Saturday, April 13, 2013
Dressing For Pleasure (1977)
This 25 minute long film is about the mid-1970s British rubber fetish scene. It features a short clip of Sex Pistols Manager and clothing entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren. The film is made by John Samson. John Samson (1946 - 2004) was an extraordinary British filmmaker. Born in Ayrshire, Scotland, as a teenager Samson moved to Paisley just outside of Glasgow where he remained for the formative years of his life. Resistant to the constraints of formal education, at 16 Samson left school and took on an apprenticeship in the Clyde shipyards learning precision tool making in an engineering firm. Samson quickly became involved as a spokesperson in the first Glasgow apprentices' strike, helping organise visits by Glasgow apprentices to other shipyards in England in order to demonstrate solidarity across the British Isles.
Around this time Samson began to engage with the Anarchist movement, joining the Committee of 100 and participating in a number of Nuclear Disarmament protests including Holy Loch in 1961 where he was arrested with 350 others for demonstrating against the presence of a US nuclear submarine. In 1963, upon meeting his wife Linda who was studying painting at Glasgow School of Art at the time, Samson gave up his apprenticeship and fell in with a bohemian circle that included artists, writers and musicians. He taught himself guitar, took up stills photography and by the early 70s began to make films.
These experiences - Samson's working class roots, his passionate interest in radical politics and bohemia - fuelled what would turn out to be a life-long fascination with individuals and groups operating at the margins of society. If it is possible to pick up such a thing as a singular thematic or narrative running throughout Samson's films, then it is exactly this: his subjects are outsiders, people with unusual lives and obsessions, liminal figures who fail to square neatly with the normative models for identity and behaviour propagated by contemporary culture.
Evident from his very first film Charlie (1973), a 10 minute short film on the merit of which he was awarded a scholarship to the National Film School, Samson was an extremely compassionate filmmaker who never sought to exploit his unusual subjects. Instead he would immerse himself in their strange worlds; his keen eye teasing out motivations while never lacking a dry yet gentle good humour which helped him, above all, to make sense of each and every extraordinary existence he encountered.
Here the subject of fetishism in clothing - rubber, latex, leather - is explored. The film features Malcolm McLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols at the time at SEX, the boutique he ran with Vivien Westwood on the Kings Road. Central to the film is a magnificent studio set constructed mainly by Samson himself in the shape of the fetishist magazine Atomage with actual turning pages all populated by these amazing characters, dressed in thigh length leather boots and chains. The film was banned at the time by London Weekend Television, and has become one of those rare films more quoted than seen. Again, using revealing interviews on the motivation behind the protagonists' choices, Dressing for Pleasure won Outstanding Film Award at the London Film Festival that year. Recently it has toured the world as part of the Vivienne Westwood exhibition and has been an inspiration for many other films including Julian Temple's The Filth and the Fury (2000).
Dressing for Pleasure is an intimate, candid film about people with a rubber fetish. An interview with John Sutcliffe, the legendary clothing designer who also founded AtomAge, ‘a magazine for vinyl wearers’, is woven through the film, while blown-up pages from the magazine are used as a backdrop to the carefully composed scenes of participants parading their costumes. An interview with a shop assistant at Sex, the King’s Road boutique owned by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, one of the few places that openly sold latex and rubber wear, links fetish wear to the equally scandalous punk scene. There’s nothing deliberately sensational in Dressing for Pleasure, and what emerges is not a film about people into S&M, but a portrait of an alternative lifestyle that embraces pleasure without shame.