The Visitor, LaBruce's pornification of a surreal 1960s cult film, was filmed in front of an audience watching sex unfold through peepholes
At the intersection of hardcore porn and arthouse cinema, Canadian filmmaker Bruce LaBruce uses sadomasochistic debauchery to comment on the gross realities of racism and xenophobia. The result is smutty, horrifying and sometimes humorous, yet rigorously rooted in political praxis. His latest body of work is no exception to the rule, comprising a kinked-up interpretation of Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini’s masterpiece, Theorem, and a bloody editorial launched with Doesn’t Exist magazine. Entitled The Visitor and executive produced by a/political, it airs later this year promising a graphic affront on the senses.
“It’s not a conventional narrative film,” LaBruce tells Dazed on a Zoom call. “For me, it’s like an art project – almost like an on-site installation-slash-live-performance-slash-experimental film to be shown in a gallery or film festivals. Like Theorem, it follows the story of a sexual healer who arrives as an outsider in a new milieu. However, in this instance, it is not an unnamed guest that sleeps with every member of an Italian bourgeois family, but instead a Black refugee arriving on the Thames embankment in a suitcase on a dinghy.
“There’s this idea of the sexualised Other,” explains LaBruce. “Refugees are often stereotyped in a fearmongering way as sexual predators – you know, Trump said the Mexican refugees are rapists. There’s a tendency to see them as more sexually primitive.” As such, the film, which is currently in production, invited the public along to its filming at a/political to reify this sentiment. Members of the audience were invited to watch live sex unfold through peepholes or a screen upstairs like submissive cuckolds.
“I take Polaroids on shoots and make them look very real,” he says. “They’ve been stopped at customs before.” It’s a visceral and explicit process integral to his work. Highlighting the inherent queerness or pornographic frameworks in heteronormative society and geopolitics alike, LaBruce’s “queering” and “pornification” are signature techniques. “We've become desensitised and used to these images of beheadings, and murder has become a kind of entertainment,” he adds. “There’s all those slickly produced ISIS beheading videos and Abu Ghraib images that had porn tropes of sadomasochism.”
It’s sticky terrain, but LaBruce’s compelling work caricatures the violence of nation-state policies, all while exposing an unspoken and insidious dynamic seen across porn. Demystifying both is a career objective. Making his name in the adult industry during the late 90s, the artist notes the domination-submission narratives adult films employ to titillate viewers. Even the most vanilla smut comes with a storyline of someone at first rejecting a proposition but eventually succumbing to pleasure. It’s a performance, as far as he’s concerned, but not one without real problematics. On the set of The Visitor, the trials and tribulations of performers keeping wood or holding poses strip away the polished veneer, bringing home a message no scroll through Pornhub could.
While The Visitor sanctifies the Black alien, LaBruce’s back catalogue features a varied spectrum of power play. In Hustler White, for example, a white hustler is gang-banged by a group of Black hustlers coded as Black Power activists. “The white hustler, before they start gangbanging him, says, ‘At least use a condom,’ and somebody grabs a white Wonder Bread bag as a condom to fuck him,” says Bruce. Here, the slapstick jibe lands on the white twink, but in other films, a more sober approach was in order. In the neo-Nazi film, Skin Flick (1999), a group of White Power skinheads rape a Black character. “In terms of that kind of representation, it had to be played straight,” says Bruce.
His is an intriguing observation on the racialised subtexts of sex, and in many ways, true to his deft use of farce or what he calls, “[putting] your Marxism where your mouth is.” But what did we expect? Let’s not forget, in the early 80s, he made his name as head honcho of queercore, a sissified offshoot of punk that eschewed white bourgeois gay culture and infiltrated a homophobic punk scene, mocking what he saw as actually very queer.
“Back in the day, if I went to a gay bar, I would try to look as punk and aggro as possible. In punk venues, I would try to look femmy and queer, showing explicit queer films and getting punched in the nose for it,” recalls Bruce. ‘I kind of do that now. The same bratty delinquent behaviour, even as an old man.”
Call it brash, but his porn-as-praxis method works. No doubt, The Visitor will follow suit.
The Visitor will be showcased in October 2023 at a/political. Meanwhile, take a look through the gallery above for a selection of imagery from this and other works by LaBruce.