Kinky Films and the Impact of Fifty Shades of Grey

Come on we all saw it. Well some of us saw fake fan made versions of it, but unless you live under a rock or somehow avoided the internet on August 24th, 2014 you probably saw the official trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey. The disdain for the novel it was adapted from in both the vanilla and kink communities is palpable.

It is far from the first film to broach ‘the scene’. There are quite a few others that are equally embarrassing, just as banal, and misleading. Some are inspiring and well-made pieces that explore kink and open sexuality as worthwhile subjects. That said most of the time… it is played for comedy, horror or is outright misunderstood. Lets look at a few examples.

1. Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – Stanley Kubrick’s haunting tale of a husband seeking revenge for the admitted, yet imaginary, affair of his wife.. The film’s main character is a doctor to the elite of New York City. He leaves home in the middle of the night and in his travels several different sexual experiences are made available to him. After running into an old friend he learns of a secret ‘sex party’. He spends the rest of the evening in his efforts to attend.

What makes it “Kinky”? The film’s main setting is an incredibly lavish, sexually indulgent masquerade held in a mansion just outside New York City. The party features a number of different kinks: objectification, exhibitionism, group sex and D/s, are on full display.

Positive/Negative Impact on Kink – The film depicts kink society as an exclusive extremely elite subculture with pseudo-religious elements and lots of ritual. The majority of the press, at the time, focused on its frank portrayal of sex and the digital censorship required to put the film out in theatres in the United States. Accompanied by the death of Kubrick the quality of the film was lost to its more sensational elements.

2. Exit To Eden (1994) – Director Garry Marshall’s Romantic Comedy about two police officers trying to track down a witness who unwittingly has taken a photo of a murdering jewel thief. The photographer, Elliott, has always secretly desired to be submissive and his counselor introduces him to the world of BDSM by arranging for him to travel to Eden. Eden is an island that is home to a 5-star resort that is a 24/7 High Protocol environment. Run by Mistress Lisa, Elliott falls in love with her while being sought out by the undercover police officers and the criminal he can identify.

What makes it “Kinky”? Nearly everything about the film. Eden features slave auctions, custom built fantasy environments, whips, chains, work details, and tennis games where a slaves buttocks are the “ball”.

Positive/Negative Impact on Kink – This film is a tough one to classify as positive or negative to kink. The film means well. It wants to spread a message that sexuality can be explored in many ways and that sex is beautiful, natural and wonderful. If you like chaining up your partner or laying at the foot of your partner’s bed at night you deserve love too. That said, most of the press was focused on aspects like Rosie O’Donnell’s weight fluctuations, instead of the presence of fantastic actors like Hector Elizondo and Dana Delany. At the end of the day its an extremely cheesy rom-com, that so happens to be based around a kink resort.

3. Gor (1987) Based on the 1966 novel, “Tarnsman of Gor” by John Norman this is a sword and sandals style fantasy flick that is the definition of a B-movie. The story follows history professor Tarl Cabot, a meek man, who spurned by his teaching assistant for said meekness finds himself transported to the planet Gor. On Gor, he observes an evil priest-king, Sarm, attack a village and in the melee kills Sarm’s son. This begins the classic heroic journey where Tarl will embark on a quest to save the planet Gor.

What makes it “Kinky”? Male/Female dynamics on Gor are based on the concept that men should be warriors and women should be sexual creatures. There are a few exceptions but sexual slavery and power exchange are exhibited throughout the film.

Positive/Negative Impact on Kink – The novels have impacted the scene by creating the foundation for Gorean kink culture. That said the film is so poorly made that its overall depiction of kink would likely be viewed as negative. With the exception of possibly being enjoyed for its extreme camp value.

4. Secretary (2002) Steven Shainberg’s modern fairy tale about a young woman, Lee, looking to get her life back on track following her release from a mental hospital. After completing a typist course she accepts a job with an extremely detail oriented lawyer, E. Edward Grey. Over time the relationship between the two takes on a D/s relationship dynamic.

What makes it “Kinky”? Lee and Edward’s relationship involves spanking, humiliation, power exchange, and pony play… among other things.

Positive/Negative Impact on Kink – There are issues with Secretary that could be construed as negative. Lee is a cutter and Edward uses his position as her boss inappropriately. That said Lee, while surprised at first, consents to his behavior and their relationship stops her from self harming. Even the extreme three day loyalty test is 100% within her control. Their relationship is treated like many film romances just with D/s as the foundation. This film is essentially a traditional Hollywood romance movie and the fact that a kink film can be described that way is the most positive impact.

5. Caligula (1979) Tinto Brass’ infamous psychedelic fever dream about the rise and fall of Roman emperor Caligula. Madness, Sexual Depravity, Murder, Rape and more are splayed across the screen as Caligula ascends the throne and is later assassinated.

What makes it “Kinky”? Orgies, Extreme Fisting, and in the unrated version of the film there is un-simulated sex. This includes an ejaculation. Producer Bob Guccione was the publisher of Penthouse Magazine. He secretly filmed hardcore sex scenes to be spliced into the film in the editing room after the film was done.

Positive/Negative Impact on Kink – Writer Gore Vidal had his name removed from the film and director Tinto Brass was barred from the editing room to keep him from stopping Guccione’s plan. This lead to the incomprehensible manner in which the film was assembled. Scenes of torture and scenes of lust were placed together in ways the story did not call for. For most people this film makes sex disgusting. So much of what occurs is non-consensual or becomes violent its impact on kink is definitively negative.

