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Super 8 1/2 makes itscrafty points with a light-hearted queer sensibility

Wednesday, Jul 5 1995
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"I was a late bloomer sexually."
"I'm a TV-victim child who watched six to eight hours a day -- every sitcom of the '60s."

"My idols are Andy Warhol and gay pornographers like Jack DeVeau and Bob Alvarez."

"Although they were uneducated farm people, my parents always took the family to Hollywood movies -- they even knew all the obscure stars."

Canadian director Bruce LaBruce cites all the above, plus a Marxist-feminist-tinged master's degree in film and social-political thought, as influences on Super 8 1/2, a ditsy, savvy, occasionally hard-core film that has enjoyed semiunderground popularity in the U.S., Japan, and Europe. Subtitled "a cautionary biopic," the low-tech, (mostly) black-and-white Super 8 1/2 tells the mournful tale of a washed-up gay porn star who's being exploited by a lesbian documentarian to gain financing for the artsy-smutty film (Submit to My Finger) she really wants to make. Super 8 1/2, a film-within-several-films, begins and ends with LaBruce in a straitjacket, the victim of his own media-wrought delusions.

For a work that's as laced with pop-culture references -- from Butterfield 8 to Chelsea Girls to gay and straight porn of the '60s and '70s -- Super 8 1/2 manages to assert a personality all its own, and a charismatic one at that. It's a tribute to the contumacy of the individual psyche in the face of mass culture's homogenizing effects: LaBruce's agrarian neighbors in Ontario may have watched the same shows and movies, but he's likely the only one mugging to a 16mm camera while taking it up the poop chute.

LaBruce acknowledges this, and says it has surprised him that his picture has been as "noncontroversial" as it has. "Few people seem to have a sense of humor about porn. They take it very seriously, so I think Super 8 1/2 throws them off because it doesn't. I'm also good at buttering up audiences when I introduce it."

I balk, though, when LaBruce declares his genre-crossing epic an educational film.

"No, really, [that's] its other appeal," he maintains. "After it screened at the National Film Theatre in London, an elderly Egyptian couple came up to me and said, 'We are from the East, and we must know what this film is all about.' The husband goes, 'I have been to San Francisco. I know of your people.' It was great, like tribes coming together. He said, 'Is this what your people are like?' and I said, 'Yes, exactly.' "

Public-relations-minded homosexuals might blanch (or is it Blanche?) at the thought of Super 8 1/2 "representing" the community, but what makes the film so crafty from a political perspective is its lighthearted embrace of gay sexuality -- and of the queer sensibility that has, LaBruce says, "filtered into Hollywood's output" via "gay hairdressers, set designers, actors, and directors."

LaBruce, who prefers a "Mata Hari approach" to cultural infiltration, believes gay contributions have made a far greater impression on the mass consciousness than the theoretical "positive imagery" for which many media activists clamor. An erudite essay by LaBruce in a recent Sight and Sound outlines his position -- but see his trashy movie, which illustrates his points ever more vividly.

Super 8 1/2
runs through
July 18 at
the Red Vic
in

About The Author

Daniel Mangin

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