Why Grey is a Nothing but Toilet Paper

Guest Writer: V. Cole

I’m sure many of us heard about the release of Grey by E. L. James in 2015, the companion novel to the Fifty Shades series, which tells us the story of the first book but in the point of view of the apparently the most desirable guy ever: Christian Grey. After reading the trilogy I can honestly say I am terrified. I do warn you all that this review is not short as there is just too much to discuss.

Let’s start with the background of this series that seemed to be what everyone was talking about in 2012. Having started its life as Twilight fanfiction, when the character’s names were changed (not their personalities), Master of the Universe became Fifty Shades of Grey. Or simpler terms: Twilight porn minus the sparkling. (Don’t worry readers, there is still plenty of dazzling!) Some people loved the series and lauded it as a great love story, one that has sparked sales in whips and other BDSM gear. Others, like myself, thought it as a horrifying story of abuse and appallingly written.

So why did I read this rag? I felt that I couldn’t comment about the messages of the series without reading it. So I borrowed it from my Nan’s neighbour and managed to get through the trilogy, even though I needed a dousing of brain bleach afterwards. I won’t comment too much on the series that is written from Ana’s point of view as it has been done to death. No point flogging a dead horse after all. So I thought I would read and review Grey instead as I appear to be a literary masochist.

Why has it taken me so long to review this book? I refuse point blank to buy this new and therefore fund E.L. James’ bank account. So, I waited, hoping to find it in a charity shop so at least the money could go to a good cause. In the end I got it at a boot sale for 50p; I was OK with that.

Now for the controversial statement: I actually thought this was the best book in the Fifty Shades series. Before you get the pitchforks out; it really says a lot that it is easier to read in the point of view of the psychotic Christian Grey than the utter stupidity that is Anastasia Steele. What a relief it was to not have to read with the vapid sex obsessed “Inner Goddess” and the irritating subconscious constantly showing up just to p*** me off. As much as James tries to make Ana intellectual and deep, she is actually dumber than a rock and could easily win the Darwin Awards. I get she was meant to be naive and Grey opens the world of sex to her but her extreme naivety just makes me want to bash my head against the wall! Who seriously thinks when you are round a guy’s place for sex, especially after seeing a BDSM contract, and he offers to show you his playroom, that he actually means you are going to play Xbox, seriously how stupid can you get?!?!

So in a nutshell yes, this book was easier to read but make no mistake, this book is horrible. Christian Grey is a monster in the trilogy: I would gladly see him meeting Ramsay Snow/Bolton as a prisoner but most likely they would just swap stories and tips. It is always beyond me how so many women think he is the ultimate man to be with, and sometimes I feel forced to think it’s because he is pretty and rich as his personality is just ugly. We saw all this behind the vapid eyes of Ana but now we get pure and non-stop Grey. He is even more ugly and vile in this novel. He is a whiny brat within the first few pages because his personal trainer dared to beat him. His treatment of Ana when he first meets her is deplorable; he is purposely making her uncomfortable and frightened because he is once again nothing but a petulant brat. He enjoys it and keeps thinking of other ways to make her uncomfortable. Then we have the lovely line where she asked him if he is gay and his inner monologue is frankly disturbing as he wants to beat her for punishment. Really?!? James, you do realise it’s 2016 and not 1916 right? Why is it so offensive to you to be asked if you are gay? That just screams to me that he is an insecure homophobe who feels he must be a manly man at all times. I wouldn’t say this if this happened once but throughout this book, he keeps ranting on and on about how dare Ana asks if he is gay and again how much he wants to beat her for it. What a charmer! Doesn’t help that the only two gay characters that appear in this excuse for literature is a stereotypical, flamboyant gay hairdresser and the other is Grey’s assistant. Her being a lesbian is the explanation as to why she doesn’t gape like a moron every time Grey looks at her like every single woman to appear. Fear not, Grey is horrible to all of them for daring to stare at his looks. Throughout the book he is just as patronising and condescending to Ana, but it’s made worse as we are privy to his horrid thoughts.

