Film student Andrew Sherban’s documentary, replete with sensationalist title, purports to be ‘a film manifesto journeying in the world of hardcore bondage pornography, attacking issues of censorship and personal liberty’. This potentially interesting project (given the contemporary predilection for increasingly sexualised images in popular culture, state surveillance, continued erosion of civil liberties and the breaking down of the lines between the public and the private) is a major undertaking for any film-maker, be they a novice or a veteran. Sherban’s ultra-low budget, hour long film focuses on changes made to Britain’s Criminal Justice Act in 2009 that make it an offence for a person to be in possession of an extreme pornographic image, including legally produced images of consenting adults indulging in bondage acts. Bizarrely, production of the images is still legal but possession could, in the most extreme cases, lead to a three year prison sentence and a place on the sex offenders register. The Kafkaesque legalese and the life destroying consequences of any such prosecution is the theme for interviews conducted by Sherban with a Liberal Democrat MP, a journalist for The Guardian, a lawyer specialising in such cases, a porn star and a bondage photographer.
Split into three chapters (‘A (Very) Brief History of Porn’, ‘The Thin Pink Line’ and ‘The Eleventh Commandment’), linked by voice-over narration and inter-cut scenes from films and a recurring spoof on A Clockwork Orange alongside the interviews themselves, Hanging Perverts certainly strives for the stylistic feel of a contemporary documentary, even if the results are ultimately insipid and unenlightening. The real problem with the film is tonal – the dry, flat and ‘academic’ approach used just doesn’t make for an interesting viewing experience. This is compounded by the interviewees having relatively little to say other than ‘yes, it’s a funny law’ and ‘no, it’s not right that these painful looking but essentially harmless images should be criminalised’. ‘Facts’ and statements such as ‘clearly Japan produces the most extreme pornographic imagery’ are redundant without the evidence to back them up being displayed. The amendments to the Criminal Justice Act are pored over just minutes after they have already been described, giving the film a sense that it’s chasing its own tail throughout, asking questions but positing no answers.
The bondage photographer and the porn star do nothing to enhance themselves or their chosen pastimes/careers. The photographer fits the stereotypical view of the sleazy, exploitative male – unkempt, shifty eyed and not eloquent enough to give anything other than a superficial view of his activity and the seemingly air headed porn star likewise offering no real insight into her chosen profession. None of this is helped by some nonsensical lapses in editing, most clearly highlighted in a sequence where Sherban asks a lengthy and in depth question about whether politicians are qualified to sit in judgment on issues surrounding film, pornography and any causal links to violent behaviour and sexually motivated crime. The camera immediately cuts away before the answer is given by the unseen interviewee, rendering both the question and the scene irrelelvant. The final nail in the coffin is the uneven and fuzzy sound levels, even an amateur production needs to resolve technical issues so as not to alienate viewers and gain any sort of foothold in an increasingly flooded marketplace. Unfortunately, Hanging Perverts never rises above its film student status in terms of technical production and never leaves the lecture theatre in terms of its tonal approach, leaving little to recommend it.