In sexy Tinseltown you've got to fake it to make it

In Hollywood, movies about sex rarely make it past the censors – and those that do are a total turn off, says Geoffrey Macnab

Fifty Shades Of Grey author E L James has been in Hollywood this week, meeting producers keen to adapt her best-selling erotic novel for the screen. Such well-established names as Ron Howard and Brian Grazer (the team behind Frost/Nixon and forthcoming Formula 1 movie Rush), Nina Jacobson (the former Disney exec who brought Hunger Games to the screen) and the very cerebral Focus Features boss James Schamus are reportedly vying to make Fifty Shades Of Grey: The Movie, the hope clearly being to turn the novel and its sequels into an adult version of Twilight or Hunger Games.

It's a moot point, though, whether the millions of (mainly women) readers who've lapped up the descriptions of the heroine naked and shackled, "spreadeagled on a large four poster bed", can now be lured to a multiplex. There is an obvious difference between consuming erotic fiction discreetly on an e-reader and queuing up to watch scenes of bondage and sadomasochism while munching on popcorn. The race to bring Fifty Shades to the screen seems also incongruous, given Hollywood's well-known prudishness. This week, the Edinburgh International Film Festival opens with the UK premiere of William Friedkin's noirish comedy Killer Joe. This film has already fallen foul of US censors and has been given an NC-17 rating (which will prevent it being shown in mainstream theatres.) Killer Joe is indeed very violent in parts. But so are many other films which get R ratings. The suspicion remains that what really riled censorship body The Motion Picture Association Of America (MPAA) was the graphic, in your face nudity (the movie has barely started when we see an unwaxed Gina Gershon).

As Kirby Dick's 2006 documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated revealed, the "anonymous group of parents" in southern California who help decide ratings for the MPAA are intensely suspicious of imagery showing female sexual pleasure. Kimberley Peirce, director of Boys Don't Cry, commented after her own tussles with the censors that "in a culture where most movies are written men, directed by men, they (films) are mostly the male experience". Pierce suggested that "if you are a woman who understands female pleasure and understands it from the woman's perspective, you're probably going into terrain that is unfamiliar – and unfamiliarity is what breeds these NC-17s".

In Europe and Asia, there is a tradition of well-respected auteurs dealing with sexuality in a frank and unsettling way, without necessarily being attacked as perverts for doing so. Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers, Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter and Last Tango In Paris or Nagisa Oshima's In The Realm Of The Senses and Steve McQueen's Shame are examples of films with graphic sexual content that are treated respectfully by critics. Lars Von Trier is also about to start work on Nymphomaniac. These films may receive NC-17 ratings in the US but they are feted on the festival circuit. Historically, sex in Hollywood movies doesn't necessarily sell. The patchy box office performances of 9 1/2 Weeks, Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut and Zalman King's Wild Orchid suggests that mass audiences don't really want to see such fare in cinemas.

Nor are these movies often artistic successes. There is too much soft focus, heavy breathing and posturing as filmmakers try to work out just how graphic they can be without alienating the censors.

The workings of the MPAA are often hard to fathom. A decade ago, Steven Shainberg's subversive S&M indie comedy Secretary (starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as an office worker and James Spader as the neurotic boss who likes to spank her) was rated R. The censors were seemingly won over by the film's lightness and humour and therefore didn't condemn it to the NC-17 wilderness. One guesses that leather riding crops won't be too firmly in evidence in Fifty Shades either and that the film will somehow have metamorphosed into a mainstream romantic blockbuster by the time it reaches your local cinema.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before