‘Dressing For Pleasure’: 1977 fetish film that influenced Britain’s punk scene
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Jordan straps one on.
Here’s a treasure from the Dangerous Minds archives.
Scottish documentary filmmaker John Samson died at the age of 58 in 2004. But sadly, for someone of his distinct talents, he unceremoniously faded into obscurity two decades before his death.

Samson was a hugely influential artist who never got his due during the seminal years in which he was actually engaged in creating the films he would later be lauded for. It is only in retrospect that his films are being heralded as being too honest, too real and too thoughtful for the British television corporations he depended upon for the distribution of his work. Years after his death he’s finally getting some recognition in a case of too little too fucking late.

Samson’s films often focused on compelling and unorthodox (for its time) subject matter such as tattooing, fetishism, dwarfism and sex. He approached his material objectively, never editorializing, letting the subject speak for itself. Perhaps it was his own outlaw status that helped him relate to social outcasts, the stigmatized and the proudly defiant.

In 1977 Samson made Dressing For Pleasure, a documentary about ordinary people who enjoyed dressing in rubber and who approached their fetish with a matter of factness that seems almost quaint. The film was an immediate sensation among British fashion designers and within the London punk scene and was promptly banned as a video nasty. It ended up becoming one of the most ripped off British films of the 1970s.

The BBC used segments of Dressing For Pleasure in a 1995 documentary on the Sex Pistols. Having not seen the BBC documentary, I assume the parts they used are the scenes with Jordan in Vivienne Westwood’s boutique Sex and the one where it is alleged that it is Malcolm McClaren’s oversized head stuffed into the inflatable black rubber gimp mask. Exactly where John Lydon wanted him. 

During Vivienne Westwood’s 2004 career retrospective in London, Dressing For Pleasure ran on a continuous loop and Julien Temple featured the Sex segments in his Pistols documentary The Filth And The Fury.

The lasting impression of Samson’s film is not of aggressive provocation (of which punk was often accused by its mainstream detractors) but of an affectionate tribute to a characteristically English strain of bloody-minded eccentricity.

John Samson and his plastic fantastic lover.
The long overdue appreciation for John Samson is a small victory for good art. He’s not around to benefit from it. His heart knocked him out the game. I wonder if the stress of the competitive art world, the politics and business of it all, was just more than he cared to handle. The hassle of selling yourself can be deadening. His style of egalitarian filmmaking was life embracing and opened up doors into worlds that may have seemed strange to some but contained a certain purity that was undeniable. He found the flesh under the rubber. But perhaps he couldn’t put up enough latex and plastic between himself and the corporate pigs to protect his own beating heart and it attacked him.

The director Don Boyd, an executive producer on The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, is still appalled by the ease with which John Samson was allowed to fade away. “He represented a different breed of film-maker,” Boyd says. “He had commitment, vision and a respect for the truth. He was criminally ignored by tyrants in an editorially fascist television era which, thank God, looks as if it’s coming to an end. His best work represents everything they have destroyed.”

Here’s the rarely seen Dressing For Pleasure in its entirety. As you watch it, take notice of how beautifully the film is composed and shot. At times I’m reminded of the films of Kenneth Anger.

Posted by Marc Campbell
08:56 pm



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