Bruce LaBruceThis posts features Cinetology’s first guest reviewer, Emma Jane, a fan of controversial filmmaker Bruce LaBruce (pictured, left) and a student undertaking a combined Literature and Cinema honours degree at Monash University. She also contributes to Screenmachine.tv. But first, a quick intro from myself or you can skip straight to her review.

By now many of you have read my take on The Melbourne Underground Film Festival’s illegal screening of LaBruce’s gay zombie porno LA Zombie, which was banned by the Office of Film and Literature Classification. I wrote that “the OFLC was right to ban the film from screening in general cinemas.” This, along with the story’s headline ‘Cops didn’t show, but maybe they should have: gay zombie porno sickens’ led some to clumsily construe that I was pro-censorship and anti freedom of speech.

One commenter wryly wrote: “I would argue that you’re using the same logic of those who smoke a bit of pot, dabble in the harder stuff every now and again, yet still argue that drugs should be illegal.”

Another person chimed in with: “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.”

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That’s a very good point. Had the film not been banned by the OFLC, that’s exactly where it would have ended up: playing a venue like Greater Union, sharing the same program as Shrek and Despicable Me. I didn’t think that was appropriate then and I don’t think it’s appropriate now. I did not, however, advocate that the film should be banned outright.

Another wrote: “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.”

Also a good point. But allow me to clarify that the story I wrote was not a film review – it was an account of the evening which combined an “on the scene” style perspective with some analysis of the film itself. I do not wish to mentally revisit LA Zombie and offer a more analytical reading of it because, frankly, I’d have a more fulfilling intellectual experience dissecting the sub-text of Not Another Teen Movie after watching it in fast forward while suspended upside down wearing beer goggles and listening with one ear phone to Oops I Did it Again on continuous loop, with an ether-soaked rag in my front pocket to grab for occasional whiffs.

The most hot-blooded comments were made by Emma, a fan of LaBruce’s work who was there in the crowd and – I learnt later – sitting in the row in front of me, where she no doubt heard some of my laughs, cringes and squeals.

Not a great deal has been written about LA Zombie. Partly for that reason but primarily because I wanted to know how one could justify the film as a serious work of art, I tracked Emma down and asked her whether she would be interested in writing a small piece about the film for Cinetology. Emma has been good enough to contribute the thoughtful and engaging analysis below.

She describes the film as “kind of like five short porno films stuck together” but also notes that “if you read it as porn it will gross you out.” This underscores the bizarre “appeal” LA Zombie has: it is unequivocally a porno, but not one designed to titillate – unless you like the sight of blood-smeared men licking each other’s private parts while a blue yeti zombie thing with husks commits acts of sodomy in the background. One can be forgiven for being shocked and disgusted; indeed, whether you respect the film on an artistic level or write it off as pointless and perverse, consensus seems to be that offending people is at least partly the point.

One of the wonderful but sometimes frustrating things about film analysis is that, like dreams, virtually any meaning can be applied to virtually anything. Bold and “outside the square” interpretations are fun to write and an exercise I favourably remember practising during my university cinema studies years, where we crafted complex readings of prestigiously regarded work (i.e. Citizen Kane) as well as questioned texts widely considered to reside down well the bottom of the totem pole (i.e. exploring the narrative and aesthetic symbology of Miami Vice episodes). But when meaning (like beauty) is in the eye of the beholder and when such an explorative approach can apply to anything you want it to – even episodes of Play School – where do you draw the line and say, in perhaps a more elquent manner, “no, that was just crap”? Or, if you like, “what you talkin bout Willis?”

These questions are perhaps better left for another day, especially given the fiesty Emma has extrapolated substantial meaning from LA Zombie and articulated it with punchiness and panache. I applaud her for the boldness of defending gay zombie porn; I imagine the sector doesn’t have as many advocates as, say, the climate change movement. I’ve done my bit; once upon a time I even participated in a Melbourne Zombie Shuffle. Maybe, one (fake) blood-splattered day in the future, I will see Emma at future undead event, joining me to stagger down the street moaning for brains.

So without further adieu….

Emma Jane McNicolIN DEFENCE OF BRUCE LABRUCE’S LA ZOMBIE

By Emma Jane

– Part 1: Em punches the air –

The (Generalised) Civil Libertarian Line

I was quite excited to attend the illegal screening of Bruce LaBruce’s latest project LA Zombie, a notorious addition to the Melbourne Underground Film Festival after the evil-paternalistic-censor-body-douchebags at The Office of Film and Literature Classification gave it a RC (refused classification) rating, banning it from screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival, and Aussie screens in general.

I was very serious about illegally exercising my right as a responsible adult to see whatever the hell gross shit I want to see. More seriously, being a genuine LaBruce fan, I was keen to check out his latest project. Perhaps in the current climate, the term “supporter” is a more appropriate term than “fan”.

