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LR Misandrist Bruce La Bruce 2016

Bruce LaBruce discusses The Misandrists

LR Misandrist Bruce La Bruce 2016

The cult gay filmmaker talks breaking sexual taboos, the changing face of feminism and why he doesn’t call himself a radical

Cult filmmaker Bruce LaBruce is no stranger to provocation. Since the 80s, he’s been subverting cinema with his own infamous blend of pornography and avant-garde filmmaking, whether depicting a gay skinhead in love (No Skin Off My Ass) or an amputee sex scene (Hustler White). His latest venture is The Misandrists, which takes place in a school for wayward girls – one that’s actually the front for an organisation of radical lesbian terrorists.

The Misandrists is something of a follow-up film to his 2005 work The Raspberry Reich, which sees LaBruce take aim what he calls “terrorist chic” –  as he puts it, “when somebody wears a Che Guevara t-shirt and they have absolutely no idea who Che Guevara is – emptying out the signifiers of radicalism and using them purely for fashion.” The original film focussed on a group of sexually ambiguous leftist insurgents, dedicated to continuing the legacy of the Baader-Meinhof gang who infamously kidnapped and murdered industrialist Hanns Martin Schleyer in 70s Germany. But there was one problem with his original effort – “certain friends or people that I have run into at film festivals would complain that I didn't represent lesbians,” LaBruce recalls. “So I vowed that I would make a lesbian terrorist film to redress that.”

Currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter (and still in need of your donations), the film has just wrapped shooting in Berlin, where LaBruce enlisted a cast of young unknowns and cult figures alike (including performance artist Kembra Pfahler, Susanne Oberbeck of No Bra and actress Susanne Sachße, who originally starred in The Raspberry Reich). As the film enters its last week for donations, LaBruce discusses misandry, contemporary feminism and the surprising romanticism that’s to be found in his depictions of extreme sexuality.

Why did you want to call this film The Misandrists

Bruce LaBruce: You know, everyone knows the word ‘misogynist’ – the hatred of women is ingrained in culture in many ways. The exact opposite is misandry, which doesn’t have such popular use because people can't understand the concept of hating men. So calling the film The Misandrists draws attention to that distinction. It’s also a politically incorrect gesture. Stereotypically feminists are called man-haters, which is not true, but to be provocative I called them that because they actually are a group of lesbian separatist terrorists who hate men.

Why do you think it is important to be politically incorrect sometimes?

Bruce LaBruce: Well I try to contradict myself at least once a day, it’s a healthy exercise. If you are too sure about everything, if your politics become doctrine, then you’re not actually living in the real world. But even political incorrectness has now been co-opted by conservatives. You know, Donald Trump always talks about being politically incorrect, which he kind of is but in a grotesque way. But for me, it’s about going against the idea of policing language or policing art – it’s a type of censorship to forbid people to express themselves in certain ways. If you don’t like what they are saying or the art that they make then you have the option of not buying it, or writing against it, or even protesting or whatever.

How do you think that feminism has changed since you first started making films?

Bruce LaBruce: Well, I went to university during the period of second-wave feminism. Which in a way was more militant – there were lesbian separatist groups a lot in the 80s, and some essentialist feminists who were getting back to this idea of what is essential about the female of the species, that if people respected it more and embraced it, it could save the world. Because a masculine, testosterone-driven world wasn’t doing so well. So those ideas were more common. Now it seems like the new feminist order is more post-feminist, where it’s about competing and operating within the male-centric culture.

“I try to contradict myself at least once a day, it’s a healthy exercise” – Bruce LaBruce

How much do you think that is happening with feminism at the moment?

Bruce LaBruce: Well, the reason I set my film in 1999 is so it’s in a time when things weren’t so splintered – it seems like there are so many kinds of feminism now and different ideas about what it means to be feminist. There is this post-feminist idea like, ‘Oh you know we want to be treated exactly the same as men’ – so women take over corporate jobs and they become just as ruthless and exploitative as the men. The film questions that kind of equality, which is something that Ulrike Meinhof of the red army faction wrote a lot about in the 70s – what’s the point of having equal rights in an unequal system that is corrupt and exploitative. What kind of equality is that? But today we have post-feminist or post-queer ideas about gender, which also figures very prominently in The Misandrists, which deals with the ideas of what happens when lesbian separatists reject trans women because they think they are not real women. That is one of the essential plot points of the movie.

Do you think there are parallels between LGBT issues and feminist ones in terms of how people are now disregarding radicalism? Gay marriage is probably the key example, where those who were once outsiders now embrace normative social roles. 

