Popped Culture: Bruce LaBruce

By: Robert Stinson

“Punk was ambiguous and deliberately paradoxical as a strategy to avoid the co-optive powers of the media.” This latest tweet by Bruce LaBruce exemplifies his cinematic style, which is brash, in your face, and walks a fine line between art and pornography. Bruce’s guerilla assault on the film industry began in the late 80s when he made a series of super 8 films and co-edited a punk fanzine by the name of  J.D.s, an instrumental vehicle for the Queercore Movement which begat bands such as  Fifth Column, God Is My Co-Pilot, and Pansy Division.  What followed were three sexually explicit films Bruce directed: No Skin Off My Ass (1991), Super 8 1/2, and Hustler White, which garnered him cult status in the pantheon of queer cinema.

The turn of the century saw Bruce diving head first into making art/porn films with titles such as Skin Flick and The Raspberry Reich.  Raspberry Reich premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and had subsequent screenings on the international film circuit, playing at over 150 festivals, including the Istanbul, Guadalajara, and Rio de Janeiro International Film Festivals. Bruce’s personal velocity has seen him venture into a plethora of artistic outlets including photography, writing, and theatre direction.  His descent into the dark avenues of the human spirit began with his first featured zombie movie Otto; or, Up with Dead People, which portrayed zombies as misunderstood counterculture figures. His recent film LA Zombie was in competition at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland back in August of 2010.

LA Zombie stars Francois Sagat, a French born adult film star who recently had a cameo in the film Saw VI. Though explicit, LA Zombie stands alone as an exposé piece on the private hell of homeless, marginalized gay men. NUG shot the shit with Bruce about the release of the film and his involvement in the punk scene of the late 1980s.

Could you explain in your own words the artistic progression that led up to the making of LA Zombie?
Bruce: In this film, I tried to do something different from my previous film Otto, which was more preplanned, storyboarded, and had a bigger budget. With LA Zombie, I went into it without a script; I only had a three page outline, which allowed for a lot of spontaneity. It was more open-ended and guerilla style.

What was the reception like for LA Zombie at its premier in Locarno, Switzerland?
Bruce: The star of the film, Francois Sagat, the French porn star and model, was in two films competing at Locarno. The other film was Homme au bain (man in bath) by Christophe Honoré.  It was kind of funny because I was expecting my film to be tore apart and treated with contempt by the critics. Instead, their hostility was focused on Homme au bain, which was less pornographic and more of an art film. LA Zombie was taken really seriously, especially by the Italian critics who loved the film.

What was the appeal of Francois Sagat that made you choose him as the protagonist of the film?

Bruce: It was partly because he made these really cool kinds of creative videos on YouTube. There was one particular video where he was dressed up as a vampire for Halloween, one where he was shooting steroids, and another one where he was making out with a woman. There was a whole series of these videos that made me think he was an interesting character in his own right. He also did some fashion modeling for Bernhard Willhelm. In fact, that is one of the looks I appropriated for LA Zombie, Bernhard Willhelm’s American flag knee socks and baby t-shirt, which Francois wears in a part of the film. I first saw Francois wearing this outfit in Bernhard’s catalogue and that’s where I got the idea for the main character to be an undead superhero and kind of a zombie Captain America.

In addition to being a film maker, I hear that you’re a photographer and writer. How are these endeavors going?

Bruce: I am also an artist. I am currently represented by a Berlin based gallery called Paris Projects where I do instillation and performance based work. In addition, I direct theatre. I am scheduled to do a project in January that is kind of an avant garde opera. I also take pictures during my film shoots; I have a very multimedia approach to my work.

Besides the grotesque factor, what are the similarities between Otto, or Up With Dead People and LA Zombie?
Bruce: You could interpret the films the same way because they are both about homeless, marginalized, schizophrenic characters who are gay or could be actual zombies. The creatures themselves are completely different. Otto is a sensitive misfit who is out of touch and doesn’t really know how to have contact with the living or the dead. When he attempts to have sex with one person, it ends in a bloody mess. On the contrary, Francois Sagat’s character is an alien zombie that fucks people back to life. For me, he is kind of a warped superhero.

The theme of resurrection as opposed to destruction is a really unique aspect of this film, what was your rationality behind this?

Bruce: I think that’s what a lot of people got out of the film. Personally, I think that mainstream horror flicks exploit sex and violence in a very cynical and gratuitous way. Zombies for me have always been sort of a metaphor for AIDS, this idea of destruction, contagion, and decay. There was an unnatural paranoia that sprung out of the AIDs crisis, which was the idea that homosexuality itself was contagious and could be spread to the masses. The film reverses this expectation and spins it off into something completely different because the zombie brings people back to life with his black sexual fluids.

As you may know, California had a ballot initiative this past November that dealt with the decriminalization of marijuana, unfortunately, it failed. What is your take on the issue?

Bruce: It’s absurd; I know that a lot of states are having difficulty passing legislation for medical marijuana. It’s this kind of paranoia about drugs in general. I think it’s well established that pot is a lot less problematic than alcohol in terms of overall health and public safety. I have smoked pot since I was a teenager off and on, but it’s generally a social thing for me. I’ve never seen anyone get violent or sketchy on marijuana like they do on alcohol and other illicit substances.

Are marijuana laws in Toronto strict?

Bruce: Well, it certainly is comparable to many of the states in America. Possession of a small amount of marijuana is considered a misdemeanor, but being caught with large amounts is grounds for trafficking and intent to sell. It’s surprising to me that Canada hasn’t decriminalized it yet, considering how liberal our country is in general. Canada usually drafts civil liberty legislation years before the United States would even consider it. An example of this is gay marriage, which is legal in all the territories.

Like Otto, LA Zombie deals with decay. What it is it about violence, sexuality and politics that make them interesting to focus your lens on?
Bruce: I was heavily involved in the Canadian/American punk movement of the mid 80s – 90s. There used to be these huge anarchist conventions in major cities that I used to attend.  I mean, politically it was a protest against the wave of conservatism that Ronald Reagan represented. I have an old t-shirt that has Ronald Reagan on it as Godzilla with Ku Klux Klan members backing him up. You know, the kind of violent imagery that punks used as an expression of how they viewed America. There was a lot of corrosion of conformity and I think this image the punks were trying to portray was merely a response to the government’s insensitivity to the most vulnerable members of society, especially with Reagan’s economic policy that caused a disparity between the rich and the poor.

bringing you that fire! stay tune for more posts.

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