Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Bruce LaBruce and Rick Castro
Stars: Tony Ward, Bruce LaBruce, Kevin Kramer, Ron Athey, Alex Austin, Kevin P Scott, Glen Meadmore, Graham David Smith, Ivar Johnson
Running Time:79 minutes.
At last, the provocative, controversial and much vilified Hustler White has finally been passed by the censor, with just a few cuts, enabling audiences to judge it on its merits for themselves. The third film from Canadian writer/director Bruce LaBruce (the classic cult gay movie Super 8 1/2), Hustler White casually blurs that fine distinction between art and pornography, and will certainly attract some heated debate.
LaBruce takes us on a guided tour along that stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard which is the domain of male hustlers, for an unflinching look at a sleazier side to LA of which most casual tourists would be unaware. The film was inspired by LaBruce’s first visit to this part of LA, and he gives us an outsider’s view of this unfamiliar world through the presence of trashy European journalist Jurgen Anger (played by the director himself), who has come to LA to do an expose on the male sex workers plying their trade on the streets.
Anger becomes obsessed with handsome hustler Montgomery Ward (played by Tony Ward, ex-model and former Madonna squeeze), and pursues him through the streets and into the sleazy and sordid sexual underworld of LA. Through his character’s experiences we learn some of the trade secrets of these hustlers who have become desensitised by the debasement they witness or experience on an almost daily basis. We also venture inside S&M dungeons, watch the shooting of a gay porn video, and see a young white hustler “gang-raped” by seven black body builders. But, in one of the more bizarre subplots of the movie, we see the inherent dangers of this lifestyle and the random nature of sexual predators when a couple of young hustlers are picked up by a tattooed, cross-dressing, murderous mortuary assistant.
The loosely plotted and episodic film jumps all over the place, seemingly wanting to cram in as much as possible, and its various story-lines tentatively are linked and placed into perspective by Ward’s voice over narration. Some of the scenes here smack of improvisation, which is in keeping with the film’s extremely low budget and guerrilla style of shooting around LA. However, LaBruce and co-director Rick Castro, who gained fame and notoriety for his series of photographs depicting actual LA street hustlers, bring an energy and freshness to the material. There are plenty of throw away lines and knowing references to classic images and famous names from Hollywood’s camp past to suggest that there is some real wit at work behind the passing parade of handsome young men and the inventive displays of sexual athleticism.
Hustler White is certainly tough and confronting stuff and it’s definitely not pretty at times, but it provides a graphic and shocking insight into an unfamiliar lifestyle not often seen on the screen. LaBruce employs a minimalist style involving extensive use of hand held cameras that gives the film an almost documentary-style realism. Hustler White is cheap, and has few real production values to speak of, but it does possess a grittier and harder edge than the average gay porn video. In one of those more querulous censorship decisions of recent times though, we are permitted to see a young hustler lose his foot in a horrific hit and run accident, but are protected from seeing extreme acts of explicit sexually oriented violence. The most obvious censorship cuts here include choice scenes depicting an amputee hooker “stumping” a client, and an elderly masochist being slashed with razor blades.
Almost a visual thesaurus of fetishes, perversions and kinky sex, this low budget production effortlessly leaves David Cronenberg’s much more critically acclaimed Crash stalled at the starting gate.