From his early experimental shorts and his breakout film Hustler White to his walking-dead collaboration with French porn star Francois Sagat, L.A. Zombie, LaBruce has never shied away from the bleeding edge.
But with Netflix streaming his “difficult” films and HBO sponsoring the festival his work just screened at, has the director developed an appreciation for the mainstream? LaBruce spoke to Queerty from his home base in Toronto.
You had four short films screened at Outfest recently. I’ve never had the chance to go to one of your screenings. Are they a riot?
Yes, they are a laugh-riot—they also cause riots. It seems that I continue to make the same style of films with the same punk impetus, but the audience has evolved. I started out showing short experimental Super-8 films in punk clubs and alternative art spaces in the late ’80s, and now I show my work at international film festivals and art institutions.
Three of my last five films have premiered at the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals. Otto; or, Up with Dead People, which features explicit gay zombie sex, had it’s New York premiere at MoMA, and can be live-streamed on Netflix. So the audience has expanded even though the work remains, shall we say, “difficult.”
Blaise Pascal once claimed to haven written a long letter because he didn’t have time to write a short one. How does that relate to short films versus features?
The four short films I showed at Outfest—and the week before at the Queer Monterrey Film Series—are components of projects I’ve done in relation to other media over the past five years. I direct theater in Berlin, so one of them, The Bad Breast, was comprised of footage I shot for a larger theater piece I mounted there. Give Piece of Ass a Chance was a short film I directed for a Toronto burlesque troupe, The Scandelles. It was shot in one day. Offing Jack was made for an omnibus film called Fucking Different XXX. It was shot in two days.
So for film, I don’t think the Blaise Pascal formula really applies. Feature films generally take much, much longer.
What can you tell us about your new project, Gerontophilia?
I hope to shoot Gerontophilia in Montreal in September, and it will be coming out next year. It hasn’t been cast yet. It’s about an 18-year-old boy who has a girlfriend his own age, but he happens to have a sexual fetish for really old people. He gets a job in a nursing home and forms a sexual fixation on a particular old queen. I like to think of it as “reverse Lolita.”
In your most recent column for Vice you argued against the magazine’s own “How To Be Gay” guide. Did you have any hesitation in biting the hand that feeds you?
No, not at all. My editors at Vice are all great people. They’re smart and professional. My latest editor, Liz Armstrong, is a very enlightened and lovely lesbian. I’ve criticized the publication before in its own pages, and I think they take it in the spirit in which it’s intended: constructive criticism meant to create a dialogue.
Vice has changed over the years, and I think it has been trying to change its image lately, in particular. It’s always had somewhat of a punk ethos, which I relate to, but the cynical hipster quotient really got out of hand for a while there. I know that it can still be dickish and obnoxious sometimes, but so can The New York Times, or Vogue,or any other publication.
I think it’s best to participate and try to elevate the dialogue, rather than just dismiss it. Sometimes I write crap, too, so I’m not really on a high horse. The worst part is the comments, which can be really mean-spirited and ignorant. But I don’t generally read them.
You’ve stated your disapproval of the mainstream corrupting queer identity. But Vice has partnered with CNN and Intel and OutFest is sponsored largely by HBO. Has the mainstream learned to disguise itself as supporters of independent culture?
It’s hard to make feature films or write in widely disseminated publications these days without having some degree of connection with mainstream corporate entities. If you want to get your work seen or read by a lot of people, it’s hard to avoid now considering a handful of corporations control the entire media.
I developed my art and films in the punk scene in the ’80s, which was extremely anti-corporate and DIY. So those sentiments do linger for me. But I’ve learned to be a little more pragmatic—within reason. I’ve never been a snob against pop culture, though. I am a big fan of classical Hollywood cinema, for example. I realize that corporate entities can produce great art also. I only object when the corporate world co-opts and distorts the underground or the subcultural and exploits it in a particularly ruthless or predatory or cynical way, which is usually pretty obvious.
I Want Your Love director Travis Mathews is directing James Franco in what he calls a “homo-sex-art-film.” Can you shed some light on Franco’s fascination with playing gay and his “queering” of the male heartthrob?
I’m friends with James, and I’m supposed to be collaborating with him on a film project also. But he’s very promiscuous, artistically speaking, so we’ll see if it actually happens! But I think his interest in the gay experience is quite endearing, actually.
A friend of mine, Mark Ewert, was lovers with Allan Ginsberg when he was 18 and Ginsberg was in his 70s. Mark thinks James really nailed his portrayal of Ginsberg [in Howl], which I thought was quite an important endorsement. He’s obviously sincere in his interest in queer culture, and I think he particularly relates to the old-school rebels who were at the forefront of gay liberation, which is a good thing.
I loved the project he did with Gus Van Sant, in which he did his own re-edit of My Own Private Idaho based on an early draft of the script, and also made a Super 8 remake of the movie with younger actors. It’s really fresh.
Straight porn star James Deen has been cast in upcoming film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ The Canyons. Do you think porn is ever going to become high brow?
I don’t know if porn will ever become high brow. Let’s hope not! I find that a lot of people in the mainstream film industry, art world or what have you tend to look down their noses at pornographers or porn stars, even though they watch porn themselves or like to fuck porn stars. That kind of hypocrisy never seems to change. Sometimes there’s a certain hip quotient to the mainstream dabbling in porn, but that’s because the taboo always remains pretty much intact. I doubt that porn will ever become mainstream in the sense of crossing over to popular media. It would really kind of defeat its purpose, in a way.
I always think of porn as a kind of collective unconscious, a dirty underworld where people work out their sexual fantasies, no matter how dark or politically incorrect. If that function is lost, the world would turn into something like David Cronenberg’s Shivers.
A lot of young queer filmmakers rely on Kickstarter for funding. Do you think that business model—if you can call it that—would’ve worked when you were trying to get funding for your early experimental film Boy/Girl?
Boy/Girl cost about a buck ninety-five to make, so I wouldn’t have needed it. I could have used something like Kickstarter for my first feature, No Skin Off My Ass, which cost me $2,000 to make on Super 8 film and $12,000 to blow up to 16mm in 1990.
I think it’s a good model, that kind of “democratic” funding, but sometimes it seems complicated, especially if you have to promise to give all the funders something in return. They should just do it purely altruistically and expect nothing in return except the pleasure of watching your film! That should be the quid pro quo.
You recently tweeted about Lohanthony’s “basic bitches” video. What’s your take on it?
My friend filmmaker Matt Lambert drew my attention to that video. But I thought it pretty much summed up how I feel about mainstream, assimilationist gays these days, who are willing to give up almost everything that makes them unique and different and subversive in order to gain the right to be as boring and mundane as the majority and participate in conservative institutions which were never really very interesting to homosexuals in the first place. It’s the old theme of the oppressed becoming the oppressor.
I’ve always supported the radical fairy types, being quite bottom-y myself, and somewhat femme, especially in my youth, because they usually take the brunt of the disapproval from both sides—from both the heteronormative and homonormative sides. Fucking around with gender will also probably be one of those things that’s never truly accepted by the basic bitches of the world.
Do you have a plan for the coming zombie apocalypse?
Well, I would like to finish my own zombie trilogy before it happens! After having just spend time in Monterrey, which is one of the main cities plagued by the drug cartels, I’ve been threatening to make a new movie called Narco-Zombie (copyright pending). Other than that, when the real zombie apocalypse comes, I’ll rely on my Cuban husband, who is a Santeria priest, to protect me from the spirits of the dead. He sees them all the time, and already keeps them away from me. You always have to go to the source.
Photos: Bruce LaBruce/Peres Projects