Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Interim Posting: Vaginal Davis

I will post new content in a day or two, including some final thoughts on the meaning of Michael Jackson. In the meantime, here is the full interview I conducted with Vaginal Davis recently. I've known and loved Vag for years and just wanted to get a quote or two for my profile of Bruce LaBruce; I ended up asking my editor if we could run a Vag sidebar/profile. It can be found in the current issue (old-media) of Flaunt magazine (Issue 103.) I've also attached a link to Vag's blog at the end of my post.

Vaginal Davis—author, actress, screenwriter, film director, ’zine publisher (of the late, lamented, and hugely influential rag, Fertile LaToya Jackson), painter, and raconteur—has known Bruce LaBruce for two decades. They spring from a shared cultural and aesthetic root of ’80s punk and Jean Genet, gritty porn and Fassbinder. But what most strongly binds them is a shared, reflexive mistrust of the status quo, which is manifest in their each artist’s work. Davis is now a resident of Berlin, having abandoned Los Angeles and the United States over two years ago. La Negressa, as she signs off these days, is in the midst of prepping for a series of performance gigs that will take her across Europe, so she answered questions about LaBruce — whom she calls Judy — via e-mail, and in her own inimitable style, creating new words out of thin air and crashing bull-in-a-China-shop style over notions of propriety and reality.

Ernest Hardy: Can you place Bruce’s work in the historical context of queer and experimental film?

Vaginal Davis:
Bruce “Judy” La Bruce is part of the continuum of experimental queer filmmakers like Jack Smith and Andy Warhol. I’ve always found Judy more in keeping with the Smithian tradition than Warhol, though he gets lumped in with Warhol. His aesthetic choices are more Smith, with the shaky camera, grainy film stock, images barely registering on the screen but evoking a lot of intense beauty, and as [New York Times film critic] Man!hola (sic) Dargis put it when No Skin Off My Ass came out, “femme wit and butch charm,” or something like that. I went to see Super 8 1/2 at the Sunset 5 with a normative gay audience during its theatrical run at a matinee show, and these bourgie white industry fagulas (sic) walked out screaming, “Doesn’t this director know how to use a tripod? This movie is making me dizzy…” I was loving the matinee sweater-queen critics.

EH: You’ve worked with him a few times in the past. What have those experiences been like?

VD: I’ve worked with Judy on two films, Hustler White and Super 8 1/2. We collaborate well in that we share the same aesthetics and failuretics (sic) and came from the same post-punk-y orbit. We are both masters of availablism — making the best use of what’s available at any particular moment. In 2007-08 we collaborated and toured with “Cheap Blacky,” Bruce’s first stab at directing for the stage. I was really impressed that Judy was able to edit his zombie flick Otto; or, Up With Dead People and direct his first performance piece at the same time. He was really operating without a safety net. I am working with Judy again on his second piece for the stage in Zurich. The theme is male hysteria and the title of this project is called “Macho Family Romance.” This piece is a collaboration between Judy, me, and Susanne Sachsse—the East German actress who used to be part of the Berliner ensemble, and who is Judy’s muse. Susanne is [to LaBruce] what Julianne Moore is to Todd Haynes. I introduced them. Susanne starred in Raspberry Reich and is the silent-film girl in Otto. Bruce couldn’t find the right actress for Raspberry Reich until I introduced him to Susanne, who I started working with in the CHEAP art kollective back in 2001, here in Berlin.

EH: You’re also working on another project with him, right?

VD: The third project we will work on later in the year is called "The Bad Breast" and is vaguely based on the writings of Naomi Klein. This piece is on female hysteria and will feature me, Susanne, the famed ’60s model Verushka, and fellow Canadian (and Berlin resident) Peaches.

EH: And what is it like collaborating on a professional level, given that you are also friends?

VD: I work well with Judy, but she can be problematic— she’s selfish, egotistical, and bratty. Those are her good qualities. We butt heads quite a bit. She has a husband now, this Afro-Cuban Santeria priest that she gay-married —yuck— and talks about non-stop. The guy has a fourteen-inch penis. I am an old-fashioned loner type who is basically unboyfriendable, so of course I hate people who are coupled. That is natural for me to resent domesticity in my friends.

EH: What do you think his influence has been on queer culture and queer filmmaking?

VD: Both Bruce and I came out of the ’zine scene of the ’80s. And that was an important movement that countered the normative faggoty world. Bruce is definitely an important filmmaker who has influenced a generation of young FITs (fags-in-training) in the knowledge that there is another way of being a same-sex lover than this whole gay-equals-spend-here-and-now, status-quo bologna.

EH: What do you think is his best work so far?

VD: My favorite film of Judy’s is Raspberry Reich. His sense of humor and the politics all come together the best in that one. And of course there is Susanne, who puts in a tour-de-force performance. And back then she barely knew English. She lost her agent in Germany because of the sex scene with the gay porn model. Bruce, politically, is a sister of the cloth with Jean Genet. I think he has a real genius film in him, and that movie will only emerge if he works with Susanne. I keep pushing him in this new direction. We will see what happens. Skin Flick, his Nazi movie, I also like; especially the scene where the main hooligan and his gang break into the salt & pepper [interracial] couple’s house and rape the black lover, and they all shout “Fuck the Monkey!” It’s so wrong but so right. Like my late mother used to say, “I would rather suck the three-horned penis of the grand cyclops of the KKK than [deal] with a well-meaning white Liberal.”

Vag's blog

Blood Beats Vol. 1 or Vol. 2: click here


Gendy Alimurung said...

Really excellent interview, E. Those last few lines made me laugh out loud. Thanks for posting it.

Anonymous said...

Class article! Wonderful!

Anonymous said...

You are right when you say that Davis creature is a bull in a china shop. So she finally moved to Berlin. Well, good riddance i say. I have never figured out how she has held so many people mesmerized for so many years. How old is she 75? 80? She cant sing or dance and her so called Journalism in the LA Weekly was just inane. Especially when she and Ron Athey reported on The White Party and did a fashion commentary on the Humpy Dork. Where does she come up with these phrases. She should learn to use the English language appropriately. I was in New York recently and she was doing something at the Performa Biennale, and all these young kids in their early 20s were just eating it up. I really hate her.