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Bruce LaBruce
L.A. Zombie, Bruce LaBruce

LA Zombie, Bruce LaBruce

Bruce LaBruce talks to Rosemary Heather about his upcoming movie LA Zombie, radical porn, and the end of the world.

Now we’re in business.  Hi.

Is the record light on?

Yeah, yeah.

What would you like to know?

I’ve looked at your LA Zombie blog, where you say “Continuity is bourgeois.”

I said that actually on the DVD commentary of Otto.

So that reminded me of that Pasolini quote about Theorem, how “a member of the bourgeoisie, whatever he does, is always wrong”.

Yeah, well I would agree with that.

So how does that apply in your approach to film making?

Well, Googie in Super 8½ says “I don’t give a damn about continuity.”
And it is kind of a luxury, continuity.  Because you have to have a person who is specifically hired to do that job and you really need someone who knows what they’re doing. The person who was doing it on Otto had no clue what she was doing and she’d never done it before and she would come to me and explain all the continuity errors of a scene that I just shot after the fact.  And I’d be like, “Oh well, thanks for telling me now”. After everything had been shot…

But in a way it’s that idea of creating a scene with some narrative and juxtaposing two shots. And making it seem like this kind of illusion… of a seamless reality, without any sort of distance between the audience and the image, which is kind of a bourgeois idea.

I mean it, the whole thing is just sucking you into this entertainment and to deprive you of your critical faculties and seduce you into this state of not really being aware of what you’re watching.  Not being aware of the artifice of what you’re watching. Or the manipulation.

It’s like I said, it was a matter of not being able to afford a continuity. It’s a luxury I couldn’t afford.

But then people get so bent out of shape when you are making a narrative film and you have these continuity errors. I mean there’s this whole website devoted to it. It lists mainstream films and the supposed errors.  Most, a lot of them, are continuity based.

The problem is you either go against continuity, sort of on principle, and really, really, almost purposefully make it bad, or you completely adhere to it. But if you just do it sort of half heartedly then people just think it sloppy, or something.

So it’s emphatic in itself?

For LA Zombie the continuity was ridiculous. I mean you couldn’t even call LA Zombie a real shoot, a film shoot on any level of mainstream narrative film making. Not only was it chaotic, but going into it, I only had a three page outline. The very fact that I raised however much money it was – $50,000 or $60,000 – for something based on a three page outline was ridiculous to me. It was very experimental…fundamentally.

But it’s porn, so there’s sex connecting…

Yeah, using porn conventions and there’s a loose narrative.  But we tried to incorporate quite a few costume changes for the LA Zombie. And we were trying to match what clothes he would leave one scene with and when he would show up for the next scene, because it wasn’t shot in chronological order.  And it just was impossible because it was so chaotic. So I think that’d be good because I think the continuity will be so extremely and blatantly disjunctive – there will be flagrant disregard of the continuity.

And that creates its own excitement, for sure.

Yeah. But on the other hand I’ll probably even play with that and maybe I’ll push it even further. You know – add it in. But the other thing is this film will have to be an art film in the most experimental sense because there’s no dialogue and there’s just a character like going from one scene to another sort of wandering around and…

And it’s fucking people – dead people – back to life, or something?

Back to life, yeah.

And I was even embellishing and sort of inventing the concept as I went along.  So when I got back to LA and restarted shooting I was so shocked at how many homeless people there were everywhere. And it evolved into this idea that it’s not really about an alien zombie again, similar to my last film Otto, but it’s a sort of schizophrenic homeless person who thinks he’s a zombie or has this delusion that he’s a zombie. So we ended up shooting Francois Sagat,  the main actor, also as a homeless person, dressed in homeless clothes and pushing a shopping cart because everyone in LA has a shopping cart.

Every homeless person?

