A foreword by James V. Thomas
Before organizing this interview, I was approached by my dear friend Charles Anastase asking me if I would be interested in speaking with Bruce for an interview for Sky Blue. How could I not say yes to such a proposition? After briefly speaking with Bruce, I reached out to Rachel Halickman, a new friend of mine, and co-founder of Hot Copy in Paris. She was more than delighted at the idea. Without futher ado, please enjoy this piece.
Having lived in Paris now for some years, I hold a firm place in my heart for the eccentric talent bred in my home country of Canada - and particularly for those who choose to work in Quebec. Our local enigmas are often immortalized not only through their accomplishments, but by their distinct disobedience of American pop culture norms. No one exemplifies this with more moxie than the notorious Bruce LaBruce.
An incendiary icon and quintessential queer king of camp, LaBruce has been (for lack of a better word) exposing the world to his x-rated fantasies for the better part of the last three decades. His films blur the line between cinema and pornography, groping the sweet spot where desire and fetish become interchangeable. To say his work is referential would be an understatement, boisterously parading its immersive inspirations with shameless enthusiasm. His most recent film, Saint Narcisse, is no different, exploring the taboo of twincest in a mythological context. His creative exploits are frequently condemned and picketed by the right wing masses, though that seems to have only added fuel to the fire. In a society smothered by “respectability politics”, Bruce LaBruce gives us the breath of steamy air we’ve all be gasping for.
Rachel: Saint-Narcisse is a twin-centric love story of self-obsession, rebellion, and ultimately of redemption. What compelled you to tell this story?
Bruce: My movies often take as their subject some sort of fetish or taboo. Fetishes fascinate me as they are generally regarded in society as something pathological or disgusting, even though most of us have some kind of fetish or other, defined by Freud as anything that doesn’t contribute directly to the procreative act. According to that definition, even a kiss is a fetish. Most fetishes seem to exhibit a kind of reverence for the love object, identifying it as something sacred, and even may involve a romantic attachment to it. My movies attempt to define and celebrate this romance. The starting point for Saint-Narcisse was the narcissistic fetish of oneself, which is articulated in the Narcissus myth, and more particularly by the phenomenon of twincest. Twincest is a well-defined genre in the porn world, and the twincest taboo in cultural is in a way regarded as the most « acceptable » or « understandable » form of incest : when you are confronted with your own doppelgänger, it makes sense that you would have intimacy with it, and possible a sexual attraction. So applying twincest to the Narcissus myth gave me the opportunity to explore these ideas further. The movie is also about Freud’s idea of “Family Romance”, which is essentially a term to describe the sexual tensions that exist within the nuclear family. Beyond the incestuous relationship between the twins, there is the more symbolic incest between Beatrice, the mother of the twins and an Earth Mother figure, and Irene, the daughter figure (Irene being the daughter of Beatrice’s dead lover, Agathe, who happens to look like Irene’s twin), and between Andrew, the symbolic Father, and Daniel, one of the twins. The movie explores what happens when these almost arbitrary social contracts and taboos are contravened. When the demented Father figure is eliminated, we are left with a polyamorous family at the end. The audience is left to consider the implications of these transgressions.
Is there a reason you frequently choose to work in Quebec?
Originally I started making work in Quebec because I couldn’t get bigger budgeted films financed in Anglo-Canada. I failed to get one great project, about the photographer Wilhelm Von Gloeden, financed, and when I was also turned down multiple times for my movie Gerontophilia, my producers and I found a Quebec producer, Nicolas Comeau, who financed both Gerontophilia and Saint-Narcisse in Quebec through SODEC and Quebec Telefilm. As you know, Quebec has a very rich film history, and its appreciation of cinema is more aligned with European art house cinema. It is more embedded in the culture, and concerned with more adult themes, which includes being more open to frank representations of sexuality and nudity. Saint-Narcisse is also my homage of sorts to Quebecois cinema of the 70’s. I was influenced as a kid by the films from Quebec that I would see on CBC, the national broadcaster, including the films of Paul Almond, who made a trilogy of films with his then-wife, Genevieve Bujold. In one film I saw, The Act of the Heart (1970), Bujold plays a young girl from the country who moves to Montreal and ends up having sex with a priest, played by Donald Sutherland, on the alter of the church. At the end she goes to a park, douses herself with gasoline, and sets herself on fire. This and other films of the era were my introduction to such themes as the intersection of religious and sexual energy, the extreme fetishes and perversions of Catholic saints, and represented the beginning of my pornographic imagination.
