Filmmaker Bruce LaBruce On Rocking the Gay Boat

Courtesy of Bruce LaBruce

Canadian provocateur Bruce LaBruce made waves this year with his film Gerontophilia, which was basically Love With the Proper Mature Person. In the cross-generational film, a young lifeguard named Lake gets aroused while giving an old man mouth to mouth. (Two girls observe this and look horrified. They weren’t the only ones, lol.) Lake ends up taking his dream job in an old folks’ home, and though his girlfriend decides he’s a saint, Lake comes to realize he’s actually more of a fetishist. (She still admires him as a revolutionary, declaring, “You’re fighting against nature!”) When Lake bolts the effeminate and witty Mr. Peabody out of the home, there ensues a road trip/buddy movie/love story that’s been called Harold and Claude, but which radiates LaBruce’s singular style. After all, he’s the Canadian director of provocations like No Skin Off My Ass and Hustler White, and he was the subject of a sweeping retrospective at MoMA earlier this year. I ran snippets of my LaBruce interview in May, but here’s the fleshed out chat, focusing on his career and why he aimed his lens at the phenomenon of dating people who’ve been around the block a lot of times.

Musto: Hi, Bruce. Do you like dabbling in topics that most filmmakers are afraid to address?

LaBruce: Yeah, for me it’s always been an impulse. Coming from the old “velvet rage” days where it was more of a life or death kind of thing, where you were fighting against a really homophobic, hostile environment--that’s the generation I grew up in. So it always seemed like a natural response.

So you grew up in Indiana?

Practically. I grew up in rural Canada.

Have things changed up there?

They have. In high school in the ‘80s, you couldn’t be out. I would have been dead. And now I know people who are out. That’s the thing we fought so hard to happen, but there’s still a lot to get pissed off about as well. Assimilation is discouraging some of the misbehaved people to shut up. It’s the unruly ones and the misfits and the wild children that spice things up and make things interesting, and you don’t want to lose that.

Speaking of misfits, Gerontophilia’s lead, Lake, at first thinks he’s sick before becoming more comfortable with his feelings, no?

It’s almost a metaphor for anyone who thinks there’s something wrong with them, a weird sexual attraction they can’t explain, that the general public would frown on or even consider horrible or grotesque. It’s realistic that he would think there is something wrong with him.

The intimacy between him and that man is presented with restraint. 

I’ve explored the pornographic a lot in my career. I was trying to do something unexpected—being shocking by not shocking. I wanted to try something that maybe reaches a wider audience, but has the same kind of impetus that my other films have, which is making fetishes human and romantic. Presenting the misfit characters as romantic--as people that have the same emotional lives as everyone else.

Gerontophilia

How did you cast 18-year-old Pier-Gabriel Lajoie as Lake?

He’s so cute. He was a French Canadian kid who plays hockey. He didn’t even really know what a fetish was. But he was so sweet natured and innocent, and that was a quality I was looking for. He was probably one of the least trained actors I looked at, but the rest were a little older and I wanted someone who read as 18. It was his angelic quality that nailed it. When he cries at the end, it was really endearing because I didn’t even expect it. Now he’s a big fashion model.

Have you gotten any outraged or disturbed responses to this film, or has it all been lovely? We don’t want you getting too accepted.

I wouldn’t say outrage. I think the film is subtly subversive. When you think about those transgressions I mentioned…and by the way, it was colorblind casting. Walter Gordon (who plays Mr. Peabody) happened to be black. I didn’t write it that way, I just cast the best actor for the part. And all the characters are pretty sexually open. I think I presented it in a way that makes it much less abrasive than my other films. I did have people tell me their friends were disgusted.

Aha!

Yeah. But nothing where half the audience marches out en masse.

When was it that you felt you may have gone too far?

The neo Nazi porn. There were two versions. Skin Flick [1999], which was more soft core, to be shown in theatres and at film festivals, and Skin Gang, which was more hard core and marketed as a porn movie. But it was the soft core version that drew the picketers to the ICA [the Institute of Contemporary Arts] in London. That was the first time I had picketers and headlines.

…That’s always what’s intrigued me as an artist—to get to taboo areas, find out what the boundaries are, and see how far you can push them.