So we have had our lovely protagonist and now it’s time to discuss our heroine. I made no secret that I think Ana is so mind numbingly stupid, however I also find her very self- involved and hypocritical due to her treatment of her friend Kate. Kate is a genuine friend who just wants to look out for Ana as she is honestly concerned alas, no Ana has to go on and on about Kate in unflattering terms. She is hypocrite in the fact she thinks Kate needs to get a room before she is kissing Elliot considering she lets Grey pleasure her in the lift filled with people (how charming). She is also incredibly possessive of Grey and gets insanely jealous of his ex and friend. So to sum up, Ana is a stupid and unpleasant person. Sadly, as we are in the head of Grey, all we hear about is how amazing, beautiful, intelligent and perceptive Ana is. He will break from his condescending tone to switch to bloated flowery prose of how awesome Ana is. Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable as we all know Ana is James’ self- insert, so it sounds like James is using Grey to w*nk about how great Ana and therefore how great James is *shudder*. I may pause to scrub myself with wire wool and bleach.

Ah, that’s better! I feel clean again even though I may need it again as it’s time to discuss the sex. I got so bored of the sex in the trilogy since it just seemed the same thing over and over, adding a whip and clamp here and there. The sex is still just as boring but to spice things up we now have the psychotic thoughts of Grey to see us through this tedium. One improvement is that Grey doesn’t have the mind of an immature 10-year- old looking and giggling at the reproduction chapter in a science book like Ana does. It seriously p***ed me off that she would constantly say things like ‘down there!’: it’s your vagina you immature bint, for God’s sake!! So yes, at least we get the anatomical names and slang for genitals. On the other hand, sex through Grey’s eyes just creeped me out. He sounded really pervy and every time he said “good girl” I died a little inside. Maybe that’s people’s “thing”, but considering how much he treats Ana like a child in the books it just makes me feel icky.

Then we have the darker side to the sex scenes in this book. The scene that comes to mind is when Ana sends him an email saying no to the relationship after her “research”, which consisted of one whole Wikipedia page. She sends it as a joke because she is stupid, so instead of Grey doing the sensible thing like, you know, calling her to discuss it he just breaks into her house and has sex with her. Who said romance is dead? She dares to roll her eyes at him and that’s when it gets disturbing. He uses sex as a way to humiliate and use her and his thoughts are just vile. He uses the fact that she is wet to prove in his sick head that she loves it even though they practically stopped rutting ten minutes before, so no s**t! He does this constantly; the times that he forces punishment sex on her, he constantly blames her for this and thinks that he is right. We know from her POV that she is terrified and upset. Nice way to victim blame, Grey. Even when she dumps him after he whips her brutally, it is naturally all her fault in his psychotic brain. Why do women lust after this man!?! I honestly want reasons.

The rest of the characters are unsurprisingly just as flat as they were in the trilogy. Can’t waste time with character development when we can spend pages and pages of w*n***g over Ana after all. Mia is still a carbon copy of Alice Cullen which irritates me since I loathe Alice. The only development Mia gets is that she is even more of a petulant child as the more we saw more of her, whereas Elliot just carries on being one of the most likeable characters which to be fair is not hard. The rest are honestly just cardboard cut outs to make our couple look good.

The background character I want to discuss is Ella, or as Grey so charmingly calls his birth mother: the crack whore. In the trilogy, I honestly found her a sympathetic character. She was clearly very young with a four-year- old child who most likely had a very tragic background that caused her to become a drug addicted prostitute. Her pimp constantly beats her and abuses her mentally, she reminds me of Merope Gaunt in the way that she is so downtrodden that she fell to rock bottom and couldn’t live to save her son. However, there are hints in the text that she did love her son, he had toy cars and it is said she made him a birthday cake. Considering it is described that they are extremely poor then that is a kind thing for Ella to do for her son. He says how he loves stroking her hair and there seems to genuine love for her in the irritating child chapters. Yet, in Grey he has a few flashbacks and she calls him ‘maggot’ a few times. This to me screams retcon. I think James realised that she was actually sympathetic and this takes away from the limelight from the amazing Cullens, oh sorry I mean Greys (seriously James, try and make your characters not carbon copies of the Cullens, it’s just lazy). It also made Grey sound like the raging arsehole that he is because the way he talks about her is spiteful – evidence shows that she did love him. Can’t have the Christian Grey seem horrible, so I believe she added that nickname to justify Grey’s horrible attitude towards her.

Overall, this book is just horrible. The prose is sloppy and bloated, it is clear that James abused a thesaurus to make us think she has learnings. I hate Christian Grey with a passion as he is just a vile human being. He is so much worse in this book, he is a petulant, abusive a***hole who uses the guise of BDSM to humiliate and abuse women. This is deeply offensive to the BDSM community where trust, consent and respect are paramount. When it comes to Ana, as much as Grey tries to tell me that she is just oh so intelligent and wonderful it just doesn’t work. She is still just as stupid and no amount of bloated and flowery prose will convince me. If you fancy being enraged, then go ahead and read this book. Just don’t buy it new as we don’t need to fund James who honestly thinks this is a great love story and that Christian Grey is the greatest man ever. Now I’m going to read Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined as like I said I am a literary masochist and then I will most likely rip it to shreds. I think I may need wine.

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Disparue/The Disappearance Episodes 1 and 2 – Analysis

Episode 1

We open with the subject, Léa Morel, getting ready for her birthday in the presence of her younger sister Zoé and cousin Chris. Léa is confident in her skin as she dresses and applies her makeup. The confidence only spills over into self-absorption when Léa complains that she’s worn all of her clothes

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and tries on her mother’s. In typical fashion Léa asserts her teenage independence from her mother Florence, who has just noticed that Léa had a little tattoo done behind her ear. So far Léa is presented as a teenager who does typically teenage things such as lying about tattoos and informing parents that their lives are their own and no one else’s. We’ve all been there. While it is to be expected, where Léa is concerned, it feels like a deeper personality flaw. Judging by what we later find out about her, this attitude is the tip of the iceberg. Naturally, the father Julien is less of an

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Wrapped around Julien’s finger.

enemy and grants her extra time to stay out. It all makes no difference because, as this opening scene points out, Léa’s destiny is set in stone based on hints of her personality. Léa has her father Julien and her uncle Jean wrapped around her finger. At this point, Chris is merely Léa’s shadow. Something to keep an eye on.

Léa fails to turn up in the allotted time. The moral of this story is always listen to the worrier; don’t dismiss them because they could be right. Then again, how are we to know that our kids will severely p*** someone off(!) Florence and Léa’s older brother Thomas go to Le City nightclub as the starting point of their investigation, and funnily enough Thomas is too embarrassed to be seen with his mother in a club for youths. It’s not like she’s going to be whooping, flirting with young men and dancing on the tables, Thomas. When that amounts to nothing, attention falls on Chris. She lets the cat out of the bag that Léa was seeing someone on the quiet. Scrutiny then shifts onto the boyfriend. It’s a bit of a slap in the face that she hid this from her parents, another slap when they meet Romain’s mother, whom is already acquainted with Léa. The final blow is delivered when Romain confesses that they’ve been together for six months. Dun. Dun. DUNNNN. Léa did the “Meet the Parents” only with her boyfriend’s side and not her own. Another bit of information they didn’t know about their daughter.

A clever little exposition technique I appreciate is Léa’s parents leaving the police station at the same time as the new investigator Bertrand Molina swaggers in. They pass each other not knowing that they are about to see a lot of each other. Molina’s superior arrives to welcome him, and a wonderful contrast is shown using costume. Superintendent Louvin enters in a polo shirt with visible sweat patches, while Molina is suited up and cool as a cucumber. One can take the heat and one can’t – we know who our leading man is going to be.

