Canadian filmmaker and pornographer Bruce LaBruce never shies away from politically- and sexually-charged subject matter. His latest feature film, The Misandrists, about a lesbian separatist terrorist community dealing with a heterosexual infiltration, is no different. Troy Michael Bordun talked to LaBruce about the film, pornos, sexuality, and future/past feminisms.
Canadian queercore icon Bruce LaBruce has been making politically-charged sex films since the 1980s. His films have largely focused on male characters, whether neo-nazis, zombies, or young adults with attractions to older men. After The Raspberry Reich (2004), LaBruce’s film about sexual revolution, a few of the director’s lesbian friends complained about the film’s lack of lesbian characters – The Misandrists (2017), produced in Germany like much of his precious work, is his response.
The Misandrists stars Susanna Sachsse, a filmmaker and actor LaBruce worked with on Reich, among other projects. Sachsse plays Big Mother, the leader of a lesbian separatist terrorist group called The Female Liberation Army (FLA) that resides in a manor in the German countryside. At this enclave, the terrorists receive lessons on HERstory and parthenogenesis and are encouraged to explore their sexual desires. For both political and financial reasons (the school can’t support itself), the FLA decides to produce their own feminist porn.
On the run from the law, an injured man named Volker (Til Schindler) intrudes on their utopia and disrupts the organization of the group. Initially, two FLA members hide him in the basement of the house. Isolde (Kita Updike) secretly nurses Volker back to health – not unlike Diana tending to Steve Trevor’s wounds in the Wonder Woman origin story – and eventually develops an attraction to him, a forbidden desire given the ideology of the FLA.
I spoke to LaBruce about The Misandrists via email.
Troy Michael Bordun: The film is set in 1999. Why did you choose the late-90s as the backdrop? Does it have something to do with the politics of the time? Is there a connection to be drawn between 1999 and 2017?
Bruce LaBruce: I remember the period leading up to the end of the millennium as a somewhat hopeful era, a time when it seemed possible to change things through direct action and protest and radical movements. It was before the militarization of the police, before the worldwide swing to populism and conservatism, and before protests were restricted and clamped down upon and news about them blocked by the popular media. So I set The Misandrists in 1999 partly out of a nostalgia for that era, and partly to remind everyone of that state of hopefulness that needs to be revived.
The Misandrists is also both a critique of and an homage of sorts to Second Wave Feminism, which is generally acknowledged to have ended in the late-eighties. Fourth Wave feminism, which is said to have begun around 2012, was in some ways a throwback to Second Wave Feminism inasmuch as it was about reminding people of very basic kinds of gender-based oppression, such as sexual assault and harassment, inequality in the workplace, etc. that still exists. But it has also meant a resurgence of some of the worst aspects of feminism, such as anti-porn and anti-sex factions, and TERFS (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists). The Third Wave of Feminism, which is roughly defined as extending from the early-nineties to 2012, was more about redefining feminism as intersectional, a feminism more radical and punk in tone and effect, more porn-friendly and sex-positive, even slut positive, influenced by the Queercore and Riot Grrrl movements. This is the style of feminism projected by The Misandrists. Big Mother is holding on to her Second Wave TERF tendencies, but the other Sisters and the girls gradually convince her to adapt to the new, cooler, more future feminism. Oh, and lastly, I love anachronisms in movies. For example, when Big Mother says, “Let me womansplain something to you” to the young leftist male fugitive, it’s a jump into the future vocabulary of feminism!
The popular conception of a feminist is a white, liberal cis-woman, but The Misandrists gives us a feminism that is racially diverse and trans-inclusive. How important is inclusivity for the FLA and your own feminism?
Inclusionary feminist politics are nothing new to me. I was one of the supposed founders of the “Queercore,” movement, which I basically started with a couple of lesbians and/or gender-non-specific girls in Toronto in the mid-nineties. I lived in an all-female household of about four or five people, but we pretended that we were a full-fledged radical punk movement of fags, dykes and transgender people taking over the world. Everyone started to believe us, and it started a real movement. With our queercore fanzine, J.D.s, we wrote (wo)manifestos against the white middle class bourgeoisie who commandeered the gay movement, and whose racist, sexist, classist, and misogynist tendencies were quite apparent. We also berated the supposedly radical punks for having the same tendencies, except for the classism, and additionally, for its homophobia. We were very conscious of racial inclusion in our fanzine, and believed in the necessity of the solidarity of fags, dykes, and transgender people against capitalism, elitism, and the patriarchy. We also critiqued bourgeois white feminists who could be quite racist and homophobic. But we even went beyond that; our inclusionary politics extended to other constituencies – petty thieves, shut-ins, squatters, juvenile delinquents, jailhouse punks, social misfits, hustlers, hookers, and really anyone who acted out against the dominant order.
In addition to a vision of a more inclusive feminism, the film gives us sexually fluid characters, a recurring presence in your oeuvre. What are your views on sexuality, desire, orientations, and how does this play out in The Misandrists?
