The New Pornographer
By Michael Martin
Bruce LaBruce was born Bryan Bruce on a farm 150 miles northwest of Toronto, the third of six children born to a hunter-trapper and his wife. An older brother died before he was born. 'My parents always said I was the reincarnation of the dead brother, which freaked me out,' he says.
LaBruce knew he was gay 'always' and grew up watching late-night Canadian TV, which was explicit by modern standards. He remembers a formative film starring Genevi've Bujold as a governess who presides over the accidental death of her teenage charge, then sets herself on fire in a public park. (That scene was a pivotal inspiration for Otto.)
He has a good relationship with his parents, but they know nothing about his work other than the fact that they are not allowed to see it. LaBruce has brought his partner home to meet them, and one Christmas brought Gus Van Sant and his boyfriend over for a visit.
'My mother referred to them as 'the boys,' ' he says. 'It's weird, unless you're literally lying in the middle of the living room being fucked up the ass in front of your family, they will not -- if they can -- acknowledge your gayness. There's this veil of denial that goes incredibly deep.'
LaBruce escaped to Toronto's York University, a leftist hot spot, right after high school to study film. He didn't lose his virginity until age 22 and didn't have his first serious boyfriend until he was 30. 'I've always been a slow learner,' he says. 'Always been four to five years behind everyone else.' Attracted to the punk movement, where numerous artists were using Super 8 film -- and where male punks couldn't seem to handle gays or homoerotic imagery -- he was motivated to begin making zines and Super 8 films that were explicitly gay. Inspired by the Warhol Factory member Rod La Rod, he adopted the name Bruce LaBruce after a friend started referring to him as 'La Bruce' -- the diva.
He was alienated by the gay scene early on. 'I used to go to gay bars in the late '80s and wear, like, a swastika earring and a Mohawk, which is, yes, provocative,' he says. 'I'd get thrown out, and there would be homophobic frat boys outside waiting to beat me up. I was always torn between the two subcultures and accepted by neither. It taught me to be autonomous.'
LaBruce doesn't like gay films because, he says, 'they're made by people who aren't that interested in cinema, who are interested in making some point about homosexuality,' which is precisely the criticism that's often lobbed at his films: that they're heavily ideological. 'They are,' LaBruce says, 'but they're cinematic as well. It's about expressing political and ideological points cinematically.' Today, he is supported by grants from the Canadian government and a few patrons.
He is not a fan of gay marriage, although he is himself married: His boyfriend is Cuban and needs immigration sponsorship. 'I'm not a fan of the institution of marriage, gay or straight. I think it's the ultimate sort of conservative institution and it's designed to control people and control their sexuality. It's like a megacorporation.'
Does the world still need a Bruce LaBruce? 'All the more reason to keep pushing,' he says. 'You can still be iconoclastic. I think the problem of the world in general right now is capitulation. Everyone is so willing to capitulate to the consensual reality in terms of everything, in terms of bands now who feel that they have to play the corporate game or filmmakers feeling they have to make some commercial or 'independent' film. The consolidation and control of corporate media makes people feel like they're helpless to do anything but play along. Everyone's a player
now. But I've never really lived in the practical world.'
'Bruce is incredibly original,' says Waters. 'No one copies him. He's created his own genre. People can say Bruce LaBruce''ish. Think Marat/Sade -- an entire fetish named after a person. He's on his way to that. In the future, getting 'Bruced' will mean sex with a skinhead. That's the best thing you can be. If your name becomes a sex act -- that's better than filmmaking."