Is it porn or is it art, or how porn is a big part of art. Bruce La Bruce knows no boundaries and no genre. The internationally acclaimed filmmaker, photographer, writer, and artist is mostly known to you from his short and feature films, for being able to turn any subject into lust and poetry and for storming festival awards too. “Bruce La Bruce aesthetics” has definitely become a term and talking to him you can easily see why.
You often use masks in your work, or personas too. What do you think is the function of masks and personas? What do they stand for?
Not to put too fine a point on it, but we all wear masks. The personae we create for ourselves are masks. Gender is a mask. Masks are a front we put on for the world, a created identity to express ourselves, or to hide behind to protect ourselves, or to conceal our real thoughts and feelings, either as a defense mechanism, or as a political strategy. Before it was widespread and fashionable, before the Internet and social media, I created a persona to prop up to the world. I invented a nom de guerre and a carefully constructed image, then began to play the character not only in my films, but also in real life situations, for example when I was making appearances and promoting my films. Masks allow sensitive souls to cope with a harsh world.
Is there a specific form of mask you like more than others? If you had to pick one for yourself, which one would it be and why?
Pig masks as a symbol of greed and capitalist excess are often effective, especially in a pornographic context – no disrespect to actual pigs intended. I would choose a neutral mask for myself, like the one seen in Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, a mask that people can project their own emotions or desires onto. I also like the mask presented in Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs, a permanently disfigured expression of an exaggerated smile. It’s such a great metaphor.
Much of your work is steeped in blood and violence. You have often been criticized or attacked about it. Why do you think some people react that way? What was the worst reaction you ever experienced and how did you react to it?
I don’t think that it’s violent and bloody imagery per se that some people find objectionable in my work, but the (often pornographic) context that I use it in. In both my photographs and films, I often use an exaggerated amount of blood so that it becomes a metaphor for the excessive use of blood and violence used for entertainment in mainstream movies. But in my low-budget films, it is obviously fake, and therefore creates more of a distancing effect, or it reads as a visual metaphor, or as ironic or camp. I also often present sexual fetishes involving blood and violence, such as amputee sex, blood-letting, zombie gut-fucking, necrophilia, etc. Again, for me, this is either an ironic commentary on how violence, often sexualized violence, is used in pop culture as pure entertainment, or a hyperbolic representation of queer sexuality, something that poses a threat to conventional sexual behavior. I suppose the most extreme reaction to my work was when my film L.A. Zombie was banned in Australia. The film is about an alien zombie, or a homeless schizophrenic who believes he’s an alien zombie, that fucks dead people back to life. It’s obviously an allegory for a number of things – the pathologizing of homosexuality and its toxic representation with regard to AIDS; the extreme alienation of marginalized and disenfranchised “queers” from society; the rehabilitation of homosexuality as a healing or transformative act. But many people just dismissed it as a bizarre and disgusting necrophiliacal porn film. I regarded the banning of the film as a badge of honour.
You have become a very important reference to outsider queer culture. But how do you feel about mainstream LGBTQ culture today?
I’ve always been pretty much alienated and disconnected from mainstream LGBT culture, as far back as the mid-eighties. Even back then my punk friends and I in Toronto regarded it as assimilationist and bourgeois, in many ways just as problematic as straight culture in terms of racism, sexism, divisions of class, etc. So my relationship to the mainstream gays has always been ambivalent at best, although now looking back I do appreciate the sexual militancy and activist that was at its core. But as I’ve never presented a cozy or non-threatening representation of homosexuality, I’ve often been marginalized by the gay orthodoxy, which was itself marginalized from the mainstream. My films often present characters that are either ambivalent about their homosexuality, or that use it for extreme and militant purposes. Quite often my characters have homosexual sex even though they refuse to identify themselves as “gay” – gay-for-pay hustlers, neo-Nazi skinheads, extreme left wing revolutionaries. The gay orthodoxy generally doesn’t want to acknowledge these fissures or ambiguities in gay identification.
In the past, you have been very involved in DIY-punk culture. How has this shaped your art? Do you think this can survive in cyber age? Or do you think underground art and artists could survive easier in the past when technology wasn’t as advanced?
In many ways, DIY punk culture pre-figured social media and cyber age strategies. Now it’s common for kids online to create new names and personae for themselves, and to have a web presence that allows them to blog, to post photos of themselves, to develop an aesthetic, etc. This is exactly what we did in the eighties with our fanzines. As a fanzine editor and as a columnist for various publications, I was blogging long before blogs existed. We were already taking selfies of ourselves and each other and publishing them, making sexually explicit movies of ourselves, and making contact internationally with like-minded people by snail mail. So for me, technology has just allowed me to extend this practice. What is missing, however, is the tactile, hands-on creative process, which was reflected in the collage aesthetic. There were also far less people doing what we did, and because it took more time and effort, you really had to have a strong creative drive and dedication to do the work. We also chose to work outside any corporate or mainstream models, so we remained underground in a way that is much more difficult on the Internet, which is hopelessly controlled and monitored by corporate entities.
Fetish is a big part of what you do. How does fetish connect to lust and romance?
A fetish for me is something that is by definition romantic. It’s an extreme appreciation of the love object, a deep aesthetic and sexual appreciation so profound that it can become devotional and spiritual. It can also, of course, involve the debasement of the love object, but even that is a kind of devotion. People with fetishes act out intense and emotional scenarios involving the object of their desire, so they are often quite imaginative and creative. For me, creativity and the artistic drive are inextricably related to sexual energy, so a fetish is really a kind of artistic expression.
When was your first time you experienced lust? What do you personally lust for?
I lusted after my sadistic gym and math teacher when I was eleven or twelve. I had masochistic fantasies about him. Lust can be sexual, or more general, like a lust for life or for sensual experiences. Again, for me, it all comes from the same place – life energy, artistic energy, sexual energy, spiritual energy. Sexual lust is merely an expression of lust for life.
Politics and porn/art. How do they affect each other and feed off each other? What kind of statements do you care to make?
From the beginning I’ve made porn that I considered to be political. My friends and I rejected the gay movement and turned to punk because we thought it was more interesting politically and aesthetically. But when we were confronted in the hardcore punk movement by a strong strain of homophobia and sexism, we reacted by starting to make sexually explicit queer fanzines and films that were in your face and unapologetic about homosexual sex. We began with found pornography, and then started making our own naïve form of porn. Since that time, I’ve used porn as a kind of political tool to make people confront their prejudices or their conventional attitudes toward sex and homosexuality.
In a way, you have created a movement of your own, for those who don’t fit in. Everyone knows “Bruce LaBruce style”, there are many amazing artists citing you as inspiration, you have created a small universe of you own within queer art. How do you view this “Bruce La Bruce” universe? How would you describe it?
It’s definitely an alternative reality! I try to work instinctively, and to let my imagination be free. I try not to follow the rules – the rules of being a homosexual, the rules of how to make a film, the rules of how to be an artist. I try to make movies that no one else would make, or that no one else would want to make! It’s about freedom of expression, and about being willing to take risks. It’s also about developing a strong personal style and aesthetic. In my universe, extreme sexual acts and fetishes can be seen as romantic or funny or beautiful. It’s about going against expectations, and questioning conventional wisdom. It’s a contrarian universe, and a polemical one. It’s not for the faint of heart!
What’s next? What are you working on at the moment?
I have two film projects in the can – a feature film, called The Misandrists, and a short film, called Refugee’s Welcome. I am currently in the editing process with both. Otherwise, I have a number of other feature film projects in development, so I’m trying to get those off the ground. Otherwise, I’m just living my life!