Film

Who Runs the World?

Bruce LaBruce, The Misandrists, 2017, HD video, color, sound, 91 minutes.

“I ALWAYS THOUGHT A PUNK was someone who took it up the ass,” William S. Burroughs once said, and no one has coupled the sodomite with the transgressive hellion more riotously than the Canadian filmmaker, self-styled “pornographic philosopher,” writer, and all-around queer rake Bruce LaBruce. Cruise the freak scene of his collected works with their populations of zombie teens, skinheads, and deranged auteurs (remember LaBruce as the drug-addled hero of Super 8 ½ [1994], guzzling cocktails in his Butthole Surfers T-shirt?), and discover an artist at once contemptuous of the hopelessly defanged contemporary gay life and dedicated to deviant fun in his explorations of whatever’s deemed taboo. LaBruce scored a sex scene in Hustler White (codirected with Rick Castro, 1996) with the eerie, AIDS-haunted bell tolls of Coil’s “Tainted Love” and adapted Pierrot Lunaire (2011) by turning the opera’s moonstruck clown-hero into a transman adrift in an Expressionist underworld. And in his new flick, The Misandrists (2017), he throws scarifying footage of a vaginoplasty to prove nobody’s transition from male to female is ever smooth.

A rude delight about a coven of feisty lesbian terrorists, The Misandrists is a cinematic Molotov cocktail mixing screwball comedy, hard-core sex, and radical politics to explosive effect. It’s also a total hoot. With their succubus charm, the movie’s posse would’ve been down with Valerie Solanas’s SCUM. Awesome Ursula (Serenity Rosa), the ex-junkie whose look is half-extraterrestrial, half–hungry wolf (shorn brows, fur wardrobe, eyes ringed purple), cuddles up to Editha (Lo-Fi Cherry, who keeps LaBruce’s predilection for skinheads alive) as they wisecrack about trashing patriarchy: “Men are the pigs of this world!” “Leave pigs out of this!” Their homeland is known as “Ger(wo)many,” since Big Mother (Susanne Sachsse, strutting with regal hauteur on a prosthetic leg) considers any hint of manliness counterrevolutionary. The gang’s scheme is to shoot girl-on-girl porn that will reduce all men to powerless jackasses and thus allow women of the world to unite and take over, but the gynocratic fantasy is threatened when Isolde (star transwoman Kita Updike) falls for a wounded soldier and hides him in the attic.

LaBruce’s obvious delight in the eccentricities of his leading ladies is proof that his work is never about encouraging dudes to, uh, spank the hog. Rather it’s a brainy subversion of pornography’s laws. The Misandrists includes scenes from LaBruce’s short Ulrike’s Brain (2017), where Ms. Meinhof’s undead cerebellum barks proclamations at a dominatrix through a vocoder. If the prologue featuring two nymphets dressed in fetching uniforms and knee-high socks mid-frolic in a field lands us in the drool-encrusted domain of straight-boy fantasies, the postscript—in which Isolde smooches a blonde angel at dawn—slyly fucks with the formula. LaBruce mimics the hazy textures of 1970s erotica, but Isolde discloses that she “just happen[s] to have a cock,” and her boo used to be the boy she was keeping secret. The girls have an epic pillow fight, but their Cinemax-ready slumber party is ghosted by dreams of a revolutionary past—the preteen anarchists played the same game in Jean Vigo’s Zéro pour Conduite (1933).

By ditching testosterone for estrogen, LaBruce finds himself in cahoots with the all-girl spirit of entertainment right now, much as he detected the resonances of the zombie in Otto, or Up with Dead People (2008) precisely when being undead went totally viral. It’s the era of the gender-swap remake of Ghostbusters (2016) and the forthcoming version of Splash in which Channing Tatum will play a merman. Even if these XX reactivations are the products of corporate sloth, their existence owes something to the mainstreaming of trans life in the past decade, since they depend, Orlando-like, on the disorientation created by gender reassignment. The Misandrists obeys porn’s rules and concludes, amid oozy bodies and slurping tongues, with an orgy, but ups the polymorphous delirium: Trans heroines cavort with glamour-pusses licked by girls who look like boys.

Anybody could shake their rump to The Misandrists’s sassy disavowal of the “normal,” not only within porn’s kingdom but elsewhere. That’s the fun of the whole thing, but it’s also where philosophy sneaks into the bedroom. Scholarly ruffians might want to invoke Genet to explain the consequences for LaBruce’s audience (joy, freaking out), but those goth minxes from Super 8 ½, Jane and Wednesday Friday, beat them to it long ago, condensing and translating his works into another kind of punk vernacular that everybody in The Misandrists would understand when they purr, “We don’t just fuck their bodies, we fuck their minds.”

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