News that a documentary about the life and work of fetish art pioneer John Willie is in the advanced planning stages will surely be welcomed by fans around the world.
Willie — real name John Alexander Scott Coutts — is famous, among other things, for founding the fetish magazine Bizarre (published in the US from 1946 to 1959) and for creating famous comic strip bondage heroine Gwendoline.
Singapore-born, upper-class Brit Coutts began developing his talents for fetish and bondage imagery while living in Australia in the 1930s (where he also married his legendary muse Holly Anna Faram).
After World War II he moved to the United States, where in 1946 he launched his groundbreaking Bizarre magazine (perversely calling its first issue Volume 2) and adopted the pen name John Willie.
In New York his work brought him into contact with publisher Irving Klaw, whose Movie Star News business specialised in mail order fetish pictures.
Klaw famously launched Bettie Page’s bondage modelling career, and also employed other celebrated fetish artists such as Stanton and Eneg (Gene Bilbrew).
Coutts/Willie worked on and off with Klaw, but sold Bizarre in 1956 to a buyer known only as ‘R.E.B.’ In 1957 he moved to Los Angeles, where he concentrated on producing photo stories until his death in 1962.
Willie’s work has been a major influence for many modern fetish/bondage artists, photographers and fashion designers.
His extremely detailed and lifelike style (he used his photographs for reference) was way ahead of its time and still resonates powerfully with modern tastes.
The documentary about him now planned — titled Beyond Bizarre: the Life and Art of John Willie — is the joint brainchild of Paris-based filmmakers Guillaume Pin and Charlotte Grondin, who share writing and directing credits on the project.
“Charlotte and I had developed a great passion for John Willie over the years,” says Guillaume, “and I’ve wanted to do something about him for a very long time, but I wasn’t sure which form it could take.”
When people saw his award-winning 2019 short film VagabondageS featuring a bondage suspension performance (it was screened at the first London Fetish Film Festival), some “spontaneously called it a documentary”, he reveals.
“So I thought, well, what could my next documentary be? We were pretty sure that someone must already have done a documentary about John Willie. But when we looked, we found nothing.
“So we thought, if this has never be done before, why not us?”
The project’s producer is Béatrice Borowiec, co-founder of independent production company Pistoleros and creator of the movie’s bilingual crowdfunding campaign, which is running until September 30 on French funding site Proarti.fr.
In their introduction to the project, the team say that the “iconoclastic and endearing” Willie was “the kind of man you make a movie about”.
“He was an adventurer with a romantic yet mysterious life,” they continue. “One of those lives that come with so many exciting legends, you find yourself dying for them to be true.
“We know he worked as a cab driver, a sailor, and a policeman. We think he was also a radio host, a nightclub bouncer, and perhaps even a spy. And we know for a fact that he was a hedonist, a gentleman, a night owl, a barfly, and a banjo player.
“But he was, above all, a brilliant artist, who was and remains the greatest bondage and fetish artist. As well as being a free spirit, he was also a militant, a pioneer in his own way of the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s.”
Beyond Bizarre, we are promised, will be a film filled and illustrated with unpublished information and documents newly unearthed by the makers.
Early on in their preparations for the documentary, the project’s creators secured the collaboration of the single individual who has done more than anyone else to revive, nurture and promote the memory and work of John Willie: New York author, vintage fetish historian and publisher J B ‘Jeff’ Rund.
“When we began researching,” say the couple, “we very quickly found Jeff, and we contacted him. When he invited us to New York, we knew that the project was well engaged.”
Rund has been publishing John Willie’s work in various forms since the early 1970s. Most recent product of his Bélier Press imprint is 2016’s Possibilities, a massive hardback collector’s volume (extensively covered by The Fetishistas — link on page 3) devoted exclusively to Willie’s photography.
Those with longer memories may also recall 1999’s equally collectable Bélier Press tome of similar bulk — Rund’s revised and enlarged second edition of his 1970s classic The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline.
An avid JW fan since the mid-1950s, Rund had long dreamt of publishing a volume of the artist’s collected works. His chance came in 1973 when he was able to purchase the assets and IP rights of Bizarre Publishing Company from the mysterious ‘R.E.B.’.
As a consequence, and thanks to a co-edition deal with a German publisher, Rund was able to publish his first US edition of The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline in New York in December 1974.
