On the heels of a desultory interpretation of a prolific artist’s life (looking at you, Björk), the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has dedicated a retrospective to one of the foremost subversive queer filmmakers of our time. Until only May 2, Bruce LaBruce’s visions of zombies, skinheads, feminists, and porn are on full display.
I spoke with Bruce LaBruce about his beginnings in the punk Marxist scene of downtown New York in the mid-’80s, when he’d come down from his native Canada, taking dance classes and exploring the city. Dabbling in the DIY zine scene, he soon traded pasting Xeroxes for splicing Super 8 film strips, which soon translated into his first experimental feature, No Skin Off My Ass.
Screened last Friday at MoMA, the film expounds on the tale of a gay, punk hairdresser who falls in love with a mute skinhead (who’s faking his disability and political affiliations), whose filmmaker sister eventually feeds the flames of their passion. The film is the aftermath of a funnel that mixes neo-Nazi affectations, lip syncing dialogue, graffiti, and cute boys, including one bathing in a Grecian pool.
LaBruce’s work constantly mixes abject subject matter: zombies, gore, explicit gay sex, punks. He says that because his father was a hunter he witnessed a lot of carnage growing up, which translated into a B-movie sensibility for violence and other squeamish elements. Campy, but political.
As for the explicit sex, which his films have developed a reputation for, it mainly stemmed from an attitude of being, as he put it, “unapologetic about homosexual sex”; uncompromising, intentionally politically incorrect — the sex scenes are not just a response to reactionary homophobia, but also to the liberal, bourgeois “Do what you want, just don’t flaunt it” attitude when it comes to homosexuality.
Of course, that tenacious, underground political sensibility has waned in recent times amongst a queer population that is quickly assimilating to straight culture. When we have, as LaBruce told me, a “Straight, White, Christian, Republican” as the spokesperson for trans issues as we’ve seen in Bruce Jenner’s recent media storm, it’s good to see there’s still a place for a radical queer voice in our culture.
Bruce LaBruce film screenings continue at the Museum of Modern Art (11 West 53rd Street, Midtown East, Manhattan) through May 2.