Many people have pointed out that I make films for nobody…. Straight people are scared by the explicit gay sex and the radical queer politics. The gay mainstream doesn’t generally like my movies because they are too weird and extreme, too “bad gay,” and, very crucially, too ambivalent about gay identity and identity politics in general. The subjects of many of my films often have homosexual sex but are not necessarily “gay-identified” or otherwise strictly defined by a sexual ideology. Examples of this are the Neo-Nazi skinheads in No Skin Off My Ass (1991) and Skin Flick (1999), the gay-for-pay, or at least non-gay-identified hustlers in Hustler White (1996), the extreme leftist radicals in The Raspberry Reich, and the boy in Gerontophilia (2013) whose fetish – an extreme sexual attraction to the elderly – trumps both sexual orientation and race. (Strangely, my zombie characters are the only ones who are pretty much adamantly and directly gay in their sexual orientation, so make of that what you will.)
Although in real life I am what I would call a “Kinsey 6” (i.e., pretty much one hundred percent homosexual in my sexual preferences), I happen to believe in Freud’s concept of constitutional bisexuality – the idea that everyone is born with bisexual potential, and that homosexuality is some kind of balance between nature and nurture having a lot to do with infant and early childhood sexual development. I do not subscribe to the “born this way” theory, and in fact consider myself in some ways a “repressed heterosexual,” just as I believe that straight people are, to varying degrees, “repressed homosexuals.” There are many examples of all-male environments in which homosexual desires flourish. The “straight” men in Reich are forced to have homosexual sex with each other in order to prove their commitment to sexual revolution. In the eighties and nineties there was a phenomenon called “political lesbians” (which I reference in The Misandrists), which was the idea that a straight woman could go gay in a gesture of political commitment to feminism and the female solidarity it entails, rather than out of sexual desire. So I do think that sexuality is much more fluid than most people think, and that many gays and lesbians become ideologically entrenched in their sexual preferences unnecessarily. Now if only I weren’t so sexually repressed myself!
Like all of your films, The Misandrists is heavy on the sex. You’ve been shooting sex scenes and porn films for years now. What are your thoughts on making porn in the Trump Era and in the wake of recent “porn is dangerous” debates in the US, Canada, and abroad?
I love this new conservative strategy in the USA that declares that it’s not gun violence we should be concerned about but the evil scourge of pornography! It’s really one of my pet peeves – that the worst, most vicious and extreme acts of depraved violence (and especially the evisceration and dismemberment of women) can be shown on the news and TV and in the movies, but sexually explicit scenes are verboten, and in fact are considered harmful and destructive. It really says a lot about our culture and the world in general.
From the very beginning as an artist I’ve considered my use of porn as a political strategy. As a queer punk in the eighties I began to use found-porn in my fanzines and short experimental super 8 films, collaging or splicing in explicit gay sex and pornography to spice things up and be completely in-your-face and unapologetic about my own sexuality. And of course for shock value! Then I very gradually began to shoot my own explicit sex scenes like in No Skin Off My Ass and Super 8 ½ (1994). My producer Jurgen Bruning and I gained reputations as pornographers (even though we thought we were just making sexually explicit art films), so it kind of became a self-fulfilling prophecy: Jurgen started Cazzo, the first ever porn company in Berlin, and I began making porn films for it. Since then I’ve made a number of porn films for Cockyboys and for the Erika Lust’s feminist porn company.
But in these conservative times, when even certain feminists who should know better are becoming anti-sex and anti-porn again, I think it’s more crucial than ever to make porn freely and radiantly. In general I believe pornography acts as a kind of collective unconscious where we are all able to work out our sexual fantasies, no matter how dark or politically incorrect. There’s so much “amateur” and non-industry porn now that seems really healthy and all about sexual self-expression. Going back to a time of sexual repression, like the fifties, as some conservatives are gagging for, can only lead to bad orgasms and more guns.
Speaking of your most recent ventures into making hard core films, the last question is about your recent work with Erika Lust. In Refugee’s Welcome (2017), you manage to get politics into the mix. What can we expect from the two shorts currently in production, Valentin, Pierre y Catalina and Scotch Egg?
I’ve always believed that, as Godard once said, sex is political, and that politics are often played out in the bedroom, particularly in the form of domination and submission, role-playing, and reverse role-play, etc. Scotch Egg is the strange story of a Scottish leather lad who picks up and fucks a girl in a leather bar but he doesn’t even seem to clue in to the fact that she is female. Valentin, Pierre & Catalina, my little porn homage to Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (1962), is about a girl who is dating two male best friends, and who comes up with a contest to see which one will be her boyfriend. Both films have gay male actors having sex with women, so the sexually subversive project of the movies goes well beyond the movies themselves!
The Misandrists, distributed by Cartilage Films, is now screening in numerous US cities.
* This interview has been edited down due to space restrictions.
Troy Michael Bordun is a part-time contract instructor at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec. Troy has written essays and articles about porn, cinema, and culture. His book Genre Trouble and Extreme Cinema: Film Theory at the Fringes of Contemporary Art Cinema was published in late-2017.