From the Vault 1: ‘LA Zombie’ Interviews

Welcome to a little experiment I’m calling “From the Vault.” For years it’s kind of gnawed at the back of my mind that I spend a fair amount of time typing up interview transcripts for the books and magazine articles I write, and only a few bits and pieces ever end up seeing the light of day. Therefore, I thought I’d post some of these transcripts and see if anybody thought it worthwhile.

Here then, are the two interviews I did for the piece about the Australian crackdown on Bruce LaBruce’s LA Zombie for Rue Morgue issue 108.

Update: MUFF director Wolstencroft was ordered by the court to $750 to Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital in February, which suggests, purposefully or otherwise, a line of reasoning that turns the stomach.

Bruce LaBruce, director, LA Zombie

When and how did you discover that Australia’s classification board had banned LA Zombie from playing at MIFF?
I found out from Google Alerts. I was forwarded an article that was printed in the Sydney Morning Herald about the decision of the Australian Film Classification Board to refuse to extend an exemption to L.A. Zombie for a  screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Have you spoken with the MIFF director since the news? If so, what did he tell you?
I was informed by MIFF by email that the festival regretted the decision of the Classification Board, and their press release indicated that they were disappointed by the decision. They also told me that it would cost them ten thousand Australian dollars to appeal the decision and that they couldn’t afford to do so.

Has the movie met with any backlash elsewhere?
Not yet, but we live in hope.

LA Zombie’s been promoted as a sequel to Otto, or Up with Dead People, but is it more of a thematic sequel? Do any of the characters actually carry over to the new movie?
L.A. Zombie isn’t so much a sequel to Otto as a companion piece or bookend. Like Otto, it can be interpreted as being a movie about a homeless schizophrenic who has the delusion that he’s a member of the undead, but that’s pretty much where the similarity ends. L.A. Zombie is much more pornographic in tone, and it’s also more about Los Angeles and the situation of increasing homelessness. there. Actually it has much more in common with my movie Hustler White, which I also shot in L.A. in the mid nineties. Both films deal with street people in L.A., and I also worked with some of the same crew and shot in some of the same locations.

Why did you choose to set it in LA? Are you currently based there or did the location simply serve the story well?
L.A. is my spiritual homeland. I was always enamored with the city from its representation in Hollywood movies, and when I first visited it in the early nineties I immediately fell in love with it. I particularly like its seedy underbelly, and the idea that a lot of people go there to seek fame and fortune and end up having to deal with the harsh reality of this huge, almost apocalyptic metropolis. Many people with huge aspirations end up living on the street or being ground up in the meat grinder of the entertainment industry. Just look at poor Lana Clarkson, the B-movie actress who was murdered by Phil Spector. It can be a very dark place, but it’s also very beautiful somehow in its corruption. L.A. Zombie is about an alien zombie who finds dead people in the city and fucks them back to life. I thought it was the perfect allegory for the Hollywood experience.

Any word on a release date for the softcore version of the film?
It was the softcore version that got banned in Australia, so it’s unlikely that the movie will be widely released. The movie has no dialogue and little plot, so it’s not going to be released in your local multi-plex. I’m really into making movies that are obscure and unmarketable. However, it’s already been programmed at a number of international film festivals, including Locarno, where it’s in competition. Not bad for a hardcore gay zombie gore porn movie!

Do you think there is more value in the publicity generated by the ban than there is if it had simply screened at MIFF?
No doubt. The news of the banning of the film was featured on mainstream websites such as Reuters, the Drudge Report, and the Huffington Post. You can’t buy publicity like that. Censorship always brings much more attention to a movie than it would have normally received on its own. I can only extend my heartfelt thanks.

What was Francois Sagat’s reaction to news of the ban?
Francois is very media savvy, so he realized immediately the benefits of the ban. He’s also in the new movie by French director Christophe Honore, co-starring with Chiara Mastroianni, daughter of Marcello Mastroianni and Catherine Deneuve, which is also in competition at Locarno, so it’s really a big moment for him as an actor. He’s currently featured on the cover of Les Incorruptibles, the famous intellectual French rock’n’roll magazine, so it’s really a coup for him.

Is LA Zombie still set to premiere Aug. 5 at Locarno and to screen later at the Toronto festival?
Yes, L.A. Zombie has its official premier at the Locarno International Film Festival August 5th, followed by the premier in France a the L’Etrange Film Festival. I can’t officially comment on its premier at TIFF and the Vancouver International Film Festival, but let’s just say there’s a strong probability.

Do you think that LA Zombie is the most extreme work you’ve done to date, or is it more likely that the “zombie” name has brought the movie to the attention of more mainstream audiences who are not used to the gay porn elements it uses to tell its story?
I think the thing that freaked out the Australian censors was a combination of the gay porn and necrophiliacal aspects of the movie. Even though the alien zombie in the movie fucks dead bodies back to life – not as zombies, but as a true resurrection – he is still initially fucking the dead. This is a major taboo in most cultures, and one that is specifically cited as being illegal, particularly when it is represented in a porn context. I have a writer friend, Glenn Belverio, who drew the attention of the controversy to Camille Paglia, and she advised me that necrophilia has been dealt with in romantic and sexual terms in a literary tradition extending back to the late 18th Century with writers such as Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe. It’s not a new taboo, and it’s been addressed in art and literary contexts for a long time, but it never seems to lose its transgressive power.

Will LA Zombie Hardcore premiere theatrically, or be a DVD only release? Is that still set for Halloween?
The hardcore version will be premiered in San Francisco on September 24th during the Folsom Street Fair and then at Halloween in New York. That will be the launch of the hardcore version.

Does the movie actually answer the question of whether the main character is truly an alien or a delusional homeless man?
No, not at all. I’ve deliberately left it open to interpretation. In fact, some people have interpreted it in another way: that the alien zombie has disguised himself as a homeless person in order to fit into human society. There’s lots of room for interpretation.

Can you explain what events inspired the idea of the story of LA Zombie, and when you began writing it?
I had been looking for an excuse to work with Francois Sagat, and I’d been inspired by his YouTube videos, which he made himself and which were very personal and transgressive. He made one, for example, in which he showed himself shooting up steroids, which was subsequently removed by YouTube. He also had a Halloween video in which he made himself up as a vampire, and that gave me the idea to make him into some monstrous creature with fangs. When we started shooting in L.A., I was struck by how many more homeless people there were than I’d ever seen before, so I incorporated more of that theme into the movie. It really ended up being a kind of modern document of Los Angeles.

Richard Wolstencroft,
director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival

What agency visited you at your home, and what day was that? Did they tell you specifically that they were looking for a copy of LA Zombie?
Victorian (State) Police arrived at my house at around 8.30am on Thursday 11th of November to search for a copy of LA Zombie. As I had committed a free speech action at The 11th Melbourne Underground Film Festival a few months before I made sure I did not have a copy of said film. Our copy had been destroyed. The fact that a festival director has to take these precautions in a free and democratic country like Australia is sad and absurd.

Can you give me a brief sense of how events of that day transpired? Did this visit come completely unexpectedly, or did you suspect that something like this might happen? And just to be clear, you got rid of the copy of the movie you had, correct?
MUFF and myself have a long history of fighting for Free Speech in Australia. We have supported unpopular speech like that of David Irving (attempting to play a controversial speech of his “The Search for Truth In History”) at MUFF 4 in 2003 and playing Pasolini’s Salo when it was banned in 2001 at MUFF 2. We have screened banned films at MUFF before and always gotten away with it. Except one time the Police turned up to a screening of a film by a New York filmmaker Tony Comstock. When the Police arrived we decided after discussions with them not to screen the film. I respect the Police, they did not want to be there and you could tell that. We thought if LA Zombie were such a problem they would have been at the screening to stop it. Or at least called or emailed me to warn us or share their concerns, etc. We heard on the grape vine that LA Zombie was being reconsidered to get an R Rating for a video release in Australia and we thought the screening would be fine because of this. I did not expect to have my House raided two months after the event.