Yeah. And so we’d shoot him actually just as a homeless person, in homeless clothing and then with sort of grease on him, dirty and then we’d shoot him in the zombie make up, which took an hour and a half, two hours to apply.  And then shoot him in the same location pushing a cart with the homeless clothes on. And I’d just sort of cut back and forth between the two. So if people are expecting something like Otto, I mean it’s nothing like that. Though in terms of the product, I mean it’s very much a porno art film. Not like an indie art film.

Just a little aside is that there are more homeless people than usual in LA. I’d say like three times as more. There’s a tent city…

But we shot all over LA. We shot in West LA and we shot in Topanga Canyon which is close to the Ocean and a bit North. And we shot in Pasadena, in the graveyard, and we shot downtown and in East LA.  
And everywhere we went, I became self-conscious of seeing these homeless people everywhere.

And you said in your blog they’re actors and… aspiring actors?

Well that’s just speculation…

…and that they were good looking homeless people.

Because they were good looking. That struck me when I was there making Hustler White in the ‘90s. I would see these homeless people on Santa Monica Boulevard, that weren’t hustling but they looked like they could be or they looked like they might’ve been former hustlers. Because they were kind of ripped, I mean you know there’s probably muscle under their ripped clothing and they’d always have like grease on their chest which turned into a bit of a fetish of mine.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

But then I remembered Samuel Delaney who wrote this book called The Mad Man about a guy who goes around having sex with homeless people. So that became my inspiration or justification for the film.

So you made Otto, your film was about zombies, and then – which is kind of your business model – you make a porn version?

I intended Otto to be more pornographic than it was. And during shooting, we did shoot quite a bit of sexually explicit material, some of which is on the DVD as extra features. But it became apparent when we looked at all the footage from Otto – because the budget was more than half a million dollars – the production values – it didn’t feel like porn at all.  And we had so much narrative material that we had to cut out a certain amount. So in order to tell the story properly, we couldn’t put in so much sexually explicit material plus you have to shoot the sex scenes with a lower grade camera. And it just didn’t fit in with the rest of the material which is shot with an expensive sort of HD camera and in Super 16 film.

And the other reason was the main actor who played Otto, Jey Crisfar decided pretty much just before shooting that he didn’t want to do sex scenes.

Which was totally up to him. I made that clear that it was his choice. And so he would have someone come on his chest or something but he didn’t want to show his cock or like his erect cock, or whatever. He had stipulations that he didn’t want to show. So it would’ve been impossible to make it into a porno movie anyway. But I thought, well, I did want to make more a horror-gore-porn than strictly a porn movie.

Why did you have to use a less high quality camera to shoot the sex scenes?

Well I mean in terms of budget, you just can’t afford to roll that much. And also the camera’s much bigger. And it’s less portable. They use these little Sony digital cameras because they’re really lightweight. And you could run around them and stick them in crevices and things like that.

And also that problem with it looking too clinical – is that a problem? I’ve read that – with the higher definition. Too many pimples on the bottom…

Yeah, but you get that with the other cameras too, the lower grade cameras. I don’t know, people are just more used to it…like it’s an aesthetic.

So how many interviews have you done where people ask: Why zombies? in relationship to Twilight and True Blood?

You know that all happened since I made Otto. That whole explosion of mainstream… but that’s, that’s vampire.

It seems to be all part of the zeitgeist!

The whole vampire thing really just exploded over the last year and a half, you know but…although Buffy was around, and very popular before that so I don’t know why they’re making such a big deal about it now.

It’s just the audiences…

I think it’s more for teenage girls whereas Buffy was for a slightly older demographic I think. And smarter.  But the zombie thing is still going strong. What I was trying to do with Otto was to make the zombie genre more like the romance of the vampire myth.  And make a zombie character who was potentially seen as sexy or vulnerable or someone that you can identify with it at least.

I don’t think the zombie genre really is conducive to that kind of mainstream treatment of making out. You know – a romantic teenage girl fantasy. But you never know these days.

