Bruce La Bruce, director of The Misandrists, has always had a touch (or more) of the offensive in his films, at least to general audiences, to bring up thinking points and discussions. His most recent release touches upon the patriarchy, women’s rights and power, the use of sexuality (and porn) as a tool of communication and a weapon.
Bruce, please tell us what inspired you to make the film The Misandrists?
Everyone knows that the word “misogynist” means woman-hater, but very few people seem to have even heard of the word “misandrist,” which means man-hater. I began to wonder why that might be.
What made you want to tackle issues such as women’s rights?
I’ve been a student of Feminism for a very long time. In my first year at University I took a course called “Protest Literature and Movements” which introduced me to the writings of Juliet Mitchell and the great novelist Doris Lessing. (One of my favourite novels is Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook,” which was published in the early sixties, a very early work on the nascent feminist movement.) In grad school I took a course called “Psychoanalysis and Feminism,” which was very illuminating. As a queer punk in the eighties I worked alongside queer feminist and lesbian band members and filmmakers. We were doing intersectionality way back then, drawing parallels between the black, gay, and feminist liberation movements and encouraging solidarity between them. So for me, women’s rights are fundamental.
The ladies in the film take things toward an extreme to make their point; do you believe this to be necessary in our society?
In that “Psychoanalysis and Feminism” course I mentioned, when the semester was over it was decided that the students of the class would continue meeting over the summer as a study group. As I was the only male in the class, there was a vote to see if I could participate or not, and I was voted off the island! I could understand their reasoning, but I was also a bit peeved. It made me start to think about extremism of all stripes, on both the left and right, and what drives people to become extremists or revolutionaries or even terrorists. As a punk, I was already into certain politically extremist ideas, and I lived a pretty extreme existence.
I hung out with lesbian separatists a bit in San Francisco, and I came to understand why women, after millennia of subjugation and not being considered equal, or even human, and being burned at the stake for being lesbians or non-conformist females, would have the desire to forge all-female communities. I also could understand why certain gay man, after all the hostility and homophobic violence directed toward them throughout history, would seek out a totally masculinist, all-gay environment. It also has to do with bonding and militancy. Like I said, I was more into solidarity and collaboration with women, but I could definitely appreciate the extremists. The Misandrists is a B-movie, and it’s partly about female revenge against men for being such pigs (not to insult real pigs). It may sound extreme, but it can be quite gratifying for some! It’s turning the tables with a vengeance!
You’ve used porn to grab the attention and make a point before and do so again here and it works, is there a particular reason (or more) for this?
I’ve always used porn for what I call political purposes. Pornography is still a taboo in our culture, the prohibition against representing explicit sex in public, or in art or cinema. Taboos and laws exist for a reason, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be contravened or challenged, or transgressed strategically for specific purposes. As Big Mother in “The Misandrists” puts it, “Pornography is an act of insurrection against the dominant order. It expresses a principle inherently hostile to the regulations of society. When men are taken out of the equation, there is nothing more potent.”
Big Mother recognizes that porn is a powerful force in society, a force of nature in fact, something that almost everyone indulges in, and that it can be exploited for political and propagandistic purposes. Porn is also a free expression of sexuality, so she uses it for idealistic purposes as well. But she has to pay the bills, so she uses it for that reason too! And making it exclusively female and lesbian serves her extremist feminist agenda. The Misandrists is a companion piece to my film The Raspberry Reich, and both movies are about sexual revolution. I think it’s a bit cowardly and hypocritical to make a film that promotes sexual revolution, as I do, and not make it sexually explicit! And as for the grabbing attention part, I learned early on as a no-budget filmmaker (with a tip of the hat to John Waters) that there’s nothing like shock value to move the merch, and porn is a good way to do that. It’s like cheap special effects!
The Misandrists takes current issues and puts them at the forefront. Do you consider yourself and your work to be politically and socially engaged? And if that is so, why?
