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Film & TV

Aug 30, 2010

Cops didn't show, but maybe they should have: gay zombie porno sickens

The Melbourne Underground Film Festival staged an illegal screening of Bruce LaBruce's banned gay zombie flick LA Zombie. A victory for free speech, perhaps, but it's hard to emerge from it feeling like anything other than a loser.


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.

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 youporn.com, 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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33 thoughts on “Cops didn’t show, but maybe they should have: gay zombie porno sickens

  1. Bob the builder

    So, in favour of banning this film –
    1) a porn website is “more acceptable to the standards of public decency”

    2) “it’s hard to emerge from a film like LA Zombie feeling like anything other than a loser”

    The film sounds godawful, so why did you go? It holds zero interest for me and I very much doubt it has any credibility as art, but that is no excuse for censorship. Exercise your adult mind and don’t watch it – no-one’s forcing you to.

  2. MichaelT

    My reactions chime with Bob’s. The film sounds worthless, but the issue is – is it harmful??

    Luke doesn’t really engage with this at all.

  3. SusieQ

    Anyone who has looked at Bruce LaBruce’s website will pretty much be able to work out what sort of movies he makes. I’m with Bob the Builder and all the others – stay away if it doesn’t appeal – I did.

  4. Sausage Maker

    Looks like you one of those people that only supports Freedom of Speech when you agree with what is being said. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party and Mr. Abbott would be very proud of you, Luke.

  5. HughG

    Luke, in our own way aren’t we all gay life giving alien zombies? Walking around bringing the dead back to life with sexy intercourse?
    I’m sure if you look at this film in the same way you look at the ‘tour de force’ of contemporary art that is ‘blue poles’ then the art speaks for its self.

    In Fact, maybe the movie is a film based appropriation of the art work ‘blue poles’ only slightly messier. Maybe Bruce Lebruce is just keeping us guessing.

  6. Jason

    I think you’ll find that it wasn’t rated RC, it was just refused a classification exemption for screening at the festival. The only film by LaBruce to be given an RC rating was Hustler White back in ’97. That is unless the government classification database is not up-to-date…

  7. Bob the builder

    With all due respect, the issue here is about censorship not the merits of the film. It’s about fighting for the right of those you disagree with, not fighting to prove that you should agree with them.
    That said, I would much rather have read a review from you than Mr. Prude-Sensible – Crikey, a differing voice would be nice!

  8. Emma Jane McNicol

    @ Bob

    I am aware that I could have appealed to the over-arching merits/issue of anti-censorship.

    For the record, I do not believe in censorship, and probably would have attended the evening, to support this cause, whether or not I agreed with the director.

    However, in response to a review misrepresenting and misunderstanding it as – “images designed purely for shock and gratuity” – I consider it valid to point out it’s merits, of which there are an abundance that Mr. Prude-Sensible failed to notice.

  9. Emma Jane McNicol

    @ Bob

    Ps thanks for the compliment though, I’d love to replace Lukey Poo and pen a few reviews for crikey. haha.

  10. Bob the builder

    Good luck. There are limits to the tolerance of liberal open-mindedness. They are anti-privatisation and queer porn. (disclaimer: gratuitous generalisation – with thanks to Michelle Grattan for the tutoring)

  11. Fred The Oyster

    So I need to have seen LaBruce’s other films to make sense of this film? I see, so in order to appreciate this film I should have read the instruction manual first. If the film only makes sense through the lens of a back catalog, then why bother? How many films will it take to make the very simple point “Homosexuals aren’t that scary”? Least of all to LaBruce’s audience which is already so heavily anti-homophobic.

    In the preface to the Ukranian edition of Animal Farm George Orwell provided one of the best summaries of how to appreciate all art: “I do not wish to comment on the work. If it does not speak for itself, it is a failure.” If an audience needs to have knowledge of a pre-existing body of work, it does not speak for itself.

    As for complaints about an audience’s requirement for “characters, story and… a bland opinion that a film’s merits lies in its coherence to a passe conception of Hollywood cinema”, does this mean that making sense is no longer a requirement for quality cinema? Because it’s not as if any of us have to go far for a little bit of ambiguity in art – just sit in a train or bus stop and try to make sense of the graffiti tags on the walls. Just as fascinating as zombie skullf-cking I’d wager, and even less artistically coherent!

  12. Jackol

    Sheesh. If you fight the ‘good fight’ over censorship over such dross as this film, you devalue the fight itself.

    You can be pro-freedom of expression without necessarily arguing that every single realization of expression should have a public forum. It is reasonable to say that there are limits to what form expression can take. Some imagery is still objectionable, and I would argue reasonably so. Artistic/political expression has the power of human imagination behind it – there is more than one way of making a statement, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to demand a certain standard.

    As I understand it, this particular film ran afoul of restrictions on portrayal of penetrative sex in wounds. I’m not unhappy with limiting portrayals of sex associated with extreme violence, stylized/over-the-top/absurdist or not.

  13. Fiona

    Were there walk-outs? Did you consider it?

  14. Luke Buckmaster

    Sorry I don’t have much time to weigh in on some of the discussion raised here but can I just make a clarification: I said in this story that “the OFLC was right to ban the film from screening in general cinemas.” Which they absolutely were. Watching the film in specially licensed venues or in the privacy of your own home is, as far as I am concerned, a separate issue, and I didn’t have the word count to get into this discussion, though if I find the time I may blog about it as I have some particular opinions on the subject.

    I’m all for freedom of speech – but graphic depictions of necrophilia and rape such as the kind depicted here, with absolutely no artistic integrity to back it up, should raise some serious discussions about the merits of having it played in general cinemas. Another who argues in defense of material like this playing at your local multiplex: would you also advocate child pornography being played there? How about zombie child pornography? Gay zombie child pornography? Should absolutely everything be permissible to watch in general cinemas or would you draw the line somewhere?

  15. stephen

    I think you made your point well Luke.

  16. Elan

    I found myself in exactly your position when I ‘stood on my right’ to see Salo.

    Many walked out; I did not; I wanted to ‘see it through’.

    I came away with the same view. It must be/remain banned. BUT: I exercised my right to see it………..?

    Having said that, I am without conscience, still of the view that FoS/FoExpression has to have limits.

    (Robyn Archer even wrote and performed a song: ‘get it out of my mind’, about the film).

    For me ‘artistic expression’ was a gossamer thin veneer for ..er, wotsisface, making a so-called film which was nothing more than the depraved expression of a man who was off his tree!

    Sod it all! you HAVE to draw a line ( or can I make an ‘artistic’ film of killing Jews/raping/murdering?).

    But where is that line drawn?

  17. Sausage Maker

    The issue about this movie was it being refused classification to be screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival as you pointed out. A movie like this was never made or intended to end up in your local multiplex cinema alongside the latest comic book movie adaptation or romantic comedy.

    People tend to forget Australia has one of the toughest and most conservative movie censorship in the western world but since Australians only ever compare ourselves to the USA, we still think we’re this open minded and relaxed country when it comes to censorship when in reality we are far from it. The Pasolini movie Salo symbolises movie censorship struggle in this country. Un-banned in 1993 during the Keating government it was r e-banned by Howard and his right wing goons in 1998 and since then censorship in this country has become even more draconian. It has been recently granted DVD release and Julian McGauran, who has campaigned long and hard against Salo, lost his Senate spot in the recent election.

    Lets not get our knickers in a knot about this movie. Doing so only empowers the omnipresent, right win religious parade itching to start banning anything that offends them, especially with a real chance of Abbott becoming PM.

    And lets not forget that X rated material is still illegal in all 6 states here. No state government will dare take on the Christian Lobby and approve (federally) X rated material for sale to the public.

  18. Joel B1

    B LaB’s Otto: Or up with dead people is a great movie. Both my wife and I loved it. It was poignant, funny and very, very sick in places. Haven’t seen LA Zombie yet, but Otto had full-on gay dead explicit penetrative violent sex. Perhaps that should be banned too?

  19. stephen

    maybe it’s a taste thing but “full on gay dead explicit penetrative violent sex” seems a little heavy handed with the salt for me.

  20. Bob the builder

    @ Stephen – Exactly! It’s a taste thing, not a censorship thing. The thing that disturbs me about “full on gay dead explicit penetrative violent sex” is everything except the gay part (and might I suggest the thing that legitimises it amongst some sections of the urban ueber-kool set). I have no interest in seeing it or even thinking about it, but that is no reason whatsoever for banning it.

  21. stephen

    far enough Bob, the “full on penetrative sex” bit seems ok too 😉

  22. poms in charge

    Oh dear, Luke, the child pornography argument. Child pornography is illegal because the act of making it is, quite rightly, illegal. If we were to apply your reasoning on LA Zombie to child porn, then child porn should remain banned, except at special screenings which you are allowed to go to.

    Incidentally, Bruce LaBruce is Canadian, not American. Looks like you need some ‘extra source’ (try Google)

  23. Meski

    Censorship is not a substitute for the off switch.

  24. Simon

    It’s kind of unfortunate that we have a censorship debate combined with a film review. The inevitable clash of value judgements makes this all a lot murkier than it really should be.

    The idea of freedom of speech and “drawing a line” are incompatible … when you have someone else other than yourself drawing that line. That’s my opinion anyway. Its that simple to me. It’s all about encouraging people to present works (regardless of artistic merit) and giving individuals the choice to view it or walk away from it.

    If you believe that someone has to act on behalf of the community to prevent some things which are just too “challenging” (about as value-free a word I can find as an alternative to “crass”, “disturbing”, “sick”, “in poor taste”, etc.) then your missing the point here.

    Nothing should be refused classification. A community recommendation in the form of a rating allows individuals to make a decision whether to walk into a film or not. But nothing should be enforced to prevent the individual from exercising their choice.

    Thanks for the review (was it actually a review?), Luke – and the discussion. It’s been a very interesting read, and kind of shows that we have a long way to go to gaining genuine freedom of expression in this country.

  25. Elan

    My reference was to ‘draw the line’.

    Anything does not go!

    If it did, we would dispense with all laws.
    Parents would not ‘parent’. Children could eat what they want/do what they want/stay out all night!
    Pedophilia is OK.

    There is a line. There has to be ‘a line’. It is what distinguishes the human animal from all others.

    Sod it;-there is ‘a line’ on life itself.

    I’m sick to death of the argument that this is the view of the conservative, the Left being more enlightened.

    I’m to the Left of the so-called Left. I hold the view.

  26. Meski

    @Elan: And that’s a classic strawman argument.

    The line is more authoritarian vs libertarian than left vs right.

  27. Elan

    Strawman Meski? Don’t you get tired of these incessant clichés?

    I was not referring to what is as you are. I was referring to perception. Take a look on this forum, and so many others. Look how opinions are categorised thus.

    I simply played the hand. Yet another cliché.

    And btw. I reiterate; there IS a line. Even here on Crikey! We can say fuck-Fuck-FUCK-FUCCCCKKKKK, but we cannot refer to an arsehole, or a cretin-even if the recipient puts up ample evident of such.

    I’ve just been censored on another topic quite heavily.

    No issue with that. Issue yet again with the disparity. I’m damned if I can make sense of it.

    Maybe if I called the fuckers, fuckers? Dang it!! Now I understand…..

    Of course there is a line. It occurs everywhere.

  28. Elan

    …………..and every??? post now seems to incur a moderation notice…………..

  29. Elan


    Good old Freedom of Speech!!!

  30. Meski

    Elan, a Strawman argument is not a cliche, but a logical fallacy. If you (and others) stop using them, I’ll stop pointing them out.

  31. Elan

    Don’t be pretentious Meski. You are the same as any other poster.

    ‘Logical fallacy’. Gawd!

  32. Meski

    I’m quite prepared to point out your use of ad hominems in your latest post, yet another logical fallacy.

  33. Elan

    The meow syndrome in all its glory.

    Now we have ad-homs to embellish logical fallacy!

    Any advance?

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