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A different opinion on gay zombie porn: ‘In defence of Bruce LaBruce’s LA Zombie’

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.”

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.

 

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  • 1
    Holden Back
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Wow, the ‘freshness and vitality’ school of criticism sure undergoes some weird transmogrifications. None of which makes the work of much value.

  • 2
    Erudite Wookie
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    This sounds like one of those movies I’d prefer to read about than actually see. Great to have a different opinion (very Crikey!) and I really like how Emma approached it. Quirky and fun. Unlike the movie, by the sounds of things!

  • 3
    Brad Nguyen
    Posted September 13, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Bravo Emma.

    It’s fairly astounding that a respected website such as Crikey could stoop to publishing the downright stupid “analysis” of Luke Buckmaster. Maybe one could imagine it reasonable that someone who is not a regular film-watcher with no particular interest in cinema could watch L.A. Zombie and dismiss it as lacking in any “artistic value”. But coming from a so-called cinema “fanatic” this is indefensibly lazy and reactionary. Buckmaster has neglected to do the minimum that should be required of a film reviewer/critic: that is, to merely be aware of LaBruce’s previous work, his position as an avant-garde artist, his thoughts on the politics of porn and sex. All we seem to find out about LaBruce the artist from Buckmaster is that he is an American (which is incorrect anyway. A mere google search will tell you that LaBruce is Canadian).

    But as to the merits of Buckmaster’s argument: No, it is not inappropriate to make L.A. Zombie available in multiplexes. That is precisely the reason why we have a ratings system: so that the children who are watching Shrek will be in a different cinema to the adults watching The Killer Inside Me. But what about the teenagers who might sneek in to see L.A. Zombie, you might ask? Of course, they will be irreparably damaged by watching simulated sex obviously framed as nonsensical fantasy. Never mind that these teenagers are most probably already watching much more problematic pornography on the internet. Never mind the hypocrisy of simulated violence (framed as fantasy and otherwise) being completely acceptable in our multiplexes. Never mind that actual violence in the form of war and public policy is not just accepted but celebrated.

    May I also point out the disingenuous “goodwill” of someone who prefaces the publishing of a differing opinion with a paragraph about how even attempting analysis of a LaBruce film might be akin to sophomorically holding up a soap commercial as high art. We’re lucky that Emma’s writing is strong enough to withstand such an obvious stacking of the deck.

  • 4
    Jackol
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Don’t quit your day job Emma. Asterisks, zany bolding, nonsensical asterisking, oh my. Dripping sarcasm, what wit. Lack of argument besides “stick it to the man” and “if you squint really really hard and avoid actually thinking about what is presented to you, you can see some artistic subtext, and maybe even a point – no wait that was an editing glitch”.

  • 5
    Dan Barrett
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Brad – not everyone perscribes to auterist film analysis. It can just as easily be argued that an artistic work should be able to stand on its own merit without having to consider the authors previous works.

  • 6
    Emma Jane
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    @ Jackol

    The sum of my argument is not “stick it to the man”, in fact I was taking the piss out of the indulgent illusion of ”sticking it to the man” when I said
    “I was very serious about illegally exercising my right as a responsible adult to see whatever the hell gross shit I want to see”.

    The sum of my argument you will find in my conclusion:
    “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.”

    But hey, the bitchy calls on my editing (an editor’s responsibility) and poor wit (for this I blame the bearded man in the sky) are fair enough.

  • 7
    Peter Jacobsen
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Love ya work as always ems ;p

    Was just wondering if it was simulated sex, because it certainly hasn’t been in LaBruce’s earlier porn work?

    Also I feel that your observations regarding its structure perhaps don’t necessarily ring true, LAZ is very much a porno – they often have tenuous narrative and a ‘stuck together’ feel between each scene (sometimes even a ‘revelation’ at the end).

