Interview with Bruce la Bruce > Film-maker - Toronto
Darius James

Darius: Your films are totally watchable.  There are gay characters.  There’s gay sex.  It’s not something I’m accustomed to watching but I enjoy them in spite of that. 

Bruce: I depict sex as being absurd. Not because I particularly try to but just because, obviously, that is the way I do regard sex.  The whole thing about porn, when I got into making porn, what you realize porn is all about creating an illusion, especially Gay porn, but all porn.  It’s this ‘act’ that is spontaneously unfolding before you that is completely seamless.  There’s no anal leakage.  You don’t get a cramp.  You don’t cum prematurely.  Everything goes perfectly smooth.  It has an arc to it.  You cum in this glorious fountain.  Then it’s over.  In my films, because we were so low budget, we didn’t know what we were doing.   In my first three films, I had never worked in porn.  I had never made porn.  We didn’t know how they made porn.  We did it in a very clumsy way.  For us, it was a huge achievement if we could cum in front of the camera.  We were like “Come on, cum!”  And then you cum and it trickles out.  You can’t even see it.  People probably just relate to that because that’s how real sex is.  Real people don’t come in slow motion fountains.
Darius: There was something interesting you said in your interview with J.T. Leroy:
You didn’t choose a super-8 aesthetic.  You chose it because that was what you had.

Bruce: --because it was cheap. And the technology was accessible.

Darius: That also goes back to the whole fanzine aesthetic—

Bruce: Yeah, ‘Do It Yourself’. We did a magazine called, J.D.s, that stood for ‘juvenile delinquent’.   Basically, my friends and I at that time were totally disgusted and over the ‘Gay’ scene, even then, the early to mid ‘eighties.  It was already over.  It wasn’t a radical movement any more.  It had become assimilationist.  The gay scene used to be a whole underground that was an umbrella that covered all sorts of non-conformist behavior—criminal elements; people who were discriminated against because of race. Like early gay bars there was an amazing mixture …it was often waterfront bars in the beginning, because it was sailors, transients and people coming in and out of the city. So that’s where gay bars come out of. That tradition. It was a this meeting place for disenfranchised people and by the 80s it had become sweater bars for bourgeois swingers, and even more the original roots of  the gay movement was all about radical expression, sexual experimentation, gender experimentation and that had pretty much all been lost by the 80s and it was incredibly racist.
So anyway we were totally discussed with the gay scene. And punk was really happening in America. Hardcore was thriving in the mid 80s. So we seguewayed into the punk scene.  And by that point it was the era of the moshpit and this sort of macho like male scene. It was sort of like high school.  All the jocks were in the moshpit and the sissies and girls were standing around watching them. So it wasn’t very subversive. And sexually they were quite conventional. They might have had radical politics in terms of class or being anarchists, but in terms of gender they were quite conventional. So we started this gay punk fanzine that made fun of their sexual conservatism.

Darius: Back to your new film….'the Raspberry Reich'.

Bruce: I would say there are two types of radical sheik. Like in my first film 'No Skin Off My Ass'. The main female character is a underground filmmaker who wants to make this film “Girls of the SLA” but no one will give her the money. And she is doing screen tests for all the female roles. That’s one kind of radical sheik: people who are already involved in subversive or underground movements who are against the status quo or the capital system identify with these radicals for putting their Marxism where their mouth is and actually doing something. Putting praxis over theory and trying to change things in a very material way. So you can romanticize it in that way, which is a very genuine gesture. But then 'the Raspberry Reich' are the bourgeoisie who are the liberals who have a guilty or begrudging kind of sympathy for these people because they remember when they had a fleeting moment in their youth or a flirtation with radicalism, so they pay lip service to supporting someone like the Black Panthers, but when it comes down to dealing with the actual consequences of what they did, then they are very quick to abandon the position…

Darius: Even if you weren’t using the RAF to tell the story. Why would you tell the story?

