Bruce LaBruce - Interview (2012)
I don't remember when was the first time I heard about Bruce LaBruce, but I do remember a story from around the time we decided to start Sex Before Suicide fanzine (pre-Neons). That was in September 2009, my friend Zero and I just saw the Etrange festival's program in Paris and were totally bummed when we realized we missed the 'carte blanche' of Bruce the day before. We were pissed! Firstly, because this is one truly talented filmmaker, and secondly because he was introducing his movie Otto Or Up With Dead People, as well as a selection of movies he chose to show. The next day, we went to see some japanese pinku flicks in the aftermoon. The evening screening was great, Larry Cohen's God Told Me To was playing and it was weird as fuck. Those who've seen the movie understand what I'm saying. To get back to Bruce LaBruce, when we were back home we had this discussion about how No Skin Off My Ass plot was similar to an anecdote in Zero's life, and a subject leading to another, we were talking about making a zine about the sleaziest and weirdest shit in the underground world, as high as the sky could be and glancing through some Sleazy Slice comics by Robin Bougie. You understands now how important this interview was to us. Thanks to Bruce for his answers, have a nice read, fuckers! (RG)
PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRUCE LABRUCE
When did you begin to be interested in cinema? What are the first trash or exploitation movies that struck you?
My parents were poor farmers, but they were cinephiles, so they knew all about Hollywood movies and they took us to the drive-in all the time in the summer. It was at the drive-in that I first saw trailers for exploitation and B-movies. Sometimes my parents wouldn't bother to check what was playing, so they would inadvertently take us to strange movies like "Rasputin, the Mad Monk" and "The Woman Who Would Not Die" and "Picture Mommy Dead". it was quite terrifying. I remember being traumatized by trailers for Night of the Living Dead and Fiend Without a Face.
When and how did you start filming?
LIke i said, I grew up on a farm, and this was way before video, so I didn't pick up a camera until I moved to the city to attend film school at York University in Toronto. That's when I started making my first super 8 films
When did you know you were gay, how did you live it first? Were you a lonely young guy like your character Otto (from Otto Or Up With the Dead)?
I knew I was gay as far back as I can remember. I had two imaginary friends, Ghosty and Valentine, who, in retrospect, were both gay. I wasn't lonely, but I was bullied for being a smart sissy in public school. I had lots of cool friends in high school - mostly smart, slutty, stylish girls - but this was back in the Dark Ages, so I had to be in the closet. Coming out wasn't an option - I would have been tormented to death. I think everybody knew, however. But because I couldn't share my inner life, and because there was always the threat of homophobic violence, I did feel a lot like Otto.
You're like a pioneer of the whole queercore movement, in particular with the fanzine JDS you published with GB JONES. When did you start publishing it? Tell us a bit about it...
The first issue of J.D.s came out in 1985. I lived with a punk-ish girl band called Fifth Column in a squat at that time (as I was finishing my Masters degree in film theory), and some of them were dykes. But when we tried to play our "queer" songs or movies at punk venues, we would be threatened with violence or rejected in other ways. So that spurred us on to make J.D.s, a homo punk fanzine with highly homoerotic and pornographic elements. It was meant to be very in your face and confrontational to the supposedly radical punks who were at that time actually very sexually conservative. G.B. Jones and I wrote an article in MaximumRocknRoll called "Don't Be Gay: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Fuck Punk Up the Ass", which was quite controversial. I interviewed the porn legend Peter Berlin for the fanzine, and Gary Floyd, the amazing queer singer of the punk band The Dicks. Dave Diktor of the punk band MDC (Millions of Dead Cops) was in a couple of my super 8 movies. We also had interviews with other queer punk bands of the time, like A.S.F. and Zuzu's Petals.
Did you feel comfortable in the punk rock scene? Personally, even if it's meant to be a open minded and marginal milieu, I still can see homophobic whiffs.
Yes, some elements of it were hostile to women and homos. The early roots of punk were quite sexually open and experimental, which we talked a lot about in the fanzines. The word "punk" itself originally meant a sexually passive youth in jail who takes it up the ass! Patti Smith's song Redondo Beach was about dykes, and the Ramones song 53rd and 3rd was about male prostitutes in New York. SoCal punk bands like The Germs and Catholic Discipline and Nervous Gender had queer members. The Nip Drivers, one of my favourite punk bands, had a song called Quentin Crisp whose lyric went " Hey there Quentie, I wish you were my wife"! But as the eighties progressed and hardcore thrash music and the mosh pit emerged, things got more macho, and there was more cross-over with the skinhead scene (who hated fags even though they were probably fucking each other - the subject of my porn film "Skin Flick"). Also a lot of girls in the punk scene just took on the girlfriend role, and were hostile to idea of feminism, although obviously there was lot of amazing women who emerged from the punk scene, with bands like Bikini Kill and Frightwig and Le Tigre and Tribe 8 and L7 and The Lunachicks, etc.
What were/are your favorite bands, or some particular shows that were crucial to you?
My favourite punk bands were Dag Nasty, The Ugly Americans, The Wipers, Nip Drivers, Feederz, Beefeater, The Crucifucks, Dicks, MDC, Dr. Know, Aryan Disgrace, Minor Threat, JFA, Husker Du, Butthole Surfers… During the Anarchist Convention in Toronto there was a great show of Scream, The Mr. T Experience, and MDC, which i filmed from the mosh pit. I used the footage in my short super 8 film called Slam! There used to be a great venue in Toronto called Larry's Hideaway. I saw Husker Du there and hung out with them backstage. I saw a lot of great bands there in the eighties: Chris and Cosey, David Thomas and the Wooden Birds, Hoodoo Gurus, etc. But Toronto had so many great punk venues. I saw Nirvana at Lee's Palace just before they hit big, with about forty people. I got to see everyone from Diamanda Galas to Sonic Youth to The Sugarcubes to the Butthole Surfers, etc, etc.
I've seen somewhere that you co-wrote the song I Wanna Be AHomosexual with Ben for Screeching Weasel? Is that true? How did it happen?
Yes, I met Ben Weasel through the zines, I think, and he has a cameo in my movie "Super 8 1/2". He was one of the hottest men in punk rock. Then I went down and made a music video in Chicago for his band The Riverdales. I don't know, just punk networking!
Do you still dig punk rock? What are you listening to recently?
I don't really follow punk anymore. I don't find it politically viable anymore since it got co-opted by fashion and pop culture. When I DJ I play Classixx, Tensnake, Crystal Castles (old friends of mine), Light Asylum, Azari & III, The Swiss, Fred Falke, Ssion, Chinawoman, The Hidden Cameras, MNDR, KINGDOM, The Gossip, Clio, Kerrier District, etc. I listen to a lot of movie soundtracks by the likes of John Barry, Bernard Herrmann, Michael Small, DeVol, Neal Hefti, David Shire, Elmer Bernstein, etc.
You've directed NO SKIN OFF MY ASS (1991), SKIN GANG (1999)... What attract / interest you about skinheads? Violence, extreme side of it? It can sound a bit cliché, but i've seen many times tough skinheads going from street gay bashing to an assertive gay lifestyle. Is it something you have witnessed? – how can you explain this? Maybe the skinhead 'uniform', that scare and impress people, along with virility, attracted them first. And that violence towards what is inside us is a way to prove something, to themselves...?
If I'm not mistaken, I believe my films may have contributed to the development of the gay skinhead look that became so popular in the late nineties. Skinheads all over used to hate gays and beat them up. In North America, in the punk heyday of the eighties, punks and skins were politically opposed to each other but united in their taste for the same hard, aggressive, fast and loud music called hardcore, out of which evolved the mosh pit. That's where I developed a taste for skinheads – I was turned on by their aggressive behaviour, their great sense of style, and the homoerotic nature of their male bonding rituals. In the eighties I used to get beat up by both punks and skinheads at hardcore shows for showing sexually explicit gay movies, which turned me on even more. I also had a relationship with a hustler who later transmogrified into a neo-Nazi skinhead, which was the inspiration for my first feature, No Skin Off My Ass, and for a series of short stories I wrote for my gay punk fanzine, J.D.s, which was made into a Canadian movie called Sugar. I made the mistake of letting him stay with me once when he needed a place, and I used to try to humiliate him into abandoning his stupid extreme right wing political and racist views. After about three weeks he beat the shit out of me, so I kicked him out and never saw him again. In the nineties, the punks, who were more anarcho-left leaning, eventually drove all the fascist-leaning skinheads out of the scene. Neo-nazi, fag-bashing skinheads were banished from almost all major North American cities in the early nineties. But of course they still exist in Britain and Europe. My movies No Skin Off My Ass and Skin Flick are manifestly about the relationship between homosexuality and fascism. They investigate the attraction that some segments of gay culture have had traditionally for brutal and fascist figures: the police, the military, neo-Nazis, and other oppressive and aggressive archetypes. Skin Flick goes even further into the neo-Nazi phenomenon, examining how this subculture can be at once so homosexually charged and so homophobic. Several of my films, including the two skinhead ones, Hustler White, and The Raspberry Reich, are about subcultures whose members do not identify themselves as gay in any way, and who may even be homophobic, yet who practice homosexuality. It should be obvious that I take these issues seriously, even if I deal with them sometimes in a playful or mischievous way. I’m not doing it for sheer exploitation value, although like I always say, a little exploitation never hurt anyone.
Now, being gay is more accepted than some years ago. We can even say that it has been took over by mainstream. Do you feel close to this gay culture, of being part of something or do you feel aside from it?
I'm pretty alienated from the gay scene. Gay assimilation has created a new "homonormativity", with many gays adopting conservative values that I have no interest in or connection with. I'm still interested in certain gay rebels and revolutionaries, such as some pornographers and transexuals. Otherwise, I don't really bother.
What do you mean by “adopting conservative values" ? You're thinking of gay marriage?
Not just gay marriage, but the gay mainstream distancing itself from the more extreme elements of the gay world that used to be more central to it, such as sex trade workers, transexuals, pornographers, the leather and S & M scene, etc. Also, the gay mainstream wanting to be included in some of society's most conservative institutions - organized religion, marriage, the military - and even adopting a moralistic or judgmental stance against sexual promiscuity, fetishes, and sexual radicalism in general.
There are a lot of pornographic scenes in your films. Is there a real purpose behind the sex scenes or is it only made as an entertainment? Many fetichisms have their place in your movies, from amputees, transsexualism to S&M or urophilia. Have you ever thought about releasing a porn-only film one day?
My films usually tend toward the pornographic. I express solidarity with pornographers, although I feel like I make more "art-porn". Although lately I've been thinking that all pornography is art, in a way. I started using gay pornographic imagery very early on as a kind of political tool to challenge and provoke people who are intolerant or hostile towards homosexuality. Strangely, I'm not really that interested in pornography per se; I'm more interested in what you can do with it as an ideological weapon. My biggest pet peeve is people who are more than willing to consume pornography, to buy it and watch it and use it to get off sexually, but then who look down their noses at the people who make and appear in pornography. It's the ultimate hypocrisy.
What do you think about the actual pornographic industry? Bisexual porn has made its apparition for some times, with porn filmmarkers such as Chi Chi La Rue who directed gay and straight movies and then made bi porn flicks. His movie Shifting Gears even made a polemic in the gay community following the « straight for pay » reference about homo actor Blake Riley fucking a woman, and liking it. Have you seen the movie? What is your point of view about it?
I haven't seen that movie (I don't generally watch porn myself!), but I have to say that I did it first! In The Raspberry Reich, a movie about a female sexual terrorist who makes her straight male followers have sex with each other to prove their revolutionary commitment, I had a gay male porn star, Daniel Batscher, have sex with my female lead, Susanne Sachsse, in the opening scene. It was a kind of experiment for him, and he liked it! So did she! I'm not that interested in the porn industry per se because I think ninety per cent of what is made isn't that interesting. I'm even less interested since narrative has been removed from the equation, because that was always my favourite part! But there are some people doing interesting porn now. You see a lot of great stuff at the annual Porn Film Festival in Berlin, which was co-founded by my long-time producer, Jurgen Bruning.
How was the reception of OTTO (2006) when it came out? It's pretty original to integrate gay sex scenes and strong girls in a zombie flick. Where the idea comes from?
I've always integrated gay sex scenes and strong female characters from the beginning. You find that equation in my movies No Skin Off My Ass, Super 8 1/2, The Raspberry Reich, and Otto; or, Up with Dead People. When I published J.D.s with G.B. Jones, we made a point of making work that included males and females together - fags, dykes, transexuals - we were all inclusive. I recently made my first transexual porn, called Offing Jack, which is part of the omnibus movie "Fucking Different XXX". I made a short film with two F-M transexuals featuring an explicit sex scene.
When I watched Otto, I felt a strong political vibe, that reminded me of what Romero did. You know, even it can sound stupid for some who only see a gore show, i think that Dawn Of The Dead for example is a really political film. The same for Night Of The Living Dead which dealt with black culture and racism. What do you think about it?
Well, Romero is the master! I actually just wrote and essay on Romero's Diary of the Dead for Fangoria magazine in which I talk about how political and influential his zombie films are. Otto was heavily influenced by his zombie movies, but also by his vampire movie "Martin". Like Martin the vampire, Otto the zombie can be interpreted as a sick, alienated teenager who everyone perceives as some kind of monster.
Genesis P. Orridge (Psychic TV, Throbbing Gristle) has an appearance in Raspberry Reich. How did you meet him? Do you like his work?
Yes, Genesis is a genius and a sexual revolutionary way ahead of his time. I guess I met him through mutual friends, and then finally hung out with him in New York and Berlin. I asked him to do a cameo in The Raspberry Reich, and then some of the footage that I didn't use ended up in the amazing documentary about him, The Ballad Of Genesis andLady Jaye, directed by Marie Losier.
Besides filming, you're also a photographer and a writer published in magazines, am i right? What job do you prefer, and for what magazines have you worked? Do you have other occupations or passions ?
I am a writer, a photographer, a filmmaker, and an artist. For me it all comes from the same place. I was a contributing editor and frequent writer and photographer for Index magazine, and I've also been a regular contributor to Eye and Exclaim magazines, Dutch, Vice, the National Post, Nerve.com. and Black Book. I used to be a frequent photographer for the US porn mags Honcho and Inches (now defunct), and I've contributed to Butt, Kink, Jack, Currency, Kaiserin, and Slurp magazines, among many others. As a fashion photographer I've done work for Dazed and Confused, Bon, Tank, Tetu, Fake, Attitude, Blend, Tokion, Purple Fashion, Pref, and the National Post. I currently write a weekly column for Vice. As far as passions go, I am a complete cinephile!
Without speaking of Sunset Boulevard, Hustler White sometimes reminds me of Andy Warhol's work (Flesh in particular), or Kenneth Anger. Are they some of your influence?
Yes, of course. I am mainly inspired by the gay avant-garde: Jack Smith, Kenneth Anger, Peter Berlin, Jack Deveau, Peter de Rome, Wakefield Poole, Kurt McDowell, The Kuchar Brothers, John Waters, Fred Halsted, Paul Morrissey, Andy Warhol, etc. In terms of other styles of cinema I am inspired by too many to name, but among them John Cassavetes, Robert Altman, Jerry Schatzberg, Maya Deren, Agnes Varda, Jerry Lewis, Ida Lupino, John Schlesinger, Tony Richardson, Frank Perry, Antonioni, Passolini, Bunuel, Godard, Fassbinder, Bergman, and on and on and on.
Angelique Bosio has directed a documentary about you called The Advocate For Fagdom. How did the meet happen? How was the shooting, some funny anecdotes? What are your thoughts about the documentary?
Angelique interviewed me a couple of times for her first documentary, Likk Your Idols, about the Cinema of Transgression, but she didn't end up using much of it, so she used it as a kernel to make a doc about me. She shot me on the set of The Raspberry Reich on the very last day of shooting - a sex scene on a public elevator - so it was quite memorable! I like the documentary because I think it's a nice, gentle introduction to my work designed for a more mainstream audience. I think she captures my political and romantic inclinations very well. I think, if anything, it’s too nice to me!
What are your future plans? Can we expect a new movie soon?
I have a photography exhibit of all new work called "Obscenity" opening Feb 15th in Madrid. I have a new monograph of my work out, from my Italian distributor, entitled "Bruce(x)ploitation". I have three films in development, but it's still difficult for me to get movies off the ground. But eventually I get to a point where if I don't start making a feature film, I will go stark raving mad! So I will get one made eventually! Two of the titles I have currently in development are "Gerontophilia" and "Santo the Obscene". xxx Blab
2010 L.A. Zombie
2004 The Raspberry Reich
1998 Skin Flick
1996 Hustler White
1994 Super 8 ½
1991 No Skin Off My Ass
2010 Weekend In Alphaville
2009 The Bad Breast; or, The Strange Case of Theda Lange
2008 Give Piece of Ass a Chance
1988 I Know What It’s Like to be Dead.
1987 Bruce and Pepper Wayne Gacy’s Home Movies
2010 "Into the Night with..." (Director of 2 episodes, 2010-2011)
... aka "Durch die Nacht mit..." - Germany (original title)
- Béatrice Dalle und Virginie Despentes (2011) TV episode
- Bruce(x)ploitation, Queer Frame, Italy 2011
- Ride, Queer, Ride, Plug-In Gallery in Winnipeg, Canada 1998
- Bruce LaBruce, The Reluctant Pornographer, Gutter Press, 1997