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Interview with Zoë Lund
July 30, 1996
Part 1

(excerpt from "Fury - Contemporary Action Cinema"
Admiranda/Restricted n°11-12, 1996
© Admirandas)

Do you often go to the movies?

No, no (laughs), in interviews everybody asks me if I go to the movies and frankly no, I go very rarely, I don't like the "movies" of today, I write about it all the time, I have some ideas and I see life from time to time in terms of "movies" (sometimes I see something and I tell myself «ho là là, that would be great in a "movie"»), but I don't go to see them, I want none of it, and they even disgust me.

Even the classics?

I am very interested in the classics. I prefer to watch a film on TV at two AM than to go somewhere to see a Hollywood movie of today. It's not a question of elitism "or whatever", it's just a question of boredom, even though there are some "good" movies, those are the worst... If it's merely a special effect film, "bam bam boom boom", excitement, action, that's alright, I can see some from time to time, because that says: «There, we're going to make a film like that, and it's fun». But movies that try to be "good", now they disgust me, it's indeed pretentious, I must literally close my eyes.

But you have nevertheless seen the other films of Abel Ferrara?

I haven't see many of Ferrara's films. Some but not all. Obviously I've seen Ms. 45 and Bad Lt., but also... Snake Eyes, I was invited to a preview, something like that, I don't think that it's his best.

Body Snatchers ?

No, I haven't seen it. I don't know why, it's a film that I could see, yes, I could... I don't want to see The Addiction, no, I don't want to...

Fear City?

Fear City, oh... I would probably be able to. Oh! Oh! Oh! King of New York, I liked that film, Chris Walken is very good in that. I liked it a lot, it was an honest film. I like Abel Ferrara especially when he's honest and not trying to be something else, otherwise he's not that good... But I think that there are pressures that say «you must make it like that», that he makes somewhat pretantious films, that aren't authentic, that aren't him.

And how did you meet him?

By chance. There are many rumors, but it was indeed banal. Me, I wasn't an actress at all, nor involved in cinema, and I had gone to a concert of avant-garde music because I was a musical "protégée" of when I was a young girl, it's true! I played the piano and I wrote music, I won some prizes, I had an entire musical career, when I was young.

Was that in New York?

Most of the time in New York, yes, but I went on some small tours... Therefore I was at this concert, oh... not very good, it was horrible in fact, someone was there, back turned to the public (Zoe rises and turns her back to mime what follows). He made like this (she hits herself on the stomach to a certain rhythm), on the stomach, he just did that, the whole time to the same rhythm, he was indeed "hard"! He was absolutely serious, it was a thing of global importance, like that for two hours! (Zoe turns around). Finally someone extinguished lights to stophim, everybody in the room was absolutely furious at him (she sits down again), and at that moment someone gave me a card, a card about a box of films (it was not Abel). Since I wasn't an actress I had very little interest in all that but I said «OK», it was just for fun. But I went to an audition, I did the thing. I didn't have a headshot, so I went to 42nd Street to make photos, a strip of six shots and I handed them in. I thought it was over, forgotten, I forgot all about this cinema story. Two weeks later, someone called me for a second audition, then a third, a fourth. Finally I nearly won the role for a great film that amounted to nothing! I was lucky not to make this film, because it was a big, big film, now quite forgotten.

Do you remember the title?

Times Square (general laughter)[1]. Yes, exactly, quite forgotten, but at the same time Ms. 45 was in preparation, and in the archives of Times Square, Abel found photos of all the girls auditioned, as well as the small strip of photos and he said something like: «This is her, Ms. 45», and I went to see him. Some friends came with me to the audition, I didn't even know how to do an audition. So I came with them. For me it was indeed another world, at the time I was playing music, involved in politics, I really had nothing to do with all this cinema. But it wasn't really an audition, rather an interview; there was a more normal audition then, then another, and another, and I got the role of Ms. 45. The friends who were with me said that I had the role right away, they told me: «You've got it», and I said: «Ah! Pfff... I don't know». I took two or three weeks to decide, even though I wanted to make it after they reassured me.

You were very young at that time...

Yes, young enough, but... I had already lived some lives, in a sense.

What type of musician were you? Writer, composer?

Yes, and political activist also. It was indeed very important to me at the time, I was very involved, yes.

In what type of movement?

Oh... Communist - anarchist, like that...

Is that how you met Édouard (de Laurot)?

Édouard? Afterwards, just at the end of Ms. 45. I had one more week of production, and I met him, and we immediately began to write together, to work together, and we remained together seven years, seven very fertile years. We made films, novels, scripts, life was indeed better than in the movies or novels, an extraordinary life, which was bizarre but also important; I am going to write about it one day, I am going to write a species of "diary" about all that.

