L.A. Zombie / Bruce La Bruce Q & A

Wed 21 Sep 2011

AND is teaming up with Chew Disco and Homotopia for a late night screening of Bruce La Bruce’s ‘gornogaphic’ affront to modern censorship, L.A. Zombie.

The film follows an undead drifter (played by porn star Francois Sagat) as he tries to make a new home for himself in Los Angeles, pursuing a slew of sexual encounters with young dead men along the way.

A Liverpool-based queer punk party that combines live underground music, feminist activism, performance art, and DJs playing post-punk, new wave, riot grrrl and obscure eighties trash, Chew Disco is the perfect setting for this most challenging of films.

Check out the trailer below then read on for an exclusive chat with Bruce himself.

Please note: The film starts 10pm sharp on 30 September 2011 at Wolstenholme Creative Space, 11–13 Wolstenhome Sq, Liverpool. Over 18s only. Suggested donation for entry is £2, with proceeds going to a charity TBA. The screening will be followed by live performances by Bad Taste Barbies and Severin.

What inspired you to start making zombie films?

We live in a zombie world. There are zombie buildings, zombie banks, zombie economies, zombie nations. Zombies are the ultimate consumers and the ultimate conformists, and we live in the ultimate consumerist, conformist world. Even the gay movement has become totally conventional and conformist – gay zombies. It’s a sad reality.

Has the zombie as a thematic tool, particularly in underground cinema, changed over the years?

Zombies have taken on a life – or let’s say undeath – of their own, freed from their voodoo masters. Capitalists have replaced the original colonialists as the main root of zombification. Now, two things are happening or going to happen in the zombie underground. Zombies will gain a political consciousness, or rather unconsciousness, and they will become more individualistic.

For me the collision of zombies and gay porn, for example, was inevitable. It occurred to me for years that the phenomenon of gay men cruising bathhouses or parks at night in a highly sexualized trance, devouring everything in their path, was very Night of the Living Dead. When I started to run into gay youths and other youngsters who told me they felt empty and dead inside, I knew that I had to start making zombie movies. I was always a huge Romero fan – I think Dawn of the Dead is one of the best movies of the seventies – so my interest in zombies goes way back. When I was a teenager I felt very vulnerable to homophobic violence, and my hypersensitivity caused me to become an emotional zombie in some ways. I had to fight to come back from the dead in that sense, so I think my zombie movies reflect that.

As I said earlier, zombies are usually conformists – they all act the same, eat the same things, congregate in the same places – so I was interested in creating a zombie who was an individual with his own memories and emotions. I was tired of zombies being represented as worthless homeless people who can be disposed of, so I represented my zombie Otto [in 2008 film Otto; or, Up with Dead People] as possibly a mixed up, homeless and schizophrenic boy who has the delusion he’s a zombie.

What was your reaction to L.A. Zombie being banned in Australia?

I had mixed feelings about being banned in Australia. Of course it immediately brought L.A. Zombie a tidal wave of publicity – the censorship story was featured on everything from Reuters to the Drudge Report to the Huffington Post! But I was also disappointed that people in Australia could not view the film. Otto; or, Up with Dead People was voted the third most popular film at the 2008 Melbourne International Film Festival and the DVD was quite popular in Australia, so I know there was anticipation for my new movie. Of course censorship should never be tolerated because when the state starts controlling what people can and cannot watch, where does it stop? Australia like many other countries, including Canada, is dealing with a wave of conservatism infringing on civil liberties. Australian customs are starting to search laptops and iPods for pornographic material, and the government there is even attempting to filter pornographic material from the internet. No government should exert this kind of control.

Were there any other surprising reactions to the film?

I was actually surprised that L.A. Zombie was received so warmly by certain critics, particularly the Italian ones, when it premiered in competition at the Locarno Film Festival last summer. The Italian critics took it quite seriously and even explained to me what the film meant! They had elaborate interpretations and theories about the film, which was quite amazing to me.

Do you think the mainstreaming of pornography and the arrival of the celebrity porn star has changed the ability of the pornographic image or film to be political?

I still believe in the idea of a homosexual identity based on non-conformity and difference, as opposed to assimilation and domestication. In that sense, gay pornography for me, now more than ever, is one of the last bastions of sexual radicalism and unapologetic, extreme homosexual representation. I express solidarity with pornographers. I started using gay pornographic imagery very early on as a kind of political tool to challenge and provoke people who are intolerant or hostile towards homosexuality. Strangely, I’m not really that interested in pornography per se; I’m more interested in what you can do with it as an ideological weapon. I don’t really think porn has been mainstreamed as much as the media says it has. It’s still relatively taboo, and therefore it still has the potential to be used in politically subversive ways.

What most interests you about how viewers interact with your pornographic or exploitative material?

Some people are offended by my films for obvious reasons. They don’t like the extreme imagery that I present, whether it be a stumping scene in Hustler White or a neo-Nazi jerking off on a copy of Mein Kampf in Skin Flick or one zombie fucking another in the hole in his belly in Otto; or, Up with Dead People. Some gay people are offended by my movies because they think I present a negative impression of homosexuality. But discerning viewers understand that my films are actually very romantic and sincere. My work is about the romance of the outsider, the disenfranchised minority that is misunderstood and abused by the majority. So as much as I enjoy offending people, I also enjoy it when people understand and appreciate this kind of queer romance.

Do you ever find it frustrating as a filmmaker that viewers don’t enjoy being challenged?

Yes, of course, especially now as the world endures great upheaval and economic instability, which is always accompanied by a certain conservative backlash. I watch a lot of classical Hollywood cinema from the thirties and forties, and I find it amazing that mainstream cinema was so much more subversive and challenging then. Hollywood movies were about all classes and they were made to be watched by all classes, and indeed there was a real class consciousness evident in that cinema. Today, it’s noticeably lacking, with bourgeois values always espoused as the default. I am so sick of movies that operate as real estate porn. The cinema of that era, largely made by immigrants escaping the political turmoil of Europe, was far more sophisticated and intellectual than today’s largely escapist, reactionary popular cinema. On the other end of the scale, underground and experimental, non–narrative cinema isn’t appreciated like it was in the fifties, sixties, and seventies. Formalist cinema is almost dead. It’s just as important to challenge form as content, and that style of cinema has been lost.

How do you think the commercial success and viability of certain queer stereotypes and identities has affected the direction of queer art?

I find it strange that ‘Stepnfetchit’ gay stereotypes have become so normalized in popular art and culture that they go unnoticed now. The most commercially viable stereotypes today consist of high school sissies who fight against bullying and homophobia by becoming Broadway sensations! It’s really the death of the idea of homosexuality as something mysteriously profound, sophisticated, or revolutionary. It has either become something completely normalized to the point of assimilation and blandification, or something that can be conveniently subsumed by entertainment world clichés and capitalist marketing.

How do you think an artist can remain non-conformist as Western culture becomes better and faster at commodifying transgression?

You have always to look for new taboos to break, new territories to transgress to strive to represent that which is not supposed to be represented. But you also have to strive to maintain a political consciousness, otherwise it’s just jerking off.

What’s next for Bruce La Bruce?

I’m throwing a lot of shit at the walls right now and seeing what sticks!

L.A. Zombie, 30 September 2011, Wolstenholme Creative Space,11-13 Wolstenholme Sq, Liverpool, 10pm, £2 suggested donation. Over 18s only.

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