Despite it being obvious that Léa’s not going to show up, her family prepare her birthday party. Well it wouldn’t be The Disappearance if she magically appeared when desired. Julien later gives some information to Molina about Léa’s situation before her disappearance: ‘She is a good student. She gets on with everyone. She’s very sociable.’ Hm. A way of countering the not-so-glowing picture we were just beginning to get of her. Like stashing little packets of cocaine in her drawer. A terrible idea since she has a little sister who wants to be like her and would probably explore her room when it’s vacant. As for ‘sociable’, sociable people just have more people to upset or offend, so that hardly discounts her not having any enemies. I must say, when Julien starts getting a bit confrontational with Molina he handles it quite well. He just has to give Julien “the look” and Julien takes it down a notch. I think that clip should go on a workplace training video on How to Diffuse a Situation. Alas, Molina will empathise with Julien to some degree because he too has a daughter. They both have soft spots for their little girls, and Molina knows what it’s like to have his distance herself from him. He lights up when Rose exits her school, waiting for her to pick up her phone so that he can surprise her. She snubs him. His attempts at masking his disappointment are fruitless. Even being daddy’s girls doesn’t prevent them from straying.

Léa’s boyfriend Romain becomes our chief suspect for the latter part of the episode, with him reluctantly revealing that they had a fight before she disappeared. In the midst of amorous activity, it’s revealed that he’d also engaged in amorous activity with her cousin Chris. Ahhh young love. You almost feel sorry for Molina having to delve into the world of youth. His

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Molina’s so done.

expression is a picture: he’s trying to remain serious but this isn’t his favourite part of questioning. It gets a bit too intimate when you know the ins and outs of the lives of both the victim and the relatives. Camille Guerin comes in to save her superior Molina from having to shoulder this responsibility of knowing everything. Molina also requires someone to challenge his hunches; there’s an instant stare-down after their introduction regarding Romain’s innocence. Most of the time my guesses as to who’ll end up an “interest” of some sorts is right. My radar buzzed the moment Camille made her first appearance. I do like, however, that it’s not immediately obvious as a setup. Molina doesn’t take his eye (figuratively) off the case to initiate anything between them. There

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Conversation shut down.

might be a connection between them, but it takes a backseat to the case for both of them. A delicious interaction between Camille and Molina is in the car when she asks him how he’s finding Lyon. His flat ‘It’s alright’ prompts her to stare at him for derailing her attempt at small talk.

Molina’s meetup with his daughter on the bridge gave away more information than first absorbed. Rose reveals that Molina’s ‘only in Lyon because of some trouble in Paris.’ Oooh no reply from Molina. The writers can’t just throw us a juicy titbit like that and expect us to be fine with it. They can’t just leave it at that. Aha! I think you’ll find they can. My hunch: in episode 2 it’s revealed that his experience working in the minors department has exposed him to incest being behind crimes such as these. Given how quickly he jumps to Lea’s father having possible inappropriate relations with her, it’s a topic which, because he has faced it many times, can sometimes cloud his ability to consider all angles. Perhaps Molina’s “trouble” stems from him being personally affected by these cases to the point it challenged his professionalism? His “trouble” couldn’t have been serious because he’s still retained a high-up job in the police force, just in another location. Perhaps it was less a professional problem and more a personal one. It’s not something that’s examined further within the series.


Episode 2

The writers attempt to tantalise our senses with a suspenseful opening; Léa fleeing helplessly in a dark wood. Sound and light indicates that she is

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Lea on the run.

being hunted by a vehicle. Will this give us a clue as to how she – nope. Fooled ya! It’s just Florence dreaming about her missing daughter’s possible demise. The fact that it happens in her personal office is significant because it demonstrates how much the disappearance is haunting her: it won’t even leave her alone at work.

