When I first heard the news about the banning of my latest movie, L.A. Zombie, from the Melbourne International Film Festival — via a Google alert directing me to an article in The Sydney Morning Herald — I have to admit my first reaction was “Eureka!” As a director who has often made extremely low-budget films during his career (L.A. Zombie, for example, was shot in a week and cost less than $100,000), publicity is an essential part of the process. Censors don’t seem to understand the idea that the more they try to suppress a film, the more attention is drawn to it and the more people want to see it. I was delighted to see that the news about the censorship had people talking about the movie on such unlikely mainstream websites as Reuters, Drudge Report, and the Huffington Post. You can’t buy publicity like that.
I was, however, also extremely disappointed that my film would not be shown. I don’t know any filmmaker who doesn’t want his or her work to be seen as widely as possible, and it’s always a thrill to have a modestly budgeted movie attract an international audience. My previous film, Otto; or, Up With Dead People, was voted the third most popular film at the 2008 Melbourne International Film Festival and it was quite widely distributed in Australia on DVD. I have received many emails from Australians expressing their disappointment that they will not be able to see the film and decrying their government for attempting to control what they can and cannot watch. Apparently, the censorship of L.A. Zombie has hit a nerve in Australia: In the current conservative political climate, not only are the government and Australian customs trying to monitor and control pornography entering the country on laptops and iPods, but they’re also threatening to screen and filter out pornography on the Internet. This kind of state control is an infringement on civil liberties and freedom of expression and should not be tolerated.
L.A. Zombie is a difficult and provocative film. It’s made in the tradition of avant-garde and surrealist film in a strongly pornographic style. I made the film as a purely visual and visceral piece with a sparse narrative and virtually no dialogue. This alone will make it unpalatable for many viewers who are not used to watching nonnarrative, experimental film. It’s also a meditation on the homeless situation in L.A. engaging themes of necrophilia, sex magic, and ritual.
Of course, it will be offensive and distasteful to some people. But cinema, and particularly the horror genre, has been dealing with difficult and disturbing imagery since the 1920s. The theme of necrophilia can be traced back to the tradition of Romanticism rooted in the late 18th century. Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire both dealt explicitly — and romantically — with the idea of the necrophile. The film may not be for everyone, but it should be up to those who wish to see it to make up their own minds about it without censorship. It’s never a good idea for the state to make up the minds of its citizens for them. It can be a very slippery slope.