“No animals were harmed during the production of this film. However – all the submissives were!”
Mardi Gras takes a look at Preaching to the Perverted – the world’s first fetish feature film.
“Of course the moment I can’t forget is being strapped to a pony and trap with Roger Lloyd Pack pretending to put something up my backside,” laughs Christien Anholt. “It was so wild!”
Love, lust, leather, latex, whips, chains, canes, slaves, sex, bondage, politics, satire, religion. That’s the Molotov cocktail swirling around the guts and innards of Preaching to the Perverted. Created in a climate of political sleaze, government clampdowns, underground raves, and experimental sexual indulgence, Preaching is a mirrorball of everything weird and wonderful of the 1990s.
Written and directed by Stuart Urban, Preaching’s plot is cunningly simple. Peter Emery (Christien Anholt) is despatched by parliamentary moralists to gather evidence for a private prosecution against S&M and fetish clubs operating in Britain. However, Peter quickly falls in love with American dominatrix Tanya Cheex (Guinevere Turner). Peter wants to tame Tanya. Tanya wants to pervert Peter. Who will win? And how will it all play out?
Released in 1997, Preaching also features wonderful performances from British actors Julie Graham, Sue Johnston, Georgina Hale, Tom Bell, Ricky Tomlinson, Keith Allen, and Roger Lloyd-Pack. The film’s score is provided by Magnus and Maya Fiennes.
Cinematically, Preaching is seen as a camp comedy classic and the world’s first fetish feature film.
“In my mind Preaching to the Perverted was a fairy tale, a camp love story, a political satire,” says Director Stuart Urban. “Way more than a chip off the old raunchy British comedies of the Carry On variety. I was much more influenced by the Adam West Batman and the 1960s Avengers. Perhaps the film was seen as Carry On Spanking, but it was not my conscious goal!”
Initially written for the BBC, Urban’s original premise for the script was for a story about sex addiction. Through his research, Urban found his way into London’s S&M and fetish clubs, which were being prosecuted by the Government at the time. Finding the subject more interesting, Urban turned his story into one of a government infiltrator finding his way through the fetish world. Fetishism, however, seemed to be a lot harder to sell than a story about sex addiction.
“The BBC promptly threw up their arms in shock horror,” says Stuart. “‘We can’t possibly have this!’ Sex addiction’s okay, but spanking and so on in the House of Commons was just considered way out.”
Preaching was ultimately financed with help from the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS), and by distributors Entertainment Film, who put up a third of the money.
“Of course the tabloid stuff,” says Stuart, “which was all accurate at the time, has only become more of a feature of what’s happened than before.”
Political sleaze and scandal had been particularly high during the 1980s and 90s. Cross dressing, prostitutes, gay affairs and cash for questions, were the scandals of the day. Tabloid newspapers, Private Eye, and TV shows like Have I Got News for You, playfully pilloried politicians for their indiscretions.
A political manifesto for the 1980s and 90s might as well have been made up of copies of Viz and some clippings from Penthouse. Not to mention a brown paper bag full of readies. The TV show Spitting Image could have quite easily have been used as a party political broadcast.
How ironic that with all of this going on the Government saw fit to launch the Spanner case – an investigation and trial into consensual S&M activity amongst a group of homosexual men during the period 1987-1992. The Spanner case served as a basis for the parliamentary prosecution in the film.
Parliament itself plays a huge part in the storyline, with Peter Emery working as a whipping boy for both sides of the whip, so to speak. Which is funny, because the rituals of Parliament aren’t too far removed from the world of Tanya Cheex and her House of Thwax. The House of Thwax symbol, for instance, is based upon the Parliamentary portcullis.
“When I went on my tour of Parliament, I went with a culture minister, who didn’t quite know what I was doing,” laughs Stuart. “I think he probably rued the day he’d taken me on tour! But I did see ridiculous things like the keeper of the cubby hole. They’re not called that but they wear a silly costume. Religion is another aspect where the iconography and costumes definitely spun into the film.”
Previously S&M and fetishism had only occasionally appeared in films such as The Night Porter (1974), Maitresse (1976), or Cruising (1980). On other occasions, fetishism simply appeared via latex/PVC outfits like Michelle Pfeiffer’s legendary Catwoman costume in Batman Returns (1992) or Madonna’s alluring latex gown in Four Rooms (1995).
Preaching to the Perverted featured all of these things in abundance. It also included plenty of oral sex and even electrical clitoral stimulus. At one point, a naked man is tied up and covered in exploding firecrackers, while another has his bottom scolded by sparks sprayed by an angle grinder.
