Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why I'm Going to See "50 Shades of Grey"

This post contains graphic descriptions.

Okay, this is the one that's going to get me in trouble; but frankly, I have come to the point where I don't care. A little over a week ago, the first trailer for the movie based on the best selling fiction book of all time debuted and the internet exploded. For those wanting clarification: this blog post is directed at those who are condemning the movie already (even though they haven't seen it) because they think the book is trashy (though they haven't read it). To all you haters: please, shut your cyber faces.

Let me please clarify my point: film has always pushed the boundary between pornography and "art". If you have any doubt about this, just look around you. In the last year alone, "Blue is the Warmest Color" won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival (one of the highest honors you can receive in film). This movie, more so than even "50 Shades", was controversial from its genesis. Then take a look at this year's "NYMPH( )MANIAC" by Lars von Trier, which tried its very, very best to be so outrageously controversial and unfortunately (or fortunately) failed so hard. I think the best film that toed the line between smut and art is "In the Realm of the Senses" which is still banned in its home country of Japan. The film is shocking with what it shows, including food inserted into human crevices and then eaten and menstrual blood being swallowed. Yes, we see all that; and you people are complaining about this movie? "In the Realm of the Senses" is still considered a "great" movie and lands a place in The Criterion Collection...this movie is considered to be great art by almost every credible critic and gets its own place in 1001 Movies to See Before You Die.

So "50 Shades of Grey" is not going to show us anything we haven't seen before. What about "A Clockwork Orange" in which we see a girl gang raped and another woman bludgeoned to death with a phallic statue? In perspective, "50 Shades of Grey" is going to be a kid's movie. Obviously, I exaggerate, but my point remains the same.

What people are actually choking on (pun intended) is the S&M. Because of the risky, or risque, nature of the sex that people will be having during the movie, it must be a sin, right? For those Christian readers who think that sex should not be portrayed on film, just read Song of Solomon (I must pause here and state before you burn me at the stake—I am purposefully not addressing the religious problems of the movie, i.e. the couple isn't married, it could be derogatory to women, the view on sex altogether etc. etc.). Anyways, it's because the book was so candid about sex that the average viewer might blush at the prospect of watching the words come to life.

But the book was so poorly written! Really, that's the argument you're going with? If the book was so badly written then it shouldn't have connected with so many people. The same logic goes for Twilight. But what if all of humanity is stupid and can't tell when good literature is good? Okay, fine, welcome to the world of the snob...enjoy the hate mail. Consider the success of the trash film "Avatar". People hate it because it's popular, but it's the biggest movie of all time. People hate "50 Shades of Grey" because they feel it compromises some social rigor; yet, you can't argue with success. I say again: you can't argue with success. What constitutes if a movie is good or bad? Surely, it's popular reception should be part of that (if not all of it) and if that's the case, the fans are already speaking in advance. The movie is good. Haters gonna hate.

Books and movies of questionable aesthetic value have been huge commercial hits. Does that make them horrible too? Not in my mind.

If you have a problem with this, don't watch the movie. If it makes you cross a line within yourself that you're not comfortable with, don't do, that was easy! Instead of complaining about the movie being made, why don't you just skip the theater that day? There will be no kids watching this movie (at least, that's not the target audience) so make up your own mind.

As for me, these are the reasons that I'm going to watch the movie:

1. Have you seen the trailer?
A pumped up, R&B/pop remake of "Crazy in Love" and the unveiling of Christian Grey? A moody run in the rain and a trip in an airplane? Yes please, I will be watching this. Not only is the trailer sexy, steamy, and as chill-inducing as the trailer for "Gone Girl"; but the film also looks sleekly manufactured and blissfully constructed.

2. The romance and danger to the impressionable minds.
Certainly, "50 Shades of Grey" doesn't hold within it the most conventional romance; yet neither does Jane Eyre. Obviously Rochester never strapped Jane down to the bed and whipped her; but if the romance is the problem you have with it—if you limit yourself to emotionally realistic romances, you'll never be able to watch a chick-flic again. But I repeat again, make up your own minds, don't tell me why I can't watch the movie, or why that makes me evil.

3. It won't be NC-17
Do you really think that a movie that will be this big is going to push the ratings system? NO! Of course not! Why on earth would you think that? Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with movies pushing the boundaries...but really? Really? This movie is going to be R and if I'm wrong, I'll freely admit it here; but I doubt it. Place your bets now.

4. The inner-workings of the film.
This is the biggest reason I'm interested here. Instead of pulling in huge names (Emma Watson publicly called the book "trash") the movie hired two relatively unknown actors. Dakota Johnson has had supporting roles but never anything like this and Jamie Dornan is even less well-known than her. What a ballsy and totally awesome move! Even better is to hand the movie to an indie director, Sam Taylor-Johnson. She has no credible mainstream hits to her name, but her critical acclaim is high, though she only has one feature film to her resume. Handing such a huge movie to such small figures is so amazing! Well done to all the producers...well done.

