September 8, 2013
The major story out of Hollywood last week was the casting announcement for the film version of the best-selling porn-novel 50 Shades of Grey. As the entertainment media continue to talk about the highly anticipated film, one question that remains is how explicit the sex scenes will be. According to USA Today:
E. L. James’ erotic best seller is filled with vivid scenes of kinky sex between S&M-loving Christian Grey (to be portrayed by Charlie Hunnam) and Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). But finding the right balance onscreen is going to be a key task for director Sam Taylor-Johnson.
“She is going to have to walk a very fine line,” says Melissa Silverstein, editor of the Women and Hollywood blog on indiewire.com. “That’s the $1,000 question. Are they going to push things to a different level?”
The filmmakers have already made clear that the adaptation will remain an R-rated (restricted) movie and they will not push the sexual content to an NC-17 rating by the Motion Picture Association of America.
“Historically, the NC-17 rating has dramatically impacted box office. It’s the kiss of death in most cases,” says Kirby Dick, director of This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a 2006 documentary about the MPAA rating system.
This is not to say that filmmakers won’t shoot steamier scenes for an unrated version, perhaps for DVD or special release, and then edit the main film for the needed R rating.
Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke says the filmmakers might not want to go too far. Hardwicke is working on the sexually charged thriller Plush, due out in October. She originally intended on portraying explicit sex onscreen.
But focus group members who saw the early film cuts were uncomfortable watching the scenes on the big screen in a public setting.
“People were surprised to see something so sexual,” says Hardwicke. “I thought after the success of (the novel) Fifty Shades of Grey that people would be totally excited to see it. But it was too intense. It’s a whole different feeling on the screen.”
Hardwicke said she made slight modifications to her movie and it was a lesson learned.
“In the end, people are still uptight and nervous about sexuality in movies,” she says.
Hardwicke is doubtless disappointed that the public is still so prudish, but after a few more years I suspect most movie goers will have been successfully desensitized.
50 Shades of Grey promises to bring graphic scenes of S&M to the big screen and is part of a larger trend towards the mainstreaming of pornography. Pornography is already widely available, but this current trend aims to legitimize pornography by including it in mainstream prestige films. For example, this year’s winner of the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival was Blue is the Warmest Colour, a lesbian love story with scenes so explicit that many declared the film to feature non-simulated sex. At the end of 2013 world famous Danish director Lars von Trier is set to release his film Nymphomaniac. Von Trier is going to great lengths to make his film as graphic as possible. According to Wired UK:
For his upcoming film Nymphomaniac, Danish director Lars von Trier is using the genitals of porn actors having intercourse and superimposing them underneath the torsos of the movie’s cast during sex scenes.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in Cannes, the film’s producer Louise Vesth explained: “We shot the actors pretending to have sex and then had the body doubles, who really did have sex, and in post we will digital impose the two. So above the waist it will be the star and the below the waist it will be the doubles.”
As surprising as the inclusion of real sex may be to some, it’s not just von Trier pushing this boundary, nor is it uncommon for sex scenes in mainstream movies to be unsimulated.
Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs included several explicit scenes, including probably the first male ejaculation to feature in a film you could buy on the shelves of Woolworths.
In 2006, Shortbus from Hedwig and the Angry Inch director John Cameron Mitchell included several unsimulated sex scenes, on which he commented: “Some people ask me, ‘Couldn’t you have told the same story without the explicitness?’. They don’t ask whether I could’ve done Hedwig without the songs. Why not be allowed to use every paint in the paintbox?”
The “artists” responsible for this filth may come up with excuses for why these scenes are necessary, but in reality the mainstreaming of pornography is just another degradation imposed on our society. A few short years ago only perverts watched pornography in crowded movie theaters full of strangers; now the general public will engage in the same behavior.