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Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.

Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.

Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.

Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.

Bruce La Bruce, 1997


Just who is this Bruce LaBruce?
  • Former go-go boy for legendary dyke rockers Fifth Column.
  • Worked with G.B. Jones throughought the late '80s on the seminal homo-punk zine, JD's, and later on his own Monstar.
  • Has made three feature-length films: No Skin Off My Ass (1991); Super 8-1/2 (1994); and, with Rick Castro, Hustler White (1996).
  • Collaborates with superstars Vaginal Creme Davis and Glendda Orgasm on various video projects.
  • Popular columnist for the Toronto monthly, Exclaim.
  • Lives in Toronto, with no plans to leave. Ever.
We asked Steve Lafreniere, Vice-editor of Straight To Hell, the infamous "true sex" review, and publisher of The Gentlewomen of California, a zine, to get the Bruce LaBruce story in all its glorious detail.

STEVE: I heard you like basketball, so I thought I might catch you watching the game.
BRUCE: No, but we've got the Toronto Raptors up here now. The point guard is Damon Stoudamire, who's, like, so cute. And we've got an NBA franchise, baby. We've also got our own Canadian football league. Three downs instead of four.

STEVE: Wow, you know more about this than one might suspect.
BRUCE: I was raised with all that. Brainwashed.

STEVE: On a farm in northern Ontario, I heard.
BRUCE: Yeah. Until I was 18.

STEVE: It had to be interesting then, being invited to the Warhol Museum last year — the comparison of humble beginnings being maybe too obvious. How was it?
BRUCE: Oh, fantastic. Pittsburgh's a great city, it's really kind of happening. And gorgeous. It's where three rivers converge with a hill overlooking, and all these Deco bridges and trestles. It's just like Milan. Everyone says oh, it's just this ugly industrial city, and it turns out to be so beautiful.

STEVE: I know what you mean. I used to live in Cleveland, which is another ruined medieval American city. The Carnegies had a hand in that one too, I believe.
BRUCE: I love those small American cities. But the Warhol Museum itself is this fantastic "Carnegie" museum with six or seven floors, each floor dedicated to a different period of his career. I was invited by the film and video section, and they have a theater in the museum where they showed Super 8-1/2 on a double bill with My Hustler. They even silk-screened little posters for it. So it was a great finale for Super 8-1/2 to be invited down there, because it was a sort of culmination of what that was all about.

STEVE: The meditation on Warhol, yeah, but with a slapstick twist. All your films seem to owe not only to Andy but also to Buster Keaton, especially the short ones before No Skin Off My Ass.
BRUCE: Oh absolutely, though Jerry Lewis is maybe more the subconscious reference. I think that started out because I was making all the early films up through No Skin without synced sound. So it was like making silent film — overacting and trying to convey things through gesture and slapstick rather than through dialogue.

STEVE: You also seem fond of voice-over commentary, whether real, such as Bruce yammering in Super 8-1/2, or virtual — in Hustler White, Jurgen constantly talking into his microcassette. It's like you always need to have another layer of narrative, more complexity.
BRUCE: Yeah, well that too is a holdover from the early filmmaking where the technique always comes out of limitations. Economic limitations or even the limitations of my technical prowess [laughs] are incorporated into the style. For example, in the original script for Hustler White we were supposed to have interviews with all the hustlers and porn stars that we used in the film. We interviewed them on Hi-8 and were going to incorporate that. But Rick's camera screwed up, and we couldn't use any of it anyway. But we had the audio of the interviews with Tony Ward, which we ended up using on the soundtrack. We were gonna re-do the interviews, but then we didn't think we had enough money in the budget to transfer all the video to film to make it more … to make it integrated. So the whole concept of the film was changed due to those limitations. But then, weirdly enough, I kind of almost preferred the way it turned out.

STEVE: Not being freaked out by those kind of textural changes seems like a hallmark of younger filmmakers. It's how reality is now or something.
BRUCE: Yeah. It's kind of pragmatic. But I think a lot of young filmmakers are sort of set on modeling large budget productions. They want to make the whole look of their film a microcosm of a large budget film. The way it looks, the way it's shot, the whole hierarchy of the way the people working on the film relate to each other. Trying to recreate that on a small scale when it doesn't really make sense on a small scale.