Gwendoline went through four printings and was published in French and Italian editions as well as the original US and German versions.
The French edition was released in Paris in 1975 by new sci-fi/fantasy imprint Les Humanoides Associés, publisher of Metal Hurlant magazine.
Fans of Les Humanoides’ revered output will therefore surely be delighted to learn that, alongside Jeff Rund, the documentary’s makers have also secured an interview with legendary Humanoides co-founder Jean-Pierre Dionnet.
These two men will be joined in the film by several other esteemed French creatives who all cite John Willie as an important influence on their work.
Among those who’ve agreed to be interviewed are author/publisher/historian and Les Larmes d’Eros (Tears of Eros) bookstore owner Alexandre Dupouy, whose superb book City of Pleasure: Paris Between The Wars we reviewed in 2019 (link on page 3).
Photographer Gilles Berquet, a hero of mine from my Skin Two days with a very distinctive style of B/W fetish and bondage photography, is another contributor, crediting JW as “a backbone” of his imagination.
Mirka Lugosi, meanwhile, is a designer with punk and surrealist accents whose quest for “the perfect Willie-style leg curve” makes her, according to the filmmakers, a “perfect commentator” on the work of JW.
Final French contributor at the current time is Vincent Bernière, novelist, columnist, journalist, comix expert and most recent editor of Gwendoline in France — a role allowing him to write an important feature about it in Beaux Arts magazine.READ MORE – GO TO PAGE 2 OF 3
Passionate in his youth about film, comics, thrillers and imaginary worlds open to fantasy and science fiction, Guillaume Pin eventually chose to pursue a career in cinema.
After a brief stint at the Aix-en-Provence film faculty, he moved to Paris and held various internships, learning directing, editing and photography ‘on the job’.
He now directs short films as well as music videos, commercials and corporate films.
His latest short film, VagabondageS, won awards at L’Etrange Festival de Paris and the Erotic & Bizarre Film Festival in Alicante. It was also screened at the first London Fetish Film Festival in 2019.
Beyond Bizarre, the Life and Art of John Willie is his first documentary film project.
Globetrotter, avid reader, actress in her spare time, passionate about art and cinema, Charlotte Grondin has lived in London, Amsterdam, Prague and Paris, and says she does not intend to stop there!
After studying art and archeology in Nantes, she obtained a master’s degree in art history at the University of Leiden and another in cultural management at that of Angers.
Loving to support all kinds of cultural projects, she has worked for the British Council in London, the French Institute in the Netherlands and the French Embassy in the Czech Republic as a cultural representative.
Beyond Bizarre, The Life and Art of John Willie is her first documentary film project.
American sound designer, composer and musician Brian Emrich became immersed in the world of sound design while working on several great Darren Aronofsky films.
Brian’s first film, Pi, a psychological thriller, won the Best Director Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 1998.
His style established itself in the Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated Requiem for a Dream, and he went on to collaborate with Aronofsky on The Fountain and also Black Swan, for which he was nominated at the Broadcast Critic Awards.
He worked on Joel Schumacher’s hit thriller Phone Booth, and on Mark Romanek‘s psychological thriller One Hour Photo starring Robin Williams.
Other notable Emrich projects include the DVD release of The Matrix Revisited, and he has also contributed to several high profile TV commercials.
After training as an actress and working in live show production, Béatrice Borowiec moved into film and audiovisual production with Pistoleros, the company she co-founded in 2005 with Michaël Massias and Arthur Rémythe.
She has acted in movies such as Guillaume Canet’s Tell No One, and has produced films including Massias’ Safari Park and plays such as Shopping and Fucking by Mark Ravenhill.
Pistoleros was created primarily to make fantasy, thriller, horror and action movies, but it also produces music videos and documentaries as well as shooting cultural and corporate events.
Béatrice says Pistoleros is dedicated to “highlighting artists such as John Willie, whose work contributed to shedding light on society’s taboos and providing an escape for thousands of people who shared his interests.”
FLORIANE N’GUYEN VAN MEO:
Chief Lighting Operator
GRÉGOIRE DUBOŸ: Sound Engineer
JOHANNA FLORANGE: Production Assistant
SEE PAGE 2 FOR 4 PHOTO/ART GALLERIES AND 6 BEYOND BIZARRE VIDEO TEASERS!READ MORE – GO TO PAGE 2 OF 3