Canadian provocateur Bruce LaBruce follows up Otto; or, Up with Dead People with L.A. Zombie, coming out on DVD from Strand Releasing this Tuesday. The mostly wordless, hour-long film stars French porn star François Sagat as an alien who arrives in Los Angeles and resurrects various guys he meets by penetrating them with his elephantine alien penis. LaBruce chatted with Slant about his film.
The last time we talked was for Otto; or, Up with Dead People. Now we’re discussing L.A. Zombie. So, I’m curious, why another zombie film?
[laughs] It’s just a phase I’m going through. I think now that I’ve made two and traveled around with them, for me it was an attempt to explore a more popular genre, but interpret it with my usual obsessions and techniques and strategies. [Zombie films] are a more popular form, so it allows me to reach a wider audience and comment on a lot of issues in my work, like the representation of violence in mass media and the relationship between sex and violence and power relations.
You made two versions of L.A. Zombie—an hour-long DVD, which played the festival circuit, and a hardcore edition. Did you have concerns about distribution of this film?
L.A. Zombie Hardcore is the long version, which is being marketed and distributed as porn. It has long, explicit sex scenes, and strangely has a lot of scenes of Francois Sagat having sex with his real “human” dick rather than with his “alien” dick. It’s been selling very well for my porn co-producer, Dark Alley, in the States. L.A. Zombie, the shorter version, is intended for festival audiences, and it must have played over a hundred of them by now. It has limited theatrical potential, although it is being released theatrically soon in France. In Italy, the softcore version and Otto have been released together as a zombie box set, which has also been selling very well for them.
What is your impression of L.A., especially as a Canadian/foreigner?
I always really relate to L.A. I’m not sure why. When I first went there in 1991, I wrote about how it was like finding my spiritual homeland, which I meant kind of ironically, because most find it a spiritual wasteland. But as a cinephile, I’m a devotee of classic Hollywood—modern Hollywood not so much. The landscape is emblazoned in your mind and you recognize all these locations, cityscapes, and landmarks. It’s vast, and changes, but not in a way that New York changes; it’s not constantly transmuting. L.A. has a certain aspect of it that remains unchanged. I lived there for a year as I was making Hustler White. I love the insanity of it—the fact that it’s so different for me, coming from Canada, with the changing of the seasons and the cold. A sunny day every day for nine months is like a bizarre dream.
Why did you cast and how did you work with Sagat on the role?
I had missed a few opportunities to work with Sagat before for various reasons. I had wanted to work with him even before he was well known. I knew him from a porn company that had Arab models. Even though he wasn’t Arab, he passed for it. I was aware of him, and when he blew up, I was thinking about him, watching his YouTube videos, which were cool, personal, and transgressive. I came up with L.A. Zombie with him in mind, and as a vehicle for him. I ran into him at Chi Chi LaRue’s birthday party in Paris. I talked to him about the project, he was in to it, and that was it.
As the alien, Sagat pisses, vomits, and fucks. Was there anything Sagat wouldn’t do, or did he ever do something that surprised you?
Once François committed to the character, there wasn’t much he wouldn’t do within the framework of the character. And there isn’t a lot of limits for an alien zombie who fucks dead people back to life. It’s completely bizarre and otherworldly. It’s all done, on a certain level, very tongue in cheek, or satirical—even though it’s very serious. I’m not particularly interested in necrophilia. But the conceit of the film is reverse necrophilia—a technical point, perhaps. In terms of the actual character, it’s done in a gay context; the people he saved—they are not victims—were gay men. But there were a few things—endurance things [that tested Sagat]. We shot in seven days and some of those were 14-to-16 hours long and grueling for a micro-budget film. We had to drive to Zuma Beach, where the final scene of Hustler White and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? were filmed. We were trying to beat the sun. We had to shoot the opening scene at dusk. He had already had a sex scene that day, and when we go to the ocean and it was freezing and I asked for an extra take, he was like, “No! I’m done!” But it was a symbolic “no.” He has to say “no” once to something!
Can you discuss the makeup, colors, and special effects? They are all very vivid.
The palette is really cool. Joe Castro did the special effects. He’s a mad-genius type. He’s done tons of special effects for low-budget horror and porn films. We came up with the design of the creature together, the prosthetic cock, the contact lenses, everything. The palate was tricky. Blue was tricky because of Avatar, Blue Man Group, etc., so I didn’t want to stick with just blue. Then we got the idea of him becoming more of a chameleon and changing color. Changing the color of the parts of the body was a necessity because we didn’t have the ability to paint his entire body, so we came up with the idea of him being a homeless schizophrenic who sketches this alien identity in his mind. Or if he is a real alien, he has a chameleon identity. Whatever color we painted him had weird consistencies with his environment. He’s in a Pasadena graveyard, and the color of his skin matches the tombstones. It looks intentional, but it wasn’t! It was synchronicity.