Julien becomes the suspect target in the opening section of the episode. As alluded to in the previous episode’s analysis: Molina suspects that Julien’s relationship with Léa was an incestuous one. If anything, knowing what we know about the narrative’s outcome, this hypothesis only proves two things (OK, maybe three). One: that the writers are really trying to throw off our investigative skills, two: that Molina has been exposed to some gruesome happenings in his line of work, three: even a professional gets it wrong initially. Julien’s reaction to Molina’s suggestions in questioning, is to moronically go for him. Going for a policeman is worse than going for a civilian for obvious reasons.

While Molina turns up at the race track for some answers, we’re provided a nice interlude with Camille’s character being unwrapped. I sound like a Camille fangirl, but it’s difficult not to find her endearing. Her burger consumption is interrupted by her mother’s phone call, and she is forced to answer questions on her general state, love life and diet in the space of a minute. I’m sure we can all relate. Camille reveals that she recently broke up with her boyfriend because he’s an ‘arsehole’. Which opens her up. Do you see where I’m going with this? Afterwards, having questioned Lea’s brother Thomas, Camille recounts the meeting with Molina. I love their interactions. She brings him coffee, wondering when he’s going to drink it instead of letting it sit there. Only then does he admit aloofly that he doesn’t like coffee. Smooth. The best fictional couplings begin with scenes such as this. To add further humour to the situation, Molina’s ex-wife makes a short stop. Molina catches Camille observing, some brief eye

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Molina curious about Camille’s bin bags. (Not a euphemism).

contact, followed by Camille’s attempt to pretend she wasn’t watching. Later, Camille is found ordering bin bags not to be thrown out with a note. Molina clearly is intrigued by what she’s doing and why they’re there. In the end, he’s snapped out of his interest when she informs him about the case’s details. Her sarcastic reply to the emptied space before her shows her frustration at the lack of conversation. Or normal human interaction, for that matter.

Viewer’s alarm bells are set off simultaneously as Chris has a private conversation with Romain under the watch of Thomas. Chris proclaims her love for Romain days after her cousin’s disappearance. Classy. This does sound like the synopsis for an episode of 902010, however it also gives the audience insight into Chris’ motivations. Overlapping relationships seems to be the theme of this episode, with Julien and Florence’s marriage suffering the strain of their daughter’s disappearance and Julien’s previous infidelity. What is both worrying and entertaining to view: Florence goes mafia on the mistress by demanding that she tell the truth to the police, and then messes up her apartment. This family. This is a lesson to learn: if

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Molina’s so done. Again.

you plan on having an extra-marital affair. Don’t. Your mistress will cause problems for you when your daughter goes missing. You’ll end up a suspect. Since we’re on the topic of the mistress, Molina visits her as she wants to change her testimony. I like this scene as well because Molina looks so fed up with this merry goose-chase of a case. He desperately just wants to get to the bottom of the case and not be an agony aunt of sorts.

Romain is forced to drop the ball on keeping Léa’s secrets. The racing gloves don’t fit him because they’re not even his. Léa was a secret race car driver. Another secret revealed. Léa kept it a secret because she knew her parents wouldn’t react well – especially Julien whose brother had an “accident”. It seems vehicular recklessness is a hereditary thing. Well, once more Chris becomes the Oracle of Lyon; Julien corners her into revealing more about Léa’s secret life. Did she know about the coke? How much did she take? Did Chris know she was racing? Chris also suffers his outburst. She does well to remain composed, despite this. By composed I mean retain her doe impression. At the end of the episode, Julien in his vigilante antics, is rescued by Molina from a pimp. More to come of scenes with Julien on a rampage.

Infuriated about being kept in the dark by the police as well, Julien marches to confront Molina. The stand-off is tense, but it’s Camille’s handling of the situation that stands out the most. ‘He’s worried sick about his daughter. Don’t be so hard on him.’ Molina counters this by saying ‘Better a grumpy good cop than a polite bad one.’ I really do love their interactions. Once more, they balance each other out: Camille’s response to that is ‘Neither has found his daughter.’ As I mentioned in the review, both act as voice of reasons to each other.

