Published Jun 01, 2000By Bruce LaBruce
It seems almost lunatic to be showing a movie about sexy neo-Nazis in South Africa, the de facto world capital of black revolutionary struggle against white oppression, but as several film reviewers have recently pointed out, maybe I should indeed be seeking psychiatric help. Time Out New York, for example, recently offered this helpful critique: “Of course, it helps to know how to approach a La Bruce (sic) film, in the same way you need to know how to approach, say, a harmlessly insane but frequently institutionalised relative at family gatherings. Patience and a sense of humour are advised. Getting upset is useless and may only cause the filmmaker or relative to behave in worse, possibly more destructive, ways.” One of my better reviews.
Fortunately and unfortunately, the gay audiences at the film festival here are mostly bourgeois white fags who are not liable to string me up, despite the fact that the movie is actually an indictment of their very existence. The festival is being held at Cinema Nouveau, a chain of slightly alternative movie theatres in South Africa run by a very no-nonsense, pants-wearing dyke named Amanda whose girlfriend, Claire, works for the festival. Claire lives in Cape Town, and just last year was stalked for months by a “coloured” man before he broke into her house and stabbed her 11 times, leaving her for dead while he ransacked her house looking for photos and other momentos to remember her by. She had to crawl to a neighbour’s house to save her own life. The perp was eventually caught and convicted, although the police were quite lackadaisical in their pursuit of the case. It’s hard to comprehend how this elegant young woman, who looks like a delicate doe, could have survived such an ordeal, let alone lived to talk about it so cavalierly. But that’s life in South Africa.
I spend some time with Jack Lewis, one of the founders of the festival and a noted filmmaker and AIDS activist in his own right. When I tell him that I’ve already explored the street hustler scene in Jo’burg, he tells me a hair-raising story about being stabbed by trade that he’d picked up from the very same strip that I visited. The only reason he wasn’t murdered, he states bluntly, is that the hustler wielding the knife was diminutive and had short arms so that Jack was able to prevent him from slicing and dicing him too deeply. Once stabbed, twice shy: now Jack only gets trade from the trades the classified section of the local papers. Jack, who is a white African, entertains me with a critique of a black New York artist whose depictions of black Africans he considers racist. Only in South Africa, kids, only in South Africa.
I decide that I should experience the more legitimate hustlers myself, so one night, returning to my hotel alone after some festival function, I pour through the classifieds and select one whose description reads “Zulu stud. 10”.” He arrives shortly, a tall, rather shy man in dress slacks and shirt. He doesn’t smoke pot, so I get stoned and then we get down to business. And I do mean business, since he is definitely the type who keeps his eye on the clock. He does have a big dick, but isn’t nearly as spectacular in bed as his more streetwise counterparts. Strangely, like every black man I end up in the sack with here, he has some telltale signs on his body of a violent life a large scar, a broken bone that hasn’t healed properly, a home-made tattoo. He tells me a bit of his story that he’s had the same girlfriend since he was eight years old, who is now modelling in Milan, that he wants to be a beautician a typically skewed and unlikely hustler bio.
The next day I am obligated to participate in a panel discussion to discuss the issues raised by my movie. I am a little apprehensive, considering the passionate debate that resulted from the same function in Cape Town. I knew I was in trouble there when the moderator of the panel, who was supposed to be neutral, prefaced her comments with the statement “As a Jewish lesbian mother of two adopted black babies...” before laying into me for promulgating my perfidious pornography. Ironically, another member of the panel, a representative of the censor board who, in her short skirt and bleached hair reminded me of Julie Walters in Educating Rita, was more on my side, stating logically that if there must be porno in the world, better that it be produced by an obviously thoughtful, educated faggot like myself. As usual, the homos in the audience who constitute my fan base do not bother to defend me in public, choosing instead to come up to me and express their fondness for my work in private when I need it the least.
The Johannesburg panel couldn’t be more different, for here I am critiqued for being too conventional and predictable. The audiences in this burg, it seems, are so inured to stories and personal experiences of rape and violence that the issues the movie raises, even in a pornographic context, hardly seem to register. I find myself in the absurd situation of defending my film for not going far enough.
I spend some down time with a group of bald-headed, tattooed, gun-toting dykes the likes of whom I haven’t seen since San Francisco in the late ‘80s. It really makes me nostalgic for good-old fashioned homosexual militancy.
On my last night in Jo’burg, I venture forth with some of the festival workers and guests to the Skyline, the only all-black gay bar in town, which is also in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods. The evening starts out low key, but ends up like something out of Suddenly, Last Summer.
At first the crowd at the Skyline, which is housed in the cavernous ballroom of a hotel built in the ‘20s, is a bit chilly when six or seven white folks step into the bar I can only see two other white faces in a room of several hundred. But eventually we start to blend in, and I start to meet people. I strike up a conversation with a high school math teacher from Cameroon who teaches in the provinces. Feeling convivial, I start to buy him drinks. We are soon joined by Jack and a couple of rough trade looking numbers whom we join on the balcony to smoke some pot. The cutest of the rough trade pair, who seems smart and cool, is enamoured of me and my tattoos and starts to move in on the math teacher’s territory, almost precipitating a fight. The math teacher wants me to give him money for some reason, presumably for his time, but the rough trade dream boat forces him to back down. I’m feeling a little Sebastian Venable, so Jack and I and the rough trade duo take our leave.
My rough trade suitor, whose unlikely name is Arnold, insists that we stop on some dodgy street somewhere nearby so that he can buy some hash oil. Jack doesn’t want to stop the car in the vicinity, let alone be involved in a drug deal, but Arnold convinces him that it’s okay. As we sit in the car, gangs of marauding youths stroll by and bang on the hood and windows, jarring our nerves as Jack sits revving the motor ready to take off at the first sign of car jacking. (Nelson, my black Soweto tour guide, told me that in Jo’burg, BMW stands for Break My Window (And Take Me Home) or, on a more racist note, Black Man’s Wheels.) The gunshots we hear in the near distance do little to assuage our fears, but the other rough trade who has remained in the car with us seems to think everything is as right as rain. As it turns out, Arnold is not off buying hash oil but Mandrex, a tranquilliser favoured by “coloureds” in the lacing of their spliffs. (I’ve been informed that in some countries this combination is favoured because it allows people to murder without compunction.) We stop off at Champions, one of the oldest gay bars in the city, which has a very lively, mixed-race dance floor. Before we even have a chance to order our drinks, the two rough trade friends start to argue over who is going to take me home, something that has really never happened to me before in my entire life. I know it’s only because I’m a Westerner with cash, but hey, it’s nice to be wanted under any circumstances.
Arnold finally puts his foot down a knife may have been involved and we split together. Back at my hotel I notice he has a little tri-coloured necklace of the African continent around his neck. He’s very passionate and a great kisser. His dick seems unusually small, but that could be owing to the Mandrex, repeated use of which, I’ve heard, tends to result in shrinkage. We have sex and he leaves. As a waiter, whose name tag read “Freedom,” said of some exotic local dish at a restaurant I had dined at earlier, with a typically South African turn of phrase, it was “to kill for.”