Bruce LaBruce

 The queer-core filmmaker Bruce LaBruce is never not in your face. 
His movies are the titillating synthesis of the political art film and straight up pornography. Whether it’s gay zombies or faggot revolutionaries, Bruce always succeeds in shooting a political, punk message into the mouths of his delicious amateur actors. While bouncing around Europe – DJing in Berlin, interviewing Karl Lagerfeld in Paris, then opening a show at Peres Projects 
– Bruce was able to take a sec to have a talk to me over Skype­. Our char was pretty G rated­–this time. - by Michael Ladner


BRUCE LABRUCE: How are you?


Where are you?

I’m in Berlin

How was DJing at Schwutz on Friday?
It was great. It was packed. I did it back in December as well, so we were working off of that energy.

What do you like about DJing?

Well I’m just a celebrity DJ, or a quasi-celebrity DJ, or a celebrity-quasi DJ, you know. So I just do it when I’m asked, for fun basically, and I do like it. It’s fun to show off your iTunes collection. That’s one part of modern technology that I think is so amazing. My music collection is so exponentially greater than it used to be. I have friends that just dump all their stuff on my iPod and I don’t even know where half of it comes from.

…A big dump!
Yeah, they just dump it right in there. Anyways it’s just sharing; it’s all about sharing.

So that’s one of the things you like about technology; what don’t you like about technology?
Well I do think it’s turning people into zombies basically. It’s funny because I always refer to my iPod as my Walkman, which totally dates me. So it’s always been around, but not everyone was doing it; it was much smaller. Now everyone does it. It’s indicative of the solipsistic reality that people are devolving into. It’s like that stupid movie Wall-E, where everyone lives in their own entertainment/ consumerist world. I think this does have deadening effect on people, and on social interaction. I guess that’s a square way of looking at it because you could argue that it’s just the new form of social interaction or social reality. But I do think it can have an alienating effect on people.

I missed Wall-E. I think I gave up on Pixar after A Toy Story.
Oh I never liked Pixar; I hate Pixar. I hate the style­–can’t stand it! And if you look at the early Disney stuff like Pinocchio, it’s brilliant. As creepy and dark as those movies are, they’re stylistically really cool. And I just find Pixar unwatchable. I hate Up, I think Up is disgusting.

Is Otto; or Up with Dead People about technology turning people into zombies? Cause they were gay zombies. Are these related?
Well I think Otto was a whole host of things, but technology was one of them. Marcuse talks a lot about technology, the deadening of things, the military, fetishism, commodity fetishism. It’s really just textbook advanced capitalism, where it’s about planned obsolescence, people fixating on new technology in order to distract them from the more human, or more authentic human needs. It’s a way of keeping people good consumers cause everything becomes obsolete and you have to upgrade systems all the time, you have to upgrade hardware all the time, it never ends.

It’s funny that you associate zombies with advanced capitalism cause historically in film they were used as a metaphor for the communist takeover.
Well I don’t think zombies were ever just about the communist takeover. That was more Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which depicted an early form of zombie, but they’re more communist. The alien invasion movies of the fifties were all about the communist invasion. But zombies, as pioneered by George Romero, are really much more an obvious and pointed critique of advanced capitalism. Zombies are the ultimate consumers, they become indistinguishable from each other, they all congregate at the same places, in Dawn of the Dead they all go back to the place they were most comfortable when they were alive, which was the shopping mall. So I think it’s more about capitalism and consumerism. 

I downloaded a pirated version of Raspberry Reich the other night and watched it for the first time. Considering the message in the film, what’s your stance on personal property/internet piracy? 
Oh, I do that myself; so I can’t really complain when people do that to me. I think it was Abbie Hoffman who wrote Steal This Book, so I guess I could have called it Steal This Movie. But of course you know that there’s a far bigger irony about that movie, which is that we were sued by the estate of Kordo, who shot the famous iconic image of Che Guavara that’s on T-shirts and shit. He died in 2001, but his estate, which is controlled by his daughter and a bunch of lawyers, sued us for one million Canadian dollars. Kordo, when he was alive, said the image could be used without copyright, as long as A, it wasn’t being used to sell corporate products and B, that it didn’t degrade the image of Che. So obviously they sued us for the latter. Anyways, it’s ironic because the movie was much more sympathetic to the cause than lets say a vodka company, which they also sued once. 

What made you want to make a movie based on the RAF?
Well the movie is partly about radical chic and the way the Baader-Meinhof image his been glamorized and fetishized. Also Che Guevara, the fact that that image has become a symbol of capitalist exploitation. It’s how fashion and pop culture empty these signifiers of their revolutionary significance and turn them into commodities. Also Gundrun Ensslin. She made a kind of porn movie before she joined Baader-Meinhof. It wasn’t really a porn movie, but she performed sexually in a film because she believed in sexual liberation. I met her brother Gottfried, who’s gay. He published a book of letters that she wrote him while she was in Stammheim Prison. And she actually really encouraged him to be a gay revolutionary. She was very much into the idea of homosexual revolution. So it was partly based on her views, but also, she was the glamorous militant female. She was blonde and had that glamour, that feminine militancy.