In your experience running the festival, is this the first time a movie has inspired this kind of attention from law enforcement?
Yes, to be perfectly honest. It is a surprise and the outrage from the arts, culture and cinema circles both here and overseas has been most universal and vocal. We have received letters of support from the Toronto International Film Festival who played the film recently, Jack Sargeant created a petition signed by many that is on my blog and Bruce LaBruce himself chimed in, in consultation with Camille Paglia no less, and many others continue to write. The New York Times covered it. The story went global.

You’ve suggested that there are some political overtones to this event, coming as it did on the eve of Australian elections. Has the subject of controversial literature or film come up during political campaigning this year?
No. But, I wonder why two weeks before a State election this happened? I hear on the grape vine that the Head Censor Donald McDonald is behind it. He was an appointment by former Prime Minister John Howard. McDonald is a colorful figure to say the least who used to run the ABC and built a bunker (!) for the ABC heads of staff when the Y2K bug threatened to hit. That’s a bit of a laugh really. Where do these public servants come from?! I am also a fairly controversial filmmaker, provocateur and writer in Australia. I wonder if some of the animus comes from this, also?

Did Pearls Before Swine or your other movies ever inspire such interest from law enforcement circles?
Jon Hewitt and my own first feature Bloodlust was “Banned In Queensland”. Queensland had or still has their own censorship office. That was a badge of honour for us. Jon and myself have always been (or wanted to be!) Australia’s answer to Tarantino and Rodriguez. We have both made many genre pics and championed a return to Ozploitaion filmmaking in Australia since Bloodlust in 1991. I have had no trouble with any of my other films , so far! My film Pearls Before Swine with Boyd Rice, though, was rejected from MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival) due to its violent and political content and that is how MUFF began. I have made some underground S&M spanking films in the 90’s during my time running the Hellfire Club here. I have only released these in the US and UK as S&M material is considered Violent Erotica here and is refused classification. So, yes, I suppose some of my work is banned here! This is another absurdity. In Australia all porn is technically illegal for sale except in Canberra, where perversely all the politicians can buy it! Our censorship laws date back to the Edwardian era and the1950’s. It’s a terrible situation in need of a major overhaul. There is even talk from our supposedly Leftist government of introducing a universal net filter ala China and North Korea. This is, again, deeply shocking if it comes about.

When you have an entire festival geared toward showing truly challenging films, an outsider would expect that MUFF would attract a certain level of scrutiny from the Powers That Be. Yet when it comes to getting that “knock at the door,” do you welcome it for bringing publicity to works you’re trying to promote, and to the festival itself, or is it truly not worth it?
“Freedom is a double edge sword” Jack Parsons the Crowley following occultist and Rocket Scientist once famously said. I agree with that. I welcome the debate, publicity and discussion of the issue. I hope it will lead to change in Australia’s absurd censorship laws. But, I do not welcome the possibility of a charge. The fact a film festival director should be harassed in this way in a Western nation does Australia’s reputation and our local film culture no favors.

Do you have any sense of what happens now? Do you believe this is all over?
No Idea. I am waiting to be charged. As it may alter my ability to travel to the US I am concerned about it. It is a depressing thing to think about. But, if charged I will fight it and attempt to raise public attention and awareness on the serious and repressive issue of censorship in my country.

Have you heard from Bruce at all about this event?
Bruce has sent a letter of support and emailed me privately assuring me I have his full solidarity. Bruce is an authentic and stand up guy. We hung out, got drunk, had dinner, etc., while he was a guest at MUFF a few years back. He is a person who stands by his comrades and his convictions, as am I.

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