Facing Bigotry

We should pity bigots. Our anger and hurt may surge when we encounter them. But we should pity them. Their hate and fear has driven them beyond the reach of humanity and oneness: they will never experience the love and joy felt with connecting with other humans. To say they’re not human would be to dehumanise them, however to label them as barely human would be more accurate. Endless love doesn’t destroy you; abundant hate does that.  

 

 

Disparue/The Disappearance – Review (No Spoilers)

Disparue (2015) is the French adaptation of the original Spanish version Desaparecida, so the trail expands. I haven’t yet seen the original Spanish version; I can’t comment on the similarities and differences. Hopefully, though, BBC 4 will continue to gift us European dramas that rival our own in terms of acting and production values.

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Lea Morel

Just-turned 17-year-old Léa Morel has disappeared on her birthday in her home city of Lyon, having attended a concert. Her brother Thomas (Maxime Taffanel) and cousin Chris (Zoé Marchal) left with her yet neither claim to know what transpired. At first Léa’s absence is dismissed as just teenage antics: she’ll return after she’s enjoyed herself, family and friends rationalise. Her mother Florence (Alix Poisson), as most mothers are, is beyond such thinking as her maternal instinct is buzzing. She knows something terrible has happened and seems the only one willing to accept it. Léa’s father Julien (Pierre-François Martin-Laval) is strangely blasé when Florence first notices that Léa hasn’t returned in the early hours of the morning. Granted, some of us are extremely groggy/like our sleep, but still. It’s rather suspicious. They both embark on a mission to locate her, following tidbits from the youngsters as to where Léa might be. “Oh, by the way, Léa has a secret boyfriend”. That’s the gist of how it’s presented during Chris’ questioning. The beginning of many “oh by the ways” to come regarding their daughter. It’s only when Léa completely misses her birthday celebrations at home, does the family realise that Florence’s worrying is justified.

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Commandant Bertrand Molina

Enter our detective: Bertrand Molina (François-Xavier Demaison). New in town. Blunt. Serious. One must be to be in charge of such operations in the police force. When asked how he’s finding Lyons, he replies rather unenthusiastically ‘It’s ok’. Regardless of his distant nature: he has arrived just in time to save the day. He also drives a motorbike and wears black which instantly makes him cooler, naturally. Molina only lightens up his stern demeanor as he awaits his daughter’s exit from her school, only to watch her reject his phone call. Lyon’s teenagers are not presenting themselves in such a good light – accurate, yes – but they sure have their parents dangling on tenterhooks for some communication.

Molina’s questioning of Léa’s relatives subjects the audience to a merry-go-round of potential suspects. Everyone looks equally guilty and suspicious of having something to do with her disappearance. This is an excellent device by writers to maintain the pace and suspicion throughout the entire series. Is it the father? Is it her brother? Uncle? Cousin? Secret-now-not-a-secret boyfriend? Teacher? An unseen enemy? As we and the police officers place the suspects under intense scrutiny, Léa’s little sister Zoé reminds us all of innocence lost through this incident. The family cushioning her throughout the investigation is difficult to watch at times, especially as she constantly wonders where her sister is. The little sister is arguably the one who will be most affected by the disappearance.

Special mention goes to supporting character Camille Guérin (Alice Pol), Molina’s second-in-command. She offers a variation in comparison to the other characters; a bit of relief without the laugh-out-loud comedy. Her compulsion to eat during anxious moments endears us to her. Additionally, she balances out Molina: both offer objective perspectives to each other’s respective suspicions during the investigations.

Disparue does well to introduce you to the character of Léa before the suspects are lined up. As the police probe more into Léa’s life, her parents discover that they knew more about her after the disappearance than before. Disparue doesn’t pretend to be anything but itself. It doesn’t try to compete with the more famous dramas, but that’s the beauty of it: it focuses on remaining consistent rather than trying to be gimmicky.  

Pocahontas vs. The Story of Pocahontas

Disneyfied, or Disney tried?

