Bruce LaBruce has a very cosy relationship with the tolerant and hedonistic capital of Germany. DMovies‘ editor Victor Fraga travelled last month to Berlin for the Porn Film Festival taking place (click here for our article about the event), and so he took the opportunity to interview the controversial helmer, who had just landed in Germany the previous day. The conversation took place at Moviemento Kino, the oldest cinema in Germany and also home to the aforementioned Porn Fest.
The Canadian filmmaker has a career spanning 25 years, with more than 20 short and feature films made on both sides of the Atlantic. His works include the political porn Raspberry Reich (2004), the zombie porn Otto; or Up with Dead (2008) and LA Zombie (2010) and the more gentle Gerontophilia (2013). He has firmly established himself as the most thought-provoking and audacious porn filmmakers in the world, often treading the fine line between art and sexploitation, between entertainment and socio-political commentary, between pleasure and scrutiny. You can find more information about his work by visiting his website here.
We talked to LaBruce about his relationship with Berlin, radical feminists, 90-degree lines for erections, conservative gays, pseudo-liberal politics, Draconian anti-pornography legislation in the UK, Canada and the US, what role he would give to the “hot” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and much more. LaBruce’s views are breath of fresh air in a world intoxicated by the heady winds of neo-conservatism, particularly given Trump much-feared election win this morning.
DMovies – Berlin is almost like a second home to you. You have been living and working here intermittently for more than two decades. Can you tell us a little bit about this relationship with the city?
Bruce LaBruce – I always had a romance with Berlin even before I came here. When I was in the punk scene in Toronto, Berlin was some sort of Mecca, a place where you had to go at least once in your lifetime. It was serendipitous that I met with Jürgen Brüning, when he was a video and film curator for an art gallery in Buffalo. Because of that connection I ended coming to Berlin. I met him in 1989, and he brought me to Berlin after I made my first feature film in 1991. I immediately fell in love with the city. The wall was just coming down, so I still got to experience the divided city. I used to go and show my films in the East with a friend called Michael, an avantgarde Super 8 filmmaker. The East Germans were really hungry for weird and experimental work.
DM – Has Berlin changed since you first came here in 1991? Is it still as vibrant as back then, and does it continue to inspire you?
BLB – Certain things never change. I first came to Moviemento in 1991, and here we are again! Certain parts of the city remain exactly the same. Of course certain districts have become gentrified, there has been a foreign invasion since – particularly people from Scandinavia, England and the US. The fact that it’s a city of perpetual night, the extremes, the bohemian side and also the sexual hedonism remain unchanged. These are qualities which are becoming increasingly difficult to find in other major cities. Bohemian places like Vancouver and San Francisco are becoming quickly sanatised, bourgeois and rich, and that’s disappointing.
DM – Berlin was home to the Roaring Twenties nearly 100 years ago. Do you think the city is still as progressive as it was back then? Will we see the Roaring Twenty Twenties in a few years?
BLB – I think it’s kind of getting a Disneyland feel because of American and British influence. Some sort of decadent sexual Disneyland. This diminishes the authenticity and spontaneity of the scene.
DM – Does Berlin want to claim the sexual Disneyland title from Amsterdam?
BLB – That changed a long time ago. Amsterdam has been modernised and commercialised that it’s hardly recognisable. The Red Light District is now vestigial, just a tourist attraction. And I don’t mean sex tourism; people go there just to look at the prostitutes sitting at the windows. Same with Zurich. The old and gritty Red Light District is shrinking and shrinking.
DM – Are you dealing with the subject of immigration in your work?
BLB – Yes! The new short film that I’m working on for Erika Lust is a porn movie entitled Refugees Welcome. It’s about a Syrian refugee who has sex with a Czech boy in Berlin.
DM – Let’s move across the Channel. You have probably heard about the recent law changes in Britain, when they had a large face-sitting protest outside Parliament. They have now banned numerous sexual acts in pornography, including not just face-sitting, but also water sports, caning, verbal abuse and female ejaculation (but not male). Is this an infringement of your artistic freedom, and does it mean that you won’t be making any films in Britain any time soon?
BLB – Oh, I can see that. Because we obviously have an epidemic of female ejaculation taking place right now. My films have been sistematically censored in the UK. If you can an early VHS of my movies that were released in Britain, they are all hacked to pieces. And my movies aren’t even extreme porn. The distributor would often turn a sex scene into a still montage without my knowledge, where they would cut out all the naughty bits. So that’s something I had to live with.
