Bruce LaBruce has been behind the wheel of an out of control, politically charged, philosophically homo joy ride since the 1980’s. The result? A body of work that borderlines a gruesome car crash: you know you shouldn’t look, yet you can’t help but stare.
We invited Bruce to the Pornceptual studios in Berlin for an interview and exclusive photo shoot not long after the premiere of his two latest films, The Misandrists and Ulrike’s Brain.
…Friedrichshain is cool. That’s where my editor lives. I like the U1. There’s lots of sexy guys on that UBahn line.
Pornceptual: As we’re already talking about Berlin… You’ve shot six films here. Asides from perhaps evident reasons, what is it about this city which keeps drawing you back?
Bruce LaBruce: The thing is, when I was a punk in the 80s, Berlin was this mecca for us. We’d see these amazing bars in underground magazines – Cafe A on Oranienstr. and Cafe Berlin. These magazines had photos of all these glamorous punks. The Republic Punks, decadent. I always wanted to come here because of that. It was by chance I met Jürger Brüning who was the visiting art and video curator at Howell’s Art Gallery in Buffalo. He would come to Toronto to scout work to show. That’s when he saw my early shorts and started producing my films. I came to Berlin for the first time in 1990 to show my films. And then I started shooting here as well. Jürgen has produced most of my films. But I could have just as easily found a producer who was from South Africa, so I’d be spending all my time in Johannesburg.
So it’s not Berlin specifically?
No, except for that glamour thing. Also, when I was a punk we were all interested in terrorists. I read a lot about them. There was this book by Jillian Becker called Hitler’s Children which was all about the RAF. I always had a fascination for them as well. And then I ended up making Raspberry Reich.
You seem so sure of yourself and your direction, was that always the case?
I was always a cinephile. I wanted to be a film critic from the time I was 14 years old. I was a little film nerd. I usually see the whole world in terms of cinema. I mean, that’s why my films are almost like collages or a bricolage of scenes, dialogue, and references from so many movies – I just kind of piece them together. In some of my movies, half the dialogue is taken from other movies and then kind of juxtaposed in different contexts. I see the world through a cinematic lens all the time. It’s an art practice that I’ve done from the beginning.
And if you had to draw a line in the sand between art and pornography, where would that be?
That’s the age old question. There is so many stock answers, ‘I don’t know, but I know it when I see it’ or ‘It’s the lighting’. When I make more artistic porn, you can just tell: it’s about an intention and attention to aesthetics. An appreciation. Personality of the performers. That’s why I like working with Cocky Boys. They have very defined personalities or personas on social media. Their acting doesn’t have to be perfect. I’ve worked with porn actors a lot and I find that they are always happy to have something different to do in a porn. To engage with another character more than just sexually. Usually in porn, if they have lines, it’s only one take. And they are not encouraged to do it with any conviction or to make it personal it any way. When I do this kind of porn, I do take after take and talk to them about what I’m trying to convey. It’s more engaging. It makes the process more interesting… Maybe it’s corny.
I think a lot of people look down their noses at pornographers, I certainly have gotten that in my career from certain agents of the art world. You’re kind of suspect or questionable if you work too much within the porn idiom. You’re too porny. There’s a condescension towards you for doing that. But its works in the reverse in a way as well. In the porn world if you’re too arty people think that you’re ruining their pleasure. You’re wrecking the party by being to too conceptive or intellectual or artistic. I mean, it’s such a vast industry but remains a dirty secret; a bizarre phenomenon.
When do you feel you’ve made something true?
I do have certain signs. If I am making porn and I have a hard-on behind the camera then that’s a good sign. If you get excited behind the camera. Or if you laugh behind the camera, it’s a good sign. I do have this gut reaction when I’ve made something special. Not especially when I’m shooting, but in the editing room. Like I’ve really gone too far this time. I start thinking about what I’ve done and what the potential reaction may be. And it’s a kind of a scary feeling, but it also makes you feel like you’ve done something that may have forged new ground, that we have done something that hasn’t been shown before – a taboo. It’s an exhilarating moment.
In your eyes, what is the future of porn?
That’s the thing. I was saying recently that the future will be more visible, more mainstream – there will be less stigma attached to it. Everyone seems to making amateur porn, people routinely put naked photos of themselves online. Even though it so ubiquitous online, there is a still bizarre overriding taboo against porn. It’s a weird complex: a lot of people watch it, but are vaguely embarrassed about it. They don’t want to admit that it’s a big part of their lives, or that they use it in their sex lives. I don’t know if that taboo will ever go away. And now that culture seems to be in a regressive mode. Maybe there will be even more of a backlash against it for awhile.
What makes porn so powerful? Where does its power lie?
It’s in the taboo. Taboos are necessary because it’s cultural. Sex has to be sublimated into a greater cultural imperative. We all have to sublimate a certain amount of our sexuality just in order to coexist and advance culture. We can’t just be fucking all the time or the world would fall apart. Porn creates the fantasy of the libidinous state of sexual exit. Everything is sexual. Every situation can turn into a sexual scenario. That makes it threatening because it challenges the constraints of culture by taping into libido and the ID – something very primal. It challenges basic rules of conduct in society.
For the man who seemingly has no limits, what’s your taboo?
I use my art to express a lot of personal fantasies, but I don’t necessarily practice them all in real life, otherwise I would probably be dead! I am fascinated by that which is not supposed to be represented, or the supposedly unrepresented, or the love that dare not speak its name. It’s almost like a Tourette’s impulse: to express things that are lurking in your subconscious. That’s what porn is for, both as pornographer and viewer: to work out and vicariously experience politically incorrect and sometimes very dark fantasies. But there are some very personal taboos that I adhere to. For example, even though I wholeheartedly agree with Freud’s theories of child sexuality, I don’t condone adults having sex with children, and I would never represent that in a porn context. But I’m also quite aware that as soon as I hit puberty I had some very strong sexual fantasies about adults, very politically incorrect ones involving BDSM, for example. The age of consent is a very tricky subject. There are taboos that I would never break in my “real” life – like necrophilia – but I have no problem representing them in a film, or even in a porn context.
What can porn change in this world?
I think it’s cool there’s more and more feminist porn. There’s a lot of queer porn that’s more forward thinking and more ethical, or more political and empathetic. On the other hand you still want all your rape fantasies [laughs]. For me its a way of again sublimating these politically incorrect fantasies and challenging them. There is a healthy function to watching it as a fantasy. It serves its function as a collective unconscious that you can tap into every once and a while.
Where are you going from here career wise?
I’m making two short films for Erika Lust in Barcelona [find an exclusive interview with Erika Lust in Pornceptual MAG #3]. I’m trying to make larger budgeted films as well, one which is being financed right now. It’s in pre-production and it’ll be shot in Quebec – the only people in Canada who will give me money [laughs]. I’m also writing scripts this year and I’m toying with the idea to making a sequel to Hustler White which I want to shoot in Mexico.
What your advice to young pornographers. What do you want to see from them?
I’m surprised that more people aren’t going back to more narrative porn. To be conscious of mise-en-scène, art direction, and montage. I’ve always liked personal expressions of porn, incorporating something that has something to do with your own life, a story that is autobiographical. You can still get off on the sex but there are lots of other things you can get out of it. Porn could stand to be to get back to putting the sex act in a context and fantasy that has more to do with identification with the characters and the scenario – a story.
I hope people go back to that.
Find an exclusive photo series by Bruce LaBruce here
Interview: Tristan Boisvert
Cover Image: Yu-Liang Yiu
Polaroids: Bruce LaBruce and Tristan Boisvert