I qualify that this vague ‘right’ depends on two factors:

Firstly, I am an autonomous adult, sufficiently sane and cognisant to recognize/predict what I can/cannot tolerate.

Secondly, I am making an informed decision – in that I am aware of the explicit content of the film.

When I came across Luke Buckmaster’s silly review of the film on Crikey.Com, I found his tone of mock – horror!!!! – particularly stupid. I posted him an online comment suggesting (amongst other generally bitchy comments), that the next time he attends an illegal screening of a banned film, to perhaps anticipate some explicit content. No one forced him to sit through it – we (should) have a right to see any film we wish to, as well as the right not to!

My principal problem with ****master’s review* was that the sum of his response appeared to be that the film was “gross” and pointless.

*****master wrote:

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.

I’m not sure that this is the most useful reading we can be offered of this film. I fear that in the instance of L.A Zombie, particular censors/critics have lazily resided in the visceral response* – that the film is “gross” – and have not bothered to move beyond this to notice the film’s enigmatic nature and positive politics.

Do they think:                                                      And conclude:

 

“Oh jeepers this is some explicit content”     “LAZ its putrid/gross”.

“Yikes! I don’t understand it!”                           “Its pointless/meaningless”.

To his credit, ****master tracked me down and invited me to present a counter review to his own, to clarify why I ‘liked’ L.A Zombie, why I wasn’t like, totes fully grossed out??!!! This is it.

* Please note the band of four asterixes is not used in the interests of retaining Buckmaster’s privacy, but to make the mature point that “buck” can be conveniently be replaced with swear words e.g “suck” and “fuck” (N.B also “duck”)

** I admit that I definitely listen to my ‘gut’, I ‘feel’ what I think about a film first, and do not discount the intuitive as a valid or legitimate response. However, in regards to LAZ, I think its possible that audiences have been too ready to reside and remain in this visceral reaction, complacent with this, and thus unprepared for more engaged, cerebral (and fair) interaction with the film.


– Part 2: Em wields placard –

I first try to redeem the film from the misapprehension that it is pointless, gratuitous, and without artistic merit. Firstly, what is the film?

LA Zombie plays with a couple of different genres. I’ll list them in brackets as I go. The film is comprised of 4 or 5 long, predominately silent scenes (citing contemplative/avant-garde genres and/or porno).

In the first of these segments, we meet our zombie protagonist (zombie genre noted), he hangs about the outskirts of LA (Julia Roberts Pretty Woman?) and finds corpses, and he penetrates their death wounds with his magical prosthetic penis (fantasy ala Lord of the Rings?). The next four odd segments are similar to the first – find body and penetrate wounds. My favourite of these segments is the ‘gang bang’ scene; a fantastic orgy of 5 very buff, gay, bald men.

The muscled clan await a powdered delivery, but upon it’s arrival, sample it and are unimpressed. Dealers candidly ‘pop’ them. Zombie has been watching from window and enters, all too keen with the opportunity of screwing 5 beautiful leather clad men back to life (LaBruce uses the trite meet cutes of pornography but replaces them with zombie/violent elements, he said in interview somewhere-erather that he was trying to parody violent pornography).

Now, just in case you hadn’t figured out so far, this is a fiction film. Sadly, this is necessary to clarify in this new (bizarre) fashion of likening this film to ‘necrophilia’ (a stupider fashion than that fluorescent green and orange combo was). I have faith that audiences understand the distinction between simulated sex scenes in narrative cinema and ‘real’ penetration in pornography.

I see no reason why we forget our basic understanding of the fiction/reality dichotomy in regards LA Zombie, particularly in regards to LA Zombie, seeing as our subject is covered in green paint and has cheap Dracula fangs in his gob?!

The film exits the sphere of pornographic tradition and concludes on a rather poetic moment; Zombie man sheds tears, distressed at a grave stone. Not only does the film here extend itself beyond the structure of pornography but this inconclusive note reconciles the film with the open ended tradition of art cinema narration. LaBruce fuses pornography, narrative cinema and more avant-garde tradition. I think LAZ has been victim not only to explicit content, but to its rare fusion of genre, and to thus the limited frameworks with which we can read the film.

a) When Harry met Sally

Reading the film as narrative cinema, we are disappointed. The film is almost void of dialogue altogether; we don’t come to ‘know’ characters, and the scenes appear to bear no causal relationship to one another. Indeed, its kind of like 5 short porno films stuck together.

Luke ****master wrote:

“The concepts of “story” or “characters” are well out of the film’s reach.” Lukey, come on! Surely we know by now that a film’s artistic merit does not lie in its adherence or commitment to presenting an explicit causally linked narrative and some characters with whom we can empathise!

b) Harry rode Sally

Reading the film as pornography, we are bound to be offended, because LaBruce is messing with us, replacing all the details of porn with weird alternatives. The agent of penetration is very odd shaped. Black. Someone at the screening yelled “its a dog’s dick!”