You were integral in starting the queercore movement – a meaningful signifier – in the 80s, especially through your zine J.D.s. Do you see any analogous movements in contemporary gay culture?
Well the whole point of that movement was that it operated totally outside corporate control; it was completely independent. It’s really hard to believe now, but people weren’t that concerned with becoming celebrities. Everything was self-published, everything was done independently, there was much more of a spirit of camaraderie. I mean it’s not like there wasn’t a little star system, but it wasn’t toxic in the way that modern celebrity is. It was quite cute actually. I don’t think there is a youth movement that has emerged since then that has been cohesive and political and anti-establishment that tries to operate in more of a guerilla style.

Would you say then that the revolution has failed?
Yes. It’s dead. It died with Kurt Cobain.

I saw on your Twitter feed that you watched Lagerfeld Confidential last night.
Yes. I have to go to Paris tomorrow to interview him for Vice Magazine.

That should be fun!
Definitely. I mean, I was quite surprised, not knowing too much about him and then watching the documentary. I really agree with a lot of what he’s saying. He has quite of a punk ethos actually. And I love that he’s into porn and that he supports prostitution and that he’s anti-materialistic. I know that’s hard to believe with his private jets and all, but he doesn’t really seem attached to anything. He’s not a nationalist, he doesn’t call anywhere home; he doesn’t believe in marriage, he doesn’t believe in gay marriage. I find him very simpatico.

Have you met him before?
No, but they vetted me and he knows my work and is excited.

And then you come back to Berlin next week for your exhibition at Peres Projects?
Yeah, it’s based on L.A. Zombie, my new film. It’s nine photographic images of François Sagat that I’ve taken from the movie.

Is L.A. Zombie a squeal to Otto?
It’s not a sequel but it’s kind of a companion piece. It’s about a homeless schizophrenic, who thinks he’s an alien zombie. I’m making a softcore version but there’s definitely a full-on hardcore porn version as well.

Javier Peres told me that you always make a hardcore version and a softcore version for production purposes. Where do you draw the line formally between porn and your art, or is it all the same?
It’s really only about marketing. You just market them differently. I mean they have different content. But penetration is always the demarcation.
But your approach behind the camera is the same when shooting porn scenes as non-porn scenes?
No, if you’re making industry porn, you generally shoot it in a specific way. It’s very conventional. You cover it from predictable angles. It emphasizes the sexual act. That’s why I’m not that interested in shooting industry porn; it’s really hard to shoot it in an artistic or unorthodox way. For me, what makes it interesting is the content and the style that unifies the whole project: the narrative, the political content, the music, the dialogue. But the whole thrust of modern porn is to dispose of narrative all together and to have these endless permutations of indistinguishable sex scenes made up of interchangeable faces and body parts. The modern trend is to only concentrate on the sexual acts and also to ramp it up in terms of extremes: more people, gang bangs, more perversions. You know extreme sports, it’s extreme porn.

How did the queercore zine J.D.s materialize?
Well I was finishing up my Masters Degree and I was disillusioned with academia so I started hanging out in the punk scene. And when you were in the punk scene, you had a fanzine. Like today how everyone has a blog. It was just what kids did. It was definitely a different experience on a lot of levels. It was also all done by the mail and there was something much more romantic about that. But part of the romance was the longing and waiting, sending something off in the mail and having to wait for it to come back, the anticipation of it.

I thought you meant male, as in non-female.
No, no no. M-A-I-L. We were very political about mixing fags and dykes.

Was the zine how you got involved with General Idea?
I used to correspond with Felix Partz through J.D.s. They had their magazine FILE at the same time we had J.D.s. But I didn’t meet AA Bronson until later, after both of the other two had died of AIDS. He was pioneering a lot of the stuff that I was doing too. The difference is that they did it more within the art world and we were more in the punk scene and also the stuff I was doing was much more sexually explicit. We had shared a lot of the same strategies in terms of spectacle.
Why did you use explicit sex to create a spectacle?
Part of it was just about gay identity and just being very militantly homosexual. In the punk scene we ran into a lot of resistance, a lot of homophobia. Especially as the movement got into hardcore, it became very macho. So we kind of tried to be oppositional to that in terms of male effeminacy and female masculinity. We wanted to be very in-your-face about it. For us it was a militant, political mentality to use pornographic imagery and extremely explicit homosexual imagery to kind of push it in people’s faces and to be bold and unapologetic about it.

How did that go over with the macho punks?
Well of course I was beaten up several times. But the cool ones got it and realized that punk was about abhorrent sexual behavior.

Do you have an idea for a movie that you would like to make in the future?
I’ve always wanted to make a movie about the photographer Wilhelm on Gloeden. I haven’t been able to raise the money to make it. He was a German photographer who lived in Sicily at the end of the 19th century. He was famous for shooting photographs of young Sicilian boys naked. He also kind of invented sex tourism.

What’s your favorite sex tourism destination?
I don’t go on holidays. Like Lagerfeld says, holidays are bourgeois, they’re for people who work 9-to-5s and need consolation. But I do travel a lot with my work and I do play on the side. Brazil has definitely by far been the best in terms of its bordellos.

But Schöneberg isn’t too bad?
Uhg! Only on a dare, only on a dare.

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