Interview with Director Bruce Labruce, author of "GERONTOPHILIA"
Bruce LaBruce, born Justin Stewart in Canada during 1964, is a writer, filmmaker, photographer and underground gay porn director. His films explore themes of sexual and interpersonal transgression against cultural norms, frequently blending the artistic and production techniques of independent film with gay pornography.
After premiering at Sundance and Berlin, “The Raspberry Reich”, he took off on the international film festival circuit, playing at over 150 festivals, culminating in a screening at MoMA in New York City in November of 2008.
Complitely new appeared his last film at Venice film festival during “Giornate degli Autori - Venice Days”, the most experimental section.
As better explainend in Italian at http://www.psychiatryonline.it/node/4501 it’s quite a gay Harold and Maude, where a young man, who takes a job in a nursing home, develops a romantic and sexual attraction to Mr. Peabody a senior citizen resident in the facility. Unlike most of LaBruce's earlier films, Gerontophilia is not sexually explicit; instead, LaBruce choose to adapt his traditional themes of sexual taboo into a film more palatable to a mainstream audience.
First of all I’d like to know if you choosed those themes (old people and zombies) to save the idea any gay must die for any successful gay film, as any priced with Oscar has been, ‘till now?
My zombie films do represent certain aspects of my personal gay experience, but it's not about having to die to be successful. In my movie Otto, the young boy has been so traumatized by all the hostility and negativity directed at him for being a homosexual that he perceives himself as a zombie, as dead. Or undead. L.A. Zombie is quite different. The alien zombie in that film fucks dead bodies back to life. He is a kind of saviour, a visitor from beyond who is saddened by all the violence and negativity on earth, but who tries to help the victims by resurrecting them. In Gerontophilia, the old man is already in a kind of over-medicated zombie state in the nursing home, and the young boy tries to bring him back to life. It's another kind of resurrection. The old man dies in the end from the excitement, but at least he dies happy!
Homosexuals have often traditionally come to a bad end in mainstream movies, but to me this always made a certain amount of sense. Before homosexuality became conservative and assimilated and deradicalized, gays and lesbians and trans people were marginalized and brutalized by society (obviously they still are in some societies), so popular cinema merely reflected this mistreatment of those who challenge the norms and conventions of sexuality. Often, in films like The Fox with Sandy Dennis or The Sergeant with Rod Steiger, the demise of the homosexual at the end of the film was represented as a horrible, almost Shakesperean- or Greek-style tragedy.
These homosexual characters found themselves in impossible, tragic circumstances dictated by a repressive, unenlightened society, and so their lives no longer become tenable. I'm always reminded of Marcuse's dictum - a well-adjusted individual in a sick society is himself (or herself) sick! Also, homosexuals were often associated in cinema with a criminal element, largely because they were offered no other alternatives by society. To me, this was often a glamorous, romantic portrayal of misfits, radicals, and even sexual terrorists. Nothing to be ashamed of! In my work, I've come to regard gay zombies and old people as a representation of the last vestiges of an old school of homosexuality - one that was militant, extreme, and that celebrated the outsider. For me, homosexuals are now the dead, or undead, or almost dead, the last front against the banality, the conformity, and the relentless ubiquity of heteronormative culture.
You’lll perfectly know the recent love stories of our Berlusconi with a 17 y.o. gay-girl…. What do you think about this?
Oh dear. Well, Berlusconi is a special, horrible case. He tries to act young and preserve his youth in a kind of vampiristic way by fucking young prostitutes. There is not real gerontophilia there. The young ones are attracted to him because he is rich and powerful, not because of his age or wisdom or because they think he's sexy.
Berlusconi is a different kind of zombie, a bad zombie. He cannot be killed. He eternally returns to life to drag Italian society into a quagmire of corruption, apathy, and cynicism. He is also a vampire, sucking the life force from young girls to maintain his misguided delusion of eternal youth.
My conception of gerontophiles is exactly the opposite. For me, gerontophiles idolize and fetishize the elderly for the wisdom, their experience, and their lives full of suffering, joy, and love. I've never developed a sexual attraction personally for the elderly, but I do regard those who have this fetish as saints and martyrs - they sacrifice themselves on the altar of lives fully lived and experienced, and long for that same, inevitable state of grace.
Can cinema help homophobia fight some how?
