Retrospective of Bruce LaBruce at the Cinémathèque québécoise

Between his early super-8 punk movies and his latest feature, a comedy, Toronto filmmaker Bruce LaBruce has become a global icon of queer cinema, always exposing transgressive sexual practices with political subtexts. The Cinémathèque québécoise offers him, on Wednesday, his most exhaustive retrospective to date.

Entitled Tender and transgressive, the program lives up to its name. It presents as many sweet love stories as abrasive short pornographic films. Bruce LaBruce has indeed developed a pornographic career in parallel with his more “traditional” activities. The latter makes « no distinction between art and pornography », he says, infusing all his work with the same creative energy.

“I started making films documenting what my friends were doing. We were part of the punk scene, but we also wanted to denounce the sexism, homophobia and racism that reigned there, ”says Bruce LaBruce, in an interview with The duty. For the filmmaker, the representations of marginal sexual practices make it possible to criticize the political and social repression of minorities.

No Skin Off My Ass (1991), his first feature film, solidified his reputation in this regard. Shot in super-8, black and white, and with a microscopic budget, the film tells the troubled relationship between a narrator played by Bruce LaBruce himself and a young skinhead, played by his boyfriend at the time. Having been presented at numerous festivals, the film quickly became cult. He was even one of Kurt Cobain’s favorites, according to some.

kitsch and terrorism

“I hate liberal ‘tolerance’. My films directly show homosexual relations. It shocks and it disturbs people in their ideas of what they believe to tolerate, ”explains the director. He says he wants to expose the fetishization of subcultures – like skinheads – as well as the power relations that result from it.

“Reviewing my films in such a retrospective allows me to realize that I have always done the same thing. Between No Skin Off My Ass and St. Narcissus (2020), there are a lot of similarities,” says Bruce LaBruce. In this last film, it is, among other things, a question of the fetishization of twin brothers – “a recurring motif in pornography”, according to the filmmaker – and of “the vanity intrinsic to homosexual identity”, he explains.

I started making films documenting what my friends were doing. We were part of the punk scene, but we also wanted to denounce the sexism, homophobia and racism that reigned there.

His cinema is therefore intended to be transgressive, but it remains a playful and colorful transgression, imbued with kitsch motifs or cinematographic references. With Super 8 ½ (1994), for example, is inspired by Fellini’s classic, and makes it the semi-autobiographical account of a fallen pornographer.

In The Raspberry Reich (2004) — maybe his magnum opus —, it depicts a queer far-left terrorist group. A satire of a certain hypocritical “caviar left”, the film skilfully mixes pornography and propagandist iconography.

“I’ve always been fascinated by terrorist groups, like the Red Army Faction that inspired the film, or the FLQ here in Quebec,” says LaBruce.

Quebec cinephilia

Like all his recent feature films, St. Narcissus was filmed in Quebec, and features a predominantly Quebec cast. “My relationship with Quebec is very rich and complex,” says the filmmaker.

“Quebec cinema of the 1970s influenced me a lot. Very young, I was marked by Act of the Heart, by Paul Almond, with Geneviève Bujold. She embodies a Protestant with a repressed sexuality, haunted by her desires. All Canadian cinema at the time was marked by a taboo relationship with sexuality,” says the filmmaker.

This is why the Cinémathèque is also presenting a “carte blanche” section of its retrospective, where seven of the director’s favorite films will be featured. Act of the Heart there, alongside classics such as wanda (1970), by Barbara Loden, or evenOut of the Blue (1980), by Dennis Hopper, with the song of the same name by Neil Young.

The retrospective Bruce LaBruce : Tender and transgressive is on view at the Cinémathèque until October 26. His most recent film, The Affairs of Lydiawill also premiere there on October 14, as part of the Festival du nouveau cinema.

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