GIMME MOORE, GIMME MOORE

Another wonderful boundary pusher, Michael Moore, had a holiday get-together in his Upper West Side apartment, where we ate kale and talked politics. Moore--who’s new doc, Where To Invade Next, shows how other countries often treat their citizens better than ours--told the crowd that he was finally able to give his address out for this party because “the death threats have plateaued.” Sitting with Moore in a vestibule, I congratulated him on having posed in front of Trump Towers with a sign that said “We Are All Muslim,” a stunt that nabbed more “favorites” than most people’s entire careers. “Trump used to be such a pussycat,” he told me. “Now he’s so tough.” I informed him that Trump has kissed my ass, killing me with kindness by saying I do good work, but Moore reminded me that while he does do that, there’s a point where he’ll turn and get vicious. Yikes! Meanwhile, Moore isn’t crazy for Hillary Clinton either--“She’s a hawk,” he said, adding that she hasn’t rocked the electorate the way Obama did in ‘08—but he likes the way she’s thrown her hubby under the bus a couple of times, and he feels any Democrat will win since Trump has alienated the key voting demographics (young people, people of color, and women). Well, hopefully he will then become a pussycat again and be put out in an alley.

Isabella Rossellini in Joy

A ROOM WITH A VIEW TO AWARDS

The Golden Globe nominated Room is a riveting film about a woman and her son in captivity—the kind of movie that makes you glad you don’t live in a studio. At a Tribeca Café luncheon for the film, host Sofia Coppola said she was touched by the way it captured motherhood, and also by the great performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. She obviously took away the right things, since Room’s director Lenny Abrahamson told the crowd, “The film is not about containment. It’s about parenting and the bond between mother and child. We’re used to seeing romantic love put under pressure. This does the same for parental love, and shows how strong it is.”

And apparently that works in reverse too. Abrahamson told me that his real-life son helped him with research and preparation for the film’s crucial scene involving a rug. Great kid!

Speaking of family: The Joy lunch at La Grenouille was a lively affair with the cast  enthusing over the familial setup David O. Russell creates on set by often using actors he’s worked with before. Isabella Rossellini—who plays a sort of dark angel for Jennifer Lawrence’s entrepreneur character—smilingly related, “My kids say, ‘You’re scary sometimes.’ Well, I saw the movie and I scared myself.”

Later, Robert De Niro (who plays Lawrence’s dad and Rossellini’s boyfriend) talked about how a lot of the great directors through time have used ongoing ensembles, like Bergman and Fellini. “And Rossellini,” chimed in Isabella, understandably, as everyone laughed. “She scares me, by the way,” joked De Niro, as the laughter swelled. David O. Russell reminded me that he once served me as a cater water before he got into directing. “What’s your secret?” he asked. “Do you have a cryogenic chamber?” “No,” I replied, “just a portrait in the attic”—plus a vat of Vitamin E oil.

The eternally young Diane Ladd—who plays Jennifer Lawrence’s encouraging grandmother—also had nice things to say to me, suggesting I may have been a good luck charm for her. See, I met Ladd years ago when she had already long wanted to play the life story of Martha Mitchell, the Nixon-era Attorney General’s wife who drank, talked, enchanted, and imploded. “After 30 years and two and a half million dollars and hocking my house,” Diane said, “you may have brought me luck. In this business, they might not like their mothers—the way they treat women!—but it might be finally happening.” And with her genius applied to that role, I can already smell the awards coming in.

fiddler on the roof joan marcus

FIDDLER, ANNIE, AND THEN SOME

Bartlett Sher has been lauded for what the critics have called rethought out and penetrating revivals (South Pacific, The King and I), and now he brings in his very own Fiddler on the Roof, full of Bartlett Sher touches on the roof and elsewhere. The 1964 musical based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories about a poor Russian milkman trying to hold onto tradition cannily mixes cuteness (Tevye coyly chats with God a lot) and darkness (horrifyingly enough, the Jews are forced out of their village), with flavorful music and sweeping emotion. This version eschews having a volcanic personality at the core, like the original Tevye, Zero Mostel, who was not only explosive, he ad libbed like a house on fire.