Cinema is the most profound and powerful propaganda tool in the world, so it can be used to fight anything, including homophobia. But homophobia is a very complicated phenomenon, and it is also the duty of filmmakers like myself to explore it in a sophisticated and complex way. For example, my movie Skin Flick is about neo-Nazi skinheads who are having homosexual sex with each other but who are in no way gay-identified, and in fact they are homophobic and hate people who call themselves gay. It's a strange and perverse psychology that involves denial, projection, internalized homophobia, etc. Cinema is also the strongest propaganda tool of all, but it can be used either to foster homophobia or to fight against it. It's a complicated issue.
Some people might argue that the depiction of homosexuals and homosexuality in my movies promotes homophobia; others see my films as a celebration of the misfits of society, and a call for the sexually deviant or unorthodox to lay claim to their own humanity, and to express their difference freely and joyfully.
Can you speak to me around your experience with Psychiatry or Psychology, please?
I've had a life-long fascination with psychoanalytic theory. I even took a post-graduate course in university called "Psychoanalysis and Feminism" in which I was the only male in the class! We had to read all of Lacan translated into English, which was difficult as I am not fond of French Poststructuralist theory!
I wrote and directed a play in Berlin at the Hau Theatre called The Bad Breast or, The Strange Case of Theda Lange, which was inspired by the work of the post-Freudian psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. It’s about the relationship between a neurotic, nymphomaniacal stage actress and her Kleinian psychoanalyst! I would love to turn it into a dramatic narrative movie.
I've only had two psychotherapists in my life, both whom helped me through difficult periods. Each treatment lasted about a year. I've had psychotherapy in my life, but I've never been psychoanalyzed. Maybe it's time!
What about your own coming out? How to help Italian stars and VIP come out?
Coming out is a bit old school now in some ways. If people want to stay in the closet, I believe it is their choice. Some people don't want to define their lives through identity politics or through an ideological filter. I can appreciate that. I'm not so militant when it comes to expecting everyone to come out or to identify themselves as "gay" or fix their sexual identity. I support a much more fluid, less restricted expression of sexuality and homosexuality. We live in an era now, however, particularly in the western world, in which it's not so big a deal to come out as homosexual, if that is your identification, and it can even work to your advantage these days. Having said that, it's difficult to lead a secret life, and I know that sometimes it's a big relief and extremely liberating to live your life openly and freely.
I never really officially came out. I just assumed everyone knew! I think more sports stars in particular need to come out, even though I abhor sports. But I think a lot of them are very sexually repressed, and need to get over it.
What do you think about Italian gaylife, if you experienced?
I've been to Italy many times, and to GLBT film festivals in Rome, Torrino, Milan, Bologna, etc. A book about my work, entitled "Bruce(x)ploitation" was published by a company based in Torino, Queer Frame, a division of Atlantide Entertainment. Queer Frame is also distributing a box set of my two gay zombie movies, Otto; or, Up with Dead People and L.A. Zombie.
I love Italian men (and women too!). I also love hustlers and rough trade!
I think a lot of Italian men are able to express their homosexuality passionately, although not always openly, and with great style and elegance.
Of course in very Catholic countries the issue of homosexuality is always complicated. But of course Italy has produced one of the greatest homosexual artists and philosophers of all time, Pier Paolo Passolini!
The Catholic Church is obviously full of homosexuals, and the baroque aesthetic of the Church is very gay as well, so it leads to all sorts of delicious paradoxes and contradictions! Well, you can't get much gayer than the Vatican!
What’s your specifical opinion around “gerontophilia” as psychological syndrome, perversion, or what?
It's a certified fetish that's in the dictionary. Even Scientific American acknowledges it! As you can see on http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/2013/07/31/everlasting-beauty-a-sexual-attraction-to-the-elderly/
The sexualize old man body is a rare and only modern theme actually, which were your referrals in this choice?
I wasn't really thinking of any modern references. Even Harold and Maude is not so much about a fetish for the old woman's body, but rather as the tale of a young man who loves an old woman in spite of her age. This is why I configured my movie more as a "reverse Lolita". I based it more on anecdotal information, stories I've heard personally from people I've encountered in real life.
Have you never seen “Il Compleanno” by Marco Filiberti ? Being around a Lolita-gay History with an happy end, some how this film should be considered the opposite of your Gerontophilia. Did you realize or confront with, and at least, did the original Lolita impress you somehow?
I do not know this italian film. I have of course read the Nabokov novel (several times) and I've seen the Kubrick film version multiple times.
I tried to imagine the old man, Mr. Peabody, in Gerontophilia as a parallel character to Lolita. Like her, he becomes somewhat aware of the (sexual) power he holds over his intergenerational lover, and teases him about it in a kind of almost coquettish way. Also, the accident that the mother has in Gerontophilia is parallel to the death of the mother in Lolita.
It can be read as an unconscious wish of the young man to at least temporarily get rid of his mother so that he can fulfill and pursue his desires toward the old man.
Another film confronting your Gerontophilia is of course “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest”, isn’t it?
Gerontophilia references "Cuckoo's Nest" (I've also read the novel and seen the film) inasmuch it is about a character, Mr. Peabody, who is institutionalized and isolated partly because of his unconventional and unorthodox choices he's made in his life.
The institution also tries to make him into a kind of zombie, as in Cuckoo's Nest, to both punish him and make him docile and manageable.
I've visited several people in mental institutions over the years, so I understand how much medication is used merely to make patients manageable.
Why did you had Psychotherapy in your life? Which results you think you obtained or changes?
I've been in serious psychotherapy twice in my life, both after traumatic experiences I've had resulting in addiction problems. Both times I had really great therapists who helped me get through those difficult times and addictions through a combination of therapies. Both of them believed very much in talk therapy, in cognitive behavioural therapy, and in other kinds of therapy ranging from humanist to psychoanalytic to prescribing medication. I like this multidisciplinary approach, tailored to the individual patient.
Is the use of drugs or psychofarmacotherapy a way to find inspiration and artistic way to you or in your environment?
I've used a wide range of drugs both recreationally and therapeutically in my life. I've experimented with mind-altering substances as a way to open the doors of perception, as it was once termed, to open the mind to different ways of seeing the world. I've had amazing, spiritual or otherwise enlightening trips, and I've had bad trips.
This is your first non.indipendent film: had this changed somehow your plot or original programs around the film?
Not around the film, no. This film was intended from the very beginning to be a more accessible film made in more of an "industry" context, so there was never really any consideration of having to tone anything down or compromise on anything. I set out to make a different kind of movie, but I chose a theme that was still consistent with my previous films - a story about an outsider and sexual "deviant", a misfit, and a revolutionary. The main difference was that it isn't sexually explicit like my previous films. Most of my previous films are romantic and comedic, as well as sexually explicit.
The whole history is more romantic and less “insane” or better “provocative” than other films, also in the actor’s choice and playing: is this because production pressure or is somehow Labruce going to have an evolution in his artistic roadmap?
Like I said, the whole idea was to try a new method and to reach a different audience. I'd made seven sexually explicit features, so I thought it was time to try something different. It was a nice challenge to work with a bigger budget, to work with a union crew, to work with a more "industry" model. But this doesn't mean I won't continue to make sexually explicit or shocking or avant-garde work. In fact I've already made an experimental film, base on my staging of Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, that is about a female to male transexual, that is sexually explicit, and quite shocking in some ways. It's also anti-narrative and low budget.
Because of the theme I can’t avoid myself to ask you which has been your parental relationship especially with father and grandfathers…
I can confess to a certain father fixation in my childhood, which isn't anything unusual, from what I gather...
As well as I would like to ask if you never experienced gerontophilia in your sexual and love affairs…
I'm very democratic in my sexual tastes and practices, so I have had sex with, for example, men over sixty. But I am not a gerontophile per se.
As you already said you turned some film in a Germany context: is this Country part of you life somehow? Which has been your relation with Europeans? Are you once turning a film here in Italy ?
I've made three films in Berlin and I've directed three stage productions there as well. I also shot a feature in London, and a short documentary in Paris. I love Old Europe, but I find I need to balance my time between the Old World and the New World. For me, Europe can be very heavy, steeped in history and weighted down by a heavy, complicated history. For me, Canada and the US are somehow lighter and more frontier-oriented - the open sky, the relatively new development. America is like a teenager, and Europe is like a middle-aged whore! I like both! I would love to shoot a film in Italy. I have a script in development hell about the German photographer Wilhelm Von Gloeden that I want to shoot in Sicily, but I haven't been able to get the funding yet.
NdA: Gerontophilia is maybe going to be distributed in Italy next spring, but is maybe condemned to be seen only into the homosexual associations and Lgbt film festivals if we’re not having a radical change in the common sense around sexual freedom in our Country.