Filmmaker Bruce LaBruce On Female Nipples In Gay Porn And The Importance Of Having A Philosophy Of Homosexuality

Bruce LaBruce was here: gay porn studio Cockyboys, popular for its relatively polished productions, hired the Canadian indie filmmaker to shoot four videosfor them. They were uploaded last month and now the comments section is wildly divided. With some announcing they will cancel their subscription (‘Not sure what I’ve just seen, but it’s not something I wanted’) and others exclaiming praise: ‘Thank you Bruce & Cockyboys for this fantastic crazy erotic piece of porn art!!! This is really great queer revolution!

It should hardly come as a surprise; LaBruce (54) during the past thirty years of his career has had that effect on people. He counts as one of the fathers of the so called queercore movement, an eighties queer cinematic punk division. His work has depicted a wide range of sexual taboos and extremes including gangrape, amputee fetishism, gerontophilia and — hell, yes — vampire sex. In any interview terms like provocateur, controversial or rebel are usually quickly introduced to describe him.

“You forgot enfent terrible”, he adds laughing when I ask him over Skype how he feels about that. LaBruce is in Berlin where he attends an art event and, no, he doesn’t mind. Although he says he thinks of himself more as a ‘polemicist’: “I have an academic background, I think my films come off as dissertations on a certain subject. But I do lean towards exploitational movies, a genre that often tackles taboos and fetishes in an extremely confrontational and sometimes disturbing way.”

So there you go: with that in mind you would think one lady revealing a nipple is fairly innocent in a scene that otherwise has hot naked dudes in abundance. Nevertheless plenty Cockyboy fans were not amused after watching LaBruce’s Flea Pit, the second video of the series that is cheerfully titled It’s Not The End of the World, It Just Feels Like It.

Set in a seventies porn cinema Flea Pit has the patrons gradually shift their gaze from the movie screen to each other. The scene then progresses the way it tends to in the genre, but contradicting the conventions of gay porn a woman sits in the theatre too — popcorn and all — and she’s not afraid to express that she likes what she sees.

“I was a bit alarmed that there still are that many misogynistic gays”, LaBruce reacts. “Gays hating women was quite common in seventies and eighties but apparently it is still in full force. I loved that she becomes one of the spectators, it adds a voyeuristic layer to the scene that makes you aware of being watched watching porn.”

The commotion doesn’t stop there. In Uber Menschen, about a taxi driver and his client, LaBruce touches the subject of suicide. Not too common a subject in porn. And in Purple Army Faction LaBruce sends a — well groomed — elite task force out on the streets to hunt for straight guys and turn them into gays, all this for the noble cause of saving the planet. The video is cut up with noisy text bumpers that state picketing slogans like Down with procreation and Breed the breeder.

Terrorist groups and politics are a bit of a stretch from Cockyboys’ more frequently used scenario of two boys waking up in a hotel bed. ‘Hammer geil!!!!’ one of the viewers exclaims — there is definitely support. But some find their erections challenged: ‘Not sure what CB is really about anymore’, one of them comments, and others are downright angry.

LaBruce has had his share of disapproval. A couple of years ago in Madrid someone threw an actual firebomb at his exhibition — it didn’t go off. Still he sounds quite annoyed when he talks about some of the negative responses: “People get extremely angry when you try to make porn artistic. They think it interferes with their boner. A lot of people wanna see just raw, really hardcore sex. I watch porn and jerk off to it on the internet myself so I know for a fact there are five billion options out there. And then one person trying to make artistic porn makes you that upset?”

Have you created a set of films that you would jerk off to yourself?

“Sure. When making a porn one of the things that indicate I’m on the right track is if I get aroused behind the camera. For me, I always have to try and cast people that I personally find sexually stimulating. So, yeah, if u don’t like all the arty stuff you can just watch the sex scenes, which are still pretty hot. One of the challenges in porn is to make something you haven’t seen before. Gay porn now is so formulaic. A narrative gives a scene a different charge. You may have seen that same sex act hundreds of times but if it’s in a different context, it gets you off in a different way.”

Are porn actors good actors?

