Perhaps still serving as a cinematic lighthouse for the BSDM movement over a decade after its release, 1997's "Preaching to the Perverted" has resurfaced on DVD for reasons that aren't immediately clear to this reviewer. A well-shot ode the spanked-bottom-needs of the average conservative citizen, the picture is a clumsy pass at both comedic overkill and discomforting sensuality. Still, it's a hard film to outright dismiss.
When England's United Front Opposing Filth morality squad gets ready to make a final stand against pornography, they enlist virginal Peter (Christien Anholt) to join the cause. An upright employee for a Christian-based ISP, Peter is eager to head undercover and trap the country's number one enemy: dominatrix Tanya Cheex (Guinevere Turner). As Peter slips into the violent BSDM underworld, he becomes smitten with the aloof Tanya, attempting to woo her with his inexperience. As Peter gathers his evidence through spy sunglasses and witness accounts, he's drawn closer to his mistress, finding her power bewitching, while completely frustrated with her punishing sexual demands. For Tanya, Peter represents the "vanilla" relationship she naturally avoids, unearthing sympathies that threaten her livelihood and growing slave kingdom.
Written and directed by Stuart Urban, "Preaching" is intended as an odyssey into the spirit of sexual perversion and the responses taboo inclinations provoke out of all sides of the argument. The structure is straight out of a goofball detective film, with a heavy slant toward comedy to help temper the edgy sights and sounds of a subculture few take the time to understand. Using Peter as our guide, the film observes the command and showmanship of Tanya's controversial club shows: Vegas-style revues that combine fantastically ornate fetish costuming and excruciating stunts, where Tanya greets her fans with a few versatile moments of blunt trauma.
The BSDM sequences come off as moderately accurate; the screenplay is cautious to explain the subtlety between pain and pleasure, while also keeping a watchful eye on issues of consent (penetration is a huge no-no). Sure, "Preaching" assembles some rather operatic displays of the lifestyle, complete with laser shows and throbbing dance music (perhaps this film inspired the Wachowski Brothers?), but respect is paid to the scene, and its multi-colored, multi-holed inhabitants. A lesser film would paint everyone with a pierced nipple and a desire for genital torture as a freak worthy of a methodical narrative dehumanization. This movie accepts them as family. It's almost quaint.
Trying to achieve both comic and dramatic tones, "Preaching" gets lost quickly. The serious side of the film is derailed by the acting, a performance effort that minimizes the spectacle of the visuals. Cutting a striking figure, the fetching Turner makes for an imposing latex-clad, cherry-lipped overlord of the night, but she's unable to feel around the confessional sequences of the film to satisfaction. Turner is best without dialogue. Once the film gives itself over to comedy, it's Benny Hill meets a Nine Inch Nails video, and none of it seems to work. Overall, "Preaching" takes on too much, forgetting its goals as the running time wears on and the cast becomes increasingly forgetful of true motivation.
I'm sure the anamorphic widescreen presentation (1.85:1 aspect ratio) is a dream come true for fans of the cult picture. Overall, the image suffers from a smeary quality and some nagging noise and print quality issues. Colors survive the transfer, but detail is lost in the Euro fog.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix is strong due to the film's constant use of dense nightclub atmospherics and throbbing soundtrack offerings. Dialogue and music are separated comfortably, and the thick accents manage to rise above the mayhem.
The first of two audio commentaries is provided by star Guinevere Turner and nervous film critic Alonso Duralde. Expectedly, Turner has plenty to say about the filming of this strange picture, and Duralde is awfully good about pushing the actress to share her thoughts. It's an engaging track, and certainly helps to understand the clouded objective of the feature, along with examining Turner's extreme discomfort with her costumes. Oh, and Duralde should've popped a Quaalude before tape rolled.
A second track is supplied by director Stuart Urban. Being the mastermind behind the big show, Urban has the proper perspective to divulge heaping servings of production and thematic information, answering most questions that are raised about the feature. Another solid offering of information here for the curious.
"Perverts Progress" (24:33) documents the making of "Preaching," using on-the-set interviews with cast and crew to investigate the production experience. The featurette isn't new, but it does give a pleasing overview of set interactions and locations.
"Premiere Party" (3:25) is a short glimpse of opening night at Leicester Square. It's available with needed commentary by Urban.
"Tanya's Toons: Interactive Comic Strip" takes several sequences and gives them an animated overlay, keeping in the spirit of Urban's original intention.
"Exploding Man" (:41) is a clip of an extra covered in firecrackers lighting himself up.
And finally, a Theatrical Trailer for the film is provided on this DVD.
Eventually, "Preaching" transforms into a courtroom drama, positioning itself as an attack on hypocritical figures of government, who push agendas of censorship while enjoying the fruits of provocative entertainment at home. It's a half-hearted push to lend the film some social weight; a stab toward legitimacy to ease the lasting sting of shock value Urban likes to toy with. "Preaching to the Perverted" is a striking look at a retro BSDM playground, but if the storytelling had more consistency, perhaps the titillation would've had a far more enlightening aftertaste.