Documentary maker Nick Broomfield first planned to do a tour of American fetish establishments, but once he found Pandora's Box, a high priced New York parlour situated on the top floor of an office block, he decided to concentrate on the workers and clients there instead. Most of the clients are high-flying businessmen, lawyers, Wall Street brokers and the like, and Pandora's Box caters to all kinds of sado-masochistic predilections as Broomfield finds out over a two month investigation. But does he really want to know what makes the place tick, or is he indulging in his own preference: he likes to watch?
Apparently going by the premise that nothing is more interesting than other people's sexual quirks, Fetishes was a controversial documentary when it was released, but only to the extent that Broomfield had gone to the lengths of filming sessions and holding frank discussions with both dominatrices and their dominated about their habits and the reasons behind the things they get up to behind the closed doors of Pandora's Box. As far as I can tell, it's not a brothel and the clients don't go there for sex, but rather to carry out role play scenarios where they are humiliated in safe surroundings, where what goes on won't go further than the walls of the rooms. Many of the clients have wives, partners and families who know nothing of their unusual hobbies.
At least until someone recognises them in this film, as Broomfield is typically candid and prying here. He interviews most of the dominatrices, initially about what they do there (and they have other, more regular, jobs as well) as they slyly attempt to entice him into a session, an offer he has no difficulty in refusing. It's as if they believe every man has a need to be under the high-heeled shoe of a mistress, and seeing the interviews with the clientele it's not surprising. Some of them are quizzed on camera, usually with their back turned or hidden under the saftey of a rubber mask, but their answers are banal; a childhood incident has set them on the path to S and M, or their job involves ordering people about so they relish the idea of being pushed around themselves - only not in the world outside.
It's not only men who come to see the mistresses, there is the odd woman too, as we see early on when Broomfield awkwardly talks with a woman who is in the process of being strung up and spanked. You get the impression that she was included for titillation for the male viewers for whom the sight of doughy white men with clamps on their nipples crawling around on all fours is a less than appetising prospect. She's the exception rather than the rule, in other words, although later on we see another woman, who claims to be a professional masochist, undergoing the full treatment, which makes you wonder how anyone could get off on such studied pain and ill treatment. Some clients even have a suffocation fetish, which entails dressing all in rubber and breathing through a tube, which is periodically blocked.
In fact, a few scenes are downright unsettling; one wrestling afficionado seems to want a real battle with his dominatrix, and storms out when he doesn't get what he wants. Other clients include Jewish men who wish to act out fantasies of concentration camps or Nazi abasement, or black men who who prefer the slave on the plantation scenario - why would they want to put themselves in that position when there are unsavoury individuals who would want to do that to them in real life? You won't get an answer here, none of Broomfield's questions dig very deep, although there are lighter moments, as when he asks a woman if she does her dominatrix's shopping, or when he interviews a man with his head in a toilet bowl (although the man's genocidal reveries make you worry). Only enlightening as far as illustration goes, Fetishes is a fairly engaging look at a world many will find hard to understand.
Pioneering British documentary-maker known for both the relentless pursuit of his subjects and his eagerness to put himself in his films. Broomfield's earliest films were observational documentaries covering such subjects as prostitution (Chicken Ranch), army life (Soldier Girls), and comedienne Lily Tomlin (Lily Tomlin). 1988's Driving Me Crazy introduced the style of film for which Broomfield would become famous, as he detailed his own failed attempts to film a musical.
Subsequent movies include two studies of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, the Spalding Gray monologue Monster in a Box, controversial Fetishes and a pair of documentaries on musical themes, Kurt & Courtney and the rap-exposé Biggie and Tupac. Broomfield has also made two forays into fictional film-making, with 1989's woeful thriller Diamond Skulls and 2006's true life immigration drama Ghosts. He returned to a true murder theme with Tales of the Grim Sleeper.