Bruce LaBruce: The Ambassador of Queercore
Eduardo Gion Espejo-Saavedra,
Film director and photographer, Bruce LaBruce’s oeuvre has been presented in film festivals around the world. Causing, in equal measure, controversy and enthusiasm. He is a creator of dream universes under a classical cinema atmosphere mixed with queer porn. When the grotesque becomes art, he is the only one able to make it real.
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 14th issue of ODDA Magazine.
Your beginnings in the world of cinema are films in Super 8 format. What are they about?
I made my early short Super 8 experimental films when I was involved in the hardcore punk scene in the late eighties in Toronto. They are mostly in the style of collage, taking imagery from various sources and mixing it with my own imagery. This was before the Internet, so I would shoot parts of movies or TV shows o the television screen with my Super 8 camera. I would also use found porn imagery – Super 8 porn movies that I would find in bargain bins in bookstores – and I also started shooting my own naive porn, taking off my clothes and dancing like a wildman. My friends and I documented each other’s lives on super 8, so for example, when I got my nipple pierced by my hustler boyfriend, my friend and collaborator G.B. Jones filmed it and put it in her movie The Troublemakers. We made very queer, homosexually explicit films to show in alternative art galleries and punk venues. We wanted to show the punks, some of whom were homophobic and sexist, that they weren’t as radical as they thought, and not as radical as we were!
Why recreating a film by Robert Altman?
When I first saw Robert Altman’s That Cold Day In The Park on TV as a teenager, I thought to myself, ” is is what pornography must be like!” (again, this was way before the Internet, so I had never seen any real pornography). It was just so sexually twisted and perverse that it really made sex seem to me very mysterious and dangerous and delicious. One night in the eighties, when I was living in a squat, it came on TV and I filmed parts of it o the screen with my Super 8 camera. Then, I decided to use the footage as part of a remake of the film, so I came up with the idea of making it about a gay hairdresser who falls in love with a neo-Nazi skinhead. That was because my hustler ex-boyfriend had turned into a neo-Nazi skinhead and he had beat me up for making fun of him for being such an idiot. Which was horrible, but it also kind of turned me on! Incidentally, when I first showed my remake, No Skin Off My Ass, in L.A., the gay author of the original book that the movie was based on came to the screening, and he told me he liked my version better than Altman’s! He said, “You got it right!”
Your references are Warhol, Jack Smith, Morrissey, Kuchar’s Brothers, the so-called Creator of the Underground. Are your present movies still influenced by them?
Yes, I will always make movies in the spirit of the great gay avant-garde! It starts with Genet and Anger, then moves on to Jack Smith, Warhol and Morrissey, the Kuchar Brothers, James Bidgood, John Waters, etc. But it also includes the filmmakers of the great gay porn avant-garde: Peter de Rome, Wake eld Poole, Fred Halsted, Jack Deveau, Peter Berlin, Kurt McDowell, etc.
Last year, I was invited to the Sun-Ray Cinema in Jacksonville, Florida, to show my movie Hustler White on a double bill with Wake eld Poole’s Bijou. I interviewed Mr. Poole, who is retired in Jacksonville, and who is now eighty, in front of the audience while Bijou played. It was a huge thrill and honor!
You first wrote for J.D.s. Would you tell us about that fanzine?
G.B. Jones and I were the editors and publishers of J.D.s, which we called a softcore zine for hardcore kids! It was actually pretty pornographic, a queer fanzine that was designed for the outcasts and the mis ts and the sissies and the baby butch dykes of both the orthodox gay and punk worlds. We were tired of the bourgeois fags, but when we turned to the punk scene, which was much more stylish and political, we encountered the same sexism and racism as in the gay world, except with the added bonus of homophobia! So we made our punk zine with lots of homo porn imagery and stories as a reaction against that. We used found porn from magazines, but I also started shooting myself and others to make a kind of naive porn. I learned how to do everything from the zine – I did design and layout, collage, photography, wrote fiction and non fiction, manifestos, womanifestos, etc. We also did our own distribution and promotion, which I considered as part of the creative process, and still do.