    All in all I totally agree that it is a concept piece designed to illicit a visceral response in order to confound the textbook set of interpretative communities

  • 8
    Brad Nguyen
    Posted September 14, 2010 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Dan – The truth of the matter is that no work stands on its own. The only way to make sense of any film (mainstream and avant-garde) is by reference to cultural norms that are always historically specific. To say that a work “does not stand on its own” is not a neutral objective position; it is to privilege a certain cultural viewpoint. (e.g. Ah yes, Scott Pilgrim stands on its own – but only if you have a working knowledge of Hollywood genres, hipster culture, computer games etc. Or conversely, Blissfully Yours does not stand on its own and I am justified in my ignorance of the plights of specific minorities in Thailand).

    When we come across a film that doesn’t make sense to us (for reasons of it being a foreign film or highly conceptual or whatever) we can either dismiss it out of hand, or we can make an effort to learn the particular tools (historical/philosophical background etc) that will make the film “work” (as it was intended or otherwise).

    This is what you might say distinguishes the philistine from the critic. The philistine makes a rash judgement call, fairly content with his (or her) limited knowledge. The critic makes the effort to honestly engage with a film, is prepared to be provoked in meaningful ways. I don’t have an issue with Buckmaster not “liking” LA Zombie. But he has not even attempted any critical engagement with what the film is “doing”, which I believe is obvious to anyone with a passing knowledge of the director, critical discussions on genre, debates about the censorship of porn, queer theory, or, y’know, anything beyond mediocre fan writing.

  • 9
    Emma Jane
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    Hi Petey, Em here

    I wasn’t saying that the sex was simulated, but that the situation was fictitious, making the point that it was not real necrophilia.

    Also, as you are aware, I am not much of a porn person (but don’t judge those who are), and therefore not always clear on the specific details and features of the genre.

    However, the general point remains – that this is a contentious fusion of a few genres, or as you put it – “[LAZ] is a concept piece designed to illicit a visceral response in order to confound the textbook set of interpretative communities”.

  • 10
    Peter Jacobsen
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    One does wonder if it would not play better as a gallery film…

    the main complaint I kept hearing about was its repetitiveness, this wouldn’t matter as much when you’re not stuck in aisle seats and can wonder around a bit more freely

  • 11
    Emma Jane
    Posted September 15, 2010 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I thought the same thing!
    We might definitely approach video art from a more liberal vantage too (ie less easily offended by weird explicit content and more receptive to lack of narrative cohesion etc).

  • 12
    Erudite Wookie
    Posted September 16, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Luke while I think your choice to source a second opinion is probably laudable I think you can see what happens when you open the flood gates to the university film crit crew. I many moons ago belonged to a similar outfit. What I don’t think has been observed by yourself or the undergrads ’10 is that there appears to be some confusion about the difference between a film REVIEW (you tell people whether you thought it was good or bad and why) and a film CRITICISM, which is more in line was academic way of thinking. You study previous texts using words like “schemata” and “mise en scene.” They might explain in detail why one of the characters shirt stains signifies a postmodern commentary on soviet workplace enterprises. Emma’s review was fruity but childish and Brad’s desires are obviously more catered for in something like Senses of Cinema. Are they really upset about your approach, or just because they disagree with your opinion and you left no room for theirs? I haven’t seen LA Zombie and I have no intention to. But jumping up and down about you not “getting” the symbology of a porno movie or where it fits in the cultural landscape of other porno movies is the sort of argument (trust me, I’m getting old) that tends to leave people when they graduate.

  • 13
    Brad Nguyen
    Posted September 16, 2010 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    Erudite Wookie – I don’t think that I wrote anything to the effect of demanding an academic analysis of L.A. Zombie. What I demanded was that a mere modicum of intelligence be brought to the article. The kind you commonly find in “reviews” in newspapers and magazines and stuff.

    Neither Emma nor I were “jumping up and down” about someone not “getting” the symbology of a porno or anything as silly as that. We were jumping up and down because a film that’s obviously *more* than a porno was being treated as *just* a porno. We’d be just as indignant if someone called Catherine Breillat a mere pornographer.

    But I guess I’m just a young, naive university upstart. What would I know! But tell me – is anti-intellectualism, condescension and smug willful stupidity a universal phenomenon amongst “old” people?

  • 14
    Brad Nguyen
    Posted September 16, 2010 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    Also, I usually don’t find “stupid” opinions that offensive. But the exception to this rule is surely when an author goes so far as to laud the reactionary censorship practices which have made Australia a laughing stock around the world.

    (It’s certainly puzzling how Buckmaster supports banning L.A. Zombie from cinemas and film festivals and in the very same article writes that “some have clumsily construed that I was pro-censorship”. So much for people who “lean left”.)

  • 15
    Jake Wilson
    Posted September 17, 2010 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I disagree with Erudite Wookie above — this is one of the most interesting discussions yet on Cinetology. It would be great to see Luke respond to some of the points raised by Brad and others.

  • 16
    Posted September 17, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Excellent. The reason this blog post exists is to spur discussion and present different opinions so it’s great that people are finding value in it. I’ll definitely tap out some thoughts over the weekend and respond to some of the points that have been raised above.

    But before I do that, Brad wrote:

    It’s certainly puzzling how Buckmaster supports banning L.A. Zombie from cinemas and film festivals and in the very same article writes that “some have clumsily construed that I was pro-censorship”. So much for people who “lean left”.

    Just wanted to know what you’re referencing there Brad – particularly, where did you read that I support banning LA Zombie from film festivals? In this post I have reiterated what I wrote about the OFLC’s ban, particularly that “the OFLC was right to ban the film from screening in general cinemas” (the operative word there being *general*).

    So we’re on the same page (so to speak) could you please point me in the direction of where I said I supported LA Zombie being banned from film festivals? Thanks.

  • 17
    Brad Nguyen
    Posted September 17, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    OK, you’re exact position is that L.A. Zombie should be banned from general exhibition but not festivals? That is still censorship. Let’s move from here.

  • 18
    Brad Nguyen
    Posted September 17, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    I’ll also take it that you wrote this with tongue in cheek:

    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.

  • 19
    Brad Nguyen
    Posted September 18, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Hmm…I should also make clear that when I wrote, “Of course, they will be irreparably damaged by watching simulated sex obviously framed as nonsensical fantasy,” I was obviously being sarcastic.

    But if you didn’t get that, I can see why Buckmaster mistakenly wrote that “we’re on the same page”.

    And to be absolutely clear: I’m in full support of teenagers sneaking in to watch L.A. Zombie in multiplexes!

  • 20
    Erudite Wookie
    Posted September 18, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    This guy is floundering like a fish drowning in oxygen. A better strategical response, Luke, would be to let him keep talking to himself.

  • 21
    Posted September 21, 2010 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Brad wrote:
    I’ll also take it that you wrote this with tongue in cheek:

    “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.”

    Absolutely not. I wasn’t being tongue in cheek. Given how unrelentingly gratuitous the experience of watching LA Zombie was to sit through (Stephanie Bunbury was right – it may be banned, but it’s still dull as ditchwater) I would have been quite happy for the cops to have broken down the door and slapped cuffs on the barkeep, for a small fire to have erupted in a back corner of the room, or for the the festival director to have peeled off his skin and revealed that he was the Pope or Ivan Milat – anything to make that wretched experience more entertaining.

    Now, you’ve quoted my words – “clumsily construed” – and as if by some ironically amusing endeavour have with nary a moment’s thought gone on to prove my assertion right, though “clumsily” seems generous with respect to what was outlayed. You’ve made up something I didn’t say and never expressed (“It’s certainly puzzling how Buckmaster supports banning L.A. Zombie from cinemas and film festivals”) in order to fit your own false assertion that I advocated this film being banned from festivals. You know I said or wrote no such thing. Therefore I will take your apology as something that was implied rather than an actual admission of an untruth, just as I will your accept your “soz” for falsely suggesting to your followers on Twitter that I was withholding or censoring your comments on this blog, a particularly mean-spirited (and factually incorrect) accusation given the purpose of this post was obviously to generate discussion. One can find some value in the motto to “play the ball and not the person.”

    Moving on, it’s hard to know what to respond to, so I’ll just pluck a few quotes submitted above.

    Brad wrote:

    “The truth of the matter is that no work stands on its own. The only way to make sense of any film (mainstream and avant-garde) is by reference to cultural norms that are always historically specific.