6. The Story of O (1975) – Based on the famed erotica novel from 1954 Just Jaeckin’s adaptation of the sexual journey of a photographer named O is one of the quintessential kink film stories. O begins as the lover of a man named Rene and after being submitted to intense training finds herself shared with a man he considers his brother, Sir Stephen. Over time O’s training intensifies, she is eventually pierced and branded as belonging to Sir Stephen. Their love is tested when a man named Ivan falls in love with O and wants to “save” her.

What makes it “Kinky”? O is taken to houses for training that includes whipping, piercing, branding and being shared sexually with whomever her master(s) desire.

Positive/Negative Impact on Kink – The film is dated. That said for release in 1975 it features none of the lingering grotesque images of Caligula which would be released four years later but filmed within a similar time frame. Its shot beautifully and seems to have been made with care for the characters and story. The ending of the novel was changed and some feel that has lessened the impact of the story but I’m among those that think the new ending is better suited to the film. As nontraditional as the relationships in the film may be… the general idea is O’s master(s) can do anything they wish to her because they own her. That said, O can decide at any time, whether she is owned by them or not. This would lead to the assertion that this is a film that could have positive impact on how the world views kink… so long as one can look past the ideas of impact play and non-monogamy. O decides that she wants to live this life and however harshly she is trained or how many people she is given to, she gets to dictate her own sexual trajectory.


There are a ton more films I could put into this article. I’m going to highlight a few of them below and create a “watchlist”. For anyone who is interested in “learning” about the subject before Fifty Shades of Grey comes out. I’ll try to put some notes with each film but there may not be as much detail as above.

Films with Kink Watchlist:

  • Short Bus (2006) – John Cameron Mitchell’s film about various New Yorkers trying to connect to one another while attending a sex positive and artistic event. The film features un-simulated sex and focuses on open relationships, s&m, and group sex.
  • Crash (1996) – David Cronenberg’s psychological erotic thriller about a group of paraphillics who are sexually enamored with car crashes. The film features intense sexual sequences often accompanied by the violence of twisted metal as the group purposefully stages reenactments of famous crashes. (Not to be confused with the 2004 Best Picture Winner by Paul Haggis)
  • Sleeping Beauty (2011) – Writer/Director Julia Leigh’s film about a young woman named Lucy who takes a job as a sleeping companion for men. She drinks a special tea that renders her unconscious and the men are allowed to do anything to her within reason as long as there is no intercourse. This film explores consensual non consent, a subject that is extremely difficult to portray.
  • Shame (2011) – Filmmaker Steve McQueen’s drama about a man fighting sex addiction doesn’t quite fit the kink formula of the other films on this list. That said it turns an unblinking eye to the uncontrollable pull of sex on the lives of some people. The main character’s acts of frequent masturbation and intercourse are intense and somewhat masochistic.
  • The Dreamers (2003) – Bernardo Bertolucci’s drama of a French brother and sister and their shared romance with a young American in Paris during the 1968 student riots. Initially, drawn to each other because they all love films the American finds himself in the middle of a sexual battle of wills between brother and sister. Games with a psycho sexual element, incest and group sex are all featured in this incredible film.
  • The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) – John Erick Dowdle’s mockumentary horror film about the most successful active serial killer in America. This film features all aspect of kink elements taken to a horror setting. I am in no way saying that the non-consensuality of the actions in the film should be considered on the same level as consensual kink but its impossible to deny that the filmmakers gave the killer an interest in multiple different fetishes. The killer is a Looner, creates a Slave Master dynamic with one of his victims and is revealed to be a necrophiliac. Again, in no way is this meant to depict safe sane consensual BDSM but its important to show that films and television often like to depict kinky people this way.
  • Cruising (1980) – William Friedkin’s serial killer drama takes place in the underground gay leather scene in New York City. A serial killer is murdering gay men in New York and a young up-and-coming detective is assigned to go undercover to find him. Rampant homophobia from the NYPD including the detective create issues in the investigation until he decides to embrace the lifestyle as much as possible. The line begins to blur as to whether he is simply playing a part or finds himself becoming part of the scene. The intensity of the film is muted as its most over the top sequences were supposedly ripped from the film to protect the career of Al Pacino. There is a lot of leather, explanation of flags and the interrogation scene has to be seen to be believed.
  • Interior. Leather Bar. (2013) – A mix of documentary and fiction directed by James Franco and Travis Mathews. This film follows the production of a re-imagining of the lost 40 minutes of the film Cruising. It features un-simulated sex, spanking, leather and chains. Easily one of the more thought provoking films of the last decade.
  • The Brass Teapot (2012) – Ramaa Mosely’s dramedy of a young couple struggling financially when they come across a magic teapot that pays them money for hurting themselves. This isn’t really a kink film but it doesn’t fall far from that idea. The film features a ton of masochistic actions. There’s lots of slapping, spanking, burning and cutting in the film. There is one outright scene of kinky play between the couple but its played almost entirely for comedy. This film is best thought of as an intro to kinky films. There are intense portions of the movie but if you are trying to spark an interest or conversation it might work.
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Mr. Khon

Our own version of The Illusive Man, Mr. Khon's identity is kept secret until he sells a screenplay. Once that happens, he's taking us all to the big time.

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