Has Bruce LaBruce Gone Mainstream? Thoughts on GERONTOPHILIA and Radical Filmmaking, Melbourne Queer Film Festival Blog, 2014

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Has Bruce LaBruce Gone Mainstream? Thoughts on GERONTOPHILIA and Radical Filmmaking, Melbourne Queer Film Festival Blog, 2014
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  McGowan, Jasmine. ‘Has Bruce LaBruce Gone Mainstream? Thoughts on G RONTOPHILI and Radical Filmmaking’. Melbourne Queer Film Festival Blog, 2014. http://www.mqff.com.au/blog/2014/03/an-academic-take-on-gerontophilia-director-bruce-labruce/ ! Queer Canadian art-porn filmmaker and provocateur Bruce LaBruce has made his eighth feature film, Gerontophilia   (2013), and it signals a very significant departure for the director. The film about an inter-generational romance features no explicit or hardcore sexual activity and is, as Jay  Weissberg commented for Variety   magazine, the first time one of LaBruce’s films has not required, at a minimum, ‘an R rating’ (2013). Gerontophilia   has a glossy, high production aesthetic, and the budget, which is estimated at two million Canadian dollars, is LaBruce’s biggest to date. On first glance, it appears to be quite a directional shift. Some critics have interpreted the film and LaBruce’s stylistic shift as a ‘commercial cop-out’, motivated by a desire to ‘“cross over” and be adopted by mainstream’ and ‘largely straight audiences’. Weissberg, again, suggested that LaBruce’s age may be ‘tempering’ some of his earlier ‘excesses.’ He says that ‘while there’s something undeniably transgressive about a cross-generational romance’ ultimately ‘it’s played for cuteness rather than to shake up bourgeois sensibilities’.  While these two impressions – that Gerontophilia   represents a mellowing of LaBruce’s politics and consequently a capitulation or selling out and, that this mellowing combined with a shift to a glossier aesthetic represents a desire to ‘cross over’ into the mainstream – are of course understandable responses, they are, I think, limited when it comes to accounting for this most recent evolution in LaBruce’s radical filmmaking style and strategy. LaBruce himself has noted that Gerontophilia   was motivated by a desire to make something ‘a little more accessible’. However, his additional comments that the film presented an opportunity to squeeze something ‘subversive,’ even ‘radical,’ into ‘a more mainstream form,’ seems to have been lost on many critics. What LaBruce’s own comments about Gerontophilia   do reveal, I would suggest, is a desire to make his particular form of queer politics available to a broader (and, yes, potentially mainstream) audience. In other words, LaBruce’s interest in making his ideas ‘more accessible,’ does not actually translate in any straightforward way with an aspiration to a broader project of mainstream acceptance  . It’s a subtle but crucial distinction. Despite the lack of hardcore sex then, Gerontophilia   is in fact consistent both thematically and formally with LaBruce’s earlier work as well as the over-arching creative and political vision he has been fine-tuning for over two decades. LaBruce’s work is known for its celebration of sex positivism, sex radicalism and its depiction of sexual minorities such as Hustlers and stump fetishists among others. His political worldview has its roots in the rhetorics and aesthetics of punk, Queercore, feminist, anti-racist and anti-capitalist movements, and all of his work is to some extent preoccupied with the threat of cooptation, assimilation and the encroachment into radical culture of normative values. Like many of LaBruce’s films,  Gerontophilia   conveys its political message via the theme of sexual revolution. Indeed, LaBruce’s utopian politics are very often channeled through idealistic and revolutionary characters that serve as his cinematic avatars. Although sometimes winkingly  McGowan, Jasmine. ‘Has Bruce LaBruce Gone Mainstream? Thoughts on G RONTOPHILI and Radical Filmmaking’. Melbourne Queer Film Festival Blog, 2014. http://www.mqff.com.au/blog/2014/03/an-academic-take-on-gerontophilia-director-bruce-labruce/ # ironic, this remains one of his cleverest and most often repeated narrative conceits; perhaps the most widely known examples are the memorable sex radical figures of Gudrun ( Susan Sach ß e) from the 2004 film The Raspberry Reich   and Medea Yarn (Katharina Klewinghaus) from Otto; or, Up With Dead People (2008). Clues to   the radical implications of the intergenerational romance in Gerontophilia   are given voice by Desiree, the girlfriend of protagonist and gerontophile, Lake. A student of Canadian feminist icons Valerie Solanas and Noami Klein and devotee of pop culture figures with complex post-feminist credentials, such as Winona Ryder and Aileen Wuornos, Desiree serves as an appropriately humorous yet equally earnest conduit for LaBruce. When Lake acts on his taboo geronto-desires by breaking his love interest Melvyn out of an assisted care facility, Desiree tells Lake (and implicitly tells the audience) that his actions are both brave and revolutionary, and akin to the radical work of her feminist heroes. LaBruce’s insistence in his own comments on the film that Lake be understood as a gerontophile and not as ‘otherwise gay-identified’ is also central to teasing out the consistency of Gerontophilia   with his larger oeuvre. For LaBruce, ‘Lake’s fetish takes precedence over even gender’ and comes about because the boy ‘gets a job in an all-male assisted living facility’. Lake’s attraction to Melvyn – one incited by age