    That is more or less accurate, but the truth is, as in much in life, is a little more complicated. Yes, every film dots its own space on a cultural horizon consisting of many other dots and spaces. On the other hand, every film stands on its own in the sense that every film has a start and an end – i.e. a set running time.

    When we come across a film that doesn’t make sense to us (for reasons of it being a foreign film or highly conceptual or whatever) we can either dismiss it out of hand, or we can make an effort to learn the particular tools (historical/philosophical background etc) that will make the film “work” (as it was intended or otherwise).

    Let me not emphasise the absurd insinuation that gratuitous pornos such as LA Zombie, the Flintbones or Married with Herpes are titles that “don’t make sense” to their viewers for being “highly conceptual.” If this is what you’re saying, it’s obviously hog wash so I’ll assume your statement is merely clumsily phrased and that was not what you mean.

    You raise the idea to “make the film “work”.” If we were to follow that line of thought to its logical end, it would have to apply to all films – whether we’re talking about The Magnificent Ambersons or The Beverly Hills Chihuahua. And the latter, which by the way is an infinitely fulfilling intellectual exercise than LA Zombie, could certainly be “legitimised” by some kind of historical reading, however much the reviewer would be grasping at straws. But if you’re prepared to tread the path of “everything has merit” you are forced to pursue that, perhaps to a ridiculous juncture of stubbornness and absurdity where you feel compelled for some vaguely perverse reason to praise the films you despise.

    But the next line in Brad’s comment strikes a much stronger chord with me:

    “This is what you might say distinguishes the philistine from the critic.”

    It would be hard not to use the word “elitist” to describe an sentence like that; suffice to say I have no intention of discussing the differences between “philistines” and “film critics.” I do not share the same perspective and in fact have made deliberate moves in the past to in my own limited ways break down this kind of “us” and “them” mentality, the kind that draws a line between the people who watch films (which is most of us) and the people who “know” films. I am not fond of being called a “film critic” (though in some circles – such as universities – such a label appears to be inevitable, especially if you’re speaking in front of a crowd) because such a term generally summons visions of a silver haired bespectacled ivory tower elite who thinks they know more than you. That is not the sort of vision I wish people to associate with myself. Some of the friends I bring along to see movies with me are not “filmic” people – they see films every once in awhile, and haven’t clocked up anywhere near the number of hours I have in darkened auditoriums (and subsequently have a far healthier vitamin D intake). And while I may enjoy pointing out other work I believe the film we say may be linked to or inspired by etcetera, the chew the intellectual fat or whatever you want to call it, I do not live under the assumption that my opinion is more “valid” than theirs or anybody elses. That is for other people to decide, not me.

    In the most recent comment from Brad, he wrote “And to be absolutely clear: I’m in full support of teenagers sneaking in to watch L.A. Zombie in multiplexes!”

    I will use this as a segue to a brief discussion about film censorship. In relation to LA Zombie, I wrote that the AFCA were right to ban the film from being screened in general cinemas, which is where it would have ended up had it played at MIFF.

    The truth despite the “f the man” rhetoric is that feature films are rarely banned in Australia, and it is generally one specific combination that leads to such bans: sexualised violence. I spent a large portion of my university years drenching myself in horror films. They remain, perhaps partly due to nostalgic reasons, perhaps not, one of my favourite genres, and I have a particular interest in zombie films. George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead is one of my favourite films. Sp I am no prude when it comes to screen depictions of violence, but on the other hand I am badly ranked by gratuity – i.e. violence for the sake of violence, or violence to celebrate violence, which is one of the main reasons I despised American Psycho, a sicko adaptation from a smutty, sicko novel.

    Insofar as the umbrella ideas of film censorship are concerned, we can whittle this complex issue down into two broad terms: pro (some kind of) censorship and anti-censorship. The latter may be construed as something much cooler than the former – particularly on the university campus where, like me, you may have relished the kind of outside the square subversive thinking a good arts subject should encourage – but most of us, myself included, ultimately belong to the former.

    The debate can be measured to some extent by its extremities; by marking the borders of thought and subsequently finding your orientation within.