A large proportion of Preaching was researched by Stuart and his crew in kinky delights such as Club Rub and Torture Garden. As a result, Preaching includes a vintage selection of fetish performers such as Tutu, Lucifire (the angle grinder), the Fetish Nun, and the Chaos clowns. Making it a kind of Odyssey for the lovably depraved.
“Some of the stuff I saw at the clubs found its way into the film,” says Stuart. “Especially the really good performance artists, which were very amazing to witness and behold, and it was like ‘gosh, this world is there and I want to try and explore, celebrate, reflect, put a mirror up to it, do everything else that one could within the movie’. Some of the performers ambled into the film doing their thing.”
With the script created and the settings located, how did the team go about casting for a fetish filled political satire cum love romp? At one point the two leads could have been played by Jude Law and Marisa Tomei. Although both were apparently keen, as Stuart kindly points out, “Jude would have never lived down the butt plug!”
“It was an interesting casting process because I went to Hollywood to try and cast in the normal way,” says Stuart. “But we were then banned by the Playboy agency – the pot calling the kettle black! Other casting agencies also did the same, maybe less officially so.”
“Of course, Guin Turner reared her head as perhaps one of the few out, beautiful, lesbian actresses in America,” says Stuart, “who wouldn’t turn their nose up and was prepared to do the nudity and everything else that was involved.”
“Well it was quite an adventure,” says Guin Turner. “Stuart connected me with a pro-Dom in NYC who worked at a place called the Nutcracker Suite. I met up with her there and waited in the Baby Room* until she was done with a client. And then her actual real life slave came and we practised on him.”
I learned how to tie a leather strap around a penis and then whip it and spank with various kinds of tools,” laughs Guin. “It was hilarious, but an extremely educational experience for me. I really did have to do some of that in the movie. It was a funny place to find myself – and just the beginning of the worlds I would find myself in during the Preaching to the Perverted journey.”
“Guin sent me a wonderful video of her offering to spank people for me on camera,” says Stuart. “So I flew to New York to meet her and just thought she was great. I cast Christien Anholt after that.”
An actor who’d previously worked with Mel Gibson in Hamlet, Christien Anholt was perhaps the perfect Peter Emery. With his Ray-Ban video sunglasses and his look of shock on his face, the character of Peter wasn’t too far removed from Christien’s daily life on set.
“I went in with open eyes and to be honest – they were opened way wider than I thought!” laughs Christien Anholt. “I never left the set; I was absolutely transfixed by everything. It was like being a kid in a candy store, to be honest.”
“I came out having popped my S&M cherry,” continues Christien. “A lot of my reactions to things were not so much acting – it was just me reacting within the character. It worked very well, I think.”
With so many curiosities on display, it’s no surprise to hear that all manner of kinkiness took place when the cast of artists and extras found some free time between set ups.
“One of the craziest things I remember seeing, and I think this was on day one or day two, when we were shooting the club scenes,” chuckles Christien. “I came out of the wardrobe trailer and there were three guys with a paddle spanking this other guy. There was no camera, no one there to say action. It was just how these guys spent their free time. I knew I was in wonderland at that point. I definitely wasn’t in Kansas any more!”
“It was fascinating for many reasons,” continues Christien. “Just some of the things that people find interesting and exciting and indulge in on a regular basis. But they were all fantastic people and it was a pleasure working with them all. It wasn’t a bad experience at all. It was a fantastic experience. We had a lot of fun.”
But it wasn’t only the extras that were up to mischief during the shoot.
“One of my favourite moments,” says Guin, “was when I had a scene with Christien where he’s using some electrode machine on me and I have an orgasm in this giant echoey room in a castle. I was sooooo incredibly self conscious. I decided to make everyone uncomfortable so I said ‘Hey guys! (to the predominately male crew) Do you think you’ve ever been with a woman who’s faked an orgasm? Watch this – I’m going to do it the exact same way seven times in a row.’ Forgive me, I was in my twenties, and kind of an a**shole.”
One thing that really clasps the film together is the chemistry between Guin Turner’s Tanya Cheex and Christien Anholt’s Peter Emery. This pendulum of love, trust, honour and obedience is massively fun for the audience. But how did the pair get along on set? Did either of them chew garlic and onions before kissing?
“We got on very well right from the start,” says Christien. “She’s a lovely lady and we worked together very well. We were quite protective of each other. It was very easy. So I think the chemistry was probably born off set as well as on set.”
“Hilarious, since all I did was make fun of him, play tricks on him, and spank him when the camera was just on his face,” laughs Guin. “Julie Graham and I made it our personal mission to mess with him whenever possible. He was a good sport and it was easy for me to get along with him since my character clearly had the upper hand.”
The ritual of putting on a second skin or costume to play a role of some kind is a huge part of the fun world of fetishism.
