Photos courtesy of Bruce LaBruce
Liza Minnelli once said that three types of love stories exist: “The guy meets the girl, or the guy loses the girl, or the guy gets the girl.” This summer, another gay icon is adding a new type of love story to the canon—the story of a young boy who falls in love with an old man.
In filmmaker Bruce LaBruce’s new romantic comedy Gerontophilia, an 18-year-old boy named Lake falls in love with Mr. Peabody, an 81-year-old resident at the nursing home where Lake works. Between sponge baths, Lake starts a sexual and romantic relationship with Mr. Peabody. Fans and critics know LaBruce for his explicit underground films, like LA Zombie, but Lake and Mr. Peabody’s relationship never seems creepy or shocking. Through hilarious scenes at the nursing home and at a gay bar, the relationship becomes one of the most moving cinematic romances of the year.
This month, I skyped with LaBruce—who was a VICE columnist for years—to discuss the movie, his new art show about celebrity perfume, and a real life teenage boy who dated two famous old men.
VICE: How did you come up with the idea for this movie?
Bruce LaBruce: A friend of mine—his name is Marcus Ewert—from San Francisco, when he was 17 or 18, he was lovers with William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. I was always really interested in his story because he had separate relationships with both of them—they were kind of love relationships. He had so much respect for their wisdom and heart that it became a romantic and sexual relationship. That made me think, I’ve made a film about hustlers—you know, gay hustlers, gay for pay. It isn’t always that way. In my experience, [old men’s relationships with hustlers are] quite often much more complex relationships. They’re getting a lot from these old men. They’re taken care of, but they also get taken care of emotionally. In our society there doesn’t seem to be much reverence for the elderly, so why not sexual reverence?
Do you think there are negatives to being both young and old?
Absolutely. I felt myself identifying with both of [the characters]. I was projecting back to when I was 18 and what that was like. For me, it was very traumatic. I grew up in a rural environment, and my sexual identity was a big problem for me—there was a lot of homophobia. Projecting ahead to Mr. Peabody is what we have to look forward to in the future. It’s kind of scary: He’s been abandoned by his family, he’s been institutionalized, he’s being overmedicated, he’s being bullied, and he’s also vulnerable. There are hazards on both ends.
Why did you decide to make the young boy character, Lake, a lifeguard?
Somebody pointed out to me—which I didn’t really think about self-consciously—that the film is kind of like a reverse Lolita, with the old man in the Lolita role. This is a weird invert of pedophilia. Lake hangs out at school crossings, not for the children, but for the old men; he hangs out in swimming pools, and he gets a job at a nursing home. Some people kind of gloss over it and don’t accept [his attraction to old men as a fetish] because their relationship is so sweet, so natural. It’s a kind of perversion, but it’s still a fetish. There’s something a bit compulsive about it.
Did you purposefully make the film less sexual than your previous films?
I wouldn’t say it’s less sexual. I’d say it’s less sexually explicit. This time I got government financing from Canadian governmental film financing entities—it was a bigger scale of production for me. The whole idea was to create a more commercial film. I wanted to choose a topic that was true to my other work—dodgy and kind of risky—but because I used professional actors, there was not really a question of it being explicit.
Your latest art project is a celebrity perfume called Obscenity. Where did that idea come from?
I do art shows frequently. I had a photo shoot in Madrid three years ago called Obscenity. It caused a ruckus; it was photos of well-known Spanish artists and personalities, and it was about the intersection of religion and sexuality. There was a protest. Somebody tried to throw a bomb at the gallery. I let that cool off for a while, but it’s always been in the back of my mind to make the Obscenity perfume almost as a satire of celebrity. I have a jeweler friend, Jonathan Johnson. We had been looking for a project to collaborate on, so I got him to design the bottle cap—which is a naked nun—based off 3-D imagery of his wife. I did a photo shoot with his wife and a black model with her dressed as a nun and [him dressed as] a priest.
Do you feel like celebrity perfumes are an example of bad straight camp?
They can be, but it depends on who is doing it. Alan Cumming had a perfume a few years ago called Cumming, [which was] like good gay camp. I always love the good straight camp, like the Chanel commercials, but some of it is definitely bad. Lady Gaga’s perfume is bad straight camp.
Catholics have protested your work in the past, yet both Obscenity and the new movie are filled with Catholic references. Were the allusions intentional?
I’ve been [referencing Catholicism] a lot in my movies. Saints throughout history have been very perverse. Some of them are very masochistic and sexual—kissing the feet of Christ, sucking the puss out of a leper’s sores. I just find it so interesting that they’re supposed to be super religious, and at the same time they’re super sexual. Most people wouldn’t think an 18-year-old boy who gets a job at a nursing home to fuck old men is a saint, but I do.
Gerontophilia will be available on DVD in France on October 7 and in Germany on November 28. The film will have a theatrical release in the US in early 2015.
Bruce LaBruce's Obscenity installation opens at 10 PM on Thursday, August 28, at Chez Priape (1311 rue Ste-Catherine E) in Montreal. The exhibition will be on display at that location through September 1. To order Obscenity, visit Jonathan Johnson's website.
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