In Britain you also have this 90-degree line for erections. So people started shooting at an angle so it looked like the erected penis was only at 45 degrees. I filmed my gay Neo-Nazi porn in London in 1998, and Jürgen had to smuggle in all the Nazi memorabilia. But then we posted it to Germany. So if I had to make another film in Britain, I would probably do the same. I would shoot it there, but then post it somewhere else so I wouldn’t have to worry about these laws. Also, nowadays I make films that are not sexually explicit. So it would depend on the film.
Canada was well ahead of Britain in the 1980s and 1990s [in terms of censorship], when the government brought in Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin to draft anti-porn legislation. So you couldn’t cum on anyone’s face. This law ultimately led to Andrea Dworkin’s own books being banned. This is a good indicator of how smart she was.
There is a horrible law that they are trying to pass in California, it’s called Proposition 60. It could make people liable to prosecution for even making porn.
DM – Do the British like your films, or are they too prudish and uncomfortable with anything “too close to the bone”?
BLB – Sex in Britain is quite kinky. Because of boarding schools, there’s a lot of fetish, there’s the “prim and proper” veneer, and a lot of dark stuff going on underneath. London can be a raunchy city, I went to this sex club for a fashion shoot – I think it was called The Back Street Bar – and there were loads of guys walking around naked and having sex with each other in the bar, in public.
But there is now a wave of moralism with sex, and that’s not just in the UK. It’s a backlash, the resurgence of anti-porn feminism.
DM – Has the way gay people engage with your films changed?
BLB – Even in the 1990s, my films were disregarded by a certain gay orthodoxy because they couldn’t accept my portrayal of homosexuality. That’s because I was dealing with very kinky characters, who had an uneasy relationship with their own sexuality and homosexual identity, and also marginal characters such as skinheads. The bourgeois gay wasn’t interested in my work.
I sense a certain moralism in the gay world, too. That’s because of the assimilation movement: gay marriage, kids, the military, even transsexuals colluding with the medical establishment. For me things haven’t changed much. The people who liked my films back then, still do. But I’m vexed by this new gay moralism. There’s a lot of people who think that you shouldn’t have multiple partners, or indulge in extreme practices.
DM – Earlier this year you played the role of the Canadian Prime Minister in the film Boris without Beatrice, by Denis Còté. Britain perceives the current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a very progressive leader. If you were Prime Minister, would your agenda be similar to Trudeau’s?
BLB – Trudeau is a deceptive figurehead of liberalism. Compared to the previous Prime Minister, who was an extreme right wing dick, Trudeau of course seems quite liberal. He’s only been in power for a year, and he’s already breaking all sorts of campaign promises. He’s already cut funds for organisations that help people with hepatitis C and HIV, and for indigenous people who have a lot of health problems. That has a huge impact on marginalised groups. He’s still very gung-ho with military intervention in the Middle East. He’s by no means a liberal dream.
If I was Prime Minister I would be the first anarcho-syndicalist head-of-government. I would decentralise government. Canada is the evil empire. It has this veneer of being benevolent and benign country that’s about peace. It’s like the Switzeland of the Americas. But this really isn’t true. Canada has horrible exploitative mining companies all over the world, particularly in Africa. If you dig into what they are doing, they are colluding with despotic regimes that used forced labour. Plus the way we treat our own indigenous people. I would change all of that.
DM – Let’s turn things around. If Justin Trudeau was available to play in one of your movies, what role would you give him?
BLB – Well, he’s hot. He’s kind of junior daddy type. He’s tall. For charity, he did a boxing match with a member of parliament, and you can see that he’s pretty hunky. So I would cast him in a junior daddy role.
DM – Just to finish off, can you talk a little bit about The Misandrist? Is you new film taking your fans to places they’ve never been before?
BLB – Yes, the film is about a group of feminists and lesbian separatists. It gave me the opportunity to work with an almost entirely female cast. There are 13 women and two males. I worked with as much female crew as I could, as well. That was a brand new experience for new, the female world with explicit lesbian sex scenes. Unchartered territory. There’s this orgy scene in which I let the girls guide themselves, and do things the way they would do it. At one point, I even left the room! It was a very different process. With a gay male sex, you get a better understanding of the sex they’re having. So I gave the females actresses plenty of autonomy.
DM – Is the film entirely made in Berlin?
BLB – Not at all. There is one scene shot right here, at Moviemento Kino, but the rest was shot in a remote country estate, 200 miles from here, still in Germany.
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