Costume Designer Chas Hines was already familiar with fetishism and its culture and attire through her work with clothing designer Dane. However, the film still provided its adventures and challenges.
“Ricky Tomlinson had to wear drag and we did have fun with his costumes simply because he had to look wrong,” laughs Chas Hines. “He does look really wrong and we were really happy with that costume. He was so game to wear it! And so much fun to work with. He had so many suggestions on how to make his cleavage look bigger!”
Interestingly, black – synonymous with fetishism since Bettie Page and the bondage magazines of the 1950s – wasn’t actually one of the best colours to use in a fetish film. Bathed in beautiful pinks and purples, Preaching’s sets and costumes resemble an art house rave rather than a fistful of S&M.
“As far as the rubber/leather stuff went,” says Chas. “I realised that black tends to look like a black hole, and if you put black in a dark room with strobing lights on camera, the camera is not as sophisticated as the human eye, so it just leaves black shapes. It’s heads and arms sticking out. So we talked to fetish people about anything that was metal and rubber that was a colour.”
Influences for the costumes themselves stemmed from fetish wear in clubs like Torture Garden, musical movements such as Riot Grrrl, or from cinema itself with the Clockwork Orange inspired bouncers. Particularly the bowler hats, army trousers and the tiny penis t-shirts. Most of which were apparently stolen at the end of the shoot.
Ultimately, it was one of the film’s religious icons that stole the show.
“I think the craziest was probably the fetish nun with the chalice hanging from her clit ring,” says Chas. “We did debate whether we’d actually get away with that, but I’m really happy that it didn’t get cut out of the movie.”
The costumes have won accolades from fans and fetishists alike, with a writer from Time Out claiming the costumes to have been better than Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin which was released the same year. Schumacher’s Batman is of course infamous for providing George Clooney with a pair of cheeky rubber nipples.
“Those costumes for me are just so enduring,” says Chas. “The costumes had to recognize the fetish scene, but they also had to stand out from the fetish scene. And that for me was one of the most difficult things to achieve because we could have just lifted the fetish imagery and dumped it into the film. But there is a point where you’ve got to make it aspirational.”
“Like I think in the very beginning scene with Tanya, she’s on stage and wearing this metal and latex costume with the laser beam eyes,” continues Chas. “We absolutely loved commissioning that one and that was quite a chunk out of the budget but definitely worth it for an opening scene.”
“They were amazing costumes and made me look larger than life,” says Guin. “Stuart told me that once after a screening an audience member came up to him and said ‘Where did you find such a tall woman?’ In actuality I am only 5’2′!”
Latex designers Skin Two and House of Harlot also lent the film costumes for the production. Which is helpful because latex clothing, as any fetishist will admit, is an expensive commodity. If you want good quality anyway.
Although many of the extras were asked to bring their own fetish wear, catering for cast members and maintaining leather and latex throughout weeks of shooting must have been a mammoth challenge.
“The costumes really got a hammering because people were pulling things off, pulling things on,” says Chas. “You have to put rubber on really carefully. It tears, it stretches. It was very hard to keep the rubber stuff on the wardrobe bus because it’s always hot and rubber needs to be in a cool climate. So they did take a quite a hammering.”
“I remember having to wear this pair of rubber chaps,” says Christien. “Because it was shot in summer I was just dripping constantly and I got so many zits on my arse from just sitting in my own sweat! It wasn’t particularly comfortable. I had a pair of leather trousers tailored for me. I can’t remember the name of the guy who made them but he did some amazing work. They were a work of art.”
“Things I learned that I didn’t know before,” says Guin. “Latex conducts whatever temperature is outside of it; if it is cold, you will be colder than anyone else; if it is hot, you will be melting. Also, there is no such thing as lunch if you are wearing a corset. And finally, it takes a lot of courage to act with your tits out!”
When it comes to tits, not everyone is as enthusiastic. Upon its release, Preaching was immediately banned in Ireland, the Middle East, and in the Philippines, where it was censored for glorifying lesbianism, sadism and sado-masochism.
Despite this, Preaching has had many positive effects on people’s lives over the years. Couples have met and got married – including a professional mistress and a member of the Preaching crew, or been inspired by the film to re-enact its scenes in the bedroom. Burlesque performers, fetish nights and stage shows have also been named after scenes or characters from the film. Most notably, the ‘Darkest Fantasy’ performance at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe festival, which is based upon Tanya’s wedding night fantasy.
But it’s not only the public that have been able to enjoy its benefits – the cast and crew have also been able to indulge in a little of its lustre as well. Guinevere Turner won the 1999 Best Actress award at the Festival du Jeune Comedien, while Preaching won the 2002 Audience Choice Award at the CineKink Festival. Preaching also featured in the top 100 illegally downloaded movies through Pirate Bay. If that counts as a claim to fame.