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Given the liberties Disney have taken with some of their stories, most audiences will take their films with a pinch of salt. However, if it’s based on the life of a real person, the resulting taste can be a bitter one at best.

In the case of Pocahontas, it can be positively poisonous.

Set in 17th Century Virginia, it’s about the daughter of a Native American chief who falls in love with the leader of a group of English settlers. Thanks to their relationship a bridge is gapped between the two cultures, war is averted, and there is peace between the English and the Powhatan people as they reach a mutual understanding over land and resources. Unless you have been living in a cave for the past 400 years, you will notice about four things wrong with the above sentence.

First, let’s go back to 1992 when the film…

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Race (2016)- Review

[May contain spoilers]. 

[Note: If you don’t like anecdotes, please progress onto the next paragraph].

Before I began to explore the social/historical context portrayed in Race, I have to mention my viewing experience. I was completely alone in a huge screening room. In the dark. Did I mention alone? Any happiness I felt at the novelty of the latter instantly drained when the lights went out and the screen went black. VUE cinemas in the UK [as of June 2016] begin each film with the room suddenly plunged into darkness, followed by a booming voice (which I have a hunch belongs to actor Mark Strong) growling ‘Hello’ and an instruction to relax and block out the outside world. Usually, I find this extremely helpful whenever I go to VUE to watch films – when there are others in the room! Being slightly afraid of the dark doesn’t help either. On a serious note, it was disappointing to be the only person in the first of three screenings that day. Even on a late morning weekday, you still share a room with a handful of people. It doesn’t help that it’s currently on a somewhat limited release in the UK; hopefully this will become a sleeper hit in DVD sales and Netflix.

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Asking for a rendition of “I Believe I Can Fly”

The Film

Race (2016, dir. Stephen Hopkins) is the biopic of four-time Olympic Gold Medallist Jesse Owens (Stephan James), and charts his journey from a starry-eyed university fresher to a man facing pressure from all sides to accomplish Olympian victory at the 1936 Berlin Olympics for the USA, a country that, at the time, was not entirely different in its racial beliefs. The film doesn’t shy away from that ironic link.

A biopic raises the question as to whether critics should focus on it as an art form infused with historical elements, or as a historical record presented aesthetically. If cinemagoers aren’t visually entertained, they’re unhappy. If history buffs witness the truth being toyed with, they’re unhappy. I would have liked to have witnessed more of Jesse Owens’ life away from the Civil Rights question. We have glimpses of his proud family – in the dignified sense as well as admiration – with his relationship with his partner Ruth (Shanice Banton) gaining a little more screen time. But what were his flaws, what did he dislike apart from discrimination? The only noticeable flaw was his promising to marry his partner and then taking up with another woman while on the road. Perhaps it’s the feminist in me, but I felt like she forgave him too easily. Ray (2004) worked as a biopic because it doesn’t shy away from portraying Ray Charles as a womaniser; his flaws don’t overshadow his genius[1]. What we received was a slightly sanitised version of the subject’s life. What makes up for that is the excitingly shot and edited sports scenes.

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Jim Crow Laws

The Historical Significance of Race

The film conveys Owens’ obstacles through dialogue, both past and present: ‘first boy going off to college’ and ‘Things are gonna turn around, you’ll see’ represent the idealism placed on Owens’ shoulders by his family and the wider community. The fact that Owens was the first in his family to attend university establishes American segregationist policies long before the bus scene: Owen’s colleague accidentally bumps a white woman passenger on the bus and she reacts with revulsion as if he is diseased. The fact that many are placing their own hopes and aspirations on Owens’ shoulders can be appreciated. When Owens’ coach digs into him, Owens reminds him of the hurdles (pardon the pun) facing him even as he chases glory. He is shouldering much responsibility. Gradually, the scenes of discrimination get tenser and the language coarser. The second locker room standoff combines overpowering audio techniques: Owens’ coach and the beefy racist American Footballers arguing, with a high-pitched ringing. This is all in aid for Owens to learn how to block out taunting from hostile audiences that he could face both on American and German tracks.