I wrote The Misandrists at the end of 2015/beginning of 2016, so I wasn’t really aware how zeitgeist-y it would become, what with Trump’s pussygrabbing scandal and the #metoo movement and the renewed public consciousness of feminism. I’d actually been meaning to make a movie about feminist terrorists for a while because some lesbian friends and fans complained that I didn’t include any lesbian characters as part of the revolution in my movie The Raspberry Reich, which came out in 2005. In terms of being directly politically and socially engaged, I’ve never considered myself an activist in any conventional sense. My art and my films are my activism.
As a filmmaker I’ve always expressed queer and feminist themes, albeit often in non-conventional and politically incorrect ways. I’ve always been considered somewhat of a “bad gay,” which suits me fine. I’m not interested in fitting in or trying to present a positive portrayal of anything, which is totally subjective anyway. Although I consider myself a queer and a kind of feminist, my films also offer up pretty biting, albeit rather affectionate, critiques of both. I follow more of a punk ethos in that regard. And in terms of leftist politics, I’m so disillusioned with the left lately that I now consider myself a “radical centrist.”
What do you wish audiences took out of your films and this one in particular?
There is so much of the world that isn’t represented in mainstream cinema. It’s always the same reinforcement of the dominant ideology, the same, to use a passé but nonetheless precise word, “heteronormative” bullshit endlessly reiterated, the same cinematic and thematic and narrative conventions slavishly capitulated to over and over again, the same elites presiding over everything. (I regard the Marvel and Star Wars universes as scourges on humanity.) So far, most reviewers of The Misandrists don’t even seem to bother to dig into the actual politics or gender issues that the film takes on.
There’s little discussion of late capitalism, or of the film’s critique of post-feminism or Second Wave anti-porn feminism, or of trans-exclusionary feminism, or even of terrorism or radical extremism. Perhaps the film is deceptive because those issues are expressed through a camp and queer sensibility, or through exploitation film idioms, but that’s exactly how radical politics and ideas are best expressed! So people should enjoy the film as exploitation and titillation and even as porn, i.e., as entertainment, but that doesn’t mean you have to gloss over all the rest.
Your cast for The Misandrists is very interesting and has a varied group of ladies, was that decided in advance to help bring the film’s point across or did it just happen at the casting stage?
The casting process was my usual hodge-podge of methods. First I cast amazing artists I’ve known forever – Kembra Pfahler, Viva Ruiz – who are both formidable women that I knew would bring a certain avant-garde gravitas to the proceedings. I’ve worked with the wonderful Susanne Sachsse, who I wrote the role of Big Mother for, on a number of film and stage productions in Berlin, starting with The Raspberry Reich in 2005. I cast Bliss and Sam, who play Ursula and Antje, after they showed up at a reading I was giving at a gallery in Berlin. They’re like Berlin “It” girls and filmmakers in their own right as well.
We used a professional casting agency for a number of the roles, but I cast Kita Updike, who plays Isolde, myself after she responded to a casting call for a transgender character that I put up on Facebook. When we video chatted it was as if I had written the role expressly for her. Lena Bembe and Lo-Fi Cherry are cool Berlin women who make their own feminist porn. So the women really represent the kind of feminist and porn activism that is portrayed in the movie, if not quite so extreme! They all bonded really strongly at the remote location, which was a bit of an endurance test for everyone involved. There was “(wo)mentoring” going on between the more experienced women and the younger women, and a real feeling of solidarity between them. It was like a parallel narrative going on during the shoot that I wasn’t really privy to!
What are your upcoming projects you can tell us about? What are you looking to cinematically, or otherwise, explore next?
I’ve been making a series of short art/porn films for two exciting porn companies, Cockyboys and Erika Lust. I just made two short films recently for Erika Lust, “Scotch Egg” and “Valentin, Pierre & Catalina,” the latter of which is a porn reimagining of Truffaut’s “Jules et Jim.” I have a bigger feature lined up for next year called “Saint-Narcisse,” which is a modern reimagining of the Narcissus myth set in the early seventies. So I guess I’ll be exploring narcissism next. After all, it is the defining psychology of our time!
Thank you Bruce for giving us a bit of your time, we look forward to seeing you next film.