Your first movie is called Hustler White. It starts with an image of Tony Ward (Madonna’s boyfriend those days), dead and floating in a pool. It reminds us of Sunset Boulevard by Billy Wilder. He was one of your references. Isn’t that right?
Hustler White was my third feature lm, after No Skin Off My Ass and Super 8 1⁄2. Hustler White was a very loose remake of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, but it also heavily referenced other movies like Aldrich’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Warhol/Morrissey’s Flesh. Instead of the film starting with a dead hustler floating face down in a swimming pool, as in Sunset Boulevard, Hustler White started out with a hustler face floating face down in a Jacuzzi! Tony Ward was already a pretty famous male supermodel who had been the muse of fotogs like Herb Ritts and Greg Gorman, and he had just broken up with Madonna when we cast him in the lead role. We got him to give Madonna the script and ask her if she would give us money for the film. She said she could not be associated with pornography, and she called me a twerp.
Your film premiere took place at Sundance Festival. Was it a scandal?
Indeed it was. In fact, I’ve had four films play at Sundance, starting with Super 8 1/2 in 1995, and including three world premieres, for Hustler White, The Raspberry Reich, and Otto; or, Up with Dead People. My editor, Rider Siphron, and I worked like dogs to get the film done in time, so when we got to Sundance we were emotionally and physically exhausted. It was a midnight screening, and half-way through, during the amputee stumping sex scene, half the audience got up en masse and walked out! It was one of my best reviews ever!
Do you think your movies scandalize some specific social groups?
Most of them. I always say my movies have something to offend everyone. When my first feature films came out in the early nineties, they played at mainstream festivals and scandalized people not only with explicit scenes of homosexual sex, but also with scenes of nipple-piercing, toilet-licking, toe- sucking, gun ass-fucking, etc. But the films were also funny and romantic, so people were confused. My neo-Nazi porn film Skin Flick/Skin Gang pretty much offended everyone. The Raspberry Reich offended some leftists because it was a critique of the radical left and radical chic. Otto had the infamous gut-fucking scene, which out-did the Hustler White amputee fuck scene. So, in a way, I always try to offend someone. L.A. Zombie was banned in Australia. Some people are deeply offended by the “sexual reassignment” scene in The Misandrists. But everything I do is done with love!
You are said to be ambassador of the “Queercore” movement in the world of cinema. Can you please tell us about the beginnings of this movement? Do you think it is still alive?
I have never considered myself an ambassador of anything, except maybe of perversion! Our fanzine J.D.s really kickstarted the Homocore or Queercore movement. Our goal was to give support and love and hope to all the kids out there that were like us – marginalized, outcast, exiled, frustrated, and even threatened with violence. We encouraged queer kids to be politically and sexually militant and unapologetically queer, but also to appreciate the romance of the outsider, and the power of being different. We were anti- authoritarian, countercultural, and questioned the conventions of both society and cinema. Queercore is definitely alive, even if it doesn’t always go by that name. I just attended a queer film festival in Colombia called Kuir Bogota where they showed a number of my films and photographs. My films are cult movies to them, and I met so many queers and transgender people there who are politically engaged, stylish, smart, and sexy, which is exactly what J.D.s was all about!
You are a fan of artists like Pierre Molinier, is that so?
Who isn’t? Yes, I made a music video for a Toronto band called Danko Jones several years ago which featured thirteen trans women. My art director, Kenny Baird, helped me recreate some of the photos and stylistic flourishes of Molinier. It was a tribute.
Tell us about your latest exhibitions? You were at the Fresh Gallery in Madrid and filming part of your last film in Spain.
Last year I had a photo exhibit called Faggotry in Los Angeles at a gallery called Lethal Amounts. It was a retrospective of my photographic work over the past 25 years, including some new work. I remounted a version of the show in June at La Fresh Gallery in Madrid. While I was there, I shot two short films for the US porn company Cockyboys. Topacio Fresh appears in one of the films, called Diablo in Berlin. In July, I shot two more short films in Berlin for the same company. The four short films have interrelated themes and characters, so I’m releasing them together as an omnibus film. The short version is called It Is Not the Pornographer at is Perverse…, and the longer, pornier version is called Bruce LaBruce’s Fleapit. In October, I had another photo show at Gallery 46 in London, entitled The Haus of Bruce LaBruce.
