LaBruce:Pornographic Artist or Artistic Pornographer?
A purveyor of both the visual and libidinal arts, when it comes to genre, Bruce LaBruce is something of a riddle. Who is LaBruce exactly? Punk Zine Publisher? Reluctant Pornographer? Underground Filmmaker? Writer and Photographer? Granted, he has written and photographed for publications such as Vice, Index, and BlackBook, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; but the question remains: LaBruce, pornographic artist, or artistic pornographer?
There’s a bit of a through-the-looking-glass effect at work when it comes to judging LaBruce’s films. They are either hardcore sex films with art in them or hardcore art films with sex (yes, even stumping—look it up, I’m not about to tell you) in them, depending on which side of the mirror of taste you’re standing.
As he frames it in a Salon interview, if you put his work in a smutty context (behind those little curtains at now almost extinct video stores, for example) it’s smut, and if you put it in a respectable context (a film that plays Sundance as his film Otto; or Up with Dead People did, for example), it’s respectable. But finally, true to its tomato, tomat-oh nature, we must call the whole thing off in light of LaBruce’s own conclusion in that same Salon interview: "I don't like to make a value judgment as to which context is more valuable -- art or porn."
Belying their director’s degree in film theory, LaBruce’s films seek to subvert the conventions of standard sex and art films. The fusion of political activism, critical theory, zombie camp, and hardcore porn is no easy feat. Even the term “taboo” seems a little flimsy here.
Last night, a strange film invaded my mind. In the interest of brushing up on my underground film knowledge, I Netflixed my way into LaBruce’s Otto; or Up with Dead People. It’s hard to know where to start when it comes to a political-gay-porno-zombie-flick, but I’ll make a valiant attempt to unwind its mad coil of sensory data.
Let me set the visual stage by saying that in Otto, it’s as though LaBruce has taken everything he finds disturbing, fascinating, or tantalizing, placed it in a witch’s pot, and then proceeded to bludgeon it.
Given the humorous contortions my face underwent, I kind of wish I had filmed myself while I was watching it. I went from laughing hysterically, to shaking my head, to lowering the volume on the gay zombie orgy to protect the delicate ears of my (I’m sure already deeply perplexed) neighbors.
It must be said that LaBruce is clearly smart; it also must be said that it doesn’t hurt that Otto (Jey Crisfar) looks like this (even after zombification):
I confess that I found myself wishing I were a gay zombie and that I knew how to say “so bleeping hot” in Dutch or French. I guess I have a thing for blood-splattered, Belgian, Josh Hartnett doppelgangers with white demon eyes and indie fashion sense. Look, it’s not easy to be that smoking while covered in mud and gore, chomping on a cat tail;
or after a bloody, coital encounter:
Otto is a (formerly human and vegetarian) zombie who has recently been dumped by his beau. The film-within-a-film aspect comes about when Otto meets Medea (Katharina Klewinghaus playing just one of the film’s many heady allusions) who is making a political-porno-zombie movie. She thinks he’s acting; he thinks he’s a zombie--tomato, tomat-oh.
So, if you’re ever in the mood for a movie that contains all of the following--commentary on gay hate crimes; a groovin’ soundtrack; references to (among many, many others) Herbert Marcuse, Gogol, and W. Somerset Maugham; characters whose insides are continuously blooming and ballooning out of them; a variety of filmic formats; signifiers let loose without a signified; discomfort, disbelief, stimulation, and alienation—then Netflix some LaBruce today.