We’d love to hear about your upcoming porn film. And who is Skye Blue ;) ?
The Affairs of Lidia came about when the Erika Lust Company approached me to make a feature film for them. I had already made three 30 minute films for them which turned out nicely, so this seemed like a natural progression. I’ve always wanted to make a film using the fashion industry as a backdrop, so this seemed like as good a time as any! I felt it was high time for a fashion/porn crossover. The movie is a kind of pastiche or mostly affectionate satire of the fashion world, campily reveling in its cliches. We shot it in 8 days in Montreal last Oct/Nov during COVID restrictions, so it was very challenging. I cast the two female leads, Skye Blue, who plays Lidia, and Vanna Bardot, based on Lust’s recommendations. Skye has been a Penthouse model, and in fact I wanted my movie to have a slightly Penthouse look and atmosphere, but more from the point of view and sensibility of female characters, a Lust trademark. The three male characters are played by porn stars Sean Ford, Drew Dixon, and Markus Kage, who mostly do gay porn but are into crossing over from time to time. The film is largely bisexual in nature, with some polyamory thrown in for good measure. The movie also features the wonderful Montreal trans actor Pascale Drevillon. Skye was extremely professional and fun to work with, even though we really put her through the paces with a lot of complicated dialogue. She balanced the sex and narrative scenes beautifully.
Do you prefer working on feature films or pornos? And what is it like to switch gears from one to the other?
For me, the distinction between making porn and indie feature films is somewhat moot. I started out making what I considered sexually explicit art films in the early 90’s, but some people considered them pornographic. Since I was being called a pornographer anyway, and subject to the same glass ceiling as pornographers, I started making porn movies for my producer, Jurgen Bruning, who started the first ever porn company, Cazzo Film, in Berlin. I made four indie feature films for him with the understanding that we would release both a hardcore version for the porn market and a soft-core version (still somewhat explicit) more suitable for film festival and theatrical release. Then I segued making indie arthouse films like Gerontophilia, The Misandrists, and Saint-Narcisse which had transgressive or provocative themes and scenes, but were not intended for a porn audience. I also insisted on continuing to make porn movies for the likes of Cockyboys and Erika Lust. So I really feel like I’m able to move back and forth between the two worlds, which isn’t easy to do. The indie features generally have larger budgets and more shooting days, and the emphasis is on the narrative and aesthetics. The porn films are still relatively high-end, and narrative and aesthetics are important, but you also have to devote equal time to the sex scenes, which have their own conventions and rules of engagement.
Which article of clothing could you never live without?
A black bomber jacket. I currently have three, one with a LUCIFER appliqué on the back, purchased from Kenneth Anger.
What's the story behind that transaction?
Like all my stories, it's a long one. I'm a big Kenneth Anger fan, both for his films and for his two Hollywood Babylon books. My character in my movie Hustler White is named Jurgen Anger, the name and character a composite of the producer of the movie (and many of my other features), Jurgen Bruning, and Kenneth Anger. I consider the character a fond homage to Mr. Anger, but I do make a couple of bitchy jokes at his expense. At one point, for example, someone asks me if I am any relation to Kenneth, and I reply drily, "I think not." When my collaborator on the film, Rick Castro, helpfully showed Mr. Anger the movie, Anger said he hated me and my character, and in fact he said he wanted to take me to the desert, throw me on a cactus with barbed spines that open up and prevent you from extracting yourself from them, leave me in the hot sun for three days, and then come back and shoot me between the eyes. I've had to deal with hexes from many dainty Satanists over the years, so I got my Santeria husband to help me repel any incoming spells or curses, but I was always hesitant to meet him in person. When I finally did, a couple of years ago at a Homosurrealism even in LA, I don't think he knew who he was, and I didn't bother to tell him! But I did buy a couple of Lucifer jackets from his handlers to contribute to his continued well-being. He's 95 years old now, so he'll probably outlive me anyway!
And finally, why do you always put your thumb in your mouth in photos?
I don’t put my thumb in my mouth. I put the knuckle of my index finger against my lower lip. It reminds one to suck in one’s cheeks, it conceals any potential double-chin-age, and it gives one an air of thoughtfulness and introspection.
Bruce is also releasing a new book, Photo Ephemera, which is available for pre-order now here. A second volume will follow.
The Affairs of Lidia premiered on April 21st at the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival (BAFICI) and you can stream Saint-Narcisse for free at CBC Gem.