Bruce LaBruce

Why should vampires get to have all the sex? Zombies are enjoying an extraordinary renaissance in pop culture right now. Fast zombies, funny zombies, pet zombies. We’ve seen practically every variation on George A. Romero’s modern zombie spawned by his cult debut Night of the Living Dead in 1968. But Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce is finally taking zombies to the next level – gay porn.

If you’re looking for “art porn,” LaBruce is the go-to guy. He is infamous in the art film world for his provocative and intelligent indie porno films. At once humorous, shocking and titillating, his movies have dealt with neo-Nazis… and porn, terrorists… and porn, and now, zombies… and porn. LaBruce deliberately straddles the thin and controversial line between ‘artist’ and ‘pornographer’, challenging taboos and audiences, while transforming both cinematic and pornographic conventions with his unusual treatment of graphic, unsimulated sex.

His films, like the literally revolutionary sex-comedy, The Raspberry Reich and the softcore gay zombie romance Otto; Or, Up With Dead People, have played at hundreds of film festivals around the world including Sundance and Berlin, as well as venerable art institutions like the MoMA in New York. With his latest provocation L.A. Zombie featuring popular gay porn star François Sagat, LaBruce is staying true to the subversive nature of Romero’s early zombie classics, boldly fusing our obsessions with sex, violence and death into one truly hardcore zombie film. Hardcore both in terms of horror and porn.

I caught up with LaBruce shortly after a sneak preview of L.A. Zombie at the Peres Projects gallery in Berlin to discuss art porn, zombie porn, torture porn, emotional porn and just straight up porn.

You’ve described yourself as a ‘reluctant pornographer’. How did porn find its way into your art?
I always stand by the statement that I started using porn for political purposes. I was in the punk scene in the Eighties and we had turned to punk because of its supposed political radicalism, its anarcho-syndicalism and its extreme left wing politics. Also, in North America at least, it was quite stylish and interesting aesthetically. It was anti-corporate and it was all do- it-yourself, so there was a lot of really exciting stuff going on in it. But when we abandoned the gay movement and went into the punk movement, we still found a certain amount of homophobia, a strong strain of it. So for me, making a lot of these fanzines and films with gay pornographic content was directed towards [homophobic punks]. It was kind of a political statement—just a way of being very in your face about homosexuality and being unapologetic about it, being unambiguous about it. And also to actually turn it back at them, because the mosh-pit and all this kind of macho behavior had developed in hardcore punk and it was extremely homoerotic. I mean, it was these really hot half-naked guys all over each other on the dance floor. They couldn’t keep their hands off each other. So we were just sort of commenting on that as well. And as it turns out, we abandoned the gay movement way back then because we thought it had become too conventional and kind of bourgeois and assimilationist. Twenty-five years later, it’s exponentially worse than we’d ever imagined it could become. Now I kind of believe that pornography in a sense is one of the last places where you can express gay radicalism.

And how did zombies find their way into your porn?
Well, my producers think I’m crazy and they don’t really think that there is a market for ‘zombie pornography’ or ‘gore pornography’. I don’t know, for me, it’s just a natural extension of what actually is going on in mainstream entertainment with torture porn, which has become a huge mainstream genre that’s really popular. It kind of baffles me and repulses me that these films, which are quite expensive and slick, are based on torture—usually the torture of women. Really extreme graphic torture, and, quite often, eviscerating torture of women, is now considered mainstream entertainment. And if people don’t think there’s a sexual component to that, then they’re crazy. The way that these films are presented is by its very nature sexual; it’s like a sexual seduction. So for me, I’m just kind of connecting the dots that are already there. This connection between violence and sexuality and the way that violence and war and terrorism are all packaged in a very titillating way in the mainstream and how that relates to how pornography is packaged and mass marketed. I don’t know, that’s maybe my intellectual side being too much of a smarty-pants but… I mean if you watch a slasher film, it’s the same structure as a porn film basically. It’s a series of victims, quite often women, who are shown in progressive scenes where they become penetrated by some phallic object until they gush liquid.