    What I would challenge you to do, Brad – and whoever else wants to share in this discussion – is to identify on this post which of the two groups you belong to: pro (some kind of) censorship or anti-censorship. Both come with own complexities, sub arguments etc.

    The first: censorship. The belief that certain material should not be available for public to view. Cue discussion about how people in clipboards decide our cinematic diet a yada yada.

    The second: anti-censorship. The belief anybody should be able to see anything they choose. And if you want to relegate the term “anybody” to “adults” (which is still censorship, but I’ll turn a blind eye) we can do that for the purposes of this exercise.

    If you belong to the first camp, you have to deal with the grim knowledge that the infrastructure built around “policing” what is and is not permissible for general audiences to see will over a long enough period of time invariably get it wrong, at least by some definitions, probably many.

    If you belong to the second camp, you have to deal with the even grimmer knowledge that you are by proxy permitting (arguably even endorsing) graphic depictions of things that to say the least do not bode well with standards of common decency, such as graphic depictions of sexual intercourse with children.

    Do you honestly believe every person should have the right to sit down in public and watch child pornography? If so, I would suggest you are not being morally serious about the issue of censorship. If not, then you are by definition pro censorship, and you acknowledge that there is a “line.” The question then becomes where you draw it.

    Which camp do you belong to?

  • 22
    Brad Nguyen
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Let’s just point out the obvious intellectual absurdities of your response:

    (1) When you write that you are HAPPY with the idea of the POLICE rushing into a FESTIVAL SCREENING full of consenting adult viewers and CENSORING the film showing on account of its gratuitousness, any reasonable reading of that sentence would have to assume that the author supported CENSORING the film from FESTIVALS. To claim that such a reading is a clumsy construction is patently absurd.

    (2) You quickly mock the idea that with movies, “everything has merit” (which is not my position anyway) but then call me an elitist for distinguishing between philistines and good critics. How is it that when we talk about films, we can safely and unproblematically assume there are “bad” films (such as L.A. Zombie, which you insist on associating with run-of-the-mill commercial porn) and “good” films but when it comes to film criticism, everything has merit? I maintain my position that there is certainly a thing as philistine criticism characterised not by any lack of cinephilic knowledge, but by its impatience and its satisfaction in ignorance.

    (3) You’re rhetorical line that if I object to child pornography, I should support banning L.A. Zombie is plain silly. Demand for child pornography leads to the actual exploitation of children which I certainly object to. What real damage might be caused by the demand for fanciful zombie porn? By sensationally conflating 2 incredibly separate issues it is you who has proved their lack of “moral seriousness”. (Ugh, isn’t that an Andrew Bolt expression?)

  • 23
    Brad Nguyen
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Ha ha. It is. lol

    http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s2521164.htm

  • 24
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    What a stinging rebuke, old boy! Evidently Andrew Bolt (apparently my hero, for those uninformed) is the first commentator to have combined the words “moral” and “seriousness” into a sentence! About things that are – gasp! – moral, and serious. Glad to see you’ve added Bolt mimicry to the litany of things you’ve accused me of, my man. The only question is: what’s next? I suppose I am some sort of high powered morally bankrupt defender of mutlinational corporations? A ruthless dictator of a small impoverished nation?

    In response to your above points:

    1) I will try to RESIST using your clever tactic of pressing caps lock to emphasise certain WORDS and point out that in the same SENTENCE you mentioned I also suggested the festival director should have “peeled off his skin and revealed that he was the Pope or Ivan Milat” – I suppose I am now an advocate for Ivan Milat? Grasping. Straws. Get with the program.

    2) I am not surprised you maintain your position of dividing film audiences into “the philistine” and “the critic.” You know how I feel about this: that everybody has an opinion, even when they differ from your own, or even when they haven’t buried their heads in film academia (which, I am happy to confess, I have – but it hasn’t given me a holier than thou attitude).