Bruce LaBruce: A theme that runs through a lot of my films is the oppressed becoming the oppressor. And you know, the gay movement – even from the very early on in the 80s – was a very white, male, middle class movement, and everyone else was marginalised. So, the whole fight for marriage equality has even further re-enforced this gay normativity and homonormativity. It’s the idea that people are fighting for rights that may make them equal to the average person but at the same time, they are becoming like the very people that used to despise them. You know, a lot of gays were rejected by their families and kicked out of the family unit and now it’s gone back to the ideas of family values. There is a morality to it too, people disapprove of gays who still live a very militant life. 

Do you see anyone today who maintains a sense of radicalism and isn’t just seeking to incorporate themselves happily into the mainstream? 

Bruce LaBruce: Oh yeah, totally. Even in casting the film. I cast a lot of young women, some of whom were like 18, 19 years old. These girls are amazing – they are just so fluid with ideas of gender and really strongly feminist, but it’s much more complex in a way that it was. Because gender fluidity and sexual fluidity are a much bigger part of their lives now. So they are very experimental and very aware of the perils of the patriarchy. 

Why did you want to have them as schoolgirls?

Bruce LaBruce: I was referencing several movies, The Trouble with Angels from the late 60s which is set in a convent which is also a school for girls. I was also influenced by Japanese schoolgirl movies, which is a really popular genre in Japan. In terms of the uniforms, I had a very specific idea in mind – my costumer Ramona Petersen and I talked a lot about it. It was this half serious schoolgirl look and half militant, revolutionary look. So they have these little capes and red berets, but then also they have mid-high knee socks and patent leather platform shoes. I was also going for a kind of late 90s vibe, and then I got the girls to add little personal flourishes to their own uniforms.

“That is what interests me as a filmmaker or an artist, to explore those taboo areas where you can push the boundary” – Bruce LaBruce

The schoolgirl is famously an object of hetero-male desire – do you think that they are the kind of schoolgirls that men would be attracted to?

Bruce LaBruce: In terms of the fetishisation, yeah, it is definitely a male fetish but the film is so adamantly anti-male, and within the narrative the girls are actually making the statement that they are going to make their own porn and that it is only for them. It’s making the point that it’s time to take men out of the equation of porn and that they have control over their own sexuality – so it plays with the idea of fetish but it also subverts it.

How explicit is this film?

Bruce LaBruce: Well, it is meant to be explicit and I made it clear to everyone at the beginning that it would be explicit in parts. There are only really a couple of explicit scenes and one is an orgy scene of the women, so there is sexual activity going on but I wanted it to be like a 70s soft-core porn film – you can tell that the women are being intimate with each other but it is not focusing on that. Before they started the orgy scene the girls all sat around and had a discussion amongst themselves about their boundaries, who likes what and who was willing to do what and what they didn't want to do. So it was all very open and aboveboard.

Why is it important for you to incorporate pornographic elements into your work?

Bruce LaBruce: It goes back a long way, because I have been making films since the 80s and then I considered it a political gesture. I was in the punk scene which turned very homophobic, so my friends and I started making movies and fanzines in opposition to that. The best way to make a point was to incorporate gay pornographic material, and then we started making our own naive pornography. Just to make the gesture that we were totally unapologetic and in your face about representing homosexuality and gay sex. That’s how it started. For The Raspberry Reich for example, I was making a film partly about sexual revolution, so it would be much more convincing and powerful to actually have explicit sex in the film and to make a porn version of the film. Sort of trying to practice what you preach.

Why do you think it is important to self-fund or crowdsource your projects?

Bruce LaBruce: Lately I have been making two types of movies. One of my movies Gerontophilia was financed by governmental funding agencies in Canada and that process was very different – you have to jump through so many hoops and develop a script with the funding agencies and they have inputs. It takes a long time, and I feel like I can’t wait two years to make a film, so I just decided to make one with no budget and finance it. It was great because I wrote it in December and January and filmed it in April so it was like super fast. And also you don't have those restrictions where you don’t have money people looking over your shoulder. So you can tackle much more controversial and provocative issues, and feature explicit sex for example.

Do you consider yourself radical? 

Bruce LaBruce: I don’t know, it can be one of those words that is overused. I would never really refer to myself as radical, although I am referred to a lot with that word. My films deal a lot with extreme fetishes for example, so like amputee fetishes in Hustler White or Gerontophilia, even. That is what interests me as a filmmaker or an artist, to explore those taboo areas where you can push the boundary. But I try not to do it in a sensational way, I tend to try and make it more romantic. A fetish is usually about a reverence for the object of desire, you know. It is like an extreme reverence and almost like a holy appreciation of it. So I tried to point out that sometimes these things that seem extreme or radical are actually just what something that is built into love and sexuality and of worship.