STEVE: No one's going to accuse you of that! I've noticed Tony Ward since the mid-'80s when he was in all the homo skin rags, and then boom, suddenly dating Madonna. What was he like on the set?
BRUCE: As it turns out, I didn't realize that he was totally junked out the whole time. I'm usually pretty naive to people's drug habits. The only drug I can read that someone is on is coke, because it's fairly obvious. But Hustler White was shot in only 12 days, and he was there for eight. I'd only met him the week before, so I didn't know him that well. And then apparently on the tour he was doing a lot of drugs. Actually, the worst was the very first day of shooting, we were waiting for him to show up and he was two hours late or something. We were like, oh … well, we're not gonna be able to use him, we're gonna have to recast. But it turned out he was just lost. So, he was somewhat spaced out in terms of getting to locations throughout, but once he was there, he was totally on and engaged and enthusiastic. He got exactly what we were doing.

STEVE: He's cinemagenic for sure. There's something slightly going-to-seed about him that gives him a meatier presence in the film than, say, the porn stars.
BRUCE: We encouraged him to change his lines and improvise so the role would be more … so that he could incorporate his own story. After the film premiered at Sundance, he got a lot of offers. For a Sundance audience, that's obviously what they would get — potential star material — from Tony. But I think it was kind of overwhelming for him, the amount of exposure and attention. It probably drove him further into his drug world. But then he sort of pulled back and realized he would have to get clear if he wanted to take advantage of this. Now he's in AA and NA and whatever other A's there are.

STEVE: Does he ever talk to Ms. Ciccone?
BRUCE: Um, we got him to ask her for money for the film, before we shot it. So he gave her copies of my first two movies, plus the script for Hustler White.

STEVE: Did you get a response?
BRUCE: She said she liked the movies, thought they were funny, but she couldn't be associated with pornography. This was after her whole reinvention as the boring matron. And later I talked to Tony, after she'd seen Hustler White, and asked him what she'd thought about it. She said, about me, that she could tell I was a real egomaniac. And then she called me a twerp.

STEVE: Twerp! You can use that on your next poster. I heard Kevin Costner gagged on it, too.
BRUCE: Oh, right. The New York Post reported an incident where he went to see Bound at the Sunset Five in Los Angeles and it was sold out. So he asked the woman at the ticket booth, "What's this Hustler White?" and she said, "It's an underground gay hardcore art film." And he said, "Oh that sounds interesting." He went in and apparently was making loud comments all the way through and left before it was over, saying, "This is too hardcore for me!"

STEVE: I imagine he's referring to the stump-fuck scene. By the way, I heard that the amputee from the film was screaming at you during the premiere?
BRUCE: Oh that wasn't at me, that was at Rick. He … Kevin is a very unique individual. He's really sweet, but he has a very healthily developed paranoid aspect to his personality, to be as euphemistic as one can be. He's had a long history with Rick, he's in a lot of Rick's photographs and whatnot. So at the premiere party in Los Angeles — held at the Spotlight, a hustler bar — he came and … y'know, it was like, Joe Dallesandro was there, all the requisite celebrities were there, what's-his-name from My So-Called Life … I missed the whole thing, but apparently they got in a big public argument, with Kevin accusing Rick of exploiting him and making his career off of him. Kevin was living in Rick's garage at the time and there was a lot of bickering and I guess it all led up to this.

STEVE: Sounds like you've got the leads for a remake of Staircase.
BRUCE: Yeah! … but who would play Dick?

STEVE: Toss a coin. I thought Ron Athey's turn in Hustler White as a sort of Mr. Joy Boy was so … delightful.
BRUCE: Ron Athey does incredibly difficult, extreme work, yet in person he's one of the sweetest people you'd want to meet. The same with Kevin Kramer and Ryan Block, the porn stars. I have a certain amount of experience, I've made friends and been to porn shoots in LA, and the porn industry is really ugly, but there are people within the industry that are just so gentle-natured and innocent. In the film industry proper, that's kind of reversed — all the boring kind of dull people are the ones in front of the camera, I think. The bland celebrities who are really vapid and have nothing to say are propped up as the face of the industry to the rest of the world. Whereas, when you're in LA, it's the publicists and agents who — although a lot of them are really nasty and unscrupulous — are at least well-read and interesting. There's a kind of cynical element, in the media in particular, that just wants to see my films as a sort of extreme, nasty, horrible slice of life or something. But, I mean, this set and the people working on it were so sweet. By comparison, a (typical) Hollywood set is like Dante's Inferno.

STEVE: Too bad no one makes those gothic behind-the-scenes exposés of Hollywood anymore, like The Day of the Locust or Play It As It Lays. The Frank Perry-style peek at dystopian California.
BRUCE: Well, The Day of the Locust has just been re-made as the JonBenet film. Think about it. But I'm tired of all the excitement in Hollywood being off the page. All the interesting stuff is being covered up. What goes on in Hollywood itself is stranger than fiction, and is the most compelling stuff, but it's only translated onto the screen in the most superficial pop-psychological way, like old men paired with young women or something. We don't have a Liz and Dick anymore, where their whole relationship is played out for your entertainment. The '90s version of that would be Kurt and Courtney, but that wasn't in Hollywood.

STEVE: Is it important for you to see movie stars as deities, as archetypes?
BRUCE: On one level I find celebrities incredibly dull, and I don't even like to meet them. But I suppose I do treat them in a more totemic way, where I kind of worship their representation. I have my River Phoenix shrine by my bed, and I have my scrapbook full of Liz and Dick, and all that kind of thing. But I try to stay away from any more personal contact with them because you're inevitably disappointed. The whole kind of Warhol, '60s Factory model is still the most exciting, because he managed to do both. He had the superstars playing out their real lives on screen, and yet they still had this aura that was really glamorous and otherworldly.

STEVE: Do you think your own movies succeed on that level?
BRUCE: I don't know. It's hard for me to talk about my own work in those kind of terms because I'm so close to them and in them. It's hard for me to grasp how they're perceived.

STEVE: There is an underlying project going on, I think that's becoming clear.
BRUCE: Well, I'm interested in excavating the whole history of gay artists and filmmakers and writers who've become these icons. It's sort of like the gay Napoleonic theory. You have Warhol and Liberace and all these over-achieving sissies who've been really downtrodden because of their effeminacy, because they couldn't play sports and talked with a lisp. A lot of homosexual art is that Revenge-of-the-Sissies prototype. That's one tradition I'm trying to carry on. And I don't think a lot of gay filmmakers or artists do enough to try and reevaluate and sustain that tradition.

STEVE: Because of your swish film persona, it always surprises people who meet you that you're not particularly effeminate.
BRUCE: I've been more interested in propping that up as a media spectacle than living it.

STEVE: It's kind of funny that ten years ago, when you and G.B. Jones were first putting out JD's, you had a rep for being these über-hardasses.
BRUCE: Oh, people would always meet me during the JD's period, and they'd be expecting this real hardcore punk. But that's when I'd usually play up the sort of mincing fairy, to play against type. Because at that time I was more interested in challenging the punks, who were trying to be revolutionary, but who turned out to be so sexually conservative. So I was kind of taunting them and being a brat by foisting my sissy ways onto them. We were the second wave of punk, reacting against the influence of hardcore, which was a lot more macho, much more a kind of boy-bonding mosh-pit thing.

STEVE: You must've gotten beat up a lot. Actually, I've heard you're a tough fighter. How closeted was the hardcore scene when you were in it?
BRUCE: I think … "Recent studies have confirmed" that homophobia is repressed homoeroticism. It was very much repressed, but just bubbling under the surface. That's why it wasn't much of a stretch for us to push it into the homo arena. We were just kind of tipping it over, it was so blatant. We were just defining it a little.

STEVE: That sounds like fun to me.
BRUCE: Oh, it was. It's great when something is so obvious that people can't really dispute it. They're forced into this impassive position. "Oh my god, that's what I've been doing all along." Yeah, it was very powerful.

STEVE: Lots of people have heard of JD's but have never seen it. Not too many copies are still in existence.
BRUCE: Um, well, we really kind of took to heart the notion of disposability and the pop essence of it. It was spontaneous and of the moment. That was part of the meaning of it, that it was so ephemeral. Carpe diem, baby.

STEVE: Seen any good movies lately?
BRUCE: The last two I saw, which were both really bad, were The English Patient and Beverly Hills Ninja. I liked Beverly Hills Ninja better, but it still wasn't very good. It seems these days it's a lot harder for me to drag myself to the movies. So I tend to go … like I'll go to big spectacle movies, even though you're invariably disappointed. And I'll go to real trashy formula movies. I love Adam Sandler, because I love the Jerry Lewis tradition. Beverly Hills Ninja takes the samurai/Shaft thing Jerry Lewis did in Hardly Working in the early '80s.

STEVE: So you're a fan of Jerry.

STEVE: Have you seen Damn Yankees?
BRUCE: No, but we're going to go. My friend Candy is going through this dark, obsessive Jerry Lewis period where she has to have every single thing he ever did. She sends off for the most obscure things by mail order. Like if Martin and Lewis did a cameo on The Jack Benny Show, even if it was only 15 seconds long, she has to have it. And they have festivals — I get invited over all the time — and we just watch marathons day after day of Jerry Lewis and Martin and Lewis. It's become like a study group. We have topics of discussion and argue about the canon. Argue about whether Hardly Working or Cracking Up represents the nadir of his oeuvre. I've recently come to the decision that The Big Mouth is his ultimate achievement. A lot of people dismiss it as a mediocrity of his latter-day career, but when you see a brand new video copy of it, I think it really stands up. People don't realize the impact of Martin and Lewis. In their heyday they were the biggest stars in the world.

STEVE: Plus revolutionary in their approach to the traditional vaudeville duo.
BRUCE: Absolutely. They played with the conventions of their act. They broke out of character. They commented on their own personae. They inverted the idea of spectatorship. No one had done that before.

STEVE: Only cartoon characters did those things. I think when they started working with Frank Tashlin, who'd come out of directing cartoons, it all sort of dovetailed.
BRUCE: Jerry Lewis came to Toronto two or three years ago on his birthday. He did A Night with Jerry Lewis at the opera and Candy and I went. So now we have tickets to see Damn Yankees on his birthday in March. It's our anniversary.

STEVE: Congratulations! Which filmmakers do you like?
BRUCE: I always liked Frank Perry. No one ever talks about him. His work was so consistently iconoclastic, ummmm, about urban alienation. I'm also really inspired by Gus Van Sant. Not only because he's a friend, but the way he operates in Hollywood is so brilliant. The last time I was in LA I went out to dinner with him and his agent and watched the agent try to get him to — he just kind of glides through the whole thing, he has a zen thing happening. There's also a kind of kid-in-a-candy-factory element there.

STEVE: So his career's back out of the clinic? After Cowgirls?
BRUCE: Oh yeah. But that is always scary. I was so disappointed to read about (John Waters') Cecil B. Demented going into turnaround. And then I know Gus was having a bit of trouble getting an original script financed that he has. If John Waters and Gus Van Sant can't get money for a movie, that's not very encouraging for the likes of me.

STEVE: "In turnaround" implies that something you've written is owned by someone else?
BRUCE: Yeah. It could end up being made by Penny Marshall. Or worse, Mike Nichols.

STEVE: That reminds me, weren't you at one time working on a documentary about Vaginal Creme Davis?
BRUCE: Truth or Nair. I had rolls and rolls of Super-8 of Ms. Davis. But I was rolled by a trick in San Francisco and all my cameras and film were stolen. So …

STEVE: Someone should do it, though. She's far too under-recognized. So, what projects are in the works?
BRUCE: I've been doing music videos, and I've been writing. I have two books coming out. One is more a film book, with scripts and frame enlargements. I think it's going to be called Ride, Queer, Ride. And I have another book which is partly based on the columns I do in Exclaim, a Toronto newspaper, plus some other material, like rants and op-ed pieces and travelogues and shooting diaries, called The Reluctant Pornographer. And yeah, I'm working on some scripts. I'm working on one set in the gay porn world. And trying to scare up development money. It's kind of depressing because, again, there's this sort of weight of expectations for feature filmmakers. People are always expecting you to go to the next level. To work with more famous people and bigger budgets. I don't know, I really kind of resist that whole notion. There's just so little out there that makes me want to go in that direction. The restrictions you'll probably run into if you go that route aren't worth it. Actually, I'd kind of like to work with models, because I think they're really good actors. They know how to stand there and look good. And take direction. You can just sort of move them around.  

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Bruce La Bruce by Alan Belcher, 1997
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