Now that it’s become possible to witness virtually any sex act at the click of a button, there’s something improbable about the blank narrative time that once preoccupied so much pornography. In fact, it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that porn, as an old-fashioned narrative genre, has been more or less relegated to a boutique, arthouse niche – and even then a niche that’s filmed with the full assumption that you can still transition to the money shot at a moment’s notice. In the process, the ingredient that arguably accounted for porn’s eroticism – waiting, endlessly waiting – has been progressively whittled away, leaving scenarios that are ever more explicit, yet ever more mind-numbingly functional at the same time. In some ways,Fifty Shades of Grey speaks to that moment as eloquently as art porn spoke to the rise of digital streaming in the late 90s and early 00s, offering up a series of utterly unimaginative softcore scenarios that play out against an utterly lifeless neoliberal lifeworld, a world in which there is no real taboo left to surmount, least of all the sadomasochistic configurations that have been marketed as its most titillating and transgressive moments. That might sound fairly unpromising, but the peculiar genius of the film is that it makes you feel as if you can only really commune with Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) and Grey’s (Jamie Dornan) constrictive, suffocating rapport by watching it in real time. Rediscovering a certain masochism in simply watching pornography as film, the narrative revels in a sustained sense of the preposterous that only emerges when you watch it in its totality, and which seems neither unintentional nor knowing so much as wholeheartedly committed to the combination of the erotic and the idiotic – the erotidiotic – that once characterised porn as a genre, back when its artier and more masturbatory functions weren’t quite as separated and streamlined as they are today. Perhaps that’s why it often recalls Paul Verhoeven, since, like his greatest films, it forces you to be a hardcore voyeur for every minute of its two hour plus running time – a slightly ludicrous project, given that most of it looks like a tie commercial, a car commercial, or an Apple commercial, one of many ways in which Sam Taylor-Johnson’s mock-boutique style syncs perfectly with E.L. James’ corporate chic. Just as Grey brands everything in his life, so every single utterance exudes the mock-gravitas of his sex chamber, in something like an erotic thriller in which there is no actual thriller, which is perhaps what porn was all along. That said, from the film’s perspective porn is so historic that it’s already started to collapse into traditional romantic drama anyway, as Anastasia and Grey only seem to be able to finalise their masochistic contract by drawing upon one literary classic after another for inspiration - in a stroke of genius, Jennifer Ehle plays Anastasia's mother and muse - which is where the film’s supreme sense of camp really comes into its own, its determination to pleasure as many viewers as humanly possible, even or especially if it risks ending up relegated to cult and covert midnight screenings in the process.