Bruce LaBruce: ‘Sometimes there’s a real love underlying fetishism’
The director’s latest film, Gerontophilia, a kind of gay Harold and Maude, is more accessible than the radical films he made his name with. LaBruce’s style might have mellowed slightly, but he hasn’t
‘Gerontophilia’ depicts the romance between a pretty young care attendant (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) and his 81-year-old charge, Mr Peabody (Walter Borden)
Bruce LaBruce: ‘My friends and I abandoned the gay movement for being too bourgeois as long ago as the 1980s.’ Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
It seems only appropriate that Bruce LaBruce has a shock of ginger hair. Frankly, we would have been disappointed with a more common pigmentation.
“They called me cherry blossom at school,” he smiles. “They didn’t mean it nicely.”
LaBruce exploded on the cinematic landscape during the early 1990s. At a moment when the New Queer Cinema of Gregg Araki, Todd Haynes, Cheryl Dunye and Donna Deitch was exploring life beyond the confines of heteronormativity, LaBruce’s milieu remained resolutely underground in form and content. His use of a pointedly degraded aesthetic, stilted B-movie acting and sexually explicit material owed more, by his own reckoning, to the post-punk DIY queercore subculture than it did to New Queer Cinema.
LaBruce made dirty-looking pictures such as Hustler White (1996), a wildly imaginative remake of Sunset Boulevard, replete with hustlers and amputee sex. He was the hippest of them all: the late Kurt Cobain declared that LaBruce’s No Skin Off My Ass (1993) was his favourite film.
Queer movies, including LaBruce’s edgier ones, had arrived. “The 1990s felt like a moment of real liberation,” says LaBruce. “In the 1980s, when the gay movement was struggling with Aids, it was – to put it mildly – a speed bump. But for a moment in the 1990s there were options. There was less policing or language and political correctness. It was a more experimental or libertine culture. It felt like homosexuals were accepted. Now it feels more like a certain kind of homosexual is accepted.”
The Palm Queer
La Bruce, a former student of the late, great Marxist film theorist Robin Wood, has never forgotten the political roots of the gay movement. He is particularly delighted to have been on the Cannes jury that presented Pride – a wonderful drama about the gay community’s support for the British miners’ strikes of the 1980s – with this year’s Queer Palm.
“Robin Wood was my Marxist feminist mentor and a very passionate social activist,” says LaBruce. “And I came out of the punk movement. I think the same thing is true for the feminist movement and the gay movement and the black movement. They were coming from the same place in the 1970s. There were Marxist-based philosophies. They believed in social equality. They believed in class warfare.
“And all of those movements have really capitulated to capitalism. Instead of fighting corrupt institutions, they want to participate.”
It must be odd for a radical thinker such as LaBruce to watch his former comrades embrace old-fashioned bourgeois institutions such as marriage.
“I think there’s a bit of overcompensation going on,” he nods. “There’s a willingness to participate in all these conservative structures and institutions. And in the movement’s fervour to be accepted on an equal footing, they’re not really paying attention to what they’re gaining equal footing with. These are the kind of institutions that we were once diametrically opposed to.”
He sighs. “But my friends and I abandoned the gay movement for being too bourgeois as long ago as the 1980s.”