Published Feb 01, 2000Although I'm no Walter Brennan, I have been receiving some rather special awards lately. Not the least of these was the bestowment upon me, for no reasonable reason, of Index magazine's first annual lifetime achievement award, a distinction which, as George Sanders says of the Sarah Siddens Distinguished Achievement Award at the beginning ofAll About Eve , has been spared the sensational and commercial publicity that attends such questionable honors as the Pulitzer Prize and those awards presented annually by that - ahem - film society. What with recent career retrospectives in such far-flung, quasi-exotic locales as Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Weisbaden, Winnipeg, and Birmingham, and a tribute at this year's USA Film Festival (the other honoree auteur? Arthur Penn, thank you), I might almost be tempted to engage in a little unhealthy paranoid speculation about the quantity of sand left in the top half of my hourglass. But as someone whose primary goal in life has been to reach the age of 40, it's all just icing on the cake, even if it it's that one left out in the rain in "MacArthur Park." The best that I can do at this point is to be gracious.
Before I make my report on the award ceremony, for which I was flown in expressly from Toronto by Index (well, halfway), allow me a flashback to my previous excursion of only a few weeks earlier for the sneak preview of my new movie Skin Flick - just so you don't think I'm completely resting on my laurels. The work in question, commissioned by a Berlin-based porn production company called Cazzo Film, is my first foray into legitimate porno, a charming story concerning a gang of adorable neo-Nazi skinheads in London who break into the apartment of a mixed-race, salt and pepper bourgeois gay couple and sexually terrorize them; or, to reduce it to a pitch, Imitation of Life meetsA Clockwork Orange . It exists in both hard- and softcore versions, the latter to appease our British and Japanese distributors (both of whom supplied unhealthy advances) whose territories are loathe to exhibit explicit penetration. Sexualized Nazi imagery, however, including a young Aryan lad spilling his spawn on a dog-eared copy of Mein Kampf and the oblique fetishisation of anti-gay violence, is, apparently, not a problem.
I'm previewing the softcore version in America as a benefit for the New York Mix Festival at the venerable Anthology Film Archives, and I'm a tad nervous. Although I feel confidant that I've pulled the rabbit out of the hat artistically, I've already had several international moral crises over the somewhat contentious issues - particularly concerning race - raised by the project. Have I gone too far this time? As Scott Thompson said as he presented my tribute to me after our rapprochement in Dallas (we had had a little tiff last year): "I may push the envelope, but Bruce pushes it, licks it, seals it, and burns it." To make matters worse, although it has already opened in Berlin to good notices, I've yet to see the movie with an audience, the last leg of the painful gauntlet that is low-budget filmmaking. I almost had to be defibrillated after screening my previous picture, Hustler White , for the very first time to an audience of 200 jaded industry faggots at Sundance.
To give you an idea of how potentially volatile the material may be, I had already had a rough cut VHS copy of the softcore version, which was sent to me from Berlin, seized and destroyed at the Canadian border for depictions and descriptions of "sex with degradation," including "sex with submission, sex with coercion, sex with domination, sex with pain, and sexual assault." And in New York, when Tom International, one of the stars of the picture, got the photos back that he had taken during the shoot, all of the skinhead's faces and the Nazi symbols had been scratched or cut out, Mommie Dearest -style. (Granted he might have thought twice about getting them developed at a shop run by Orthodox Jews). The penises, however, remained unscathed.
Before the screening, the kids at Mix - Raj, John and Super-8 Stanley - have arranged a little dinner at B-Bar for some of the pertinent players: star Nikki Uberti, who steals the movie as the illustrious Cameltoe; her husband, Index contributing fotog Terry Richardson, who has a cameo; her best friend, New York glamour puss It-girl Heidi; Tom International, aka handsome exiled Soviet dissident poet Yaroslav Mogutin; Doug McClemont, creative editor-in-chief of Honcho magazine, which is co-sponsoring the event; his date, Manhattan cable TV legend and former porn star Robin Byrd (did you know she appeared inDebbie Does Dallas ?); and last but not least, Gus Van Sant, who has just returned from a Moroccan vacation with the Danny Elfmans. Mr. Van Sant had been watching a rough cut of Harmony Korine's The Julien Chronicles yesterday when I'd called the young auteur to invite him to the premier, and he decided to extend his New York stay by a day to attend; Mr. Korine, however, shined both dinner and the movie, and is thus currently off my Hanukkah card list.
