Given that Bruce LaBruce’s last feature, LA Zombie, was a monster-porn mashup in which men dressed as zombies had raunchy sex with each other, it was hard to imagine what the transgressive Toronto-based filmmaker would follow up with.
But LaBruce has found a ripe taboo on which to hang his latest project. With Gerontophilia, LaBruce tells the story of a 19-year-old (played by Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) who has a fetish for old men. After landing a job in a nursing home, the lad scores with an octogenarian (Walter Borden), but what begins as a simple fling soon takes on romantic overtones.
“I wanted this film to have some rom-com moments,” LaBruce explains, in between takes on the Montreal set. “I wanted it to be like an after-school special directed by Ingmar Bergman.”
While LaBruce is thrilled with the final script — his collaboration with award-winning Montreal novelist Daniel Allen Cox (Krakow Melt) — he says it was a long and tortured path to getting the job done. LaBruce first conceived of Gerontophilia in the realm of sci-fi. “I had thought of this movie called Beyond the Boys in the Band. Instead of sending monkeys or dogs into space, NASA ends up sending hustlers. The spaceship goes off course and lands on a planet in another galaxy, where everything is reversed: age and wrinkles are desirable and young people are creepy and un-sexy. There are these old men in short-shorts and the teenaged boys pulling up in their cars to pick them up. It turns out all the lesbians have been forced underground; they live in the sewers and worship Camille Paglia. They emerge every now and then as rebels and kill men.”
But despite the obvious appeal of that scenario, LaBruce’s vision of the film shifted as he did more research. “I was reading a lot about what was going on in nursing homes and the fact there’s a lot of sex in them. In the mixed facilities, they have to keep the doors to the women’s rooms locked. And there’s a rise in HIV transmission in these homes, too. I thought, ‘What if someone with an old-age fetish worked in one of these homes? It’d be like a fox in a hen house!’”
LaBruce reports that striking the right tone has been crucial for this film. “Whenever you’re dealing with old people, you have to be careful not to get into anything sentimental. There were points where I thought it was going too much in that direction. What it really is is a reverse Lolita. Instead of the older man interested in the teenaged girl, it’s the teenaged boy interested in a much older man. There’s also some Douglas Sirk going on, as the age gap means some disapprove of their being together.”
Gerontophilia plays on the massive investment our culture has in youth and the beauty associated with it. Which prompts the question: what is it with gays and age? “I think everyone has a thing about aging, but it is harsher for gay men and women. Men are allowed to get away with being a bit older. They can be distinguished. There’s the daddy role — they can grow old gracefully. Whereas women and gay men have these ideas about attractiveness and beauty that are thrust upon them. It’s a bit brutal. We live in an age where youth culture is worshipped. I think it’s even more extreme than it ever was before.”
LaBruce acknowledges that some younger gay men like the attention of older men. “I knew this guy in New York who was this gorgeous 18-year-old black guy. He was well-built, tall, well-hung, and he would only date white, fat, Jewish men who were over 55. And everyone wanted to have sex with him, young men and women, but he wasn’t interested in them.”
LaBruce offers some analysis of the underlying meaning of many of the exchanges between sex workers and their clients, insisting it’s about more than just money. “Hustlers are often in such denial. In order to justify any sexual attraction that they might have to these men, they have to get paid. It’s obvious some of them are looking for a daddy figure, that they have an emotional investment that goes beyond the money. I’m just taking away the pay.”
While Gerontophilia had some last-minute casting shifts — Montreal filmmaker Xavier Dolan was originally slated to play the lead but had to bow out due to a conflict in schedule with his own film project — LaBruce says he’s very excited about how it’s coming together. This marks the first time he’s relied in part for funding through an online campaign, with his reach on social media helping to generate financial backing.
“One of the reasons we’re shooting in Quebec is because the provincial film-funding body [SODEC] was very open to the film and its central premise. It’s been fantastic to shoot here.”
To donate to the project go to indiegogo.com/gerontophilia