Bruce: I mean it is about how the left in America is dead. It’s gone. It's stunned into submission. It doesn’t exist. So I’m just using this as an opportunity to bring back that very basic left wing tradition.

Darius: Hear what he is saying!!!

Bruce: I’m critiquing people who just use radicalism as a pose, posture, or fashion statement. But at the same time, I’m romanticizing people who actually have those kinds of ideals and try to act on them. The terrorists in my film are completely inept, they’re bumbling, they get everything wrong, they screw it up and they are kind of endearing, but at least they are trying to do something.

Darius: But it’s a process, people make mistakes, they get it they learn …

Bruce: Yeah sure, and that happens in the film. One character ends up training terrorists in a Palestinian training camp. But the basic premise of the movie was to make a political porn movie. That was a basic thing and it's harkening back to how in the 60s and early 70s radical psychoanalytic theorists like Reich and Marcuse and Artie Lang were saying that sexuality and political radicalism are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other. It has to be about sexual revolution first, before other kinds of revolution because the society is structured around very rigid gender constructions.
So, the star of Raspberry Reich is Susanna Sachse. She’s an East German stage actress who has worked with the Berlin Theater Ensemble.  She told me this amazing story that when she was a schoolgirl in the GDR …

Darius: Jochen told me this same story  …

Bruce: They had a visit from Angela Davis. And she had to paint these sunflowers all week for this visitor. So she was like 'Ugh I have to paint all these stupid sunflowers for this Angela Davis…' but she actually came to her school to talk to them in the GDR.

Darius: Well at least she came …Yeah well you know what … those poor GDR students had to give up their lunch money for Angela Davis’ defense fund, and they didn’t visit. Jochen! Did she?

Jochen Heilek: No I didn’t see her… and I spent a lot of money (laughs)

Bruce: Well it was for a good cause … I'd give up my milk and cookie money for Angela Davis…And talk about glamour. That’s where you can really justify radical sheik with someone like Angela Davis. She was just a goddess, an amazing woman style-wise.  I saw her speak in Toronto 5 or 6 years ago. She is an incredible forceful speaker and her politics have not diluted one iota.

Darius: The thing is the way you can read your films is that there are gay characters, straight characters blah blah blah, but you can apply this to class, all this other stuff. How did you develop that strategy?

Bruce: Well I started using porn as a political tool, as pretentious as that sounds, because as I said we’d abandoned the gay scene and went to punk and then we found the punk scene was just as oppressive or repressive as the gay scene. So in order to shake up the sexual conventionality of the punk scene we were publishing these fanzines and making these experimental super 8 movies that had gay sex in them. We were borrowing from mainstream porn images, we were getting punk band members drunk and getting them to take off their clothes and taking pictures of them naked and publishing them. We were using it very aggressively to make a statement about the sexually repressive nature of the scene. Those were my early films, and then when I got into making feature length films I began to get even more explicit because then I was actually performing sexually in the films. And part of that was a politically correct thing because I didn’t want to be exploiting other people sexually without participating myself. So I always had a rule where I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything in a film of mine that I wouldn’t do myself. Then I would perform sexually in these films and then blow jobs and then I finally got fucked on 'Super 8 ½' and then everything went spiraling out of control. But then I made 'Hustler White' in LA. What I wanted to do was make a feature film that had explicit sex in it but didn’t conform to the conventions of porn. So it would be sexually explicit but not have bad techno music and sex scenes that go on for 10 minutes, it would just happen to be sexually explicit. But because of the budgetary limitations and for a variety of reasons not knowing how to pull it off we ended up not making a totally sexually explicit film. It ended up being controversial because of the stomping scene and the scene where a guy gets sliced up by a razor blade. But it was more about fetish it wasn’t really sexually explicate. And then I seguewayed into the porn world proper by shooting guys with hard-ons for gay porn magazines and that led me to making my first legitimate porn movie. But as you say, that ended up being completely at odds with my earlier work and my strategy, because like I said it was so conventional that it really works against radical expressionism. So what I was doing within the limitations of those conventions was trying to figure out how to subvert conventional pornography, and that’s why people think that 'Skin Flick' and that whole project is an anti-porn. For one thing because it deals so explicitly with issues of race and class. There is a rape scene where a Black character who has a white boyfriend and they are a bourgeois gay couple. They are terrorized by a group white power skinheads who are working class and the Black character gets raped by the white power skinheads and the Black character is being accused throughout the film of being like a coconut. Black on the outside, white on the inside …kind of a sell out.

