by G.W. Mercure
It should be called the ‘Over the Edge’ award,” says Bruce LaBruce, this year’s recipient of the Filmmaker on the Edge award at the Provincetown International Film Festival. LaBruce is a boundary-bashing auteur, writer, photographer, and raconteur who will fittingly be honored by his father-figure-in filth, John Waters, at the festival this month.
“When I finally made John Waters’ top ten in Artforum a couple of years ago, for me it was better than an Oscar. John supported my work for so long,” LaBruce says. Waters selected LaBruce’s Saint-Narcisse as one of the top 10 films of 2021 in Artforum magazine. This will be LaBruce’s first experience with the Provincetown International Film Festival, but far from his first fling with Waters. As one might expect, that first meeting in Baltimore didn’t go as expected.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you bring a suit. We might go to the governor’s ball,’” recalls LaBruce. “I was assigned to interview John for the Gay Times in London. I thought he was kidding, but I brought a suit anyway. And I went to his house and we did the interview and then he said, ‘Why don’t we go check this out?’”
The pair, a May-December filmmaking duo, attended the ball—former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley was a big fan of Waters and had known the filmmaker for some time. “John introduced me to everyone and I met the governor and his wife. And he was always my friend,” says LaBruce. “And then as part of the article for Gay Times, I took a shit in his toilet and took a picture of it and published it as part of the interview.”
Waters continues to have an influence on LaBruce today. “I reinvestigated some of his work recently,” he says. “I rewatched the earlier features which are among my favorites, the ones that really have had a huge influence. He really breaks some major taboos, like with the famous chicken scene and everything. I was dabbling in using pornographic material in my experimental films at that time and Waters’ films really encouraged me to push boundaries even further.”
LaBruce has learned a lot from Waters. Like Waters, LaBruce has established a reputation for creating boundary-breaking works that blur the line between independent film and pornography. He has written and directed 14 feature films, including L.A. Zombie (2010), which was banned in Australia, and Gerontophilia, which won the Grand Prix at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema in Montreal in 2012. LaBruce also works successfully in pornographic films: His most recent porn feature The Affairs of Lidia, is a comic farce that takes on the fashion industry, and he will soon debut an experimental amalgam of art and porn called The Visitor, which he is preparing for the a/political gallery in London. His most mainstream feature, Gerontophilia, is a romantic comedy that can be considered a kind of gay Harold and Maude.
LaBruce’s work doesn’t shy away from the few frontiers that remain in film: rape and BDSM; race-related violence; amputee fetishism; gerontophilia, and other taboos. He is a prominent and influential figure in the queercore social movement.
LaBruce’s work continues to challenge viewers and push creative boundaries. He is an important figure in the world of avant-garde filmmaking and his work continues to drive conversations about sexuality, censorship, and creative freedom of expression. “What is ‘shock value?’” he said. “This idea of shock value: ‘Oh, you’re just doing this to be shocking, or provocative.’” But that’s the idea, according to LaBruce. “Shocking people was part of the essence. Because it shakes people up, it kind of gets at them where they’re suppressed in their preconceptions and prejudices or their indoctrination into the dominant order.”
Although this will be LaBruce’s first appearance at the Provincetown International Film Festival, he has a Provincetown origin story that fits right in with other Provincetown origin stories. “Yeah, I lost my virginity in Provincetown,” he says. “I was a student and this was like in the eighties. I majored in film and minored in dance and I met this New York actor, of course, and we ended up developing a romantic relationship and then at the end of the summer, we went down to Provincetown and that’s where I lost it. I lost it very late so it was very memorable. Of course, there was nothing—I think there was maybe one gay bar then? I mean, it was a long time ago.”
This trip to Provincetown will have a different purpose and a different ending for LaBruce, but will be just as meaningful. “The previous recipients are amazing filmmakers so it’s really good to be in that company.” Indeed. That company includes names like Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, Kevin Smith, Sofia Coppola, Roger Corman, David Cronenberg, Richard Linklater, Darren Aronofksy, and, of course, John Waters.
Bruce LaBruce will be in conversation with John Waters at the Filmmaking on the Edge Awards at Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St., Saturday, June 17, 5 p.m. For tickets and information about this event as well as the Provincetown International Film Festival, visit provincetownfilm.org or go to the box office at 229 Commercial St., Provincetown.