Bruce LaBruce is a writer, photographer and filmmaker who makes movies about gay punks, hustlers, skinheads, freaks and zombies. They’re the sort of movies where people get fucked with amputated stumps and zombies have sex with the guts of their hot boyfriends. Yum! I once masturbated to his zombie porno Otto; Or, Up With Dead People almost every day for a month. I recommend you do the same.
LaBruce started his career in the mid 80s making low budget experimental Super 8 films, and editing J.D.s, a queer punk fanzine he made with GB Jones that helped launch the queercore movement. He went on to make lots of totally insane and hot-in-a-scary-sort-of-gross-way movies like No Skin Off My Ass, which was famously Kurt Cobain’s favorite film, and Hustler White starring Tony Ward. #SoBautifulICouldDie
Last week I video chatted with Mr. LaBruce, which was definitely the highlight of 2011 for me thus far. Below you can read our convo about porn, fetishes, Tyra Banks and lots of other important stuff.
SLUTEVER: A lot of your movies deal with extreme fetishes. Do you have any fetishes?
BRUCE LABRUCE: I have some run of the mill fetishes. Like I have a bit of a foot fetish, but beyond that I’m pretty vanilla actually. I guess I just get it all out in my movies, so I don’t have to do it in real life. The whole amputee thing in Hustler White came about because we actually met a hustler with one leg amputated. He used his stump in his work. So I didn’t really ever think about that fetish before I met him, but now I definitely understand it and think it’s a hot fetish. Also I kind of have a fetish for people on crutches.
I had a boyfriend who walked permanently on crutches. I’ve always had a thing for disabled people.
I’m doing this conference in Hamburg in May call The Undead. It’s about how medical science and technology are extending life and changing the definition of life, and one of the groups of people we’re trying to get in touch with is people with Body Integrity Identity Disorder—people who want to be amputees. They don’t feel complete until they remove one or more of their limbs. So it’s a strange thing, but there’s definitely a sexual component.
I read an article once about a glamour model who had her healthy leg amputated because she always felt like she wasn’t meant to have it. She had it done by some sketchy doctor, I don’t think it’s a legal procedure.
Tony Ward in Hustler White
I’ve always been interested in people who are able bodied but who pretend to be disabled. There was an interview in Butt magazine once with a guy who lived his life in a wheelchair even though he could walk perfectly. It was a sex thing.
Well I definitely understand that fetish, but it’s a difficult one to negotiate. I mean it’s hard to meet people, and for me it would be hard to act on without seeming like a total creep.
You should join some fetish forums. Always a good place to meet people.
Yeah, maybe I’m just not trying hard enough. I also have a fetish for extremely short or extremely tall people. I’ve always wanted to have sex with someone over 7ft tall, or with a dwarf.
You know the cartoonist Robert Crumb said that with his comics he was drawing his own porn. He was sexually attracted to cartoon characters, and felt he couldn’t find enough porn that turned him on, so he started making it himself. I’ve always wondered whether you were doing the same thing with your zombie pornos—if you wanted to fuck zombies.
Well the zombie thing is weird because it has a necrophilia aspect to it, and I don’t necessarily have a fetish for dead people. But there is something weirdly sexual about zombies. If you’re gay and you’ve ever cruised a public park or a bathhouse at night, it’s very much like being a zombie. There’s interchangeable body parts that come out of the dark; it’s kind of like a stew of desire that’s not even connected to your own self. It’s a group fuck kind of thing. So there is something zombieish about it for sure.
I recently watched an interview with you where you said you felt zombies were a good metaphor for homosexuality, because of their estrangement from society.
Yeah there’s that aspect of it, and then there’s the more negative aspect of it, which is the conformity and the new gay conservatism. Gay culture is becoming more conventional, more monogamous, and more consumerist, which is zombie-like in a bad way.
You are publicly against gay marriage, but you are married, so how does that work?
Actually my husband just got his permanent residency in Canada after a very long struggle. He’s Cuban. We were a couple and I sponsored him for citizenship. So normally we wouldn’t have gotten married but it was an unusual circumstance I guess.
But surely just the fact that you were able to do that means it’s a positive thing. Shouldn’t everyone have the equal opportunity to be married, even if you don’t agree with it personally?