A chronicle?

A chronicle, yes. His whole life was like that, it is for reason that it's important to archive his films, I know that Jonas (Mekas) is very interested in the chronicles.

That's what he likes best?

Yes, and it will be fantastic to make that for Jonas, because he was indeed a kind of brother to Édouard; they both came from Eastern Europe, out of the Second world War, him from Poland and Jonas from Lithuania. Everybody knows Jonas' history, but for Édouard it was oh... Oh, there, there! It's almost impossible to believe that all that can happen in the life of only one man, he/ was there at nearly every important moment of the last sixty years... Incredible! The Polish underground, the French underground during the war, or Andy Warhol, or whatever meanwhile, or the Weather Underground... He was also in the Green Berets of England, it's astounding to think about all that; even me when I met him the first time, I found all that difficult to believe, but I've met people everywhere in the world that told me «It is true», «It is worse» or «It is better» (most of the time it was at the same time the two) (laughter).

And so you filmed together?

Yes... It was very hard, in a sense, but I don't regret anything. Every day I remember something which I need at the time... It was my education, so there. And now I have a duty regarding him, to give to the world that which he could not complete, because there are many things that he couldn't finish. His priorities were different, he didn't want to put his name on his works, and it was not a like a fad... it was indeed sincere, he had a morals of anonymity. And I was very frustrated by this situation, because people must know, it's a... it's...

...a History?

Yes, it is a history of a man and also of an œuvre, but he didn't want to make an œuvre, he always wanted to be anonymous, he thought that one had a certain power in anonymity... He was, in a sense, a type of another time, maybe of the Middle Ages... He had a family which had roots in the Middle Ages, and he thought a lot about that. But he paid a lot for all for that, and now I want to return him a little justice, and give something to the world. It would indeed be easy to do, because it's very rich. Me, I have a kind of plan in my head to explore all that, but I am certain that I'm going to discover things that will astonish me.

Well, if you make the French version, it will be published.

(Big smile) OK! I've also written a novel. I presented it to some publishers here, in the United States, and they found it a little shocking. They said it was avant-garde, and there it was I that was shocked, because I thought I had made characters like everyone, with whom one can find affinities. It is a normal story, with a beginning, an end, a story not written in a pretentious style, no "poorshit"... Like that! It is normal, what! And it's the story of a trucker from Brooklyn, a truck driver, of the common people. The truck driver finds a roll of a film, precisely the same film that we have here. It is even told at the start of the novel, that this exists, it's a roll of film that exists, and every written scene exists. It's the film roll that inspires him and tells him, concretely, the things to do in the novel, a kind of road-film... The first part is a meeting of all the characters in New York, then they make a journey throughout the entire country, and then you have the climax in Los Angeles, there are three distinct parts. They can even be published separately. The first is finished, I am writing the second, and I have a very detailed plan for the whole thing. It deals a lot with this film, and if one day a movie of this novel is made, these pieces of film can be integrated in the movie, because the characters project it on the truck. In the middle of a farm, somewhere, in Iowa, in the night, in 16mm, you'd have to paint a screen on the truck, and project the film in full night, it would be fantastic. It is Édouard's films that will be projected there, it is a kind of inheritance of the Underground USA, discovered 25 or 30 years later.

The truck driver leaves the box of film in Watts, in the ghetto of Los Angeles, so that the next person finds it, so that the cycle continues. He has learned a lot, he understands precisely why he did it all and that it was very useful. If one can have an American Revolutionary, it is he, and that's the end. If possible, that is him, OK?

Is it a messianic novel?

A little at the end, yes, but there are other characters, here, in New York. The whole story of an organization of Blacks, of Step and his family, of his father who had been killed by someone that became the boss, of the guy that leaves by truck with the hero, that happens in the family, all characters are very interconnected, and one evidently has a crisis (laughters).

Have you acted in other films?

As an actress, I shot six films more or less.

I did a film called The Houseguest, that was a good film, made by Franz Harland. He's Austrian but I believe now he works primarily in the United States. The music was by John Cale, who also acted in the film, and there was also a Polish actor who has since died of AIDS, Bolek Greczynski (he was also a painter... fantastic). We made the film here, in Long Island, and it's funny because some scenes were shot on the beach. I was very cold, and I began to take on a French accent, it was indeed strange (laughter).

