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The Advocate for Bruce

Interview: director Angélique Bosio. The new LaBruce doc was first screened at the 2011 Berlinale, when we spoke with her, and is appropriately enough finding new spotlight at the PornFilmFestival.

Image for The Advocate for Bruce
Photo by Richard Kern

Bruce LaBruce, the director of satirical art-porn features like The Raspberry Reich and Super 8 ½ and part-time Berliner, is the subject of a new documentary by Angélique Bosio’s called The Advocate for Fagdom. Bosio’s feminist perspective on perhaps the last man making high-profile and dangerous gay film premiered on February 14 during the 2011 Berlinale. We spoke with Bosio about the man, politics and how far queer cinema can go.

Why did you decide to do a documentary on Bruce LaBruce?

I did another documentary, prior to this one, called LLik Your Idols about the Cinema of Transgression. I did an interview with [Bruce] for the documentary but I had to cut something like half an hour because it was too long. And unfortunately, the whole part with Bruce LaBruce ended up on the floor.

Later, my distributors asked me to film some extras for the DVD release of Otto; or, Up with Dead People and my first reaction was that I was a bit scared to talk about the same things. But I said yes, and what was going to be a DVD extra turned into a real documentary.

How scared were you? Was this actually a fear of Bruce LaBruce?

No. He’s the sweetest guy on earth. Mostly, I was scared to deal with the same polemics, the same issues.

Was it hard to draw him out, to get him to sit down and not be the character?

He’s not fooled by himself and the character he created. I think he’s someone who is actually at ease with talking about his work. I wouldn’t say he’s not at all like the character that he created in the 1990s but he’s not playing this arrogant character when talking to you.

The film itself is very flattering. Were you able to find anyone who was critical of LaBruce?

There are people that I tried to get to appear in the documentary, who had problems with what Bruce was showing about the gay community. But these people never returned my calls.

Can you tell me who they were? Would it be GLAAD [the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation]?

Yeah. They never answered. I tried for a whole year. That would have been quite interesting, hearing what they had to say.

Why do you think he scares them?

Because he’s not just a silly provocative character. He’s not just making things to shock people. The things he’s talking about are important issues. He’s not an activist, per se, but he’s really trying to make things change.

Why do you think a Bruce LaBruce film is important now in today’s cinematic and political climate?

I think it was the right time in his career, not for him but for me. In Bruce I see a very feminist character. The queer movement and the feminist movement are very linked in cause. They kind of split in the 1980s because of pornography and because of stupid gender questions but they are linked.

How do you see queer cinema and politics? Are they still progressive and relevant? Where do you see them in 2011?

In everyday situations people are still hearing stuff like: “If you are not gay, you have less of a chance of getting AIDS” or something like that. In peoples’ minds things haven’t changed that much – like the issue of gay marriage, homosexuals adopting kids and raising them.

The hierarchies still exist that were there 20 years ago. Maybe some people don’t want to admit that.

Bruce was talking about Abu Ghraib, what happened in Iraq, and he was talking about the way that American soldiers humiliate the prisoners. One of the ways to humiliate them was to treat them as “faggots”. And I see a very strong image of how queers and homosexuals are seen to this day. I often talk about to men about why they are scared of homosexuality. The cleverest ones say that they accept it around them in their everyday life, but truly they are really scared of what it means sexually. Nobody wants to be seen as homosexual because it’s still degrading.

Richard Kern told me that when he was watching Hustler White he was feeling really uncomfortable and I asked him why and he said it was because he was so heterosexual: “I’m sorry but I’m heterosexual and I was sitting there, in the middle of homosexuals and I’m sorry but I was feeling really bad.”

Do you think that queer cinema or portrayals of queer politics in cinema are really pushing the envelope? How far can cinema push it?

As far as they want it. John Cameron Mitchell’s Short Bus went pretty far. I mean it wasn’t counted as a porn film but the sexual intercourse was real. And the representation of sexuality was kind of daring. Bruce goes quite far as well, I mean L.A. Zombie plays with representations of pornography and it was banned at the Melbourne Festival.

But I had to remove something from the final edit of the documentary where we were talking about Wilhelm Von Gloeden, a German photographer who was photographing young boys and girls naked. In the middle of the 20th century it started being seen as pedophilic. There was another part of the documentary that dealt with pedophilia through jokes. I wanted to talk about this because pedophilia, in most people’s minds is linked to homosexuality. So I really wanted to deal with it with humor, but of one of the people in the documentary had been harassed years ago because of that joke. Bruce and that person asked me to remove it from my documentary. I didn’t want anybody to be harassed.

In our culture, the big limit is kids.

Anything else you want to add?

Bruce is much more than the provocative queer activist – supposed activist. To me, he’s really some kind of heir to Lenny Bruce – maybe more Andy Kaufman. He’s really the heir to all these people like Richard Kern, Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman, John Waters and he’s really involved in politics, in his own way, which I love. He’s going to talk about serious things in a really funny or absurd way.