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Artist Vaginal Davis Interrogates Filmmaker Bruce LaBruce

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Editor’s Note: Genderqueer performance artist, ‘zine queen, independent curator and OG “blacktress” Vaginal Davis recently interviewed transgressive homocore filmmaker Bruce LaBruce. The two olde friends engaged in a lively discussion centered on hot gossip, bad reviews, rebellious female stars and LaBruce’s latest celluloid provocation, The Misandrists, currently playing the international festival circuit.

This is the first of two installments.

By Vaginal Davis

I love Bruce “Judy” LaBruce. I can’t believe we’ve known each other for more than 30 plus years now. The first five years in our relationship were only through snail mail. Beautiful, long and engaging letters filled with photos, drawings and ephemera which, looking back, also served as a form of therapy so that the maladjusted could rule. We’ve also collaborated together on numerous art, film and stage projects like Blame Canada, Platinum Oasis, Visions of Excess and the Philosophy of Gifts, CHEAP Piano Bar, Truth or Nair, Super 8 ½, Hustler White, The Bad Breast and my faves CHEAP Blacky (her first stage production), Macho Family Romance and The Three Faces of Women.

Ours has been a difficult friendship at times. Bruce is selfish, egotistical and bratty. And those are her good qualities.

I caught up with Judy (my nickname for her, as she resembles Judy Garland during the Mickey Dean years) while she was in Mexico for the Guadalajara International Film Festival where her latest film The Misandrists, a quasi remake of Don Siegel’s 1971 film The Beguiled was being shown.  Starring in The Misandrists is Susanne Sachsse (the fearless leader of kollektiv CHEAP in Berlin) who was also being honored in Mexico with a queer icon award. Susanne is also the star of Bruce’s companion film, the hysterically funny Ulrike’s Brain.misandristsposter

Vaginal Davis: We both in our own way work with archives and archiving. Your films are built on a historical sense of film archiving via homage. Archives are gossip, and gossip is the one true endless archive. Do you see your work in terms of not perpetuating the current system of production especially in terms of so-called creative and cultural capital? Where do you see The Misandrists fitting in?

Bruce LaBruce: Gossip is one of the highest forms of human communication, as your CHEAP Collective knows only too well, but these days even professional gossip columnists seem to be controlled and co-opted by the industry. It’s all part of the neo-liberal strategy, to have the media controlled by only a few corporations, and to force their employees to capitulate slavishly to their reactionary agenda under threat of being fired and replaced by someone more willing to conform. Gone are the days of gossip mavens Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, free-floating female radicals who virtually controlled the industry! But gossip cannot be contained by the elite, and the internet flourishes with scribes such as yourself who float the seedy seeds of dissent and discontent. The Misandrists maybe be dismissed by industry elites, but it is getting love from international film festivals and critics that still appreciate more underground, cult, and genre films. With upcoming screenings at the Istanbul International Film Festival and BAFICI, the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, The Sitges Film Festival, and a competition slot at the prestigious LUCCA Film Festival in Tuscany, the movie is getting around. It will be seen at many queer fests as well, but it certainly doesn’t help when an ideologically-entrenched, gay conservative film festival like Frameline in San Francisco refuses to screen The Misandrists because it’s a film about lesbians directed by a gay man! This stripe of old-fashioned identity politics is truly the enemy of cinema and queers alike!

VD:  Your latest film The Misandrists has received some excellent reviews.  Personally I prefer bad reviews.  It means that the reviewer was really paying close attention in order to trash you. I was reading this doozy you received for The Misandrists after the world premiere at the Berlinale Film Festival from this Hollywood Reporter writer named David Rooney. Do you like bad reviews as much as I do?

Bruce Polaroid by Scott PilgrimBLAB: I am the queen of bad reviews, there’s no question about that. I may be one of the few filmmakers who can claim bragging rights for getting a “below zero stars” review: The New York Post giddily declared in its headline “Super 8 1/2 in Negative Numbers”! One critic declared that my first feature film, No Skin Off My Ass, was “shot in a snowstorm and recorded in a tin can.” But it wasn’t a totally negative review. He also declared, “Someone should give Bruce LaBruce $1.98 to make another movie”! I can still appreciate an over-the-top bad review, but somehow they’re not quite as funny anymore, and they’re more mean-spirited. It’s especially irksome considering how horrible Hollywood movies are now. I have continued to make mostly low-budget movies with sexually explicit scenes, but thanks to digital technology my work now has much better production values. (When I finally made a larger-budgeted movie – Gerontophilia – without explicit sex in it, Variety, which has always dismissed me for making dirty, pornographic films, literally declared in its headline that I had “gone limp”!) Such reviewers no longer have the excuse to dismiss my films because they are “poorly made” or “a technical shambles,” so they find other excuses, always refusing to address the actual meaning or content of the film. (Contrarian film critic Armond White was one of the few critics who actually addressed the race angle in my film Gerontophilia, for which he wrote a great review.) With such patriarchally entrenched trade rags like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, it is actually quite sinister. It’s in their interests, both ideologically and in terms of influencing or limiting distribution of films like mine, to discourage people from watching movies that don’t fit into their reactionary, conservative world view. (Many of them are limousine liberals, even worse than conservatives in their dull reinforcement of the status quo.) They become the gatekeepers of public decorum and taste, and they turn up their noses at anything that really pushes their buttons or threatens them, effectively attempting to quash certain films, discouraging distributors from taking up the challenge to distribute “difficult” movies that don’t fit their cookie-cutter formulae.(I’m so tired of what I call “coming of age porn,” especially in gay cinema.) Distributors are particularly unadventurous these days, only willing to take on strictly narrative films with name actors, smaller replicas of Hollywood studio films. Obviously with The Misandrists, a film that takes direct aim at the patriarchal system – and at their genitalia – they can only ridicule and dismiss. But I have to say it does make me think I am still doing my job correctly. Watching men march out of the castration scene is very invigorating!

Part Two of this interview continues tomorrow.

(photo credits: b/w duo by Mr. Pinky, LaBruce portrait by Scott Pilgrim)

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