It begs the question, is there really any difference between mainstream Hollywood and mainstream porn in terms of sheer titillation and escapism?
In some ways I think Hollywood is really just a kind of porn. It’s like emotional porn rather than physical porn. But you still have these two actors who are thrown together in a movie—a male and a female—who end up having these intimate scenes. They don’t fuck, but they’re extremely intimate and they’re kissing and usually half naked. The only thing that separates it is penetration usually. So yeah, I think they operate in quite the same way. I had some problems in L.A. Zombie. Besides François [Sagat], I used three of the biggest porn names in the gay porn industry and there was some miscommunication where they didn’t think they’d actually be doing a porno style scene in my movie. Part of the problem was due to the fact that the new porn world operates much like the way old Hollywood did: they have these studios and everyone has contracts that are exclusive to that studio. If you want to use somebody from another studio, you have to officially have them loaned out, which is exactly the same way that Hollywood used to operate. So they do actually kind of run parallel in a lot of interesting ways.

What’s it like working with porn actors on an ‘art’ film?
Well, François, for example, is a born actor. He’s quite remarkable and he’s starting to get roles in non-porn films. Well, he was in Saw 6—he had a bit part—but I think he’s going to be in Saw 7. He’s also working with a French director named Christophe Honoré. What amazed me was I shot a scene with him in L.A. Zombie and he can cry on command. He’s one of those actors who can just summon tears. A lot of actors can’t do that. In fact, when I’ve worked with a lot of porn actors in my films, I’ve found that they’re actually much more natural actors than you’re usually led to believe… I’m not saying that they can all act, but I think a lot more can act than you would expect. I like to work with non-actors anyway. The guys in L.A. Zombie, the three big stars I worked with, were in just one scene. They didn’t really have an opportunity to do anything dramatic or anything, but they were really keen to do something that they don’t usually do. Every porn star I’ve ever met is totally into gore. All three of those guys were super hardcore fans and they ended up totally splattered in blood and shot to pieces, so they were really into that. But François, his performance in L.A. Zombie, even though it’s a non-speaking part, is quite impressive actually. He really inhabits the role, such that it is, and even makes it quite emotional, which isn’t easy to do.

I’m reminded of Seventies porn star Marilyn Chambers’ dramatic turn in fellow Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg’s early film Rabid. Have you seen Rabid?
Oh, of course, many times. Rabid seems like a precursor to zombie porn actually. Experimental plastic surgery causes
Marilyn’s character to grow a mutant phallus in her armpit that stabs her lovers and turns them into sex-crazed zombies.

Has Cronenberg’s work had an influence on you?
For Otto, which is my first gay zombie film and which is less pornographic—although it has some very explicit sex scenes in it—for that one I was more channeling Charles Addams, Edward Gorey and George A. Romero’s Martin, and films like that. I wasn’t really thinking about Cronenberg because that’s a whole different style. Otto is much more gothic and it’s kind of sweet. It’s a more whimsical kind of horror movie. But L.A. Zombie, yeah, I mean I’ve seen all of Cronenberg’s films of course and I’m a big fan, but didn’t think about that directly when I was making it. In L.A. Zombie, he has this weird looking alien cock—that’s a fake cock, it has like a Scorpio stinger at the end of it and when he cums it’s kind of like squid ink. So yeah, Cronenberg went really far in those early movies with that kind of sexualized science fiction.

What do you see as the future of porn?
In a lot of ways narrative in porn is becoming sort of vestigial. It’s less and less common, which I think is really unfortunate. You know a lot of the companies are just shooting scenes now and live streaming them. They’re becoming less and less concerned with narrative and character and with humour and whatever other content that was ever in porn, especially when it used to be made on film. But beyond that, the new trend in porn is extremes, extreme porn, like extreme sports. Like having 50 guys cum in a woman’s face in five minutes or a gangbang with 200 guys each wearing a number around their neck. Where else can you go with porn I mean? I worked with a lot of porn guys on L.A. Zombie, it’s co-produced by two porn companies, and one of the guys was saying, “There’s been enough porn already shot in the world to last for the next 100,000 years.” But the point is, where does it go after what you’ve already seen? So that’s where they’re trying to go, to take it to another level of extremes. The other thing is, I think that because torture porn and these extremely violent movies do operate a lot like porn films, I think that that seems like a merger that may happen between the horror genre and the porn genre. They are kind of already on the same trajectory on a certain level. And of course, I’ve always said half jokingly that zombie porn will be more popular because there’s just so many more orifices that you can create in a rotting corpse.

As you proved in the infamous gut-fucking scene in Otto. Do you explore this again in L.A. Zombie?
Oh yes, oh yes. Even more, it takes it to the next level!

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