Hot Docs Film Festival ’11 | Day 5

Refusing to be pinned down to a single or conventional viewpoint, LaBruce created queercore by merging the sensibilities of two highly unlikely bedfellows: the punk movement and gay culture.

 

 

 

Let’s talk about sex. More properly, let’s talk about films in which sex, gender, and the like are a primary focus of interest. Becoming Chaz follows the former Chastity Bono (Sonny and Cher’s daughter) through the process of becoming Chaz Bono, The Advocate for Fagdom looks at the life and career of queercore director Bruce LaBruce and Inside Lara Roxx chronicles the attempts of a young woman from Montreal to rebuild her life after her career in the adult film industry was cut short by HIV infection.

It can’t have been easy growing up on camera as the child of Cher and Sonny Bono, immortalized as the adorable yet shy child with the flowing blonde locks who frequently appeared on their television show. And when you decide that you are 1) a lesbian, and 2) a transgendered person, having all those clips of your former self floating around the internet and in people’s memories can’t make the process any easier. So let’s give Chaz Bono, formerly Chastity Bono, high marks for courage and doubly high marks for agreeing to have his transition to a man recorded on film by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (whose other work includes Inside Deep Throat, Drag Race, Party Monster and The Eyes of Tammy Faye) in Becoming Chaz. Granted remarkable access to Chaz and his longtime girlfriend Jenny, Bailey and Barbato have produced a stylish, honest documentary. It does not gloss over the difficulties of making a gender transition, yet it celebrates the courage of someone who was willing to take the steps necessary to become who he really was rather than the role to which he had been born.

Becoming Chaz begins six months into Chaz’s transition—he’s been taking hormone shots and is about to have “top” surgery to remove his breasts—and follows him for another six months as he becomes more secure in his new life as a man. Bailey and Barbato combine present-day footage with archival clips and deliberately stylized black and white interviews with Chaz and Jenny reflecting on the transition and what it has meant to their relationship. One obvious example: Jenny fell in love with a woman yet finds herself living with someone who, as the effects of the testosterone shots take hold, is behaving more and more like a stereotypical man. For all that, Becoming Chaz is a hopeful film and includes a brief sidebar about younger transgender children who, thanks to the support of their parents and increased understanding of sexual identification, will be spared the agony of going through decades of their lives trapped in the wrong body.

Next up is The Advocate for Fagdom (dir. Angelique Bosio). Bruce LaBruce first came to public attention for publishing the zine J.D.s from 1985 to 1991. Refusing to be pinned down to a single or conventional viewpoint, LaBruce created queercore (a.k.a. homocore) by merging the sensibilities of two highly unlikely bedfellows: the punk movement (which at that time was overtly homophobic) and gay culture (which at that time, in LaBruce’s opinion at least, was overly concerned with appearing respectable and as similar to heterosexuals as possible). LaBruce carried this genre-mashing, icon-smashing attitude into his filmmaking, creating a series of films that overtly portray sexual and sadomasochistic acts and observe no boundaries but those chosen by the director.

This hasn’t always endeared his work to more mainstream audiences or critics; when Hustler White (1996) was shown at Sundance, the audience deserted in droves (a reaction that seems to have delighted LaBruce), while L.A. Zombie (2010) was banned from the Melbourne Film International Festival. In The Advocate for Fagdom director Angelique Bosio use conventional documentary film techniques—talking heads interviews, archival footage, clips of LaBruce’s works—to examine the career and sensibility of a creative artist who has steadfastly refused to be defined by anyone other than himself. It’s surprising how well Bosio’s approach works, suggesting that sometimes the most conservative techniques may be the best choice for telling the story of a distinctly unconventional artist. John Waters, Gus Van Sant, Richard Kern and many others weigh in on a man whose work they clearly admire. Van Sant says that LaBruce can “walk through subcultures and shine a light on them without making them product,” while Waters notes that LaBruce was an auteur from the start who “makes erotic art movies that celebrate the outsider.”

In 2004 a troubled 21-year-old left Montreal for Los Angeles with the goal of making lots of money in the pornography industry. Working under the name Lara Roxx, she was beautiful but also unlucky, contracting a virulent form of HIV after just a few months of work. The porn film industry justifies shooting without condoms because HIV testing is mandatory, ignoring the fact that no medical test is perfect—and with HIV there is also the problem of the window period during which a person will test negative yet is carrying the virus and can infect others. Given this context, in an industry where promiscuity and risky sexual acts are just part of a day’s work, it’s not surprising that sometimes infection is transmitted. Lara’s case was briefly headline news then quickly dropped out of the public eye so director Mia Donovan decided to follow up and see how she was doing.

Inside Lara Roxx is a documentary in which the trust between director and subject is the highest priority. To avoid the intrusiveness of a film crew, Donovan shot much of the film herself, resulting in a lot of shaky cam footage but also an unusually intimate look at a young woman trying to rebuild her life while struggling not only with her seropositive status but also a history of mental illness and conflict with her family. Donovan doesn’t judge her subject, who is both articulate and evasive, but leaves viewers to draw their own conclusions. Inside Lara Roxx includes a number of other voices from within and outside the industry, including the porn stars Anita Cannibal (who always insists on condoms in her films) and Ron Jeremy (who thinks that the industry is doing all it needs to do already to ensure safety) as well as activists who believe condom use should be required as an issue of workplace safety. Donovan also identifies issues that made Lara particularly vulnerable; she was ambitious but naïve, working with an agent she found on the internet, and pressured to perform acts she would probably never have considered in real life (double anal penetration) and to allow them performed bareback. After all, if she said no she’d get a reputation for being difficult and might not get any work at all. The truly chilling thought is that there are probably a lot of other young women like Lara out there whose stories we haven’t heard. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

 

 

 

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