Thursday, October 07, 2010

L.A. Zombie: Bruce LaBruce interview

So as an occasional ("more or less") straight contributer to Xtra West - you can read about how that came to be here - whenever the VIFF comes around, I keep an eye on the GLBT films to see if there's something I want to write about; not all gay and lesbian cinema interests me, though I admire the in-your-face transgressiveness of filmmakers like Gregg Araki, and thoroughly enjoyed the gay indy occult horror film that started me off with Xtra, Jamie Fessenden's The Sacrifice. I had no idea that anyone had even made gay zombie films prior to this fest, nor had I seen any of the films of Bruce LaBruce, but the words "gay zombie porn," in the description of LaBruce's L.A. Zombie, immediately made the film stand out as something I would probably enjoy writing about.

I didn't realize the half of it. As homework for writing about L.A. Zombie, I rushed out and rented Otto; or, Up With Dead People, La Bruce's previous, non-porn foray into zombie cinema, and found it absolutely delightful. As someone who has dressed up as a zombie on more than one occasion, to stagger with my fellow undead through the streets of Vancouver, it had long seemed to me that Zombiewalks were a kind of protest march - an expression of alienation, otherness, a rejection of pretty much the entire living world and an assertion of an inwardly bruised, disagreeable semi-lifelessness. As you stagger around staring at everything with a total lack of comprehension, bleeding from open wounds, and making the odd guttural growl, you discover that you are connecting with and expressing feelings about the world that run deep indeed. And there's even more that can be done with it; if you look under the blood on the best of the Zombiewalk pics of me, taken by Femke van Delft, you'll see the words "Tombs Not Games" written on my t-shirt - something some dully literal-minded person observing the event took as a mere anti-Olympics protest, when it was actually a lot more than that, a comment on the ways that the Zombiewalk resembled a protest and also a deliberate poke at the similarity - joked at by many zombiewalkers and made the theme of a great punk protest song in the Subhumans' "People Of The Plague" - between the zombies and the city's homeless.

Imagine my wonderment, then, to see a horror film that blurs the distinction between the homeless, the mentally ill, and zombies - because the character of Otto, as LaBruce has said, could easily be a homeless schizophrenic - and to hear his lesbian filmmaker character, Medea Yarn - an anagram for Maya Deren - ranting off on pretty much the same themes throughout the movie, offering the most satisfying intellectual elaborations on the state of zombiehood in, I suspect, cinema history. As I note in my Xtra West article, Otto and L.A. Zombie are in fact very different films, and I confess to enjoying Otto a bit more, but it was still very agreeable to talk with Mr. LaBruce about his zombie movies. Plus there was a lot left over, so I give you the Alienated In Vancouver version of the Bruce LaBruce interview! (I recommend starting out with the Xtra article linked above, tho'.)


(Note... the following came after the discussion of the opening scene of the film, where the zombie fucks an accident victim back to life, ejaculating a thin, blackish fluid that I at first thought might be blood - remembering Hannibal Lecter's quote about how blood, in the moonlight, appears quite black...).

Allan: So was it supposed to be blood he was cumming?

Bruce: We considered that, but we thought it might be a little bit too cliché. It’s actually been done quite a bit before. The guy who did my special effects, Joe Castro, has done low budget horror effects - he actually did the effects for Porn Of The Dead, which is a straight zombie porn movie which is actually quite good. He’s worked with Herschell Gordon Lewis, and - he told me he’d done that quite a bit before. So we decided to make it black. And it doesn’t have the consistency of... it’s more like black piss, so it’s somewhere between... I just wanted something that just didn’t look like ejaculate whatsoever.


Allan: With the Eddie Diaz scene, where he's got the massive headwound, I assumed we were going to have Francois fuck the hole.

Bruce: Well, it’s implied, kind of - when you see that scene, it’s shot from a distance, and he’s rubbing his cock against it, and in a way you can’t really see what’s going on there. So it’s kind of implied. I thought, again, that it might have been too obvious, and it would have looked really fake - it’s hard to use these fake heads. You see it in gore movies all the time, when they’re trying to use a fake head in it, and it kinda looks like the actor, but not really? You can tell it’s fake. So I decided to keep it more, like, poetic.

Allan: I'm not sure if I was reading something into the film, but when the characters come back to life, they seem kind of down about it - they don't seem very happy. It's almost like they're in a state of remorse or regret.

Bruce: Well, I think they’re meant more to be kind of stunned, was more of my intention. Although in the orgy scene, when they come back together, they start fucking again. But no, for me, it was just like - all I really wanted to do was show that they were regenerated, like, they were resurrected. So I made sure they acted in a way that was human-looking, like, and not lumbering or zombielike. So I just kept it simple to give that very impression; they’re just acting in a banal kind of way, it’s not like he’s imbued them with any kind of, y’know, wisdom or power or anything, they’re just back, resurrected.

Allan: There's something very right about the orgy scenes, in both this and Otto, but where Francois fucks the heartwound - it seemed more transgressive, kind of a button-pusher...