I guess, but I think it’s a bit of hype. People say you get more benefits when you’re married, but as long as couples have equal civil rights under the law, I’m not sure that marriage itself is such an interesting or necessary institution. There’s obviously a lot about it traditionally that has negative associations, and it’s one of the most conservative institutions culturally, so I just don’t buy into it. The problem with a lot of the gays buying into it is they’re taking the monogamy aspect of it very seriously, and becoming more sexually conventional, and they’re looking down their noses at people who are promiscuous, or who have extreme sexual practices. There is a real conservatism that goes along with buying into the convention of marriage.
So you think gays should be extreme, outsiders.
Well in my eyes, being gay is an opportunity to be different rather than trying to copy what’s dictated by the dominant ideology. It seems a waste if you don’t take advantage of that opportunity to be different.
Do you believe in monogamy?
Well my husband and I have an open relationship sexually. But I guess you could say that we are emotionally monogamous.
Yeah, in theory I like the idea of open relationships, but sometimes I can’t help but want the person I like not to sleep with other people.
For a lot of gay men it’s not a problem to be sexually promiscuous without being emotionally involved with other people. It’s very much like a sport. Well, I don’t want to call it a sport because I hate sports, but it’s recreational.
I really liked the interview you did with Karl Lagerfeld in Vice last year. I didn’t know very much about his personal life before I read it. I never thought of him as being an intellectual.
I didn’t really know much about him either, which I think is the reason that the interview turned out so well, because I was genuinely curious and found out that he was much more interesting than I thought he would be.
I liked that you both agreed that you admire porn and porn stars.
A lot of artists and filmmakers who make sexually explicit work pussyfoot around the idea of pornography. They say ‘I’m making art, not porn.’ And after I made LA Zombie in particular, which has a very hardcore version, I was always saying in interviews that I express solidarity with pornographers, and that I think in a way pornographers are artists too. They are creative people who work with actors, and they have a point of view when they make their work, so I don’t really understand what the distinction is, or why there even needs to be a distinction between art and porn. It’s like a continuum.
You call yourself a pornographer.
Yes, and as soon as you do certain people look down their noses at you.
Otto; Or, Up With Dead People
Before this conversation I was actually planning to ask you where you felt the line between art and porn was. Do you consider all your films to be porn? For example Hustler White, which is less explicit than some of your other films.
Well we actually intended Hustler White to be more pornographic than it was. First of all we shot it on 16mm, so we couldn’t run and run the camera because we had a limited amount of film. And secondly we had never made porn before and we didn’t really know how to do it, so it tuned out to be more softcore than we originally planned. But there is a tonal difference, or a different in emphasis that distinguishes porn, because it has a more direct purpose, which is to show and emphasize the sex act itself. For a lot of my films I make a softcore version and a hardcore version. Usually the softcore version is more focused on the narrative and the characters, and when they have explicit sex it doesn’t last very long and is more integrated into the narrative. And then in the hardcore version there are hardcore sex scenes that go on for like ten minutes, interrupt the narrative and focus primarily on the sex act.
At the moment I’m making a porn magazine, but some of the artists I’ve asked have declined because they don’t want to be associated with pornography.
People sometimes don’t understand that there is a big stigma attached to people who make porn. Like Terry Richardson for example is a friend of mine, and when he did a show that was very pornographic and put himself in his photos with a hard-on, he said he didn’t get a commercial job for eight months afterward, and he had to take all the images down off his website. So it even affects someone with a profile like him. There’s a glass ceiling for pornographers, and the art world is surprisingly conservative. Certain people who work with me don’t want to put their real name on the films because they say they can’t get work afterward. You’d think it wouldn’t be so prudish and prejudicial, but it is.
It’s so weird that porn is still considered taboo, because let’s be real, everyone watches it.
Well that’s the great hypocrisy. People are very willing to watch porn, buy porn, and fuck porn stars privately, but then they don’t want to be publicly associated with it, or be known to fraternize with pornographers.
There’s some crossover starting. Sasha Grey, for example, is a porn star who now works commercially as an actress. She was in a Steven Soderbergh film, and was in recent series of Entourage.
Yeah, I interviewed her for Vice, although I don’t think it ever got published, and I recently interviewed Stoya as well. Stoya s a really hot up and coming young porn actress. She was dating Marilyn Manson. She and Sasha both do pretty intense porn. But it’s a new generation of these young girls who are quite smart and educated, and seem to be quite in control of their careers, but they still do really crazy over-the-top gonzo porn. Like I saw this video Sasha Grey did where she was in a room full of 12 guys and she had her head back and her mouth open, and all 12 guys came in her mouth, and she held the semen in her mouth until all the guys had cum, and then swallowed it in one gulp. I was watching this before I interviewed her and I said to my husband, ‘Oh my god this stuff is making me blush and embarrassed! How could she do something so crazy?’ And he just said “You know, that’s kids today.”
