The filthy and the furious: Robin Bougie on Eli Roth’s Death Wish

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      Robin Bougie is a fascinating cat. He’s a sensitive and intelligent man who seems to have no self-doubt whatsoever (which seems like a contradiction right off the bat). He identifies as a feminist, but he also publicly writes, in his long running ‘zine Cinema Sewer, about jerkin’ off to Brazilian fart porn (among his many other public pornographic lusts).

      In the wake of the Charlottesville rally, he posted frequently on Facebook about his anger at the “alt-right” and the death of Heather Hayer—but he also loves sleazy vigilante movies that have middle-aged white Amerikkkans blowing away minorities and waving their guns around. He straddles what are usually seen as polarized extremities with ease and grace and a sense of humour. To some extent this is infuriating, because though I love some of the same sleaze he does (NOT Brazilian fart porn), I am crippled by worries that I am damaging myself by taking in such reactionary fodder, allowing my subconscious to be colonized by The Enemy.

      Case in point: Charles Bronson movies. And I don’t mean “the good ones”—canonical films like Once Upon a Time in the West, Hard Times, or The Great Escape. Or minor masterpieces like Death Hunt, shot in Canada with Lee Marvin and an early role from Maury Chaykin. Or Sean Penn’s under-appreciated The Indian Runner, where Bronson gives a fantastic, late-phase performance as a disappointed father. No: I’m talking the sleazy Cannon-years Bronson, who exists in movie after movie to blow away badguys, whose clever pre-execution one liners set a template for Arnold Schwarzenegger to follow back when Arnie was still best known as a body builder.

      Fittingly, it was Bougie who actually got me into Bronson again, passing on a DVD of 10 To Midnight at a Bougie birthday party a year or so ago.

      That’s a pretty fascinating film, actually. It follows the trajectories of two characters: Bronson the conservative cop and a Richard-Speck-inspired pervert-cum-serial killer (Gene Davis, in a career-killingly creepy role) who likes to get naked before taking out his female victims. The film, in classic Golan and Globus fashion, revels so much in its exploitive elements that it can’t fully be described as a conservative experience: it summons the (male) viewers own demons—Roger Ebert described it as a “garbage disposal”—then balances them with the outrage of the responsible family man who wants to protect his daughter from the pervert.

      It’s like the film invokes two extremes of the male psyche, the id and the superego, and pits them against each other. The superego might win in the end—it usually does—but only after you’ve gotten to take your id for a nice little walk. I vividly remember my discomfort, watching it with my parents as a teen, during a scene in which Bronson breaks out a sex toy that was found in the perv’s apartment and threatens him with it, bellowing, “What’s it used for? It’s for JACKING OFF, isn’t it?”

      Knowing that Bougie and I share a fondness for Eli Roth, and that Roth himself is a Bougie fan, it seemed fitting to interview Bougie about Roth’s upcoming remake of the film that set the template for Bronson: Death Wish. Bruce Willis will be playing Paul Kersey, a mild-mannered man turned vigilante after his wife and daughter are attacked by thugs. When I first brought the remake up with Bougie at Videomatica, he kind of surprised me, registering a level of moral objection to the trailer that seemed out-of-step with his no-holds-barred approach to sleaze, saying that the film, from its trailer, looked like it’s moral message was, “Whee! killing people is fun.” What did he mean by that, exactly?

      Death Wish is still a few months away, but here’s the conversation with Bougie that ensued.

      GS: You're an interesting guy. You self-define as a feminist, but write enthusiastically about porn... you seem like you have left-liberal politics but you're also a fan of sleazy violent movies that typically have violent, reactionary messages (like, the entire output of Cannon, or most of the Bronson films). Do you see these as self-contradictions, or...? Do you ever worry that you are warping yourself by taking in so much sleaze...?

      Bougie: No, I don't really see any of those things as contradictions at all. Feminism is a little like libertarianism in that I've rarely met two libertarians that believe exactly the same things. In that respect feminism has its different "waves", and also a great many feminists of different ages within those waves that have almost nothing in common aside for the fact that they believe women deserve equality. You would never confuse an anti-sex feminist like Andrea Dworkin with a pro-sex feminist like Pat Califia, for instance. I'm a pro-sleazy movies, pro-porn feminist, and proud of it! Hell, you can get off on rape-porn and still be a proud card-carrying feminist, providing the rape fantasy is consensual.

      Have you ever rejected a film because of its political message? Are there films you find offensive? (You look like you were gearing up to find the Roth Death Wish offensive when we spoke, characterized the trailer as having a "Whee, killing is fun" vibe...). 