5. The anti-feminism feminism.
To those who say that the book and movie brings women backward: the book, screenplay, and direction of the movie are all done by women...which is an anomaly in the film industry, even in today's world. Do I think the book is flattering to all people? No, but it never claimed to be an equal rights book. "The Wolf of Wall Street" is a much more offensive work with its horrid profanity and frankly shocking objectification...that was a smut film, I'm not so sure about this. To put this in perspective, Paola Sorrentino (Oscar winner for "The Great Beauty") called the movie "a masterpiece" and the best film of 2013; and it raked in an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and four other statues. It currently holds a 8.3 rating on and has #119 on the top 250 films ever made...this is at the time of me writing this. I really think that "50 Shades" won't be setting any sex or profanity records.

So all-in-all, it comes down to you. If you don't want to watch the movie, don't; but please hold your judgement on those who do want to see it simply because you don't like the story it tells.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book versus Movie: Naked Lunch

This may contain graphic descriptions.

I don't think anyone truly realizes the work that I put into watching movies. Now, this could seem as a fish for a compliment—let's face it, it probably is—or some self-aggrandizing propaganda; but I would also like to say that I really enjoy all the makes me feel smarter. Whether or not that's the case, is another entry altogether.

When it came to "Naked Lunch", the David Cronenberg film, I was wary of it. I had seen "Videodrome" which I have a love/hate relationship with and can't seem to get out of my head. I'd heard the stories of the movie; but I refused to watch it until I had read the book...because that's just what I do.

With this particular case, the inspiration for "Naked Lunch" had come from four books by William S. Burroughs: Junky, Queer, Naked Lunch, and Exterminator. Naturally, I had to read all of them before I could watch the movie.

My own personal favorite of them all—Junky—was the least utilized in the film, a sore disappointment to me. Queer also was hardly touched. Naked Lunch  and Exterminator are really the two that should be read before watching the movie, though that may be a task that you find impassable.

Burroughs wrote with disturbing precision and frustrating vagueness. Everything was obviously intentional; but the scenes are so incoherent it feels like you're viewing a mosaic rather than reading a book. With Naked Lunch more so, because it has no cohesive narrative and by all accounts is the more disturbing of the books. Exterminator is an experiment if nothing else. Each chapter reveals a new set of circumstances and the book could be seen as a collection of short stories.

Still, since the movie is called "Naked Lunch", I will be comparing it to the book of the same name more than anything else.

Naked Lunch isn't a pleasant read, but it is an addictive one. Burroughs makes no qualms about depicting homosexual behavior, rape, orgasming, and death. The word "ejaculation" is used almost uncountable times as are scenes describing anal sex. It's a work in the human body; yet not in a pleasant way. Because he had written Junky before, I see Naked Lunch as a book warning against drugs—if you want to be so crass as to label the work. Well, not really warning against as showing you what happens when...

The junk user has no sex drive, something that Cronenberg was keen to put into the movie. There are no intimate moments in Naked Lunch, well, really in any of Burroughs' works. The only scene of the four aforementioned novels that has any resemblance to a normal romantic scene is in Junky and even that is a little odd, destroying any notion of intimacy. Burroughs uses his own sexuality to break the scene into an emotional travesty.

For instance, in "Naked Lunch", one scene shows two lovers—both men, as should be expected from the movie—in the bedroom. But instead of being intimate and sexy, the scene turns into something horrific as Cronenberg carelessly dispatches one of the men in a grotesque manner.

Decapitations, rape, and orgasms...Burroughs' book is a never ending sweep of madness.

But that's what I appreciated about it. It's obvious for his writing that Burroughs' time as a drug addict scarred him and deeply influenced his work. I see Naked Lunch, which the author tells all is a collection of his ramblings from when he was on junk, as a a ravenous exploration of the body. It's transformative and keenly evil towards the human body—that is what gives it its power. Incoherent hardly does it justice.

So when translating it to the film form, Cronenberg obviously took some liberties in creating a narrative. Instead of being a movie about how junk affects the body (or even the insect-like explosive nastiness of the book, directed towards the human form) the films gets inside the head of Bill Lee and it becomes more about the strenuous process of writing Naked Lunch.

The movie is about the book and the book is about the body.

That's the problem with the movie—it doesn't contain the sexual savagery in the film, which is fine because how could it? Burroughs himself made the comment that the movie is its own work, barely based on the book. They shouldn't be viewed as one preceding the other, the only similarity between the two is Bill Lee as William Burroughs.

For how different it is from the novel, Burroughs himself was a fan of the movie and liked how Cronenberg made it his own.

For me, the movie is a great accomplishment...then again, so is the book.

If you had to pick: Book.