Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media

Editor's Note: Actress, author, producer and screenwriter Zoë Lund recently passed away in Paris of heart failure. Additional details can be found at Richard Hell's web site. The following interview was conducted by ER contributor Josh Long and originally ran in ER #37. It is also being published in an upcoming book on Zoë's unique career.

Zoë Lund burst upon the film scene forcefully in 1981, starring in noted cult director Abel Ferrara's MS.45. Playing a physically and mentally raped mute, she becomes the harbinger of death, a .45 caliber pistol her weapon of choice. Only 17 at the time, Zoë presented a harshly realistic and powerful performance – evoking not only the power of an independent woman, but also the ability of the individual to access and act upon their surroundings.

Her decision to do the film was only natural. At a young age, Lund was an accomplished composer/musician; but the power of celluloid took a firmer grasp. "I could write a concerto with 17 violins that could be very powerful, but film works on a more visceral level where I can go into the collective audience and make sure my point gets across."

The years since MS.45 have been good to Zoë. Not wanting to become part of what she calls "Abel's stable" she marked her own career path and has not stopped since. She has acted in many European and American films including Temistocles Lopez' EXQUISITE CORPSES and Larry Cohen's SPECIAL EFFECTS. She has published several novels (including Curfew: USA), a pilot for ABC called "Crackdown," and an upcoming short story collection. Zoë has also toured the college lecture circuit answering questions and talking about her work. Her new film – which she wrote and co-stars in – is Abel Ferrara's BAD LIEUTENANT.

Zoë Lund is inspirational. I expected to talk to a harsh New Yorker basking in the same underbelly she writes for and acts in on screen. Ultimately, I found a powerful yet introspective 29 year-old with a wealth of accomplishments, a potent philosophy concerning life, and a desire to talk. Here's what she had to say...

BAD LIEUTENANT is a fine achievement. Being the writer, you obviously have a firm grasp on the film's main theme of religious redemption. Did you experience the same enlightenment?

I never went through a similar experience within the religious context. Although, any sort of knowledge regarding religion is a personal journey quite resembling any sort of quest for truth.

Well, let's go to the other side of the spectrum. Is BAD LIEUTENANT the most personal film you've acted in?

Yes. What I was trying to say is that I never lost my religion. I have always had a certain increasing awareness of religion, but have never put myself in the shoes of the Lieutenant. I do believe that the Gospel is the ultimate story. What is amazing about the book is that over the millennia, the gospel has become so refined to the point where the Christ story does present a very refined and highly charged model for the search for truth. We can use the book as a basis for our own path to spirituality and grace.

Why did you have the search for redemption flow through a "corrupt" policeman, as opposed to a mill worker or letter carrier?

In some way his corruption is entirely irrelevant, and in other ways its really important. To the irrelevancy, in no way did I want it implied that were he not corrupt that he would have been okay. That whole attitude of the film — him being corrupt — I think allows him to be closer to humility. And in his own strange way, perhaps what a policeman ought to be. For example, there are communities, especially here in New York, that have been totally corrupted by police bureaucracy. On the other hand, even after their death, officers who were corrupt are remembered in their community — even though they did drugs and hung out with whores. They know their surroundings, and if someone was getting mugged...goddamnit, that cop would be there! That type of corruption seems to be preferred, whereas here in the Lower East Side, dozens and dozens of cops stand about waiting to bust busses of junkies who just want to get their fix and go home. At the same time, a murder could happen two blocks away. Out of their own cowardice and misplaced sense of duty, they will stay on the corner and stalk the junkies.

So, everything is not what it seems.

Yes, sometimes when people are corrupt they are in touch with their own humanity and will know their community better, be closer to their community, and will know the priorities of the community better. If someone has a more humane sense of justice and the priorities of justice, I think that person could be judged corrupt. Corruption does not make the Lieutenant a sinner. I always like to point out that Christ himself hung out with whores and tax collectors. He turned water to wine...indeed, if he were here right now he might turn water to drugs, or something equivalent.