Bruce: It’s meant to be pure metaphor; it’s kind of very romantic, the idea of being able to literally fuck somebody’s heart back into beating again... Whenever I’ve seen it with an audience, it gets the exact response I was looking for, a mixture of awe and horror and almost an emotional feeling... It’s almost like something that I do in a lot of my movies - there’s usually one kind of central scene where I try to really nail with one metaphor, effort of the move. It’s the stumpfucking in Hustler White, it’s the heartfucking in LA Zombie, and in Skin Flick, it’s like when the neo-Nazi boy jerks off on a copy of Mein Kampf - it just nails the central thesis of the film.

Allan: Were you trying to criticize the state of things in LA, at all? The situation with homelessness, or maybe a certain decadence?

Bruce: I see this movie more as a sequel to Hustler White than a sequel to Otto, or as a kind of companion piece, because they’re both about street people in Los Angeles. They were both shot - even the final location in Hustler White, Zuma Beach, is the same beach that Francois emerges from. And I had the same DP, the same art director, one of the same producers; Tony Ward, the star of Hustler White, makes a cameo in LA Zombie. So there's a lot of connections there. Also, I was thinking a lot of these documentaries that I love that came out in the 1980’s - Hookers On Davie and Streetwise, shot in Seattle in the same year. And just the idea of documenting street life and street people and giving it that kind of documentary edge. Which Hustler White has, as well - it's kind of a document of the final days of hustling on Santa Monica Boulevard. There’s something about the city, for me, because it’s the seedy underbelly of dreamland, that really begs to kind of pull it back and kind of expose this seedy underworld that exists that most people outside of LA never even think about. And there were so many more homeless people than I’ve ever seen before.

Allan: Yeah?

Bruce: Yeah, because of the economic crisis it’s almost kind of epidemic down there. You see them in a lot of neighbourhoods - even in more upscale neighbourhoods where you never saw them before. And the other thing is, in Hustler White, you’d see these homeless people ,when we were shooting on the boulevards, and they’d be sitting on the street and they’d have their shirts - they weren’t even hustling - but they were homeless and they had their shirts open and they were ripped, they had these ripped bodies. It made me think, what’s going on? Was it a model who came to LA and ended up doing drugs and ended up on the street? How did this happen?

LA Zombie star Francois Sagat with a homeless extra recruited into the film

Allan: If I could ask a question about the emotional content of the film... sort of at the climax of the film, Francois looks off into the distance and flashes back to his sexual encounters and starts to cry. Can you explain that a little?

Bruce: Partly, it's just... I always try to reverse genre expectations, so it's something you might not expect from a zombie, an alien zombie, to be so emotional... And just to make the point, I find a lot of zombie films represent zombies as worthless homeless people with no personality, no emotions, no memories - it's kind of played out. You want to add another dimension to them, somehow. So for me, I'm trying to make the zombies sympathetic, in my films. They're more loners, and... but I don't know; it's kind of like, this 'visit to a small planet' kind of narrative. Actually, someone explained this interpretation of the film to me in Locarno, that I wasn't even thinking of, that he can be interpreted as an alien who comes to earth and disguises himself as a homeless person, in order to observe humanity. And what he sees makes him very sad.


Allan: Didn't I read you talking about The Brother From Another Planet as an influence on this film?

Bruce: Yeah, definitely! I keep on forgetting to mention that when people ask me what the influences were. I watched that right before I came up with the idea - I'd watched it many years ago, and I re-watched it, and I was definitely thinking of that movie a lot. And that whole regenerative thing - when The Brother is working at the pinball joint, and just by touching the machines, he brings everything back -

Allan: So in a way there's almost a Christ-figure element to him. These are tears of sorrow, the suffering of humankind, the pain...

Bruce: Yeah. I mean, he's crying tears of blood...

Allan: Again, is there an element of pain or remorse at his life? That was what I felt, but... it's not something you intended?

Bruce: No, but I deliberately made the entire film extremely elemental. Everything is highly symbolic - so that's certainly a valid interpretation...


Allan: I was kind of shocked when I read your shooting diary online. In the final scene, where Francois is digging in the dirt in front of a tombstone marked "Law," I thought it was a metaphor - that he was trying to find or uncover the law, that the law was dead and maybe he was trying to fuck it back to life. But then I discover that the grave was chosen by a production assistant named Law, and that it was just a coincidence.

Bruce: Yeah - well, no, it's not “Law” in particular - although as soon as I saw it, I thought, it was absolutely perfect. But the metaphor, of him digging back into the grave, is very important, first of all, because it kind of fulfills the whole idea of everything in the movie running in reverse. In normal zombie movies, the zombies are supposed to come up out of the earth at the beginning, and he’s reversing everything. So instead of killing people, the zombie brings them back to life, and instead of coming out of the grave, he goes back into it at the end.


L.A. Zombie plays Saturday, Oct. 9th at 11:45 pm, Tuesday, October 12th at 4:30, and Wednesday October 13th at 9:45

3 comments:

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Jesus Christ Al. I had nightmares last night just from reading your review of that zombie crap.

Anonymous said...

any idea where in Vancouver I can rent this? Videomatica does not have it.

ammacinn said...

No idea, I'm afraid. Might not be out on video yet... look up Bruce LaBruce on the net and see if a video release is mentioned on his site...