BDSM enthusiasts might deny such a claim but enthusiasm for kink in the public consciousness seems to ebb and flow. In the few short years since 50 Shades of Grey turned every stranger with a Kindle on public transit into a potential pervert the subjects of sex submission bondage dominance and good old sadomasochism seem to be inescapable. Outside of Grey’s dubious adaptation — which opens this week — contributions from the film world alone have included Lars Von Trier’s sexual odyssey Nymphomaniac Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the classic novella Venus in Furs and this year’s forthcoming The Duke of Burgundy. Burgundy in particular harkens back to the heyday of ’60s and ’70s European exploitation films (which is not intended to be a disparaging term). While exploitation filmmakers like the prolific Spanish auteur Jesús Franco (best known for 1970’s Vampyros Lesbos) could have easily populated this entire list the following five selections offer an exploration of kink in film as it flirts increasingly with the art house documentary and fashion.

Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom (Dir. Pier Paulo Pasolini 1975)

The word “sadism” derives of course from the French novelist Marquise de Sade so it seems necessary to begin with Pier Paolo Pasolini’s notorious adaptation of the author’s The 120 Days of Sodom. While easy to assume that 40-year-old depictions of sex (based on a 110-year-old text) would appear intrinsically quaint Salò — and its narrative of kidnapped teenagers forced into a routine of sexual debasement — is not for the weak of heart. For all its depravity and degradation however Pasolini brings an undeniable and baffling artistry to the act of eating shit. Of course anyone will be quick to remind that BDSM requires consent on the part of each participant and the last time I checked kidnapping teens for the sake of sexual defilement is neither consensual nor legal. As such perhaps it’s best to move on to BDSM — much more fun for those involved.

Maîtresse (Dir. Barbet Schroeder 1975)

In Maîtresse a young stud (Gérard Depardieu) falls in love with Ariane (Bulle Ogier) an icy and mysterious dominatrix with an elaborate bondage dungeon below her unassuming apartment. The film features all the leather and chains one might expect but Maîtresse ultimately offers an unusual portrayal of an individual not invested in kink forced to reconcile a lover’s dual lives especially one that must remain inherently private. Featuring costumes designed by Karl Lagerfeld and shot by famed cinematographer Néstor Almendros the film’s visual pleasures are undeniable adding an unusual lushness to typically harsh material.

Fetishes (Dir. Nick Broomfield 1996)

While perhaps an outlier as the only non-fiction selection on this list Nick Broomfield’s documentary about dominatrices in famed New York BDSM parlour Pandora’s Box earns its place as well as any other. Produced as part of a series called America Undercover the film can tend towards the didactic as it goes about explaining the basics of “safe words” and the fact that yes some people enjoy humiliation and abuse but manages to overcome its clunky moments. The endgame isn’t sensationalism and Broomfield’s documentary is as interested in ideas of performance and role-playing as any narrative feature with extensive interviews with the mistresses and a number of clients. The result is a thoughtful and generous work that considers the intersections of BDSM as a passion a pastime and a profession.

Tokyo Decadence (Dir. Ryu Murakami 1992)

Tokyo Decadence exists on the periphery of a long tradition of Japanese soft-core pinku films updated to the 1990s and stylized to appeal to the art-house crowd. The film follows the young call girl Ai (Miho Nikaido) on a series of S&M-heavy liaisons often set in chic hotels and tinged by a broader world of drugs and the Yakuza. Sleek and cool Tokyo Decadence’s strength lies in the pervasive atmosphere of melancholy that underscores Ai’s work — a pensive corollary to the dildos and erotic asphyxiation — all without reducing the narrative to a facile treatise on the emptiness of sex work. Directed by acclaimed novelist Ryu Murakami (the other Murakami) there is pathos and complexity to Ai. The film portrays the dynamic between pleasure and sorrow as notably as bondage and discipline or dominance and submission.

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder 1972)

It serves to remember that at its core BDSM is about power and needn’t necessarily obsess over whips and latex. The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant eschews explicit sexuality for an equally intimate and charged chamber drama. Aided by her meek doting assistant Marlene the fashion designer Von Kant lives in a stylized loft only one extension of her particular obsession with unwavering control. The dynamic is upset by the arrival of the young Karin willing to benefit from Von Kant’s hospitality but unwilling to cede to the caustic designer’s dominance. Power in crisis makes for inherently rich drama but Fassbinder’s inspired use of design music and studied invocation of both Euro exploitation and melodrama elevates The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant to its deserved status as unique masterpiece.