Throughout the course of its life, Preaching has been a constant source of amusement and recognition for everyone involved.
“One of the funniest was maybe the reverend in a dog collar who was determined to enter the cinema at the hip Hamptons film festival – its US première,” laughs Stuart. “He left in a fluster, saying he thought it was a film about preaching. Good thing he missed the fetish nun or she might have caused a heart attack!”
“I went to the 2013 Bafta screening expecting it to be a business kind of event,” says Chas. “I turned up and it was full of people dressed up in fetish gear! It was absolutely wonderful to meet people who were like, ‘oh my god, you’re my hero’. The bar manager gave me a bottle of champagne and said, ‘you don’t have to pay’. It was amazing to get a standing ovation for the costumes. I didn’t have any idea that how far reaching they’ve got.”
“Oh my what a time it was,” says Guin. “It was a huge deal for me to come to do a film all the way in the UK and be surrounded by people I didn’t know and far away from home. I was nervous and Tanya Cheex couldn’t be a character who seemed anything but confident and in charge.”
“I was most thankful for the great cast,” continues Guin. “Julie Graham and I are still good friends to this day. Most of the really good memories I can’t share publicly – even if I change the names to protect the innocent!”
In 2013, Preaching to the Perverted was remastered in high definition with the help of a massively successful Kickstarter campaign, which has given the film another generation of perverts to play with. This campaign culminated in a spectacular fetish filled restoration première held by special permission of Bafta.
“The event had to be approved by the committee,” says Stuart. “Because I was a long standing member of thirty plus years it was allowed. It probably would not have been otherwise!”
Unfortunately it seems controversy is never far away, with iTunes seeing fit to ban an app to coincide with the 2013 release.
“We had a script, a fantastic app that could interact with the film as it unfolded with the original screenplay as well as the storyboards, so it was fun,” says Stuart. “But they nixed it. It’s described as S&M/pornography in their refusal, even though it was invested in at some point by the BBC and the EU and later broadcast by the BBC and Sky. They just didn’t care.”
So after seventeen years Preaching is still being banned in some way or another. So how would it play to audiences in 2014 and beyond? What kind of world would create and consume a sequel to Preaching to the Perverted?
Today latex fashion is everywhere. Mainstream pop stars like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry are generally never far away from fetish haute couture of some kind. Katy Perry even wore a red latex dress adorned with characters from the Simpsons.
Ann Summers boutiques can be found in shopping malls all over Britain, 50 Shades of Grey is a best selling novel, and an upcoming Australian film, My Mistress, starring French actress Emmanuelle Beart, is set for release in late 2014. The film’s plot is centred around a young man who falls under the spell of a beautiful latex clad dominatrix. Sound familiar?
So where would a sequel to Preaching be politically, satirically, sexually and fetishistically?
“Well, I think that the issue is going to be,” says Stuart, “that as important as the fetish or the sexuality angle is, it is the political satire where it’s a case that life has overtaken us. So I will be moving the satire into another dimension whereby the fetishists enter Parliament and officially, The Fetish Party is formed, as in we will have scenes of Baroness Cheex entering the House of Lords, exploiting an ancient law where she’s allowed to appear with her retainers, who are of course, slaves in costume, causing the biggest scandal in the House of Lords history.”
“And all that stuff goes on because Tanya’s daughter will be the intern to the Prime Minister,” continues Stuart. “Of course all hell is let loose, including political intrigues, and at this point the tabloid press now run a prison where all their journalists and communications are run.”
At its heart, Preaching to the Perverted is a love story between two people from different walks of life standing on opposing sides of the law. So how would the cast feel about sliding back into the saddle and stirrup?
“I think a sequel would be so very fun to do,” says Guin. “I really, really hope it happens and that we get Julie and Christien back, and hopefully others as well. I look forward very much to reading Stuart’s script. Hurry up, Stuart – I am ready!”
“For me personally it would be great,” says Christien. “I’ve never been involved in a sequel. It would be great to revive the character. It would be lovely to work with anyone that was involved in the first one and anyone new as well.”
“Towards the end of the film Peter had grown a great deal,” continues Christien. “I hope that he has found his own path because I think he was quite impressionable. It would be nice to have him slightly more grounded and aware of his own beliefs and living a life that makes him happy without having to compromise that much. But then, isn’t that a pipe dream for everyone?”
Preaching to the Perverted is available to buy on HD DVD and Blu-ray from www.preachingtotheperv.com
*Baby room – some folks have a fetish for being dressed and treated liked a baby. A baby room is for baby play and features a giant crib, toys, milk bottles and nappies/diapers.