The boozy dinner party relaxes my tense, Christopher Reeve-like comportment somewhat, particularly when Mr. McClemont and I seem successfully to talk GSV into essaying a raunchy Honcho photo shoot in the near future. It must be said that part of my apprehension this evening has to do with the fact that Nikki has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, and I want very badly for the evening to be a success for her as well as for me. There is also the scene in which she is fucked topless by Tom International in close-up slow-motion black-and-white super-8 to contend with, which now has a particular poignancy and significance considering her breast is to be removed next week. The whole scenario would be very Sharon Tate in Valley of the Dolls but for the fact that there is nothing camp about it whatsoever. Nikki's bravura and courage and poise in the face of her illness, and her openness and intelligence in dealing with it publicly, humbles me in a way I find difficult to describe.
After dinner we all weave over to the Anthology. Upon our approach, my companions all begin to chant my name like a bunch of Bowery drunks, which causes me to turn plaid with embarrassment as I duck past the crowd into the building. The invited guests begin to filter in first: there's Index editor Bob Nichas; here comes Mr. Musto; and is that... yes, it's John Waters, who kindly presents me with an autographed copy of his monograph "12 Assholes and a Dirty Foot." To have Gus Van Sant and John Waters, my two faggot patron saints, sitting side by side at my premier provides me with a thrill I haven't experienced since discovering crack cocaine.
As the remainder of the largely homosexual audience begins to filter in, suddenly Heidi, who startlingly resembles a younger version of Robin Byrd, becomes possessed by the glamour of the moment and in a Bacchanalian frenzy frantically commences to disrobe. Disgruntled gays here to see a homo porno are met with the spectacle of this ad hoc Godiva cavorting around the theatre barefoot and completely naked, declaring redundantly "I'm naked, I'm naked" as cameras click. I could never have contrived a more perfect publicity stunt.
In my introduction I make use of some old Vaudeville schtick, holding the microphone up to the faces of my stars and my d.p., James Carman, but yanking it away before they have a chance to speak. Tom International manages to announce that people should feel free to masturbate to the movie; I hasten to amend that since this is only the softcore version they might want instead to jerk off to the Nazi imagery. Big laugh. These New York audiences are tough.
I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that all my worrying and fretting about pushing the envelope amount to nothing. In fact, rather than being offended by a porno about gay Nazis who come off better than the bourgeois fags, most people seem merely to be disappointed that they didn't get to see the hardcore version. Oh well. Back to the old drawing board.
If the after party at the Cock is a bit of a bust, the Bruce LaBruce lifetime achievement award soiree at Idlewild several weeks later more than compensates for it. Of course I know that Index has been offered a free party at this tony club - which is designed like the interior of a '60s jet airliner - and are merely using me as an excuse, but I don't care. I'm not above a little Sally Field-ian self-delusion.