I attended the première of Otto at the Sitges Festival and I found the black and white scene at the cemetery in Berlin mesmerizing.
Thank you. I just watched Otto in Bogota after not having seen it for a long time. It’s better than I remembered! (laughs). And it does look gorgeous.
Where did you get the idea of making Otto?
Otto is either a homeless queer schizophrenic boy with an eating disorder who thinks he’s a zombie, or a real zombie. You decide. The movie is basically an expression of how I felt when I was a teenager, bullied for being gay, completely unable to express my homosexuality because of the threat of violence and therefore totally sexually repressed. I’ve had a number of older female mentors in my life, so the character of Medea, the lesbian filmmaker, was an homage to those strong, feminist women. Also, I had just met my future Cuban husband, who was an exile in Canada, separated from his family, damaged by his ordeal, a lost soul. I dedicated the film to him.
Why was a narrator included in the film?
There are two narrators: Medea, the lesbian feminist filmmaker who makes a movie about Otto, and Otto himself. I used a lot of voice-over narration in my early films because it fills in a lot of the visual gaps that you might have because of a low budget. I also like to have a female narrator to stand in for my voice because I’ve been mentored by so many amazing women.
Why did you choose Sagat, an international porn actor in your next film?
François Sagat was the star of my 2010 film L.A. Zombie, and I just worked with him again this year by casting him in one of the short films in It Is Not the Pornographer at is Perverse. The short film is called The Purple Army Faction, and he plays a straight guy who is kidnapped by gay terrorists and fuckwashed into being gay! I love François because he is so sexy and smart and creative, and he’s just a very chill, pleasant fellow. I put him through hell on L.A. Zombie, and he was so professional and never complained, which he had every right to! Do you think straight porn actor would have never taken part of it? In fact, I would like to make a straight porn film sometime. I would be happy to work with a straight porn star also, if he was cool.
Tell us about your next films that we saw at the Sitges Film Festival this year.
The Misandrists is a movie about a group of lesbian separatist essentialist feminist terrorists. They pretend they are nuns who run a school for runaway girls as a front for their terrorist organization, and their plan is to make lesbian porn as the first step in creating a world without men! Ulrike’s Brain is a spin-off movie from The Misandrists. (there is a short clip of Ulrike’s Brain in The Misandrists). It is about a mad doctor, Dr. Pfeifer, who has in her possession the brain of the RAF terrorist Ulrike Meinhof from the seventies. She is trying to find the perfect female body to transplant the brain into to start a new feminist revolution. Meanwhile, her arch-rival, Detlev Schlesinger, is in possession of the ashes of Michael Kuhnen, the gay leader of the neo-Nazi movement in Germany who died of AIDS in 1991. He is trying to bring Kuhnen back from the dead to lead the new neo-Nazi movement.
Filmmaker, Journalist and documentary.
For several years working as an assistant director of short films and feature films in 35mm. His documentaries have been shown at festivals Festival de Cinema de Sitges, New York Film Festival, Portland Underground Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival, and others.
Worked at events “080” in Barcelona, collaborating with photographers Miguel Villalobos for the production of the tribute to Thierry Mugler.
Writes and produces reports for magazines “Candy Magazine” to Luis Venegas, Also works for the magazine “Paraiso Magazine”, and Features Editor at ODDA Magazine.
Eduardo Gion Espejo-Saavedra
Filmmaker, Journalist and documentary. For several years working as an assistant director of short films and feature films in 35mm. His documentaries have been shown at festivals Festival de Cinema de Sitges, New York Film Festival, Portland Underground Film Festival, San Francisco Film Festival, and others. Worked at events “080” in Barcelona, collaborating with photographers Miguel Villalobos for the production of the tribute to Thierry Mugler. Writes and produces reports for magazines “Candy Magazine” to Luis Venegas, Also works for the magazine “Paraiso Magazine”, and Features Editor at ODDA Magazine.
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