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Obligatory intolerant jocks

What is annoyingly tacked on at the end, was his snubbing by the White House, which would have been more powerful and indicative of the lack of seismic change for civil rights. The scene where Owens and his wife are forced to use a different entrance for his own party conveys this idea too, but with less gravity. The scene still manages to be turned into a Hollywood happy ending when it should have been more poignant. Another scene which added an interesting layer to the segregation topic was the Olympic Committee headquarters in New York City. While one man argued to boycott the Olympics due to Nazi discrimination laws, Jeremy Irons’ character pipes up with a question if the boycott advocate ‘golfs with Jews and Negroes’. Despite attempts to appear morally just, these men fall short because of the situation in their own country.

As for Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten, Black Book, Game of Thrones), Race rightly credits her burgeoning career as a female director against the backdrop of Nazi Germany. Riefenstahl herself is an issue of contention, with some labelling her as the mouthpiece of Nazi ideology and others praising her talents as an artist. It is noted that she benefitted from an exceptionally-close relationship with the upper tiers of Nazi powers. What is possibly alluded to in Leni’s showdown with Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat) is that he is fuelled by the threat of Riefenstahl’s unchecked free reign handed to her by Hitler. In fact, it was this intimate relationship with Nazi officials that fuels sceptics of Riefenstahl’s innocence post-war. Metschurat has the unfortunate task of playing a Goebbels, the party-pooper of the Olympics; that one person who can’t leave their issues at home. The rest of Germany manages it, yet every medium close up illustrates Goebbels as someone who is unable to feign a public face like the one asked of the people in the face of international scrutiny. Riefenstahl defies orders not to film any more Nazi humiliation at the hands of African-American athletes, however critics such as Alex von Tunzelmann find nothing praiseworthy of Riefenstahl’s preoccupation with Owens in Olympia (1938): his ‘bashful, slightly goofy smile’ is ‘almost like an acknowledgement that he is a human being’[2]. One of the last frames of the film does appear to be an homage to Riefenstahl’s style; the shot of Owens in the air against heavenly clouds, resembles the opening of Olympia: Festival of Nations where athletic prowess is juxtaposed with a beautiful sky[3].


Stray Observations

  • The film entirely glosses over Owens’ claim: ‘Hitler didn’t snub me; it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.’[4] Definitely not defending Hitler, but more defending history: Roosevelt escaped scrutiny while Hitler was left to champion Bad Leader of a Country Award when, judging by Owens’ above quote, isn’t entirely the case regarding treatment of athletes.
  • I cackled more than I should have at the only two portrayed US Jewish athletes shoving their Star of David necklaces at the Nazi guards with such glee. Priceless.


Conclusion 

Although Hollywood falls into the tri-trope black narrative of slavery, gangs and famous figures, Race is a step forward and thus deserves to be acknowledged. It’s not just insight into the Civil Rights movement, and the weight of this on a young African-American athlete, but a universal tale of “doing your thing” despite emotional and psychological burden. For a further Jesse Owens fix, I would suggest viewing Olympia and witness real (and re-enacted) footage of his Olympic performance.

[Special mention: I’m happy to see Rachel Portman is behind the soundtrack for this film. Her soundtrack for Belle (2013) is gorgeous. Woo female composers].


References:

[1] David Ritz, ’It’s a Shame About Ray. Why must biopics sentimentalize their subjects?’, Slate, 22nd October 2004. Available from:   <http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/life_and_art/2004/10/its_a_shame_about_ray.html&gt;

[2] Alex von Tunzelmann, ‘The shameful legacy of the Olympic Games’, Guardian, 14th June 2012. Available from: <http://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/jun/14/shameful-legacy-olympics-1936-berlin&gt;

[3] Olympia. Dir. Leni Riefenstahl. Tobis. 1938.

[4] Jeremy Schaap, Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007), p. 211.