The Reluctant Pornographer - Bruce LaBruce

Cerisaye's Review

If, like me, you relish Labruce’s films you’ll lap up this entertaining memoir from the mid 90s that recounts the controversial actor/director/writer’s experiences of making and selling movies like Super 8 ½ and Hustler White, a behind-the-scenes look at independent filmmaking as well as provocative rants against gay orthodoxy.

However if Labruce’s films, including Raspberry Reich and Skin Flick, leave you baffled or disturbed-and not in a good way- then don’t bother because it’s not going to convert you.  I’m intrigued by a filmmaker who wickedly seeks notoriety with movies that are political and irreverent, funny and erotic and often shocking. 

Most of the book is based on a diary that appeared as a regular column for Exclaim magazine, about Labruce’s glamorous, dissolute life as a ‘famous international faggot’, creator of ‘queercore’ (the underground movement that merged punk with the alternative gay community).  Labruce is a keen propagandist, dedicated pornographer and shameless self-promoter, he says.  Also an international sex-star.  As a director he claims never to ask anyone to do anything on film he wouldn’t do himself.  Which leaves plenty of latitude.

Labruce describes himself as ‘postqueer’ and even ‘anti-gay’.  An inveterate non-conformist, he became alienated from a gay community cold and uninviting as the straight world that rejected an effeminate boy.  In life and work he rejects an emasculated gay identity, repackaging gay men as non-threatening and sexless, and mainstream gay movies that advocate a monolithic, sanitised picture of gay experience to reflect a new gay elite, safe and bland, with family values aping hetero norms- so no gay marriage (though he admits to fantasy weddings with celebrity crushes).  Doesn’t THAT explain a lot about his movies?!

Bruce Labruce was originally a character created for public consumption, someone he longed to be.  As is often the way, the puppet took over the act so everyone, including Labruce, believes this image is the real person.  Though Labruce says he’s happy to be gay and wouldn’t have it any other way, what he really wants is for the world to love him, to accept who and what he is:  a reluctant pornographer, an innocent farmboy from Ontario who didn’t lose his virginity until he was 23, who had a healthy wholesome ‘Waltons’ childhood.

I enjoyed the anecdotes and gossip, Labruce’s evocation of his frenzied, penurious yet hedonistic lifestyle, telling how difficult it is to be a guerrilla filmmaker and find time and energy for love- yes, surprisingly (though maybe not if you’ve seen Hustler White with that long mankiss on the beach), he’s a romantic.  Also witty and personable, a clever raconteur who writes like he’s talking directly to you, breathless and rather pleased with himself, charming and subversive, excellent company, though maybe not someone you’d ask home to tea with your parents. 

There’s a serious side behind sordid tales of casual sex, porn stars and hustlers, drugs and jet-setting.  Labruce laments loss of the rebellious, wild and impulsive nature of the early gay movement, superseded by a kind of gay political correctness that dictates what’s acceptable- he, of course, isn’t, and doesn’t he LOVE that!  Homosexuality, he says, used to be about accepting those who are different, celebrating sexual individualism, not trying to impose assimilation to gain acceptance. There is no common gay experience any more than all straight men are the same, so is there any such thing as a gay community? 

It’s all very thought-provoking, a bit disconcerting, like his films that throw Marxist critique in alongside hardcore porn.  He’s bitchy and camp, sometimes like an attention-seeking toddler throwing a tantrum just to get noticed.  But Labruce is never dull.

I don’t think I know the man any better, he’s too used to playing a part, but I enjoyed his book.  I’m now trying to track down the uncut version of Super 8 ½.

P.S. I’m SO glad to hear someone agreeing with what LadyM and I said about the execrable Jeffrey!