Bruce La Bruce had already been a queer filmmaker for some years when Hustler White premiered in 1996. But this sun-streaked, kinky drive along L.A.’s Santa Monica Boulevard quickly became emblematic of his unique ouevre.
Along with Gregg Araki and Gus Van Sant, La Bruce was part of 1990s New Queer Wave of directors that brought radical gay narratives out of the closet and on the screen. He was also the godfather of the queercore movement, which took its cues from punk rock and anti-establishment ideologies.
La Bruce pushed the boundaries of sexual expression on film, and White,co-directed by S&M photographer Rick Castro, is no exception: Blood play, bondage, gang bangs and more fill the screen, but so do LaBruce’s fringe-left politics and oddly sentimental touch.
With Madonna boy toy Tony Ward as our guide through L.A.’s seedy gay underbelly, Hustler White is a sexy, silly and surreal adventure—and a queer film you ought to know.
What’s It About?
The film begins with an homage to Sunset Boulevard: Male prostitute Montgomery “Monti” Ward (Tony Ward) is face down in a hotel Jacuzzi. In voiceover, Ward explains that just two weeks prior he met writer Jürgen Anger (La Bruce, paying homage to real-life filmmaker Kenneth Anger), and that is where the story should start.
We encounter Anger as he strides through LAX—a no-nonsense, camp parody of the effete snob, dismissing everyone in his path. He’s in L.A. to conduct an anthropological study the city’s infamous hustler scene but, when he spots Monti, he’s found his prize (and perhaps something more).
Anger is transfixed: Ward’s good looks, glistening muscles and dangerous bravado attract him, and the filmmaker decides that he must find out more about this enigmatic figure. But he doesn’t realize the handsome hooker is on the run after stealing a trick’s car and running over another hustler.
Somehow, though, Monti still comes off as a likable, down-on-his-luck type: He’s bold and brash, but enjoys his work and can be surprisingly sensitive, as when he bathes his baby boy (an homage to Andy Warhol’s Flesh, starring Joe Dellasandro).
Once the two meet, the film follows Anger’s journey to posses Monti and the hustler’s attempt to cover his tracks.
Along the way, La Bruce populates the film with a diverse cast of sexual deviants: Ivar Johnson as good-hearted skinhead Piglet, porn star Kevin Kramer (above) as the guest of honor at a interracial gangbang, self-mutilation performance artist Ron Athey as a kinky mortician, and genderqueer icon Vaginal Cream Davis as part of a raucous sex gang.
It all leads to Monti’s unfortunate encounter with the Jacuzzi, followed by… Well, we aren’t much for spoilers, so you’ll just have to watch the film for yourself to find out.
Why Does It Matter?
We aren’t talking a few full-frontal shots: LaBruce’s work is littered with unsimulated sex and Hustler White is no different. He digs deep into L.A. kink community and dredges up all manner of sexual interaction. When Ward’s hit-and-run victim, now an amputee, connects with a fetishist who asks to be penetrated by his stump. With its pseudo-romantic dialogue, the moment is surprisingly tender and, yes, even sexy.
It’s also a giant “fuck you” to the mainstream.
Hustler White is a daring film because of its non-linear storytelling, its ultra-low budget, and its respectful commentary on the legitimacy of all forms of sexual congress.
There are no accusatory interlopers here, no “normal” characters to grant uncomfortable viewers a reprieve. The characters in Hustler White satisfy themselves without worrying about any heteronormative interference or prescriptive gender roles. And none are fazed by the kinky goings-on—suggesting LaBruce, Castro, and the queer cast aren’t either.
And that is a beautiful thing.
I’ve alluded to it, but Hustler White is far more tender and romantic than its hardcore exterior would lead you to think. Monti is the movie’s hypermasculine lead, and he, along with the other hustlers, doesn’t care about much. But small moments—Monti admiring a cute skinhead across the street, the careful intimacy of an S&M scene—suggest Hustler White has an almost-mushy emotionally intuitive center.
And Anger’s name quickly becomes a misnomer, as he falls deeper and deeper in love with his subject.
Where Have I Seen Them Before?
Bruce La Bruce has never crossed into the mainstream but he is a queer auteur who continues to break convention: He gave us gay-terrorist porn in Raspberry Reich, followed by L.A. Zombie, starring French porn star Francois Sagat.
His most recent effort, Gerontophilia, (now on Netflix) breaks perhaps the ultimate gay taboo with a tale of a young man attracted to senior citizens.
Rick Castro was a celebrity stylist before becoming a photographer in the late ’80s. His work focus on the S&M community, and he opened Antebellum Gallery in 2005.
You might recall Tony Ward from his days as a Calvin Klein underwear model, or as Madonna’s boyfriend in the early 90s. The still foxy 52-year-old continues to model for brands like Dolce and Gabbana and Hugo Boss.