Porn Again

Berlin
11.20.07

Left: Bruce LaBruce. Right: A scene from Bruce LaBruce's play Cheap Blacky. (Photo: Claudia Esch-Kenkel)


On most Mondays—especially in November—there’s little reason to leave the house. But last week, porn director–cum-artist Bruce LaBruce rose to the challenge with the world premiere of his play Cheap Blacky. Presented on the HAU 2 stage of the Hebbel am Ufer theaters, the nine-part saga—with the heavy-duty subtitle The Nine Stages of the Death and Dying of the Bourgeois Family—marks LaBruce’s theatrical debut as both director and dramatist. In moving from behind the camera to behind the scenes, LaBruce—affectionately known as BLAB to friends, fans, and those in a hurry—mixed race, class, gender, and sexuality to make an explosive combination of the nuclear family.

Far from telling the story of one brood, Cheap Blacky explores archetypes through characters based loosely on those from four oddball film classics: Fassbinder’s Whity, John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye, Joseph Losey’s Boom, and Pasolini’s Teorema. In LaBruce’s amalgamation, a mother, father, and son terrorize their servant—a black maid in “whiteface” played by Vaginal Davis—before becoming unsettled (and sexually awakened) by a sexy hustler passing through town. Davis stole the show with such unforgettable lines as “Are you fucking me or tickling me?” (delivered in a group sex scene), “You’ll never eat pussy again in this Ttwn” (from her solo song), and “I just love cooking, cleaning, singing, and dancing for the white people” (her motto). Indeed, in the play, as in life, whiteness depends on alterity—racial, sexual, economic—to produce its master narratives of “purity,” usually with murderous results. With a band playing directly onstage—and even getting in on the act—the play seemed like a musical version of Toni Morrison’s brilliant critique of white narratives “Playing in the Dark,” albeit with lots more romp, pomp, and Pop.

Afterward, I congratulated Christophe Chemin, the hustler, who sang the most haunting version of Marie Laforęt’s “Je voudrais tant que tu comprennes,” from Godard’s Weekend. Chemin was sporting yet another emblem of history tattooed right across his chest: NOUS NE SOMMES PAS LES DERNIČRES (WE ARE NOT THE LAST), a line censored from the original publication of Anne Frank’s diaries and revived, in a series of drawings, by artist Zoran Music, perhaps the only painter to survive Dachau. It seems like LaBruce found a cast that could catch his unique subversion of murderous purity narratives through polymorphous perversion. Leaving Chemin, I caught up with Davis, who was taking a well-earned rest, although walking around on high heels while cajoling a mainly white audience all night was not the main source of her fatigue. “I’ve been wearing heels since I was thirteen years old,” she roared. That must be some kind of record.

Left: Actor Christophe Chemin (right) with a friend. Right: Peaches.


There were other kinds of records at the after-party in the WAU bar downstairs from the theater, where the DJ for the evening was none other than Peaches—like LaBruce, a Torontonian in Berlin shamelessly promoting the sheer fun of perversion. Her selections constituted a brilliant archaeology of her own distinctive electro-punk blend, a ’90s-style techno sound track to which she adds voice, performance, and her own confident female strut. Who else could so adroitly string together the likes of Punjabi MC, the Breeders, Prince, MIA, and her own devilish remix of “Wild Thing”?

Spotting the sexy Manuela Kay, editor of lesbian publication L-Mag and codirector (with filmmaker Jürgen Brüning) of the Berlin Porn Film Festival, I thought I’d check out what insiders think about contemporary art’s recent forays into porn, from the Neville Wakefield and Mel Agace–produced Destricted, last year’s collection of short art-house “blue movies,” to Texte zur Kunst’s special issue on the topic. A big fan of LaBruce’s films, Kay was disappointed by the art world’s angle on skin flicks. “They talk a lot about porn, but they don’t watch it publicly. They try to present themselves as pro-porn, but it’s just an attitude of mind fucking. Their real lives are pornless.”

Ouch! Taking Kay’s assertion as a challenge, I decided to go for the real thing at the Kit Kat Klub, where gender benders of all orientations mingle while wearing as little clothing as possible. A hunk sporting nothing but black body hair and leather chaps gave me a once over. “You can’t be interested in me,” I said, trying to keep my eyes above his waistline. “Well, not exactly,” he purred. “But I’d really like to know where you got your underwear.” Since they were a gift—and I’m a firm advocate of market liquidity—I handed them over. I'd rather be pantyless than pornless.

Left: L-Mag editor Manuela Kay with Björn Pätz. Right: Vaginal Davis in Cheap Blacky. (Photo: Claudia Esch-Kenkel)


Jennifer Allen