Otto is beautifully melancholic and sweet and with kind of an elegy for left politics and The Raspberry Reich also has that kind of theme...

Although Otto is in a way more bleak.  A more bleak assessment in all ways I think.

Bruce LaBruce

Bruce LaBruce

So that brings me to a question I always like to ask you – given your oracular-type pronouncements on the cultural moment, and this is a very particular moment that we’re in…

It’s really dark days. I think the whole you environmental thing has become so apocalyptic with such dire predictions and the weather patterns.  I mean I was in LA shooting LA Zombie fearing for the big earthquake. And there was a tornado in Toronto!

And I was like “Whoa…you’re not safe anywhere anymore.”  In fact they say that if weather patterns continue and the average temperature of the world continues to rise, Toronto could be a new tornado alley.

Toronto could become Kansas.  So it’s a daunting sort of time at the moment.  And then of course it’s all being channelled into this 2012 thing. There’s a movie called 2012.  It’s the whole Mayan End of Time. But I did see one pretty amazing YouTube video that explained it in an interesting, more pseudo scientific way. And it has something to do with the black hole that’s at the centre of the universe. A galaxy is composed of millions of solar systems and every galaxy supposedly has a black hole in the middle of it. And just as planets revolve around the sun, then galaxies revolve around this black hole. They have an orbit.

And according to this video, which included scientific experts or whatever, what will supposedly happen is solar system is going through its orbit within the galaxy, passing through a certain force field or, I don’t know if it’s magnetic or…  I think it’s radiation or something, radio active field.
Which will take 14 years for it to pass through. Like it starts in 2012 and it’ll go to 2028, so that’s 16 years, yeah, 14 or 16 years to 2028.  And it’s not something that will affect  weather patterns and things like that. It’s not something that you will be conscious of.  But there will be calamitous developments associated with it that could wipe out segments of the population. And certain people supposedly will develop some sort of super consciousness. Because of it or they’ll go into another dimension of consciousness or something!

Well, humanity could evolve, we’re sort of due aren’t we?

Oh god, yeah. It couldn’t hurt! No place to go but up.

But anyway that’s just sort of conjecture. It’s someone’s interpretation.

Three years.

Other people think that Phantom Red Dwarf is returning. That most solar systems are binary. And apparently some people believe that our sun is in a binary sort of rotational orbit with a red dwarf which is  a failed star. Or a sun that has never developed into a sun.

And when it returns it will wreck havoc on the earth in terms of gravitational pull. Something like that. It’s kind of interesting – because of the state of the planet, I think people are becoming more kind of conscious of the world and its place in the universe and its vulnerability. And because the internet fuelled all these things we were never really that conscious of before.

And that’s contributing to the culture of fear, as well. And anxiety.

But on the other hand it’s something that we really have no control over.  So it can be just a distraction from what’s actually going on in the more material world. Everything seems to be in kind of like a kind of weird holding pattern.

There seems to be no real…there’s a paralysis I feel. Part of it is because of the environmental issues – everyone slowly coming to the realisation that they will have to be prioritised, but there’s no political will to actually change them…because of capitalist resistance to it.  And, and so it just ends up being a stalemate.
Even people within the political systems and nations who want change are stagnating because there’s no way to push it through any of those political channels now.

You mentioned YouTube a couple of times – and I’m really a YouTube fanatic.  I’ve written something for Engine about how much I love YouTube and how the art world is just totally in some very boring…

…quagmire.

…and doesn’t recognise that that’s the future. So you were talking about making your film arty?

Well it’s kind of a contradiction I guess…because art is obsolete in a way. But on the other hand that’s why I really am playing the porn card as well – because porn will never be obsolete. And this film is definitely a full on porn movie and will be marketed as such. But I’ve always had that attitude towards art that art is not enough in itself. You have to – I always have to – have another dimension to it. Another market and another angle.  Whether it be cinema or porn or some sort of political agenda that transcends its identity as an artefact or a product, an art product. I still think all models of artistic practice are valid. Like the old idea of the gay Avant-Garde is particularly so. Film is something that I think still can be used effectively and strategically. And particularly from a pornographic angle because that’s a taboo that seems to be pretty, something really solid and established and it’ll never be co-opted beyond a certain point.

But can you describe, explain what you mean by gay Avant-Garde?

Well, I mean films specifically. Warhol, Morrissey and John Waters and Kenneth Anger. Jack Smith and Curt McDowell – that tradition of gay filmmakers who make literally extreme shocking homosexual explicit movies.

So in spite of the mainstreaming of the gay movement, it still has that power?

Exactly. That’s why I’m still working in porn even though I’ve announced my departure several times! I keep coming back to it because it does seem in gay terms to be the last side of radicalism really. That’s really disparaging to the whole mainstreaming of gay culture and bourgeois suffocation and the domestication of it, you know it’s really sad and disappointing. And gay marriage – it’s a red herring which is just really unnecessary.

Everyone’s waiting. The system as it exists is obviously corrupt to the point where it’s destroying the planet and yet there’s no emerging youth movement or radical, organised kind of revolutionary movement that’s coming up to challenge it at any sustained or serious level. So…that’s what’s been missing in the past. Two decades. Since the end of Punk. Punk was the last serious youth movement I would say.

In terms of art, I’ve always had that kind of ambivalence. At JD’s we always made fun of artists and we never identified ourselves as artists. I think maybe I’ve gotten a little sloppy in that regard. Since I’ve got older I’ve kind of capitulated a little bit. And I do refer to myself as an artist, but it’s almost like, just a convenient label.

What else do you call yourself?  I mean when you’re engaged in creative endeavours. It’s just a convenient phrase but the system, the arts system itself seems a microcosm; it’s kind of the financial bubble as it exists in microcosm.

There’s this book Seven Days in the Art World. It’s supposedly sociological,  but it’s just somebody – a Canadian actually – who was very excited to get access to all these important people and just kind of slavishly…

Like important artists?

Ah no.  Players, art world players.  The top people.

You mean like gallerists?

Yeah.  People at Christie’s and whatever and she just reported straight. So it’s like “Oh if you were a collector you could read this book and find out how the art world works.”  But it has no critical perspective.

Well that’s what it became reduced to in the past ten years. Fortunately you know, on the upside, my art still never sells.  It’s resolutely unsaleable.

So it’s too good! I read a review of the book by Matthew Collings, who’s a British, pretty cool compere of TV shows, where he said that the author assumes, like the rest of the art world that, – “only a loser would challenge the system” Totally hits the nail on the head.

That’s such a, such a modern attitude – that rebellion equals bitterness or failure or sour grapes. That being critical and rebellious means that you’ve been disappointed and you haven’t been able to succeed with the establishment.

You’ve been a Punk – I read Please Kill Me not that long ago.  Did you ever read that?

Yeah.

And I was getting to the depressing part of the book and a friend said “Yeah but they were losers. That was the whole point, that they made an aesthetic out of it”.

In a way. They used to say Punk is just an excuse to be ugly. But that was the whole point. Ugly kids could be cool too.

So is there anything else you want to say Bruce?

Oh not really. I mean, just in terms of L.A. Zombie, it really is one of those projects that could be a complete fiasco! So people should be prepared for that. Because I’m sort of afraid to look at the footage, to be frank. I wanted it to be more, well I won’t say Matthew Barney!  But it turned out more like a Farrah Fawcett Playboy video.

Well, everybody likes Farrah… she’s been totally reclaimed.

So that’s as good as you get.

About the Interviewer: Rosemary Heather is a freelance writer and curator.


  1. johnlkennedy says:

    Heather IS the revolution, and so is Bruce and he knows it and expresses himself with chrystal clarity. Rosemary is a fantastic reporter. I never imagined she knew all the words. Bravo.

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