      No, I think you may have misread my objection in some respect, because I have absolutely no problem with a movie that equates killing with "fun." I have a couple issues with the new Bruce Willis Death Wish, and one is how it is utterly tone deaf it is, in terms of what the original movie was about. I mean, at least insofar as how they've chosen to market it. Listen, I'm only going off the trailer here, and since I live with someone who is in the film industry, I know that the distributor, not the filmmaker, is usually in charge of making the promotional material, and so sometimes a trailer really misrepresents what a filmmaker is trying to say and do with their work. But in the trailer, Bruce Willis is an action hero, and the music used is AC/DC's "Back in Black". It's like "rock out with your cock out" swagger-style, and that's the wrong tone in my opinion. It's like they've never seen the original movie. The point is not that Kersey is a rock n' roll killer who thinks it's super fun to go apeshit and blow people away. He's been pushed to the wall and been traumatized by grief and horror, and blinded by pain, he lashes out. The original 1974 movie addresses the whole concept of vigilantism and gun violence in a pretty intelligent mode, even while playing to vigilante fantasies. It came out around the same time as other movies that dealt with these convoluted issues of machismo and violence, such as Straw Dogs

      I don't think I'd reject a movie just because its politics didn't match up with my own. But let's examine what we've got here: a movie being released that appears to be utterly tone deaf about its message and the way it is being marketed; a movie that directly concerns a white man going around blowing away people of colour (all of which are presented as thugs who deserve it)—here in a post Trayvon Martin world...? That is something that should make anyone wonder about the intent of the studio and the filmmaker. It's easier to look at movies like this after they've been out a few decades and figure out how they fit into the cultural zeitgeist. But one like this, being pushed out at this very moment in history where racist white men are emboldened by Trump to rise up and "take their country back" should really make us wonder what they're really trying to say, here. So no, I'm not saying "Let's reject this movie because it's violent," I'm saying, "Let's examine if this movie is being marketed to angry men on the alt-right who are xenophobic, racist, and want their confirmation bias about those things stroked and fed." Being as Eli Roth was making fun of "social justice warriors" in his last film [The Green Inferno], where he had them eaten by cannibals, I'm left to really ponder what his intentions are, and who he sees as his fanbase.

      It’s interesting, to be sure. Leaving aside Death Wish, 10 to Midnight—the one you gave me the DVD of—is probably my favourite Bronson, ever. What are yours and why?

      10 to Midnightis probably my fave, too. Also really like Once Upon a Time in the West, Death Wish 1 and 3, The Evil That Men Do, Chato’s Land, Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects and Murphy’s Law. Although I wish Murphy's Law was a bit more R-rated and didn't seem so toned down. PG-rated Bronson is the kind of thing that leaves you wanting…

      Brian Garfield, the author of the original Death Wish novel, apparently found the film adaptation quite offensive, taking what Garfield thought was an anti-gun, anti-vigilante text and spinning it in the other direction... but when I read the book—some years ago, mind you, so I don't really remember it—it didn't feel that different from the film adaptation, and the film adaptation never felt like a TOTALLY uncritical endorsement of vigilantism or guns. The last image, of what Paul Kersey has become, is a pretty scary one. Has Roth spoken to this issue? (Has he said anything about guns or vigilantism?)

      I've never heard Roth speak to this issue, no. I think Eli is an unabashed exploitation director in the grand tradition. He's exploiting people's fears and politics. That's how the forty thieves did it back in the 1940s. It's a long, storied tradition in genre filmmaking.

      Eli Roth is a Cinema Sewer fan, right? What are your interactions with him? Are you an Eli Roth fan? What are his best moments by you? (Favourite films and favourite parts of them...? Hostel 2 has one of the greatest castrations in film history, in my book). 

      Yes, he's a fan, and we've chatted on the phone and exchanged emails and stuff. I can't really say I'm a big fan of the movies he's directed. Some of them are pretty cool—I think Hostel 2 is probably the best one—but I'm actually more into him as an actor, to be honest. The best thing he's ever done is playing "The Bear Jew" in Inglourious Basterds. I love that movie. A movie that exploits the fantasy people have of murdering Nazis. That's kind of the opposite of the fantasy of murdering black men, isn't it? Tarantino knew what he was doing.  

      Has Quentin Tarantino said anything about Cinema Sewer that you're aware of? (Have you ever written about him, his movies, or his apparent foot fetish? I love how once you know that he has a foot fetish you suddenly start to notice all these great shots of women's feet in his films. Bridget Fonda in Jackie Brown, Juliette Lewis in From Dusk Til Dawn. Not technically a Tarantino but still...)

