to this porno-light dirge marketed so nauseatingly so brilliantly on the day of the year so loathed by the male species who need female attention. Helen, pray tell. Have you read any of Bukowski and his parallel universe different approach to the complexity of the male/female paradigm, compared to Ms James somewhat hard to believe submissive type female craving hang gliders and dungeons ? Ms James who has so cleverly it seems tapped into the zeitgeist of the female species in relation to what a great majority of half the earth’s population wants in the bedroom, will never have to write another word again. Bravo dear lady, but I will take old Charlie’s version of the complexity of the relationship between men and women then the fiction of Ms James any day i’m afraid.

  13. Just to add a slightly serious note…films like this and “My Mistress” which give fluffy, stereotypical and often inaccurate portrayals of a subject matter that is often misunderstood can do harm in many other ways and worsen the misocnceptions. One wonders if people who make them understand words like “thorough research” – didn’t they pay attention at film-making school? 🙂

  14. Razor’s review leaves me a tad confused. All the goings on about cheap lingerie and then a middle class quite bourgeoise response to the whole 50 Shades of Garbage. I have nil intention of reading the book and absolutely wouldn’t spend the free ticket I have to the Dendy to see this rubbish. Remember Mickey Rourke and Kim Bassinger? How does it compare to 91/2 Weeks? That must be the benchmark as far as an American alleged erotic movie is concerned. And let’s face it, THEY were both beautiful, divine and perfect in their roles. There are too many stunning French, Spanish, Iranian and Italian movies that contain more erotic bondage and sad-masochistic thrill to them with more beautiful women, many of whom know exactly what they want. Please, give it up.

  15. Apparently the most thrown out novel on planes ever .such a shame that women’s reading ability has sunk to this.

  16. Thanks for the review Helen.
    Recently-a week ago-I decided to read the damned book-Christ what a waste of money. I am more than pleased to read you didn’t find the sex interesting. No more did I and as there wasn’t much happening aside from the-to me-sexless couplings I pitched it out. Maybe I shoulda given it to the Op-Shop?

  17. It’s a pity that the story conflates two very different situations. Within a equal and respectful relationship, sex games can be great fun. But manipulating, controlling, and dominating outside the bedroom is abuse.

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