LaBruce teases:
“‘It’s a bizarre-looking thing with a scorpion’s stinger, it’s clearly not a human penis.’’”

The orifices are ‘novel’, as bloody cavernous wounds. The sperm is a foreign blackish blueish fluid and he ejaculates in some ‘non-human manner’ [not sure what else to say]. And, of course the zombie screws the corpses back to life – this fusion of porn and life/death themes is presumably a nasty shock to regular porn fans, perhaps not to niche snuff market, however.

The film plays with the formal elements of porn, but crucially doesn’t deliver what porn is supposed to – pleasure. And viewing this scene as either blind porn fiends or narrative anticipating idiots, we seem stuck within the limited and literal vernacular, with terms such as “rape” and “necrophilia”, etc. Bound within the constraints of some linear schemata and reveling in their state of abhorrence, it would appear that some of LaBruce’s audience has failed to view the sexual act in its entirety.

The zombie’s sexual conduct does not inflict violence on the recipient, but the sex here is remedial, magical, healing. The corpses do not remain dead throughout, but he screws them back to life. LaBruce corroborates on this exact point:

‘People come back to life [in my film], it’s a metaphor for healing.’’

Surely were the film trying to be sexually violent, LaBruce would have played with the converse – and zombie dude would have been screwing them to death. I understand this sexual act as a tongue in cheek metaphor for the capacity of the marginalized sexual act to ‘screw you out of middle class hetero repression’ – or something a bit more simple – that some jiggy can knock you into a new state of being.

Furthermore, I maintain (from LaBruce’s last zombie porno Otto: Or living with dead people) that the homosexual zombie penetration of novel orifices (wounds/intestines etc) is an allegory for sodomy, these are all just orifices – as a homophobe could claim “god didn’t want us to penetrate”.

Anyway, my point is, that if you read it as porn it will gross you out, and approaching it as narrative film or porn may hinder you with a limited vernacular in which to define it – rape/necrophilia/snuff etc – none of which may allow you to read the act in its entirety.

c) Harry, Sarry, thirtyonemangoes: Sublime (arty film)

So if the film confounds pornographic readings, AND narrative readings, what about if we view with another schemata? Random arty schemata somethingerather? Had we been shown 5 poorly shot segments in which apple picking is pretty much the only action, we would no doubt begin to consider the meaning of the apples, and try to draw analogical value from the trees/stems/hunky apple farmer Guillard.

I wonder why a majority of spectators have not given this film the right of considering analogical value or purpose? Why has LAZ been robbed of the right of interrogative and cognisant spectatorship?

In a film where sex is the action, the concern of the camera, everything conflating towards the moment of penetration (trite meet cutes/dialogue/even the murders themselves), why don’t we examine the sex as having a greater meaning. We cannot leap to the conclusion that because the sex isn’t always pleasant to watch (I enjoy it, finding it pretty funny), it is therefore intrinsically worthless.

Is a visceral reaction to a dog’s doodle sufficient grounds to ban a film?

– Part 3 –

Em resumes locus position

Although this film has been understood to be pointless and vulgar, I genuinely believe that it presents positive politics and artistic merit. Whether or not the film has been misunderstood (as consequence of visceral responses and/or rudimentary or limited interpretations) in the way that I believe it has, I hope that I have presented the film as something more than pointless or gratuitous shit, in treating it/presenting it as an enigmatic and evasive film in terms of generic classification alone.

I hoped to raise a couple examples of how readings of the film are confounded or limited by generic readings. I wonder how much more dangerously limited the reading of the film may be when someone enters the cinema waiting for it to be perverse and stupid? I understand that my reading of LAZ – one I (personally) deem more valid and developed than making vomit signals with my forefingers – is just my own personal reading.

My concern is not with defending LAZ alone, via the ‘it has artistic merit’ argument. I think the system of defending a film by its possession/lack of artistic/political merit is so outrageously dangerous to begin with, as these assessments are purely subjective. And what scares me – and what I fear has occurred in the case of LAZ– is that undeveloped or restricted responses or assumptions regarding a film’s lack of artistic merit, can lead to our inability to access the film at all and make up our own minds.

One subjective response or reading CANNOT pre-empt our own, and another’s subjective response should certainly not rob us of our right to make up our own minds/have our own reading.

Ps – Thanks for (another) minty fresh work Bruce LaBruce.

 

I subscribe to Crikey because I believe in a free, open and independent media where news and opinions can be published that I can both agree with and be challenged by.

As a Crikey subscriber I always feel more informed and able to think more critically about issues and current affairs – even when they don’t always reflect my own political viewpoint or lived experience.

Jess
Singapore

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