      No, I've fan-boyed about Quentin here and there in the magazine, but he's never reached out. I can't say for sure that he's read my books or magazines, but let's face it: Tarantino is a massive film nerd. He's talked about how what he really wants to do is write cult film books, and he undoubtedly reads ALL of the major books about genre films. I'd be fairly shocked if he's never heard of Cinema Sewer. Which sounds kind of arrogant as I hear myself say it, but c'mon now. I've been doing this for 20 years, and my eight books [six Cinema Sewer anthologies and two volumes of Graphic Thrills, coffee table books which collect vintage porn movie posters] have gone into multiple printings and are available in book stores all around the world—and they cater to his exact taste in trash. He may or may not be a fan, but he's for sure heard of me. You know who was my biggest celeb fan, though? Robin Williams. He came to a ‘zine show in person to buy my work off me, and I know he bought it on at least two other occasions from local stores in Vancouver, because they would breathlessly call me right after he left and say, "Guess who was just in here and bought the new issue?!" We lost a great one when he passed away. He was so nice to me. 

       It’s nice to hear. So—have you ever been a gun person? I could see you taking your '70s detective getup to the firing range. Have you done that? 

      No, I have no interest in guns in real life. Negative interest, in fact. Love them in movies, but the idea of carrying around a gun makes me a little queasy, to be honest. It's the same way I love horror movies, but have no interest in cutting up an actual dead body. I saw an officer draw his gun on someone in real life and I literally almost threw up a few minutes later, and this from a person who has probably seen more cop, noir, and crime movie violence than ten average citizens combined. Real life violence and film violence are like night and day, and I heartily laugh and point at censors who claim it desensitizes one to go out and commit violent acts. 

      If you could see one 1970s movie (or franchise) remade and re-introduced into the popular imagination, what would it be?

      I know this isn't financially viable, so it's not the way studios would ever do it, but ideally remakes should be films that had interesting ideas and concepts, but had poor execution. So I don't really like seeing the best and most beloved movies of any given decade remade for new audiences. What a waste of everyone's goddamn time. They're already amazing. I want to see the ones that aren't well remembered because they didn't quite work, and were a letdown because the wrong person directed them, or because they were ruined by a studio meddling, or because they didn't have enough money to make the movie properly. THAT'S what I want to see re-introduced and redone. Movies like: Play Motel (1979), The Man Called Noon (1973), Caged Terror (aka Golden Apples of the Sun 1973), Trackdown (1976), Hustler Squad (1976), and Mr. No Legs (1979). I thought Last House on the Left was a good remake, because even though a lot of horror film fans adore that movie, when you actually critically watch it, it's pretty weak in a lot of parts. Those cops used for terrible comic relief? Ugh. 

      Other than Last House, I haven’t seen one of those, but I agree in spirit. Actually, let me add Tomorrow Never Comes, with Stephen McHattie, Oliver Reed, and Donald Pleasence to the list. So what are your thoughts on the extremely violent and polarized American political landscape? (By the way, when it comes to Nazis, are you pro-or-anti punching?)

      There has been a lot of "let's punch Nazis" talk online in the wake of what's been going on, and I'm absolutely positive that I'd have no truck to ever punch anyone for any reason unless they were coming at me, and even then I doubt I'd get my nut up enough to do anything aside from run away. Only time I've ever been in physical fights is when I'm standing there doing nothing, and then suddenly I'm getting my ass handed to me, so you won't see me saying it—but I totally get it. Shit, one dude punched me in the head so hard he jarred my vision for two days! So yeah, people are justifiably frustrated because of what they're seeing, and they're expressing that frustration. "I want to have a nice calm rational conversation with a Nazi" doesn't give you that same release, or express that frustration the same way. And what a frustrating thing it is to have to sit here, and look at this infuriating racist bullshit playing out on these screens in front of us. There is room for Nazi-punching in this world. 

      I love that your wife Rebecca does My Little Pony (also something I have never seen). That's one of the most satisfying (apparent) contradictions in the whole of the pop cultural universe that I have seen: Mr. Cinema Sewer and Mrs. My Little Pony. Do you try to keep those worlds apart? Do they ever collide? (Are you a Brony, by the way? If I'm curious about the world of My Little Pony—or if I just want to stick my toe in, where should I start?)

      I've only seen a few episodes of it myself! But the ones I've seen were fun and I like how catchy the songs are. I especially like it when Rebecca draws our cats into a scene, or makes a little reference to something that we like. Like when she had some ponies in the background of a shot all cosplaying as the characters from the show Mad Men! Haha! So no, I'm not enough of a fan to be a "Brony", so I can't give you any tips on where to get started. I have a lot of very G-rated interests to be honest, but people don't get to hear about them that much because they don't meet the criteria of what Cinema Sewer is about. I've been listening to a shitload of ABBA lately, for instance, and I love Sanrio character stuff. 

      What's on the burner now for Cinema Sewer, Graphic Thrills, or other projects? 

      Cinema Sewer volume 6 is now out. I spent two years putting it together, and I'm really proud of it!  It's ready to be bought and consumed by film fans with a taste for the eclectic, the filthy, and the strange.

      Thanks to Robin Bougie for the interview! Bougie’s books are available at Videomatica, Pulp Fiction Books, and 8th Dimension Comics in Vancouver, or right here at the Cinema Sewer webstore. 

       

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