“I personally think they are. A lot of them get really excited when you ask them to do a scene that is more conceptual because they are so bored doing the same thing over and over again. In a lot of films the narrative is just the pre-text for the sex: one take only and the performer gets to say a line in this very wooden delivery and that’s the cliche of porn. But I tried and shot it more like an actual film, which is multiple takes. If you ask them to do it over and over again and you coach them how to deliver the line in a different way, or you give them an idea of what the character might be feeling or what the meaning of the film is, they will respond. In the end they are natural performers. It’s just that they are rarely asked to actually really act. I love working with them and I was particularly pleased with how Purple Army Faction came out. ”

He dubbed the dialogues for that video into German. A move to overcome the difference in accents of the actors who happened to all have a different nationality. It works surprisingly convincing and the result is quite hilarious: Cockyboys superstar Levi Karter — 125.000 followers on twitter — is dealt a squeaky helium pitched voice. It adds a B-movie quality to the scene, which is completely in sync with yet another LaBruce style trademark: there is no budget like low budget. Or as LaBruce recalls one critic writing about his feature film debut back in 1993: ‘Someone should give Bruce LaBruce $1.98 to make another movie!

It’s a style he has worked to his advantage, with a retrospective at the New York MoMa in 2015 confirming that his choice to operate from the margin is exactly what gives LaBruce his relevance. That same debut by the way, No Skin off My Ass, got him eternal grunge credibility after Kurt Cobain allegedly declared it his all time favorite movie.

I read you actually prefer low budget special effects over more sophisticated big budget work because it gives a certain playfulness to otherwise violent and gruesome scenes. Do you even want to work with big budgets?

“I like to do both. Gerontophilia was a bigger production and we’re planning to shoot one next year in Canada. With a low budget film you have absolute freedom generally. With a bigger film more people have an opinion of what you are doing. It’s a different process.”

Is it hard to find funding for bigger projects if you have a history in porn?

“There is a stigma against people who make porn or perform in it. I guess my situation is a little bit different. Being an art pornographer is part of my persona, it’s what I’m known for. But when I make a larger budgeted film I do have to make it very clear to the people who are financing that it’s not a porn film. Though to most people in art house films doing porn really isn’t a problem, they actually think it’s kinda cool.” (laughs)

When does something become porn, where’s the line?

“I always say it’s the cornhole line: the penetration. It is very rare, even in an arthouse film, to see a close up of a penetration. Especially vaginal or anal. You can get away with a blowjob here and there but that’s about it. Bigger budget films generally want professional actors. It’s still very difficult to find a mainstream actor to do a sexually explicit scene, that’s a taboo still in place.”

You once said your films fight the hegemony of Hollywood narrative. Could you elaborate on that?

“When I started out as a filmmaker I used porn as a political gesture to be punk and in your face with the representation of homosexuality. Mainstream film is created in a way that it sucks you into a story that is supposed to represent a realistic portrayal of scenes. All the loose ends are tied up and there is a happy ending consistent with the dominant culture and ideology, myths that in part are created by Hollywood itself. I like experimental films that disrupt and intervent in these mechanisms to make people aware of them, mocking and making fun of conventions.”

You also once said every gay should have a ‘philosophy of homosexuality’. What is yours?

“For one thing I regard myself as a repressed heterosexual. I believe everyone was born constitutionally bisexual and that we are sort of conditioned at a very early age to go in one direction or another. If you think you’re completely gay it’s fine, I’m pretty much hundred percent gay. But I still look at myself as a repressed heterosexual at some level, just as I regard people who say they are completely straight as repressed homosexuals. So, my philosophy I guess is that gender and performance of gender is very constructed and artificial and we should be conscious of that. For me it’s also a political philosophy: that being queer is an opportunity to be different. It should be celebrated and not taken for granted. You’re given an opportunity to not fit into the cookie-cutter version of the world and to explore all those different kinds of permutations and possibilities. It’s a privilege in a way that you shouldn’t squander.”

Gays should not try too hard to fit in?

“That is part of it: to conform to the idea of marriage and monogamy and all the conservative institutions that we’re conditioned to accept. There are infinite alternatives, really. Just be not so fixed in your thinking. Being homonormative is just as bad as being heteronormative. Have you heard about the Cocky Moms?”

The female fans of the Cockyboys website? I was surprised to find some in the comments section, yes. I’d love to do my next story about them.

“Cockyboys has a huge fanbase of middle-aged straight women. A lot of them are divorced single moms with kids apparently. A very interesting phenomenon. There is an almost maternal aspect to the dynamic but it’s also sexual. My early films were cult films in Japan in the nineties. When I showed Hustler White at the Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival two thirds out of a five hundred people audience were very young straight girls.”

People are fascinating.

“For sure, that’s why there is no excuse to be a boring homosexual.”

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