    3) You wrote: “You’re rhetorical line that if I object to child pornography, I should support banning L.A. Zombie is plain silly.” Again you have demonstrated an eerie penchant not only for making things up but by misreading or completely ignoring parts of or entire sentences. Before I mentioned child pornography I wrote “I will use this as a segue to a brief discussion about film censorship” and, if this wasn’t certain enough that it was a bridge or a connection to a different (sub) topic, I wrote one paragraph later “Insofar as the umbrella ideas of film censorship are concerned…” which made it abundantly clear – or so I thought – that the following words were, indeed, about central ideas towards film censorship and not specifically about LA Zombie or Bruce LaBruce. Looking back, I’m not sure how I could have made that any more obvious; perhaps I should have taken advantage of html tags and underlined the sentence, but even then….

    Now, there is a question you’ve left unanswered, and I implore you to have the gumption to answer it. As any decent human being would, you have stated you object to the exploitation of children. Right on. Hopefully, that is a given.

    But the question I asked you was this:

    “Do you honestly believe every person should have the right to sit down in public and watch child pornography?”

    For example, in this hypothetical: a filmmaker has made a graphic porno depicting sexual intercourse with children. They wish to display their film at a public venue. Should they be allowed to? Yes, or no?

    Which is it?

  • 25
    Brad Nguyen
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    (1) I was referring to the following sentence that you wrote: “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.”

    You made clear that there was no irony in this sentence; that you meant this in all seriousness. There is no mention of Ivan Milat here. Quite clearly, the author of this sentence is endorsing the censorship of a film from a festival audience. It can’t be read otherwise.

    (2) It is so clearly disingenuous that you claim to embrace all opinions on film as equally valid (as opposed to me, the elitist!) but then are happy to dismiss academic analysis with the following phrase (and I quote): “no, that was just crap”. The thing is: I agree with you! Some academic writing is lazy and not founded by strong textual analysis. But the truth is, you do believe there is such a thing as “bad criticism”. And I think it’s fairly dishonest to contradict this line with this false “everyone is right!” attitude just to paint me as an “elitist”.

    To clarify my position though: My point was not to divide audiences into “philistines” and “critics”. My point was to differentiate between “good” and “bad” criticism. (By which I mean critical writing on film by someone who makes themselves out to be a respectable authority on the subject.)

    (3) I would censor child pornography but not L.A. Zombie in which everyone involved was a fully consenting adult. For the reason I outlined in my previous comment, I don’t believe this to be a contradiction. Do you?

  • 26
    Brad Nguyen
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 1:22 am | Permalink

    And I apologise. I didn’t mean to insinuate that you were an Andrew Bolt fan and I’m sorry if that was what came across. What I was trying to say was that anyone who uses a phrase like “moral seriousness” should have their logic scrutinised with some wariness. Andrew Bolt being a prime example.

  • 27
    Jake Wilson
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been on a break so I’m just catching up with the latter part of this debate. Setting the censorship issue aside, I just wanted to say that I consider LaBruce’s previous gay zombie porn whatsit Otto: Or Up With Dead People an interesting and (if you like) morally serious film – mainly a study of various kinds of exploitation – and that a fair number of seemingly levelheaded festival programmers, critics, etc, seem willing to grant LA Zombie some kind of artistic merit. There’s an article in the latest issue of Cinema Scope magazine, which I haven’t read yet, that might add fuel to the fire. Anyway look forward to checking out LAZ for myself if and when it finally hits DVD.

  • 28
    HTL
    Posted October 1, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Emma McNicol the female Armond White? RAGE!

    Bruce just does what he know’s best…. gay porn, then he pretends that it was some sort of intellectual endeavor so that Williamsburg wannabe’s can pontificate ad-nauseum.

    That being said watching a film is a very personal experience, thus I think it’s silly to be so critical of Buckmaster’s (cool name bro) critique of the film. Deriving meaning from a film can be done from any film ever made, this does not mean that the film actually has any inherent meaning at all.

    It is easy to over intellectualize a movie, and I feel this is what has been done to Bruce’s works, I don’t think LAZ is some sort of avant-garde attempt to challenge our sensibilities but merely as an excellent marketing gimmick. However that is my personal reading of the film and I can understand how Emma came to her opinion (even though I think it’s a load of pseudo-intellectual bull) ;)

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