Filmmaker's series critiques gay sensibilities

By Peter Goddard
Toronto Star Entertainment Reporter
November, 1999

The way he tells it, Bruce LaBruce didn't lose his virginity until he arrived in Toronto. He wasn't much more than 19 years old, just a farm kid from the Port Elgin area.

But maybe the earth moved for Toronto, too. Because the filmmaker has been shaking the city's culture for the 20 years since.

Tonight, LaBruce's latest seismic culture-shocker, Skin Flick, begins its three-night, five-screening stint at The Metro, the faded Bloor St. movie palace that's "the city's oldest porn theatre," as we're reminded by LaBruce press bumpf,

Well, maybe The Metro has seen some odd couplings in its day. It won't have seen anything like Skin Flick's beefy European gay skinhead studs (actually hot European male porn stars playing skinheads) or the risk-taking, spectacular rage-scene from real-life model/actress Nikki Uberti.

Of course, Skin Flick's fetish fantasies and neo-Nazi nutbars could only be paired with The White To Be Angry, by Los Angeles drag star/performance artist Vaginal Davis. Like LaBruce with Skin Flick, Davis slices, dissects and dices the erotic-relationship between homosexuality and authoritarian imagery.

One thing to know about LaBruce. He loves to make an impression. The punkers found this out in the mid-'80s during their super-macho phase "which could be quite homophobic," LaBruce says. "I got beat up more than once at punk clubs for being a fag."

In retaliation, he started J.D.'s, his anti-punk 'Zine with some lesbian friends. "We'd make punk seem the gayest thing ever, with gay pinups of punk rockers," he says. "We'd get members of bands drunk and get them to take their clothes off and we'd take pictures of them. So that's how we got into doing sexually explicit stuff."

The movie community discovered the explicit LaBruce style from his two early films, No Skin Off My Ass and Hustler White, which are funny, porn-y and fearless, and pretty good movies to boot.

But the other thing to know about LaBruce, he knows the limits. His, anyway. He is, as the title of his quasi-biography says, The Reluctant Pornographer, always getting dragged into controversy because someone outrageous and brilliant has to be controversial.

So the Metro showings should prove to be controversy (and police) free. LaBruce, who'll be on hand for all five screenings as will Davis, is being conservative, as is Pleasure Dome, the screenings' producers.

While there is a hard-core version of Skin Flick (it was mostly financed by the Berlin porn-producer, Cazzo Films), it'll be the soft-core (no penetration scenes) print showing at The Metro. LaBruce, in fact, prefers this version because it allows for additional scenes with Uberti, which he feels broaden the film.

LaBruce is his very own double entendre, at once the classic showbiz insider (he tells me what pal director Gus Van Sant's up to) and the outsider at the same time.

For instance, while you may suspect that Bruce LaBruce couldn't be his real name (although he was born in Bruce County), you also discover that he claims to have two "real" names, Justin Stewart (his current fave "real name") and Bryan Bruce.

Either way, growing up Bruce in the middle of the Bruce area "prevented me from being appropriated by gay culture," LaBruce says. "When I came to Toronto, the gay culture seemed just as alien to me as any culture. I was never comfortable with going to bars or hanging out at nightclubs.

"That's why I started hanging out in the punk culture, which I found much more politically and esthetically interesting."

From post-punk, LaBruce evolved into what can be called post-gay, being first in line to strip the leather off any sacred gay cow. For all its skin and skin heads, Skin Deep is a deep critique of gay culture.

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