Darius: Coconut … hmmm… that’s Jamaican. That’s  Jamaican expression. The Black American expression is OREO. If they were Japanese they would be Banana!

Bruce:  But when he gets raped, the scene was controversial, because in porno when someone gets raped you’re supposed to give in to it… there is a certain point when you surrender and give in to that pleasure. And it’s a convention of porn. And in mine he’s crying and not really into it. So it makes people really uncomfortable because he is getting fucked, but he’s also being raped. So it’s not that pleasant. I mean it is, but it isn’t … you know … It’s going against porn convention. There is no easy place of identification for the audience because I am critiquing the bourgeois couple as much as I am critiquing the skinheads, and in a way I’m more sympathetic to the skinheads because of their class position than I am to the gay couple because they are very vapid and kind of …

Darius: At least they fuck him as opposed to kill him.

Bruce: Right. Well …Maybe I should have had them kill him (giggles)

Darius: Now that sets me up for a question. There is left, there is right, there is libertarian which is left and right, thinking. It is a movement that is goes on in America, in terms of people who combine left thinking and right thing just in terms of appreciating different points of views just because of the fact that there is a lot of information made available. Um …What’s your relationship to skinheads … right wing skinheads? Do you know them?

Bruce: It’s an uneasy relationship in a way because I do have a certain admiration for certain aspects, I mean this is what no skin off my ass was about. The gay hairdresser who falls in love with a skinhead is like “Well I’ve never really considered myself a very political person”, he says but he is just very captivated by the aesthetics. And in punk and with skinheads aesthetics and style were in a way much more important than politics. I mean they were the politics. Those gestures were unspoken and ambiguous, that’s what made them so powerful. But it’s a very working class … taking pride in being working class … very immaculate …. very tribal in a way … like the way Genet talks about thieves and the whole honor among thieves kind of thing. you know… there is no moral ambiguity

Bruce: Well the problem right now is that things have gone so far right in America. That like I said the left wing has folded the democrats are right of center so  there is no left wing. That’s the problem with flirting with the right now. In the eighties and then nineties I would flirt with the right because it was a way of undercutting the left, or keeping the left on their toes or kind of like critiquing the left. I mean in some ways I think the political spectrum is an atificual construct anyway, and that’s part of the problem in America … everyone is trying to slot all their beliefs and politics into these preordained positions. If your left wing you beleave this and if you’re right wing you believe this. It’s a completely binary system that sustains itself by that strict oppositionality. So there is no way of undermining it because it is a selfperpetuating system. So if you start mixing the categorties then you are somehow undermining both sides ultimately.

Darius: Yeah …That’s what makes it complicated when we are talking about politics and art. I'm not necessarily saying this for you I am saying it for people who might be listening. When we are talking about political ambiguity.

Bruce: Political ambiguity yeah political ambiguity and sexual ambiguity somehow go hand in hand. That’s how you have all those right … you know members of British parliament who are found wearing in women's knickers doing auto-erotic asphyxiation and hanging themselves … you know …wearing women's knickers …
Darius: Yeah I totally agree. Because I think you have to occupy those areas in order to …

Bruce: Yeah just as Paul Morissey is probably overtly right wing but maybe unconsciously left wing I'm probably the opposite. I'm sort of overtly left wing but can veer of into right wing territory sort of subconsciously.

Darius: Well it's about interrogating those spaces.

Bruce: Yeah ..When I made 'Skin Flick' its was a very dark sort of place I was exploring. I was really throwing myself into exploring rape fantasies, racially based rape fantasies and really taking it as far as I could. At some point I felt like I was like over my head. Like before I released it I was like “oh my god, I'm through … they’re gonna crucify me” which they did …

Darius: Well …the question is…(laughs)

Bruce: Except for the Blacks …who loved it … Black men … they were like “oh that black rape scene was so hot. I wish I could get raped by a bunch of hot white guys”

Darius: Who were skin heads and had like haxing croxes on their skulls … Anyway …naw …um. Like In order to banish a demon you have to confront it.

Bruce: I believe that … yeah

Darius: What's your model of film and story structure?

Bruce: Uh … well the model of my filmmaking up to this point has been working within severe economic limitations and working with people who don’t know what they are doing, so I'm often confronted when I get to the editing stage with some really good stuff, but a limited amount of material, some really bad stuff, but just not a lot of stuff to work. So the whole model of my making films, has been based on I would say is like making a silk purse out of Sal’s ear. It’s just finding inventive ways to create a narrative where a narrative might not necessarily exist. And to turn the negative things that you are confronted with into things that would work for you. So if a whole scene has been fucked up for some reason and is unusable, you have to invent a way to work with that material. Sort of pull a rabbit out of a hat. You have to sort of invent a way. In that way, I use sound a lot. Sound is for me like a parallel form running along side the visual that is kind of alienated from the visual and sometimes comments on the visuals, or contradicts what’s going on visually. So it creates a lot of meaning by that interplay that might not necessarily be there in the actual footage, so its sort of inventing narrative in post production. So for me the whole thing is very process oriented. Even as I'm shooting I end up shooting a lot of things … the luxury of low budget filmmaking is you can sort of fuck around and add things to the script. I'm constantly writing things the night before or just before the cameras role and handing them to actors to say or inventing as you go along. Incorporating things that happen, or stories that I hear from the actors or whatever, into the process so it's sort of a bricolage I guess.

Darius: My last question would be uh … what’s your vision of a renewed sexual world?

Bruce: Huh??? (Laughs) What? It’s all about Islamic sexuality, that’s what we didn’t get into. Cuz I’ve been dating a Muslim for the last two years. And he’s a real Bedwin in bed. As they say.

Darius: What does that mean?!? What does that stand for?

Bruce: He uh … he … wanders a lot (giggles). His whole sexuality is very … he doesn’t believe in being gay identified. He refuses to call himself homosexual. He calls himself an un-heterosexual. And he calls me his Hoo-wee. You know …he speeks six languages I thought it was like some Farsi word for lover, but it's actually a contraction of husband and wife. Hoo … WEE.
But I thought that was so cool because it’s the way that he sees the world. He sees you as a man and a woman sort of. And the whole contradiction about Islam is that people think that its sexually repressed and that’s why they flew the plains into the world trade centre because they are sexually repressed, and  that they are jealous of freedom, sexual freedom, and freedom in the west, or that they condemn it because they think that it is corrupt and decadent. But actually they have this amazing disconnect between the loose rules. The rules about homosexuality are completely different from how they behave sexually, and it’s a very sensual religion. It's about appreciating the senses that God has given them. The senses, the sensuality. You know. It's not what the west portrays it as. So, anyway. That’s my prediction for the future.

Darius: Your hope for the future…

Bruce: And like I always compare Bush and his wife. You know Bush and Laura Bush who’s like this frigid school marm, who looks like she’s wearing an invisible burka.  I mean, she just stands there and never says anything and just nods her head. She’s like a Stepford Wife.  Compared to Osama Bin Ladin who has like 4 wives 27 children. He’s like a horn dog.

Darius: Yeah, and the white race is dwindling because it has low sperm count and low sex drive and Islam is flourishing….You know why? You people eat sugar. Stop eating sugar.  Its white I know. But stop eating sugar. .. (laughs) anyway.

Bruce: So I SLAM for Islam. That’s my new saying … yaaaaay!. So … Thank you for having me!