Bound but not gagged

Beating people into submission is just one of Nick Broomfield's methods of getting them to appear in his documentaries. But with `Fetishes', his latest film about the customers at an S&M parlour, his subjects were more than happy to be tied down. Interview by Jasper Rees

If Nick Broomfield were asking the questions as well as answering them, the peripheral stuff that gets sliced out of interviews would be included here. There would be a sentence or two about how the interview was going to happen in his home in Sussex, but then switched to a private club in Soho.

You'd be told how the publication of the piece oscillated around the newspaper's schedule, how the interviewer took the Broomfieldian route of going easy on the research, and so had no idea the subject was currently making a film on Kurt Cobain. And then you'd hear how the directions to the interview room were misleading, precipitating in a comically undignified scramble up and down the staircase. How, when he was finally tracked down, the interviewee was eating a cooked breakfast with his 16-year-old son, Barney.

I ask Barney if he has seen Fetishes, Broomfield's latest work, which is set in an upmarket S&M parlour in Manhattan called Pandora's Box. Barney admits that he has, despite his father's best efforts to shield him from it. So have millions of other Americans. (Barney lives most of the year with his mother in Los Angeles.) The film was made for HBO and broadcast late one night when 14 per cent of the audience share tuned in to watch Broomfield interview men zipped into leather apparatuses that restrict respiration, men crawling around the floor on dog leads, men offering their mouths as ashtrays, and, in one extraordinary case, a man who gives his interview with his head down a toilet bowl that he has been ordered to lick clean.

Broomfield's compatriots will not for the moment be seeing the film in quite such numbers. It was screened at last year's Edinburgh Festival and London Film Festival, and is about to be shown at the ICA. Broomfield is confident that Channel 4 will brave the forces of moral protectionism to screen the film. But it takes a brave person to watch it, let alone broadcast it. Although the vast majority of clients filmed are male, it is the two sessions in which women indulge their sadomasochistic fantasies that have the most visceral sting. In one partly comic scene, a naked woman shrieks in an ecstasy of pain as she is flayed from behind by a dominatrix. In another, a woman is tied down and impaled through her thighs and breasts. "That," admits Broomfield, "was the one time I felt really awkward being there, because I felt there was such an intense relationship between her and the mistress on a sexual level."

Broomfield appears to throw himself through all his usual narrative hoops - incurring the wrath of his subjects, goofily trespassing into shot, making a feature of all the obstacles thrown in his way. And yet, on closer scrutiny, Fetishes looks like the least typical of all his documentaries. However disparate they appear to be, all his notable subjects - Baroness Thatcher, Eugene TerreBlanche, the Hollywood madame Heidi Fleiss or the serial killer Aileen Wuarnos - have been powermongers, either in their own dreams or in the to-and-fro of reality. Mistress Raven, the spit of Morticia Addams who runs Pandora's Box, belongs in that category in one sense, but, unlike Broomfield's other subjects, she puts up no such resistance to being filmed. Far from it. "Pandora's was just starting," Broomfield explains, "so I think they wanted to put themselves on the map." It's rare for Broomfield to find himself participating in a Faustian promotional exchange. But from Mistress Raven's acquiescence those gates that Broomfield usually has to prise open with a personally formulated alloy of charm and armour-plated persistence parted before him, with the result that her clients - prominent lawyers, financiers and publishers with everything to lose from owning up to their fetish - went ahead anyway.

"It was a bit like using your chain of command in the army," he says. "If you got Mistress Raven to agree and the mistresses to agree, then the mistresses would get their clients to agree. For some of them it was such an important part of their lives that they all really wanted to talk about it too. You know when you have an incredible secret and a lot of guilt, in a strange way you also welcome the opportunity to talk about it."

Given that Broomfield's mission in Fetishes was to excavate the childhood fears that his subjects had contrived to eroticise, it seems appropriate to mine his own upbringing for clues. What turned the young Broomfield into a film-maker, absurdly clad in headphones and hands clamping a furry- headed boom microphone, whose signature intrusions into his own films are widely held to be evidence of extreme narcissism?

He is half Czech: his mother's parents left Prague following the German occupation in 1938. He dredges up an early memory of them, from "when I was about five or six. My grandfather used to make feather hats in Wardour Street [coincidentally, the HQ of the British film industry]. It was before the Street Offences Act and my grandmother used to take me for little walks to show me all the naughty women in the street, who I thought looked amazing." Hence, quite clearly, the obsession with prostitution. His father was a conscientious objector, as well as an atheist, but in the ambulance service during the war he met and was impressed by the abundance of Quakers who also refused to fight. He sent his son to a co-educational Quaker boarding school in Somerset. The 11-year-old Broomfield was obliged to attend largely silent Quaker meetings which he used to find "ridiculous: I used to want to fart". This is an early example of the film-maker itching to draw attention to himself in a buffoon-like manner.

Broomfield was expelled at 16 when he was discovered alone in the wrong dormitory with one of its occupants - "a beautiful girl called Josephine Jellyneck". Rather than seeking the limelight, this time he was under the bed, trying to avoid discovery. "I think the fantasy of the mistress who caught us was far stronger than the reality." His work subsequently finds him adopting a similar faux-naif stance, a trademark I-wasn't-doing- anything look on his face when he displeases his subjects.

His current project finds him delving into the psychopathology of the late Kurt Cobain. "Obviously he was a great musician and an amazing writer and so on and so on, so you want to get stuff in about his background and his childhood. And then there are all these theories that he was murdered. They are fascinating because Courtney's father is one of the main pushers of the theories. The nanny who was with them right up until the week before he killed himself summarised it the best. She said, `If he wasn't actually murdered, he was forced to murder himself.'" It sounds as if Broomfield is back on familiar ground, using denial of access and logistical hiccups as a way of deepening his portrait of the subject. "There were a lot of attempts to close me down while I was doing the film. Showtime pulled out of the deal because of pressure from MTV. Time Warner were terrified, and they had been courting me after Fetishes to do a film. They have such vested interests in preserving those show-business relationships that you ain't going to be making this film there."

The question everyone asks Broomfield about Fetishes is whether he put himself through a session. The mistresses do try to rope him up at the end of the film, but with farcical lack of success. "I couldn't think of anything worse than being tied up and beaten by Mistress Raven, frankly," he says. The closest he gets to sadomasochism is getting off on all the things that go wrong in his films, events that appear to thwart but actually embellish. And it is because of these embellishments that he's far better off making films about Hollywood than he would be making Hollywood films, which remains an unrealised ambition. Not even Broomfield could make movies out of his own failures to get movies off the ground.

There is a very Broomfield moment after the end of the interview. Barney is somewhere in the building, but can't be found. We track him down to the gents, behind the locked door of the cubicle. We do what you do when you're in the gents, and to fill the silence I comment that I hadn't put on a suit because I hadn't expected Broomfield to be wearing one. "Yeah," says Broomfield. "My son thinks I look really stupid in the films wearing jeans and a white T-shirt. Don't you, Barney?" Silence. Dad, who plainly will respect no one's privacy in pursuit of an answer, bangs on the cubicle door. He asks the question again, only louder. More silence. Then, "Do you guys mind if I take a crap?"

`Fetishes' screens at the ICA, London SW1, from Friday until 18 Sept (exc 12, 13, 14 Sept); booking: 0171-930 3647. Nick Broomfield will give a talk at the ICA on 10 Sept

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor