Jul 10, 2013

Interview with Bruce LaBruce

 Undoubtedly, one of the most subversive and iconoclastic 'gay' auteur filmmakers working in the world today, Canadian auteur Bruce LaBruce has managed to assemble the perfect insanely idiosyncratic marriage between arthouse and pornography and sardonic satire and biting political incorrectness with aesthetically and thematically revolutionary works like No Skin Off My Ass (1993), Hustler White (1996), The Raspberry Reich (2004), and Otto; or Up with Dead People (2008).  His upcoming film, Gerontophilia (2013), will be LaBruce's most mainstream work to date which, although not featuring any of the aberrant-garde pornographic imagery typical of his previous works, deals with a totally taboo sexual relationship between a young white twink and an old black man and has already been described as a sort of 'gay Harold and Maude.'  In this interview, Soiled Sinema asks LaBruce about his cinematic influences and singularly eclectic filmmaking career, as well as his thoughts on the 'mainstreaming' of gay culture.

Soiled Sinema: Kurt Cobain apparently hailed you as his favorite filmmaker after seeing your feature-length debut No Skin Off My Ass (1993). Do you have any other infamous/famous fans?

Bruce LaBruce: Georgina Spelvin and Camilla Sparv. But seriously, one big thrill for me was when somebody contacted me on facebook and told me that he had taken the brilliant playwright Edward Albee to see my movie "Otto; or, Up with Dead People" in New York, and he had been quite entranced by it. So I asked them if I could get a blurb from Mr. Albee for the back of the DVD, and he did it! I think a lot of people think I just made it up, but it's really from him. I was over the moon because I love his plays so much.

 SS: You co-directed Hustler White (1996) with photographer Rick Castro. How did you share the directing duties?

BLB: Very carefully. Actually, the writing and shooting wasn't too bad, but in post-production it got a little messy. I was also the co-star and a co-producer, and the post process was extremely difficult because we had so little money, so I really had to work hard with my editor to get it completed for its Sundance world premier. Co-directed presented a lot of complications. Let's just say I vowed never to co-direct anything ever again after that experience.

SS: What were the main film influences for Hustler White? Does it owe more to Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950) or Paul Morrissey's Heat (1972)? Were you also inspired by The Blind Owl (1992) directed by Reza Abdoh?

BLB: The main influence for Hustler White was real life, followed closely by Sunset Boulevard, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, and Warhol's Flesh and Heat, with a little Alice in Wonderland thrown in for good measure. We actually shot the final scene of the movie at the same location where Aldrich shot the ending of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, which we were clearly referencing. Zuma Beach, or El Matador, I can't remember which now. We also threw in a little Death in Venice there for good measure, like when the black hair dye is running down my face. I've never seen The Blind Owl, but it sounds delicious.

SS: A number of your films have dealt with neo-nazism. Do you have any plans for similarly themed works in the future? How about a Ernst Röhm biopic?

BLB: I feel like I really explored the neo-Nazi theme, and the relationship between homosexuality and fascism, in my movie Skin Flick, and its hardcore version, Skin Gang. I mean, when you have a scene in your movie of a neo-Nazi skinhead jerking off to a copy of Mein Kampf, as I did, it kind of says it all. But actually I am making an experimental film in the near future called Ulrike's Brain which, in a minor subplot - a B-movie-within-the-movie - pits the RAF's Ulrike Meinhof's re-animated brain against the re-animated ashes of Michael Kuhnen, the gay German neo-Nazi leader of the eighties who died of AIDS in 1991. The movie-within-the-movie is a cross between They Saved Hitler's Brain and The Brain That Would Not Die, two famous B-movies of the sixties. I've already shot parts of it, in Hamburg, as part of the Die Untoten: Life Sciences and Pulp Fiction Kongress at Kampnagel, curated by my friend Hannah Hurtzig.

SS: You have portrayed/parodied both fascists and communists with your films. What political persuasion do you find more "erotic" and/or "fetishistic" and why?

BLB: An excellent question. Obviously politically I'm more in sympathy with communism than fascism, to say the least, but erotically and fetishistically it's a real toss-up. I love the stylish uniformity and militancy of both movements, but for different reasons. I like the simplicity and starkness of both styles, but obviously fascists - the Nazis, for example - were more interested in power and wealth as an expression of style, so they also borrowed from the baroque, both in architecture and in the use of sadomasochistic black leather coats, hats and trimming and fetishistic adornments. Charlotte Rampling in The Night Porter, with her long black gloves, suspenders, and shiny black patent leather Gestapo hat, is one of the ultimate expressions of this style. The gay leather movement was clearly influenced by fascist style. In terms of communism, I love the simplicity and the plainness of the design, whether it be the Mao suit with everything in uniform grey, including the buttons, or the Soviet proletariat uniform with its clean lines and industrial purposefulness. So although the ideologies may be repugnant, the style is undeniably sexy. I am a Marxist-sympathizer, but obviously I don't support any form of totalitarianism. However, totalitarians can have great style.

SS: What inspired you to direct two quasi-pornographic zombie films? Are you a fan of the subgenre or slightly more ambivalent? What are your favorite zombie flicks and did any of these inspire Otto; or Up With Dead People (2008) and L.A. Zombie (2010)?

BLB: I was interested in exploring a more popular idiom at that time, so the hot horror genre and the even hotter zombie sub-genre seemed like the way to go. I've always been a fan of the horror genre, and I do love zombie movies, especially when they're used as political and social allegories. But I also like to explore genre conventions, and mix up the conventions of seemingly irreconcilable or incompatible genres. So I have mixed porn with political satire, or porn with romantic comedy, or gore with porn (gorn), like in Otto and L.A. Zombie, or in the case of Hustler White, the underground art movie with classical Hollywood melodrama. Ambivalence is my middle name, so I always approach each genre with some ambivalent feelings. I hate zombie movies that merely use the zombie as a kind of distasteful replica of the homeless, who can be laughed at or killed for sport. So in my zombie movies I made the titular zombies ambiguous characters - they could be interpreted as homeless schizophrenics who perceive themselves as zombies, or whom others perceive as such, or they could be viewed as "real" zombies. I love Romero's hyper-political zombie films (I wrote an article about them, with an emphasis on Diary of the Dead, for Fangoria magazine), and I love the British miniseries Dead Set. I also love Romero's teenage vampire movie "Martin", which was another inspiration for Otto.

SS: With the mainstreaming of 'LGBT culture,' have you felt a rising backlash from critics? Have you ever been accused of being a 'self-loathing homosexual?'

BLB: I am self-loathing homosexual, but I embrace it! I love my self-loathing! I had a party during Pride Week a few years ago in Toronto called the Self-Loathing Party. It was quite popular. Actually, I would probably be self-loathing even if I weren't homosexual. It's not really self-loathing, but more of an existentialist honesty, along the lines of Mersault in Camus' The Outsider. (I just watched Visconti's film version of it on YouTube last night. Marcello Mastroianni is brilliant as Mersault, and Anna Karina is fantastic as his long-suffering girlfriend.) I think there should be a little more self-loathing these days with the gays and a little less mindless self-affirmation and brainwashed conformity. A healthy bit of self-doubt, ambivalence or well-delivered sarcasm has always been one of the great strengths of the homosexual psyche. But my movies have generally been so far away from the gay mainstream that I've long been accustomed to disapproval and marginalization even within the historically marginalized gay movement. My friends and I were more aligned with the punk movement in the eighties because even back then we found the mainstream gay world hopelessly conformist and assimilationist and bourgeois. Now that gays have become even more mainstream and reactionary, I feel I have less in common with them than with a younger generation that eschews any type of sexual identification and is more interested in political or social upheaval. My films have always been about characters who aren't necessarily gay-identified, but who nonetheless have homosexual sex (hustlers, neo-Nazi skinheads, extreme left wing revolutionaries, gerontophiles, etc.). So even though I'm a Kinsey 9 or so, I've long since given up identification with any gay orthodoxy.

SS: You're undoubtedly the most prolific filmmaker of the "Queercore" (aka homocore) movement. What links homosexuality and punk rock? Do you believe that Darby Crash's 'gayness' was an innate attribute of his art?

BLB: I'm also really over this idea of the queercore or homocore movement being enshrined as some kind of unassailable, pure, and idealistic political moment. It's absolute historical revisionism. Sure, it had its day, and its moments of excellence, but there was also tons of in-fighting, gossip, questionable ideological posturing, and out and out hypocrisy. What was so great about particularly American punk rock was that it refused to be categorized or pinned down in terms of its ideology, its political orthodoxy, or what it stood for. It was a very eclectic, diverse, and ambivalent group of individuals united by a certain amazing and inventive and countercultural style. Great style refuses to be limited to a single meaning or unilateral signification. Punk was confrontational, ambiguous, intense, sometimes violent, and always anti-corporate. It was the last great cohesively incohesive, starkly anti-establishment youth movement. The word punk came from prison slang meaning a passive bum-boy, and also derived from a name for the wood that was used to burn witches and homosexuals at the stake. The original radically political gay movement had lots in common with the countercultural punk movement, so it was only inevitable that the overlap between the two would emerge as the homocore movement. But it was a queer romance that soon became entrenched and co-opted by the art world and political orthodoxy. Darby Crash was the ultimate queer punk because he crashed and burned before he could be co-opted or tamed.

SS: What are your thoughts on popular mainstream gay films like Brokeback Mountain (2005) and its effect on society as a whole?

BLB: Bareback Mountain was okay, but I thought it was mainly Heath Ledger who really nailed the agony of repressed homosexual longing, just as River Phoenix did before him in My Own Private Idaho. It's so strange that both actors Darby Crashed so young. I love the scenes toward the end when Ledger cries clutching his dead male lover's jacket, and then when he asks his daughter if she's sure the man she's going to marry loves her, and assures her he will attend her wedding. It's so touching and melancholy. As to how it effected society, I guess it was a bit of a breakthrough in terms of the tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality, particularly as they were working class, salt-of-the-earth characters without any gay "affectations". But of course when someone tolerates you, it's time to reach for your pistol.

SS: Politically speaking, what inspired you to direct The Raspberry Reich (2004)? Were you in any way inspired by Fassbinder's The Third Generation(1979)?

BLB: Yes, of course! The main movies I studied when I was writing The Raspberry Reich were Fassbinder's The Third Generation, Dusav Makavejev's WR: Mysteries of the Organism, and Godard's La Chinoise (and the last part of Weekend). I particularly love Fassbinder's playful, farcical approach to the wannabe extreme left wing revolutionaries, and his willingness to expose all the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of the radical left. I wrote The Raspberry Reich in the few years following 9/11, when leftist rhetoric had largely been silenced and the radical left proved to be ineffectual against the tide of paranoia and fear capitalized on by western capitalist interests. So I wanted to make an agit-prop movie that both screamed a lot of leftist revolutionary rhetoric but also critiqued the radical left for allowing itself to be diluted, co-opted and exploited by fashion, art, and other capitalistically entrenched institutions. The film operates as both a nostalgia for the no-nonsense, rational discourse of the traditional left - espousing equality, anti-authoritarianism, anti-corporatism, etc. - and as a bitter critique of the left's inability to stave off the global scourge of unbridled, unregulated capitalist hegemony.

SS: You have directed a number of films in Germany using mostly German actors. Is there any reason why? Do you prefer working in Germany as opposed to American/Canada?

BLB: I go where the money is! I mean, you have to have some capitalist impulses to make movies! After my first two feature length films, which were sexually explicit, I couldn't find any funding in Canada, which was also censoring my work like crazy. My producer, Jurgen Bruning, was based in Berlin, and he was able to secure me some modest financing in Germany and from getting recoupable advances from a number of my international distributors. But there is a certain freedom in working in Berlin, which is a much more permissive and free atmosphere for difficult and controversial work. It's also cheaper to shoot there, and there is no shortage of spectacular locations. I also made two films in L.A., also co-produced by Mr. Bruning, which is another city where you can get away with a lot (if you stay under the radar) and which has a preponderance of stunning and unusual locations.

SS: With great gay auteur filmmakers like R.W. Fassbinder, Werner Schroeter, Rosa von Praunheim, Ulrike Ottinger, and Frank Ripploh, etc. making quite a number of great and revolutionary works during the 1970s and 1980s, it seems that West Germany used to have the greatest 'gay' filmmakers in the world. Why do you think this trend has died out in recent decades?

BLB: Well, you could also say that cinema in general in Germany hasn't been the same since the "New German Cinema" of the seventies, with the films of that era by Fassbinder, Herzog, Wenders, Kluge, Syberberg, von Trotta, Schlondorff, etc. German cinema of the seventies was perhaps a reaction against a certain amnesia that Germany had developed about its recent history, with a lot of denial happening about what had gone in German society that allowed the horrible ascendance of the Third Reich, and the failure to teach the new generations about that history in schools. The seventies were also the great heyday of the gay movement, the pre-AIDS era of unbridled, revolutionary hedonism and militant activism, which had a very strong expression in Berlin in particular.

SS: Where are your films most popular? Do you have a larger fan base in Europe or North America?

BLB: I probably have a stronger "fan base", or more accurately, cult following, in Europe, but also strangely in South America, where The Raspberry Reich was particularly revered in certain circles. Hustler White was very popular in France, and Italy and Spain have also always been very supportive of my work, as has Mexico. In the last couple of years I've been invited to mainstream festivals in Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Monterrey.

SS: Although I know you do not consider yourself a part of it, what do you think happened to "New Queer Cinema?" Do you foresee a new generation of subversive gay auteur filmmakers in the future, or has political correctness and mainstreaming killed such a possibility?

BLB: I often joke quite seriously that "gay culture" is essentially dead. The net result of the gay assimilationist movement is that gays have now been integrated into the fabric of mainstream culture, so it no longer has the same iconoclastic, oppositional, and subversive impetus that it once had. In fact, you could argue that the gay movement has overcompensated by espousing and supporting reactionary and conservative values and institutions, to the point where political correctness and the idea of presenting a non-threatening, innocuous "family values" image has undermined the previously well-developed political and aesthetic avant-garde character of homosexuality. Which is fine. Not everyone has the stomach for a daily struggle against oppressive institutions and nature. I never really minded being considered part of the New Queer Cinema, although I was the only one of the group who was making pornographic and largely underground movies. I felt more aligned with the likes of the Kuchar Brothers, Curt McDowell, Wakefield Poole, Peter de Rome, John Waters, Fred Halsted, etc. - the pornographic and the avant-garde.

SS: You have directed a number of films that have been described as "art porn." Do you see any intrinsic similarities between pornography and arthouse films? What directors do you think were most successful in synthesizing the two?

BLB: Lately I've come to the conclusion that I don't think there really is or should be a distinction between art and pornography. Re-reading Camille Paglia's astounding book Sexual Personae, I remember now that she is in complete agreement. They are both mediations of reality made by creative people. The arthouse cinema that emerged in the sixties and seventies crossed over somewhat with the softcore porn genre, with films like Emmanuelle and Bilitus and the films of Jess Franco mixing with sexually perverse movies like Luna and The Tin Drum and Salo. And then porn filmmakers like Peter De Rome, Wakefield Poole, Fred Halsted, etc. were making very avant-garde porn films. Even Warhol made a sexually explicit film, Blue Movie, and Paul Morrissey's films were very sexually frank. That was the heyday.

SS: Do you believe that porn can make for potent political propaganda? Can you name any examples?

BLB: Only in the Godardian sense, i.e., sex is always political. That's one of the other reasons I made Skin Flick and The Raspberry Reich, which are both overtly political. I found it astounding that more people haven't used pornography as a tool of political propaganda. So many people watch porn that it would seem like the perfect means to spread a political message as widely as possible. Maybe it will happen some day...

SS: What are your thoughts on mainstream heterosexual actor James Franco directing a gay S&M flick like Interior. Leather Bar. (2013), a work inspired by the cut scenes of William Friedkin's Cruising (1980)?

BLB: Actually, Mr. Franco and I had already discussed making a super 8 remake of Cruising together before he made that film, but we couldn't get the rights to the script and the idea kind of fizzled. I haven't had a chance to see it, but I think people should make films about all sorts of sexuality and not box themselves into one category. It's all about not fixing your sexual identity or imagination.

SS: Your upcoming film Gerontophilia (2013) has already been described as the "gay Harold and Maude." What inspired you to direct this film and when can we expect it to be released?

BLB: Gerontophilia has a few references to Harold and Maude, a great film by a great director, but it also gives a nod to Lolita and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Mostly I was trying to make a film with a seventies vibe, aesthetically and thematically. I see it in some modest ways as a kind of reverse Lolita. It will be done by the end of summer, when it will start playing at film festivals.

SS: What can we expect from you in the future?

BLB: Gerontophilia is my first film financed by larger funding bodies, my first union picture - in a sense, a film made more inside the film industry paradigm with a bit of a bigger budget for me. I think I've explored porn and guerrilla filmmaking quite a bit, so I would like to try make another industry film. I have a great script, if anyone is interested in co-producing. But I'll probably never give up the underground altogether. It's a freedom difficult to renounce.

For more on Bruce LaBruce and his films/projects, checkout his official website http://www.brucelabruce.com/


Anonymous said...

I watched L.A. Zombie a few weeks ago. Pretty good.

MoonRisk7 said...

Very nice feature. Well done, Ty E.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Bruce LaBruce is a pile of horse-shit specifically because he is a faggot, DIRTY QUEER BASTARD.