Exclusive: Bruce LaBruce Talks About ‘The Misandrists,’ Censorship and Revolutionary Queer Art
Recently, we reviewed The Misandrists, the latest film by director and queercore icon Bruce LaBruce. That film tells the story of the Female Liberation Army’s attempt to remake the world in their own image by using revolutionary pornography. The film is gorgeous, confrontational and quite explicit. In advance of The Misandrists‘ premiere, we had the opportunity to talk with the filmmaker in our exclusive Bruce LaBruce interview.
In the past, you’ve seen your art picketed and censored; have you seen any pushback with The Misandrists?
I’m still waiting! There has been some somewhat less-than-subtle instances of prior censorship based on political correctness. The Misandrists was rejected by a number of the biggest LGBTQ film festivals, including Inside/Out in Toronto, Frameline in San Francisco, and Outfest in Los Angeles.
I have a history with all these festivals, and I’ve heard on the grapevine that the film wasn’t programmed either because they said they couldn’t show a lesbian film made by a gay man, or because they think it’s “transphobic.” Both excuses are patently ridiculous.
The Misandrists has played at dozens of international non-queer festivals, including Berlin, Helsinki, Kolkata, Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Karlovy Vary and Calgary. It’s even played in Moscow! It has also played at more adventurous queer festivals like SQIFF in Glasgow, in Sicily and Torino and Sao Paulo, etc. I’m proud to say it played at Some Prefer Cake, the Bologna Lesbian Film Festival.
I get some tough questions in Q&As, often from women challenging the film. For example, when I showed it in Glasgow, after several women took me to task for the film, I had a very civilized dinner with about a dozen lesbians. That’s how it’s supposed to work. You show the work, talk about it, get angry about it if that’s how you feel, but then break bread and move on.
No U.S. festival would touch the film, but now my U.S. distributor, Cartilage, has booked it for runs in 25 U.S. cities. So we’ll see how that goes!
By the way, I live in Toronto, where it was turned down by the trifecta of festivals — the Toronto International Festival, The Inside/Out International LGBTQ Festival and the Toronto International Porn Festival, all, presumably, for reasons of political correctness. Not too shabby!
It still hasn’t played in Toronto, a city that really needs to remove the stick from its bony ass.
What would the world in which the FLA succeeded look like?
The FLA world might look something like the polar opposite of The Handmaid’s Tale, but even more extreme because women would have somehow figured out how to reproduce asexually, so men would be taken out of the equation altogether. It would be an all-female world! It would be taking lesbian separatism to the ultimate extreme!
I guess the male children born would be reassigned to female shortly after birth (unless, of course, women evolved to the point of only giving birth to female babies). But of course, some traitorous women would allow some boys to stay boys, and hide them away. The males would live in the sewers and organize a resistance. Wow, I think I just wrote the sequel!
But if the FLA toned down their rhetoric a little bit once they got into power, maybe it would just be a socialist, egalitarian world in which women are paid equally to men for the same work, provided with healthcare and daycare so they could participate equally in the work force, and have control over their own reproductive bodies.
But men would probably still have to be ritually castrated. LOL.
You’ve made a number of films with cinematographer James Carman — how closely do you collaborate on your films’ visuals?
James Carman has shot my films Hustler White, Skin Flick, The Raspberry Reich, Otto, L.A. Zombie and The Misandrists, which spans 22 years! He’s really a great cinematographer, and he’s particularly good with lighting. He’s perfect for guerrilla-style filming because he’s totally unflappable and calm under pressure and very adventurous.
Together we went through the transition from film to digital. (Hustler White was shot on 16mm color film and Otto was half shot on 16mm.) My films are low-budget, or sometimes no-budget, so he’s perfect for me because he knows how to make something out of nothing, like I do.
With Hustler White, it was totally a matter of trust because we didn’t have video assist or dailies! We developed and looked at the film from the first day of shooting, but then I didn’t see the rest of the footage until about six weeks after the end of shooting because we didn’t have the money to develop the film!
Each of my films has a wildly different look, so I send him all kinds of reference photographs and films to show him what kind of look I’m going for. During shooting we’re very collaborative, and he makes suggestions all the time, shows me different lens options and lighting options. He’s really a dream, and also a real gentleman and very soulful.
Your 2004 film, The Raspberry Reich imagined a group of queer terrorists who opposed fascistic oppression by the state — you said it illustrated “innate radical potential of homosexual expression.” Apart from your own work, do you see any contemporary queer art from your peers as still having this potential to undermine everyday fascism, or do you think most contemporary queer art is most inert and unconcerned with larger queer and social liberation? Why?
My philosophy of homosexuality has always been about exploring and exploiting its radical potential. Running against the grain of society, challenging the status quo with regard to sexual norms and conventions, and questioning the orthodoxy of not only the dominant social order, but also of the gay mainstream, is a very intoxicating and strategic position to be in. Authority should always be questioned.
As an artist, it’s just as important to provoke or even attempt to tear down the art establishment and the conventions of art. I do that partly by working more in a porn idiom, making art that is often too pornographic for the art world and too “arty” for the porn world. (It’s also necessary to challenge the conventions and orthodoxy of the porn world!)
The world is a big place, and the gay movement is at a different stage of development everywhere. I travel a lot and see the struggles of nascent liberation movements, and I meet lots of artists and activists who are doing amazing work.
In my own circle, there are lots of great artists making work that is queer and political, addressing issues of class, race, and gender. In The Misandrists alone, for example, there’s Susanne Oberbeck from No Bra, who wrote the Love Theme “Down with the Patriarchy” for the movie. Her work is very provocative in terms of gender and feminism.
Then there are artists who appear in the movie like Viva Ruiz and Kembra Pfahler, both of whom I’ve known since the eighties and who have been doing brilliantly subversive, political work non-stop since then. Serenity Bliss Resting, Sam Dye, Lina Bembe, and Lo-Fi Cherry, four of the girls in the film, are all filmmakers and artists themselves who are making new styles of subversive art and/or porn.
We all challenge not only neo-Fascism on the right, but also the neo-Stalinism of the left, including any attempts at censure or enforcing political correctness or attempting to police language and desire.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Wake up and smell the estrogen!
Watch the trailer for Bruce LaBruce’s The Misandrists
The Misandrists opens in New York City on May 25 at the Village East Cinema, then expands to Los Angeles on June 1 at the Nuart. Bruce LaBruce will introduce screenings at both locations. From there, it opens throughout the country during Pride month.
Featured image by Camographer