Some reviewers and viewers of the film did not like it because they seemed scared by the themes you present.

The only thing a person has to remember is that film is a wide-reaching medium...not every film will make it fun for the viewer. A conscious attempt was made to make it as difficult as possible for the viewer to escape. The use of real time is an example.

Being an independent film, was there a conscious attempt to stray away from the easy-selling realm of exploitation?

The only thing I can say is that the film was what it was to be, and that's all. I had a great deal of control and, unlike my billing, wrote every word.

What about your character, Zoë, who in the film is the Lieutenant's mistress?

There was alot of rewriting done on the set. Two other characters were cut, and my character modulated and took on more and more. A lot of things had to be changed and improvised. The vampire speech — which is crucial to the Lieutenant — was written two minutes before it was shot. I memorized it and did it in one take. The speech is important because she is acute in knowing the journey the Lieutenant makes. She shoots him up, sends him off, knowing of his passion, she lets him go.

The film is truly an emotional ride. Are you concerned about it possibly pushing audiences away?

I think the idea of carnal love versus hieratic love are issues we all deal with and are very strong throughout the film. In the beginning, the Lieutenant is pursuing carnal love, and at the end finally experiences the greater of the two, the hieratic. In terms of the viewers, if you leave halfway through, fine, you shouldn't be there anyway. At the Rotterdam Film Festival I had to tell the audiences not to leave until the end, because its like reading the gospel up to Gethsemane [ED. NOTE: the garden where Jesus is betrayed by Judas Iscariot and handed over to the Romans] and then you shut the book. If you buy a ticket for the ride, you might as well see it through to the end.

Without giving away too much of the end, there is a sign in camera view that states "IT ALL HAPPENS HERE." I though it only proper to end the film with that sign in view.

That wonderful sign also echoes the gospel, "IT ALL HAPPENS HERE," and it truly does. The city gave us the sign for the shoot which, by the way, was shot with a hidden camera. The reaction of that scene is that of everyday New Yorker.

In your feature debut, MS.45, you worked with a male screenwriter (Ferrara collaborator Nicholas St. John) and a male director. Yet, the film is obviously pro-woman, detailing the power every woman possesses. Did you have a lot of input manifesting the character?

Yes. In the beginning stages of the film, the only material that existed was vague descriptions of several scenes. Being that my face is on camera, without dialogue, for something like 98% of the time, I was involved very much. As to the film being pro-woman, I go beyond that by saying that the film is as much pro-woman as it is pro-garment worker, whatever.

Being very accomplished in several genres of entertainment do you have any advice to any readers out there who are aspiring?

I tell everyone that Hollywood is a small part of the country and America is a small part of the world. I encourage people to travel the world, visit film festivals. The theatre of the world is immense and the preoccupations that hamper American film product are less on other continents. Another thing a writer must do...the writer must get the point across. As Ibsen once said, "You have to say something seven times before the audience gets it." You must never bore the audience, I am adamant about that rule. You must make things entertaining and have a joy about your work. Audiences want a character they can travel with, make love to. They want to join the character's odyssey and have that odyssey become part of them once they leave the theater. BAD LIEUTENANT works because we deal with the most powerful questions ever asked by mankind while still being down and dirty, raunchy and funny, and a little crazy thrown in.

What can we look for from Zoë Lund in the future?

Well, I have a novel called 490, which is interesting. What the 490 stands for is from a quotation that deals with Jesus stating that he should forgive his neighbor not seven times, but as much as seven times seventy. The whole question deals with how much. How much to give? Jesus meant a zillion, but he said seven times seventy, and that equals 490. The number is a concrete cipher, a beautiful metaphor that takes the most inevitable, metaphysical and makes it concrete, because indeed it always is. That is the lesson of 490. Ultimately, I ask the question: if that be 490, what is the passion of 489 and what of 491?
 


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