By Simon Thibault
Many of you probably don't know who Bruce LaBruce is. I think it's about time that changed. He is an author, a gonzo journalist (probably the best one since the term was coined and tossed away by Hunter S. Thompson), photographer for porno mags (namely Honcho and Inches) but he is know mostly for his independent and controversial films. Strike that. Most of all, Bruce LaBruce is known for who he is and what all of that entails.
Bruce LaBruce started out by publishing a queer punk zine called "JD" out of Toronto and soon went on from that to making super 8's. It is out of these which emerged the "homocore" or "queercore" scene, of which LaBruce is considered one of its founders. Raunchy, sexy and in-your-face, this DIY (that's Do It Yourself for those of you who don't remember the 70s or haven't read a decent magazine) facet of creativity soon engulfed the young northern Ontario lad and Bruce LaBruce, the persona (and person?) was born. This creative boom soon progressed to his first feature film, "No Skin Off My Ass" (1991) starring himself and his then boyfriend Klaus Von Brucker. The New York Native said it "...look[ed] like it was shot in a snowstorm and recorded in a tin can." The film was part indie, part porn and all LaBruce (or what was soon to be identified as). He then went on to film "Super 8 1Ú2," a film festival favourite, winning him praises, accolades and critiques worthy of the world's bitchiest queens. Yet this was merely the beginning. With "Hustler White," LaBruce caught a real whiff of "stardom," in the form of quasi-famous Tony Ward. LaBruce plays Jurgen Anger, a character LaBruce describes on his website as "a foreign faggot who visits Los Angeles to check out the infamous Santa Monica Boulevard hustler scene, strictly for anthropological reasons." LaBruce finally went on to film his first "real" porno called "Skin Flick," in which a bunch of skinheads go around and sexually molest everything in sight, including each other.
I checked out LaBruce's Web site, and contacted him via email in Toronto. I was excited when I got his first e-mail. Wow! My first contact with celebrity. I asked him the obligatory stupid questions and even sent him a small, Vanity Fair-inspired Q&A. I bought his second book, "The Reluctant Pornographer," and went I felt ready, I sat down and began my interview.
Simon Thibault: What was it like growing up in Northern Ontario?
Bruce LaBruce: In some ways, I had an idyllic childhood, growing up on a farm in a beautiful, natural environment, although it has had the effect of making me relentlessly urban as I got older. It was also very isolated and forced me in a way to lose myself in television and the movies as a kind of escape, which may have contributed to me becoming a film-maker. It also had the effect of preventing me from exploring my homosexuality until a later age. I didn't lose my cherry until I was well into university.
When it comes to your films, who do you think you are first, the actor, the director, or the writer?
Although I always hesitate to say it because it sounds pretentious, I guess I see myself as an artist first. Everything I do - writing, photography, film-making - is an aspect of the same creative process. Acting is my least favourite, and I don't plan on doing any more of it.
Is Bruce LaBruce a person, or persona?
Bruce LaBruce was a fictional construct, but I kind of ended up playing the part in real life. I guess I still see him as a persona.
In the eighties, a lot of gay kids identified with the punk movement, today a lot of them find solace in the rave and party circuit. What do you think of today's gay youth. Be honest. Do you think things are better or worse for gay youth now?
It's interesting the way you phrase the question. I think a lot of gay kids did identify with punk and not just find solace in it. It was a very active and political movement and very much based on style as well, something which a lot of gay kids in particular would find stimulating and important. It was a way for kids to express their difference in more ways than just the sexual act. Gay culture had gotten very boring and bourgeois, so they needed an alternative. Punk came from a very gay-identified place to begin with (punk was the prison slang for a passive homosexual, and then later became associated with juvenile delinquents), and the early days of punk in the seventies were very much about sexual revolution and difference. I find that a lot of today's youth culture is less political and based more purely on fashion as opposed to style. Raves and circuit parties are more escapist and hedonistic and less purely political and radical. Gay youth culture today seems a lot more conformist and accepting of the new commodification of the gay identity, except for those smart individuals who are refusing to participate in identity politics whatsoever and are going back to the old model of being secretive and mysterious about their sexual identity.
You say that gay culture "was" getting more bourgeois. Do you think that has declined with the popularity and acknowledgment of the "queercore" movement, or do you think that gay culture is more bourgeois than ever, simply hanging on to "the next big thing"?
I think gay culture is more bourgeois than ever because now that it has been identified as a demographic which can be economically exploited by corporations, it is to the advantage of those who can capitalize on its commodification to make it as innocuous and non-threatening as possible in order to market it. Queercore was and probably remains a form of rebellion against this process which doesn't seem to have slowed it down, since the assimilationist thrust of the movement has only accelerated in recent years. But kids shouldn't get discouraged and should keep on rebelling. I always think of my friend Mykel Board who used to have a punk band called Artless in the eighties when he was in his forties, and he had a song called "When You're My Age You'll Be Selling Insurance." It's not enough to dabble in youth culture; you have to motivate yourself politically and intellectually and be in it for the long haul, which isn't easy.
What do you think of most gay cinema that's made today?
Most of the gay films I see at gay and lesbian film festivals are too ideological, so much so that they often seem like propaganda. There are too many movies trying to prop up the gay community and lifestyle as something which must be accepted and adhered to without any questioning of its most basic principles, its very foundation. I call them cheerleading films. I want to see people digging more into the dirt, making movies that go beyond the simplistic issues like coming out and fighting homophobia. There are still some movies like that I like, like the recent Swedish lesbian movie "Show Me Love," but it was a bit darker than most and shot in an interesting way. Gay kids should try to make movies first and not make everything so issue-oriented and politically correct. They should take a look at early John Waters movies and Kenneth Anger and Andy Warhol and people like that.
I definitely agree. I grew up in a small town and my entire notion of what it meant to be gay didn't come from being with other gays, it came from a sense of self, an identity which was my own. I grew up reading Edmund White, idolizing John Waters and Divine, and digging for things. I think gay youth are handed many things too easily. No one has to work for anything any more, not even their own sense of self. Do you think that the supposed "acceptance" of gay youth is a good thing, or do you think there are draw backs?
I think the new "acceptance" is merely a kind of seduction in which gay youths are courted by the media and the corporations in order to sell them a prescribed, fabricated image of themselves. The world is extremely conformist right now, and gay culture is no different. Forging an individual identity, developing your own tastes and aesthetics and style and political point of view are more essential than ever. Gay youth should be writing manifestoes and committing civil disobedience and forging movements which are below the radar of the mainstream media and marketing campaigns, not patterning themselves after corny gay images in glossy magazines.
What's the best or worst thing someone has ever said or done in reference to your work?
The best thing is when people give me "zero stars," or even try to give me a rating below that! It's not easy to make someone hate your movie that much. The worst thing is when hypocritical people like Boy George walk out of my movies noisily and condemn them in print for being "porno." He was a junkie for years and I'm sure a slut, so he's just being hypocritical. Another best was when Kevin Costner noisily walked out of "Hustler White," saying it was too much for him (as reported in the New York Post).
The GLB press is always saying the gay youth of today are constantly looking for people to look up to. Do you think you're one of those individuals, or if not, should you be?
I don't think I'm a very good role model for kids who want to live a boring, conformist life within the confines of the gay community. My views on being gay are not very popular because people don't seem to want to face the real implications of being homosexual anymore - they'd rather pretend they aren't different from the heterosexual masses and conform to their lifestyle. My notion of homosexuality is much more romantic: the outsider, the stylish provocateur, the iconoclast.
But that's what being gay used to be about. There is always room for change, but I think that the gay youth of today have no idea where they came from. The youth of today is too obsessed with the present and the potential future, however nihilistic or utopian it might be. I think we're headed for another 'me" decade, only we'll be so much into navel-gazing no one will notice. People will forget what they were meant to be or who they are or what they should be. Themselves.
Well, if you're going to navel-gaze, you better have a pretty spectacular navel, that's all I have to say. I think the acceptance of homosexuality is only going to go so far, and then there will be a backlash, and then kids will be forced to forget about their navels and fight back.
I know you've read Camille Paglia, you mention her in your book. I read her when I was in high school (no it wasn't on the curriculum). She believes that the acceptance of homosexuality will be the death of it. What do you think?
Listen to Saint Camille. The same argument basically is expostulated by Daniel Harris in "The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture" My view of homosexuality, like Camille's, is very romantic. I believe homosexuals are outsiders and even heretics, but that they can use that alienated status to great advantage. They can be witch doctors, seers, poets, visionaries, avant-gardists, porn stars, and demimondaines! Why is everyone so eager to be accepted as the same as everyone else? What possible pleasure can you derive from that? I have a great book called "The Queen's Vernacular," which is a comprehensive dictionary of gay slang. Before there was an organized gay culture back in the sixties and early seventies, people who lead an active, open gay life were said to be "doing the work," they were "in the game." Nowadays, the struggle, the work, the game, is to resist being coopted by the mainstream which wants to tame and castrate us.
Why the title "The Reluctant Pornographer?"
I think you'd be crazy not to be reluctant with regard to working in pornography. It's a very strange and harsh world which attracts a lot of interesting but sometimes insane and freaked out people. I choose to work in pornography because it is one of the few remaining places in which homosexuals can express themselves freely and radically without fear of censure. But to enter that world, and to show yourself on film having sex as I have, you have to be prepared to run into a lot of disapproval and suspicion and even hatred. You also have to make sure you have a strong moral compass, ironically enough, to navigate in such an amoral world.
I don't think of your work as "porn." But "pornography" is really about the artifice of sex, the artifice of all things. That's what pornography is. I think your work reveals the artifice of so many things, including film making. I think that's important for today's youth to see these things and make up their own minds as to what sex is, as to what being gay is and as what to what identity is. They just eat up whatever is served to them. For a generation that is supposed to be media-savvy, I think we're worse off than 50's housewives bugging their husbands for that new dishwasher they say on the TV last night.
I think a lot of gay youth today are spoiled. They don't even recognize how difficult it was only a generation ago to "do the work," to live an openly homosexual life even if it meant grievous bodily harm.
In your memoirs "The Reluctant Pornographer" you constantly make reference to one of my favourite movies, "All About Eve." If you could remake that film, who would your dream cast be?
I don't know how the casting of the original could be improved upon. Most Hollywood actors today don't have the depth and intelligence to tackle such roles. How about an all-gay remake, with Kevin Spacey as Margo Channing and Brad Pitt as Eve Harrington (or maybe he's too old - how about Josh Hartnett?).
You constantly talk about your friends such as Glennda Orgasm, Vaginal Davis (drag/ performance artists) and others who could not be named without the benefit (?) or a pseudonym (re: Alexander the Great, the painter). A friend of mine is a huge fan of your work and even went out and bought some old super 8 projectors and cameras and even found some old straight porn. Do you think individuals such as these are coming out of the youth of today?
Let's hope so.