I start the day hanging with the penis posse, as I affectionately call them, my new young homosexual friends for whom Stonewall is about as historically proximate as Stonehenge, not to mention about as politically relevant. I met these light-fingered lads partly through my friend Jack Walls, and partly by hanging out at the inestimable Î.C.Guys, the notorious new East Village gay bar on 6th Street that is about as big as Rhoda's apartment onThe Mary Tyler Moore Show . Open now for eight months or so, this beer and wine licensed bar is manned - or rather boyed - by three skinny young blondes named Chris, Mathew and Travis, who do double duty as strippers, intermittently mounting a small wooden box in the middle of the tiny space. Rumoured to have previously been a brothel, this dinky dive is owned by a mysterious Swiss who also runs the BMW bar in Chelsea where all the cabbies converge. On any given night you can find a rag-tag assortment of fags sardined into I.C.Guys, with Dave the Bear, the joint's most loyal regular, sitting forlornly at the bar. (Dave periodically opens up his own bar, The Leopard Spot - probably Manhattan's most exclusive watering hole - after I.C.Guys shuts down for the night.) Currently closed for "renovations" and about to undergo a name change, the original I.C.Guys is already only a memory.
Two I.C.Guys regulars - Private Ryan, a peach-skinned Parsons Design student who can speak Jive, and Kumle, aka Earsnot, one of New York's busiest Afro-American graffiti artists - are my companions for the day. The best of friends, their motto is as follows: "We are Ryan and Snotty/We like to Pahty/We cause a ruckus/But we don't hurt nobotty." I shoot Snot on Ryan's roof spray painting while naked with a hard-on as Ryan, a student of film, shoots the shoot in super 8 for inclusion in his latest magnum opus. Earsnot is a tall strapping lad of 19 with a member rivalling the size of his spray paint cans; alas he only has eyes for that stocky, hirsute, middle-aged white subgenus known as "The Bear." He keeps having to run down to Ryan's apartment to watch porno in order to raise his Titanic endowment, then race back up to the roof, whip off his boxers, and commences tagging before he starts sagging. Snotty's tags can be found high atop many of Manhattan's most inaccessible billboards - how he does it, no one knows - and he has even spent time in Riker's for his graffiti art, a crime that at this rate will soon be punishable by the amputation of one or more digits.
Joined by a dodgy Russian friend of theirs, we then head up to MOMA for a cocktail reception for the 10th anniversary retrospective of Strand Releasing, my U.S. distributor. Fuelled by the free booze, the boys cause a ruckus by stealing food from the members-only buffet and posing as important European artists, taking pictures of themselves with the invited guests who include John Waters and Marisa Berenson, but they don't hurt nobotty. Mr. Waters invites me to Baltimore in the fall to visit the set of his latest movie, Cecil B. Demented , on which I will be reporting forIndex .
We finally make our way down to Houston for my party, the boys stopping along the way at various strategic stores for a little racking. (In my day it was called shoplifting.) We sweep into the space virtually unnoticed and hit the bar where such luminaries as Tom International, Attila Lucacs, Chris Buck, and debonair Steve LaFreniere hobnob. At one point Bob, our beloved editor, comes over and mumbles something to me in an "aw shucks" kind of way, shuffling his feet, then thrusts a plastic bag in my hands and walks away. In it is my Oscar look-a-like lifetime achievement award, engraved and everything. If all awards were presented in such a discreet, non-meretricious style, the entertainment industry might be a little less unbearable.
At one point Cory Reynolds, our intrepid and quite lovely managing editor, approaches me and asks if she might have a quiet word. A graduate of one of the Seven Sisters Schools, she quite diplomatically inquires if I think it might be possible if one of my companions may have lifted her friend's wallet, which had been sitting on the bar. I have to admit to her that at least two members of my coterie have within the last month spent several days picking up garbage in the South Bronx as part of the Community Service programme for shoplifting. Before I can investigate, the empty wallet is found on the floor, and apparently someone is ejected from the party. After all, it still is New York. I for one was positively cleaned out - camera, gloves, cell phone - at Ellen Von Unworth's birthday party a few months back, probably by some rich kleptomaniacal model. The next day Bob good-naturedly thanks me for inviting my little Passolini extras.
The after party - at I.C.Guys, of course - is about as glamorous as you can get without throwing up: 50 drunken people crammed into a space designed for no more than 20. It's a Holly GoLightly party, with the addition of body-surfing and same-sex kissing. I can't remember too much about it, but I'm told it was the event of the season.