Five-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein—a Broadway favorite—has been flamboyant in other roles, but here he’s direct and humanly scaled, basically a marshmallow when it comes to caving into his daughters’ wishes, though in Act Two, he gets to show more fiery pride. Scaling Tevye down makes this more of an ensemble piece, and other Sher fingerprints will be worth talking about for the rest of the season—from the framing device to the Chagall-esque flying fiddler to the suspended houses. But there’s no argument that “Miracle of Miracles,” “To Life” and the bottle dance in “Sunrise, Sunset” are zestily done. Still, feel free to call me sacrilegious as I reveal that I liked the last Fiddler revival (with Alfred Molina) and let me continue my ostracism by adding that I adored The Color Purple with Fantasia.

THE SUN’LL COME OUT

When I heard that there was a non-Equity touring production of Annie stopping at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, my heart didn’t exactly soar, but I have to admit I ended up exclaiming, “Leapin’ lizards! I enjoyed that!” The show’s lyricist and original director Martin Charnin helmed this production, putting together a handsome, energetic show that mines the humor and warmth from the material, with no “Maybe” about it. Issie Swickle brings indomitability and pipes to the part of the title orphan, Lynn Andrews is campily funny and terrifically sung as the outrageously wicked Miss Hannigan, and Gilgamesh Taggett strikes the right poignant chords as Annie’s beloved sugar daddy. The show holds up better than in the last Broadway revival, which strangely went for naturalism; this time, it’s pure candy colors as you realize that parental love can come in unexpected places, and if it comes with a huge wallet attached, even better.

Also a winner, the centennial celebration of Edith Piaf’s birth filled Town Hall with a diversity of talented performers delivering loving renditions of the little sparrow’s signature songs. Among the many highlights were Gay Marshall’s full throttle French belting on “Pigalle,” “La Foule,” and “L’Accordeoniste,” Little Annie’s hypnotically dreamy jazz (“If You Go Away,” “Autumn Leaves”), and my close personal friend Elaine Paige’s powerhouse ballads (“Je Ne Regrette Rien” and “Hymne a L’amour,” the latter sounding like it would have been ripe for a Dusty Springfield cover). My favorite of all was two-time Tony nominee Vivian Reed, who made three-act Greek dramas out of two lesser known songs (“Heaven Have Mercy” and “Mon Dieu”), to which she brought grace, boldness, and amazing notes. Star this woman in another Broadway show immediately.

The next night, Michael Feinstein started a run at his own club, Feinstein’s/54 Below, where he’s applying his pristine vocals to holiday classics, Broadway songs (a beautiful version of “50%”), and a hilarious parody of “New York, New York,” which involves how utterly sick Feinstein is of hearing that song, down to the bathroom stall at Saks. Feinstein has a wonderful way of attacking a tune, down to the big finish, and he also makes sure to intersperse personal touches and jokes through the act. (“Check out my website, MichaelBuble.com.”)

In the course of his banter the night I went, Feinstein remarked that Broadway great Elaine Stritch used to hide in the back of the room during his shows, then leave “before there was any semblance of a bill,” but she was a dear friend who could be extremely generous when needed. In a giving move of his own, Feinstein brought up a 19-year-old singer—Lucas Debard—who did a great version of “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” then updated it with lyrics like, “I’m gonna sit right down and tweet myself a Twitter.” Debard happens to be the 2015 Great American Songbook Youth Ambassador, representing the charity founded by Feinstein. After Debard got a huge ovation, Feinstein cracked, “My career is over.” My career should be so over.

And suddenly I started a whole new career as a dance lover, going to City Center to see the Alvin Ailey troupe treat us to works like “Awakening” and “Open Doors,” which were swirling, seductive, and utterly thrilling. Also dazzling is the American Dance Machine For the 21st Century show at the Joyce, where a troupe of talented performers gives us showstopper after showstopper from the annals of choreographic history. After a rousing tribute to the father of theatrical jazz dancing, Jack Cole, there’s a luscious “Dream Ballet” from Oklahoma!, a sassy “Sweet Georgia Brown” from Bubbling Brown Sugar, a delicious “Turkey Lurkey Time” from Promises, Promises, and some socko numbers from A Chorus Line. By the end of the night, I felt like I’d seen all the best parts of my favorite shows done to a T. And with that, I’m ready for the 22nd Century—or at least 2016. Happy New Year!

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