rather than gender – undermines our beloved cultural assumption that the determinative feature of sexual identity is gender of object choice, a point made all the more emphatic by the presence of Desiree in the film and the unmistakable sexual chemistry between her and Lake. In other words: the dramatization of Lake’s sexual desire as  fluid   functions as a subtle critique of the more determinative, or ethnic, model of sexual identity that is defined exclusively in terms of gender preference. LaBruce’s critique of ethnic identity in Gerontophilia   is intensified by a sequence that functions to further decouple sexual acts from sexual identities. Prior to breaking Melvyn out of the demoralizing and at times even brutal aged-care facility, Lake fantasizes ‘rescuing’ the old man by lying down alongside him and gently licking his bedsores.  This fantasy sequence, which imagines a practice that is both non-gender and non-genital specific, clearly evokes some of the more transgressive and notorious acts from LaBruce’s film oeuvre. The sequences of SM activity in  No Skin Off My Ass  ; the stump humping, mummification and auto-erotic asphyxiation in Hustler White  ; and the wound fucking depicted in Otto  and L.A. Zombie   are all examples in which neither genital nor gender requirements determine sexual practice, and therefore, sexual identity. LaBruce presents sex acts that are often contrived for precisely their potential to decouple acts from traditional identity categories: gay, lesbian, hetero, homo. It is in this respect that Gerontophilia  , like his earlier films, is concerned with presenting a more radical, polymorphously perverse view of sexuality, in which ideas of sexual fluidity are favored over the congenital or ‘born this way’ arguments and the fixed gay/straight binary. Of course the detail upon which the critical accusations of a capitulation to the mainstream are primarily hinged is the non-explicitness of Gerontophilia  . LaBruce’s unapologetic  McGowan, Jasmine. ‘Has Bruce LaBruce Gone Mainstream? Thoughts on G RONTOPHILI and Radical Filmmaking’. Melbourne Queer Film Festival Blog, 2014. http://www.mqff.com.au/blog/2014/03/an-academic-take-on-gerontophilia-director-bruce-labruce/ $ use of unsimulated sex throughout his career is arguably a big part of his continued radicalism, not to mention his cultural marginality. The director has described himself as a ‘Reluctant Pornographer’ precisely because he understands that pornography will always reside within the realm of the taboo – the obscene – and as such remains ‘the last bastion of sexual radicalism’. However, in an age in which explicitness is increasingly becoming commonplace, the parameters of what constitutes obscenity is in a constant state of flux. It may very well be precisely the inescapable ubiquity of x-rated images that can account for LaBruce’s decision to depict a taboo relationship over (his formally preferred) taboo act  .  The lone scene of sex in Gerontophilia   opens in an extreme close-up of Lake and Melvyn kissing, while subsequent shots, in which Lake caresses Melvyn’s body, emphasize the sagginess of the old man’s skin beside the taunt and youthful skin of his paramour. It is possible to suggest that such scenes are in fact consistent with the hardcore imagery we are accustomed to from LaBruce’s films given that the sexual activity was shot, as all pornography must be, according to the principle of ‘maximum visibility’. ‘Maximum visibility’ refers to the cinematographic convention in pornography in which clinical-style lighting, angles and shots are favored over other forms of ‘artistry’ (that may even ‘be more arousing’) for their capacity to show everything  .  The fact that these interludes may be construed as heartfelt or perhaps even sweet does not undermine the potency of their impact. Quite the contrary – depicting inter-generational intimacy as something that is played neither for laughs nor sentimentality (something LaBruce says he was  very particular about ), but is rendered with sincerity and integrity, is precisely the film’s taboo busting, envelope pushing agenda. Although the film does not pathologize inter-generational desire, the clear implication is that the rest of the world does, and, although this relation is not rendered “obscene” within the film itself, it is precisely its (generally perceived) “obscenity” that LaBruce is mining for its radical affect. What is taboo or “obscene” in Gerontophilia   is not the explicit depiction of inter-generational genital contact, but the inter-generational encounter itself. So, Weissberg’s assertion that the cross-generational romance is played for cuteness is not, I don’t think, quite an accurate summation of the overall affect of LaBruce’s new film. While Gerontophilia   is undoubtedly “feel good,” the scenes of intimacy between Lake and Melvyn present big challenges to conventional ideas of what is sexually attractive, what kinds of relationships are appropriate, and the very definition of what constitutes a sexual act. It is perhaps debatable then the extent to which Gerontophilia   represents a departure from the director’s larger radical project at all. While it is clear that LaBruce is interested in reaching out to a new demographic, I would suggest that his larger radical project is not in any way diminished by this most recent offering. Rather than being understood as a ‘mellowing’, Gerontophilia   might be understood as the diversification of a director with a keen sense of what constitutes radical critique.
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