I will define pornography for myself: sex scenes which cut to close-up shots of penetration, usually beneath and between the dominating sexual partner’s legs or just above his belly, looking down on the passive sexual partner’s lower back, or most boringly from a simple close-up profile shot of the two actors. It’s these close-ups that make sex scenes pornographic. Actual penetration might be erotic to see, but from a wide shot, showing both actors’ bodies and in particular letting us see their faces, actual sex in movies can be quite moving. Look at Catherine Breillat’s Brief Crossing or Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution. Neither film is erotic, but one cannot deny the power that those images have in the context of their stories.
I think I’ve just thought more deeply about the subject than Bruce La Bruce, writer and director of L.A. Zombie. I don’t understand the purpose of the film, the reason for it being made, but the story revolves around a zombie, henceforth known as The Zombie, played by François Sagat, who emerges from the sea and has sex with the dead and brings them back to life. Sounds interesting, some of us more perverted might be thinking, but the execution and staging of L.A. Zombie is exactly like pornography. There might be parallels La Bruce is making with a certain kind of life style in excessive America, but the movie is quite frankly too depressing an exercise for me to care about. It is not well made—in fact in one shot a cameraman who’s going in for a close-up shot of sexual penetration actually pops into the master shot of The Zombie plowing a dead homeless man from behind—and it is not acted at all, except for the stereotypical loud moans and grunts of pornographic films.
It began well enough with some beautiful photography of the sea, a landscape similar to the beaches of Ingmar Bergman’s films, and a haunting all strings piece of music. The Zombie emerges from the water, much like the fragile characters of Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, a film about a young woman with mental illness. This connection may be important to understanding the true nature of The Zombie. He is shown in three forms throughout the picture: a gray, post-George Romero zombie, a more hideously deformed zombie with large canines protruding from his gums, and a human form, Sagat in living flesh as a homeless man wandering the streets of L.A. Is The Zombie a homeless man by way of mental illness? Are all of his experiences largely imagined, schizophrenic episodes that speak philosophically to a perversity in gay culture in America? I’ve read comments on the internet like this, but I think that’s only a way for people to praise a film that has hardcore sex scenes without them seeming to the public to be perverted.
I think the director might have been trying to express a viewpoint, but what he didn’t understand, something anyone could have seen in the very first sex scene, is that pornography is not very interesting.
Male orgasm is achieved through a repetitious motion; watching an erect penis penetrating any orifice gets old very quickly. It’s pretty much the same no matter how you do it, and L.A. Zombie lingers on the penetration in the same ways as pornography. Bruce La Bruce should have known that showing porno scenes in-full would distract the viewer. I’ll admit I found the bodies on display to be attractive, though the scenarios were kind of disgusting and over-the-top, but after the first few minutes I got sick of seeing the sex. It was like watching open heart surgery: technical and gross. My mind started to wander; I started to think of why I was watching this movie. This is where the film became depressing—it was boring and wasting 2 hours of my life. How could La Bruce credit himself as writer? There’s no characters here, no dialogue except for the occasional trifles before the characters are killed (immature arguing between violent criminals, for example), and the structure of the film is stolen from pornography—the Zombie wanders the streets of L.A. and episodically has sex with the men he meets. What La Bruce basically had was a concept, an experiment which may sound interesting—a series of hardcore scenes—but as cinema it is lifeless. Boring, and that is the biggest mistake any filmmaker, narrative, documentary or experimental, can make.
Some might question if instead La Bruce has made an anti-pornographic film. And I would say that is an interesting argument. The form and function of pornography with blood; penetrating fresh wounds rather than natural orifices; and a penis for The Zombie that looks like a goblin’s tool—long, unnaturally colored with a curved tipped head—spouting blood instead of semen. It is impossible to find this material erotic, and I found it to be disgusting but so what? Any hack can revolt an audience. The image I found most deplorable is Sagat’s Zombie’s penis. Its unnatural curvature and the blood in place of semen might have been too much to take if the material weren’t so overblown, but I found absolutely no point to any of this. And, if this was part of La Bruce’s experiment, then he failed because most of the scenes involve natural-looking penises that have normal orgasms, the men for the most part are handsome, and the sex scenes linger so that I at least started to view them abstractly. Instead of the whole film I saw Sagat sucking on a penis. These are two diametrically opposite images and that they exist in my perception in this case is not a plus for the film. I got tired of what I was seeing and was looking for something else.
But to give another point to this idea of anti-pornography let’s look at François Sagat. I find him very attractive: a great body, handsome face and a great scalp tattoo. In L.A. Zombie he always looks ugly. Obviously as a zombie, but even in his homeless human form I felt more... pity, I guess, though I didn’t care about the character. I cared about François Sagat the actor doing some outlandish and embarrassing things onscreen. There is one scene where The Zombie tries to drink a cup of coffee but he spits up, and Sagat is made to rub the spilled coffee on his chest in an erotic way. Why is this man, who seems to be an intelligent guy in real life and who is a good actor (if his performance in Man at Bath is any indication of his range) degrading himself in such a meaningless piece of garbage like L.A. Zombie?
Maybe on some level the film does work. Maybe it is only meant as a provocation. Is society so numbed that we need these kinds of films? Yes and no. We have numbed ourselves in various ways as a culture (a 24 hour media?) but 99% of us if not more will never see this movie. They’ll never hear of it. I certainly didn’t like it but I’m trying to engage it on some intellectual level but it might be futile.
The version I saw was called L.A. Zombie: Hardcore. It ran for 105 minutes. Strand Releasing is putting the film out in theaters in the US, presumable in an edited form. It will run 63 minutes. There must be alternate footage shot because 63 minutes is still too long for the hardcore version minus the hardcore. I’m actually interested in seeing the edited version. Could it be a successful exercise without the penetration shots and the shorter running time?
L.A. Zombie (2010)
(a.k.a. L.A. Zombie: Hardcore)
Director: Bruce La Bruce
Writer: Bruce La Bruce
Stars: Francois Sagat, Rocco Giovanni and Wolf Hudson
Runtime: 105 minutes
To purchase the hardcore version of L.A. Zombie, visit the film's official website:
Visit Strand Releasing's official page of the film to lean more about the US release: