There was no battering ram busting down the door, no group of Feds rushing to seize the projector, no howls of protest from the audience. Last night’s illegal screening of the banned feature film LA Zombie, the final event of the 2010 Melbourne Underground Film Festival, went off without a hitch.

Directed by rabble-rousing American artist Bruce LaBruce, the film has been accurately described as “gay zombie porn”.

It attracted notoriety last month in Australia when the censors demanded its removal from the schedule of this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival. The Office of Film and Literature Classification slapped LA Zombie with a Refused Classification (RC) rating, effectively banning it from Australian screens.

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It is the first feature to receive such a classification since director Larry Clark’s confronting suburban drama Ken Park in 2003. Back then film critic Margaret Pomeranz defied the “stupid” censorship laws and attempted to host a screening of the film at a Sydney town hall, which was raided by police and stopped seconds after she hit the play button.

The crowd gathered last night at Melbourne indie bar 1000 Pound Bend learnt the location of the screening through announcements made on Facebook in the 24 hours leading up to it. We were instructed to keep mum and were warned that, should the police arrive and crash the party, our money would not be refunded.

A diverse audience were there to flick The Man the proverbial middle finger — I spotted hipsters, middle-aged men wearing straight-laced button up shirts, neck tattoos, a lonely mullet and some journalists from The Age mulling around outside.

But despite the screening being advertised in The Age (sans location) the fuzz were nowhere to be seen. Freedom of speech, it seems, scored a victory last night. The price? Tolerating the most putrid, repugnant and pointlessly gratuitous ‘film’ I’ve ever seen.

An hour before the screening, a young bohemian woman serving drinks at the bar downstairs said the film would go ahead “as long as the cops don’t show up”.

Despite my liberal-minded inclinations, when I mentally rewind last night’s screening I realise in hindsight that I’d be quite happy to see the boys and gals in blue lunging towards the DVD player to prevent the public from viewing the repugnant hour and a bit of filth that greeted our stunned eyes. Sure, we were warned not to bite the forbidden gay zombie fruit. But the sheer grotesquery of a film like LA Zombie inevitably knocks you for six.

The concepts of “story” or “characters” are well out of the film’s reach. Viewers follow a blue-skinned zombie with husk-like teeth and blood stained lips as he staggers across LA, raping men who are either dead or close to dying. LaBruce’s cameras do not shy away from graphic depictions either.

“So that’s where the term dick head comes from,” Peter Krausz, Chair of the Australian Film Critics Association whispered in my ear during a scene in which, well, I’m not sure you want to know…

Humour, closed eyes and return trips to the bar were the only ways to deal with an experience like this. If LA Zombie is to be considered art, so too is a greatest hits collection of clips from, though the latter would be far more acceptable to the standards of public decency.

Yes, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel was horrifying in its own way, but LA Zombie goes way beyond the pale, to a place where flaky wannabe artists get their sick thrills by conjuring images designed purely for shock and gratuity.

The OFLC was right to ban the film from screening in general cinemas. It’s a p-rno of the rankest and smuttiest variety, a rare cinematic experience in which audiences cheer, squeal, hoot, boo, cover their eyes and generally struggle to find suitable reactions to watching a pastiche of horrific ‘there is no god’ sequences.

Melbourne Underground Film Festival director Richard Wolstencroft, who introduced the film with the curt words “fuck the censors” will invariably argue that freedom of speech scored a victory last night. Maybe it did. But it’s hard to emerge from a film like LA Zombie feeling like anything other than a loser.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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