And you know to me the video wasn’t exploitative. The focus was on her and her pleasure, and she seemed to know what she was doing and why she was doing it.
I think people call her ‘the queen of anal.’ She’s always doing really hardcore anal scenes. And when she cums on camera it doesn’t seem fake, which is the case for girls like 99% of the time.
Same with Stoya. She’s a very sweet girl and very smart, and she does a lot of masochistic S&M stuff and likes it really rough, and she seems totally well adjusted. I just interviewed her for Richardson magazine. It will be out soon.
Did you see when Sarah Grey was on the Tyra Banks show? She was speaking very articulately about her involvement in porn, and it was amazing because she made Tyra Banks look like a total idiot.
Yeah well that doesn’t surprise me. I call her ‘Tyrant Banks’. She’s so judgmental and mainstream about everything.
I never understood how she got away with it. She would invite guests onto her show and just mock and ridicule them in front of the audience.
And meanwhile on America’s Next Top Model she’s setting models on fire and making them walk down the runway.
OMG I saw that, so funny. She also recently put them in giant bubbles and made them walk down a runway over water, and they all kept sliding off and like basically drowning, and Miss J was screaming BE FABULOUS at them while they struggled for survival.
That’s why Tyrant is good nickname.
OK off Tyra. When you started out, did the approval or disapproval of your parents ever factor in your creative output? That’s always been a slight issue for me.
My parents are farmers. They both have public school educations, and are very smart but not very worldly and sophisticated. I doubt they’ve ever seen a porn movie. Probably magazines, but not a movie. They finally got the internet like five years ago. My mother got her first email account when she was seventy years old. So they are aware of what I do and that it’s porn related, but they don’t want to watch it. It never even occurred to me to censor myself because of my parents, and if it did I would just ask myself, ‘Did Andy Warhol or Fassbinder censor themselves because they were worried about what their mothers would think?’ But it’s amazing how many people I run into who don’t do certain things for that very reason, especial when it’s porn related.
No Skin Off My Ass
I guess when you were starting your career the internet wasn’t around to document everything you did. My mom sent me a text the other day that said “Why does your Twitter say that you peed on someone?” Now it’s almost impossible to keep anything a secret. I guess you missed out on that by a little bit.
That’s true. When I started making my early Super 8 films and doing fanzines in the late 80s, everything was done by mail and it seemed more secret and controlled. So yeah maybe that had something to do with it. When I started out I had this mentality that what I was doing was very underground. But I still kind of feel that way. You know that’s why I invented this name Bruce LaBruce and this character that isn’t necessarily how I am in private, as a kind of spectacle. It’s like a projection that I hide behind, a fictionalized version of myself. I think everyone does that; everyone performs themselves every day.
You mentioned your fanzine. One of the first times I ever heard of your work was when I read an essay Dennis Cooper wrote called “Homocore Rules” about gay punk fanzines, and it mentioned the fanzine you did with GB Jones called J.D.s.
Yeah I knew Dennis way back in the day.
Do you read much of his writing? He’s one of my favorite authors.
I was influenced by his writing. I was aware of him way back when he wrote his first books Tenderness of the Wolves, and then we kind of had a feud for a while because… well, there were these fanzine wars that went on. Haha, it’s all very juvenile. Then in the Village Voice he wrote that I was “careering with a Jayne Mansfieldien blatancy.” In a way that could be a kind of compliment. But… see I’d made this film No Skin Off My Ass, which became a kind of cult film and I was traveling around the world with it. I made it for $14,000, but in the punk context some people considered me a sellout because I was getting a certain amount of mainstream attention, traveling a lot and doing more public interviews and stuff. So there was that dispute. But you know, we got over that. But I did really love his early novels and I quite like his work.
What writers do you like?
Well sadly I don’t read a lot of fiction anymore. I just watch movies and read non-fiction. But I used to be a total fanatic reader and loved Dostoyevsky and Gogol; I read a lot of Russian literature. Some of my favorite novels are Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion, Desperate Characters by Paula Fox, and Lilith by J.R. Salamanca.
So what’s next for you?
After this conference in Hamburg I have to start working on trying to get another film made. I have a couple of scripts in development.
Is it a zombie thing?
No, but one’s a gay serial killer thing.
P.S. Go to lazombie.com to check out LaBruce’s latest film, L.A. Zombie!