Like many films made during the 1990’s with the benefit of retro hindsight, there is something enormously of its time about Preaching to the Perverted, while at the same time managing to still strike a naughty chord twenty years on.
The 90’s were an unusual decade. It had freed itself of the capitalist Republicanism of the Reagan era in the US and the culturally divisive powerhouse of Thatcherism in the UK which dominated a 1980’s filled on the one hand with bright Coca Cola ads, synthetic pop music and post-modern hairstyles, and on the other the depressing reality of stark union action in workplaces, crippling unemployment and a social mobility gap ever widening. The 1990’s saw a triumphant return, at least politically, for a spell of liberal democracy; New Labour came to power under the Tony Blair cult of personality the same year Preaching to the Perverted arrived, while the biggest challenge to trouble Bill Clinton’s presidency came, literally, under his Oval Office desk.
A decade recovering from austerity yet retaining the capitalist homogeny of American pop culture, wedged between a decade to come of post-9/11 political terror and a gradual return to the right-wing technocracy of the 2010’s. In other words, in the 1990’s, we never knew we had it so good. The same could be applied sexually too. Consider the amount of erotic thrillers that troubled Hollywood that decade – from Sharon Stone uncrossing her legs in Basic Instinct, Madonna and all the candle wax in Body of Evidence, and that frankly weird one, Color of Night, most memorable for an aquatic glimpse of Bruce Willis’ junk. Sex was all over American cinema that decade in perhaps more direct, skin-baring ways than we’d ever seen before.
Preaching to the Perverted is not an erotic thriller but it is one concerned with that mix of liberal democracy and where politics sits in the landscape of kink. Stuart Urban’s film is almost punk in a post-punk landscape, primarily through its central character Tanya Cheex (Guinevere Turner) putting two fingers directly in the direction of the BBFC and an Establishment it seeks, through its story, to reject and rebel against at every turn. There is something of a knowing, satirical wink throughout, admittedly; it’s not as angry as it could have been, nor is it absurd. It’s probably as close as you could get to a John Waters movie in the UK, though, and by its very nature that makes it wilfully anti-establishmentarian.