In Larry Cohen's Special Effects, a thriller, I carried a double role: a Texan, and a "Jewish-American Princess type"[2]. It took place here, in New York, and it was fun to play the two roles, a little like Vertigo (laughters). And later on I made Exquisite Corpses with an impossible director, but finally! I made it because I sing in it, I had an opportunity to sing and to dance on the screen. It was amusing to sing, I also wrote song, it was a little "break wild", a little cabaret. Then I did Miami Vice, The Houseguest, and that's a good film (a short film). Oh, I made a film myself, a short film, in Rotterdam, that's called Hot Ticket and oh... someone stole it from me.

A 16mm film?

Oh... even I've forgotten, I believe it was in 16. But it was a film made, let's say produced, by the festival, in fact I believed that the producer was the festival of Rotterdam, Emile Fallaux. I was asked, on the last day of the festival, to make this short film because interviews of directors were being made. I made a short fictional film, not an interview, not me as a singer, not me explaining why I make films, I made fictional film and it was a good film. I wrote it, I played in it and I achieved it; and after one year, a friend from Europe sent me a poster saying that someone put all the five-minute films together, entitled them Scenes of Rotterdam and it's signed by Mijke Dejong, the woman who was doing the interviews, and my film doesn't have anything to do with the others! This festival had been a marvelous experience for me, they had been very kind, I wanted to do something for them, it is the reason why I had made this film; I believed that it was going to remain in the archives of Rotterdam, or that it would serve the festival one day. I didn't know at all that I was making a film as a "ghost writer".

Is it the only finished film that you have done?

I made parts of films with Édouard. There are some rolls in the archives -- one must name it -- in the archives of United States Custom, because they confiscated everything that we shot in Europe, film scores, it's very sad; it was fifteen years ago, it was tied to political questions, and we were frankly afraid to go there. But now, I want to go there... It's 35mm color, I was also a director, and I shot a lot, and it's lost. That was a part of the film that's also in the archives here, such as The Prométhéa, certain parts are at other locations inNew York. I also directed a few small scenes of Bad Lt., but... it's very important for me to be clear about the fact that although I directed these small scenes, Abel Ferrara was the filmmaker and I'm very proud of his work. I always say that I was the screenwriter, the only screenwriter, even though his name is after mine in the credits, and that is the truth. But he was the director, and it's fantastic. If I say that I made a few small scenes, I'm not saying that I made the film. I want that to be made clear. But I was there each day on the set, doing whatever, I was the "prop girl", I took care of all the actors, I did whatever possible to help the project, it was so important, I put all my heart in it.

The vampire's scene, the one where you say the vampire's speech, is the most sublime moment of the film.

Ah yes, it is great to hear it. I wrote the text five minutes before it was shot, it was not improvised but written word for word five minutes before the filming of the scene. I memorized it and then I recited it... one or two takes, I believe, that's all.

Did you think about Harvey Keitel in advance, when you wrote the film?

Think about whom?

Harvey Keitel.

Ah, Harvey! I don't know why, but some rumors spread according to which I considered Harvey Keitel... that when I was two years old, I told myself «A film will be made with Harvey Keitel, which will be called Bad Lt.». No, not at all! (laughter) But everybody believes it, someone told someone, they said «Ah! Harvey Keitel, yes, he is going to play Jesus Christ in the film». No, but when it happened, he was evidently found to be perfect, but others were considered. There was a contest and he won!

What others did you audition?

All types uh... normal for this genre of piece. Chris Walken was considered, you thought of this type for Jesus' role, blond...

Willem Dafoe.

All types for this New York kind of film. But Harvey immediately understood that it was a Christ history with a "bad cop" in Jesus' role, that it was a "Gospel according to a bad cop", he immediately understood, and he thought of every scene of the film a lot. I was indeed touched by the fact that everybody took it in a nearly religious way; one had the intuition, on a platter, to make something... special, exceptional, to have an exceptional responsibility. You worked, and you won. We made what we had to make, and that was an important moment for me, for my whole life. I think that people who have seen the film have discovered the same things there. I've spoken with, my god, so many different people, who've all understood what happens in the film. It's very rare to find someone that doesn't understand, really rare. And even of people here in the United States, a conservative priest, for example, will understand; that was exactly what I wanted, to make a film that could be understood, and it has been understood.

 

Interview done by Nicole Brenez and Agathe Dreyfus
for Zone Fontière
at Anthology Film Archives, New York
July 30, 1996.

We thank Jonas Mekas, Jeff Perkins and Julius Ziz.

Transcription: Agathe Dreyfus.


Footnotes:

1. Times Square, 1980, by Alan Moyle, screenplay by Jacob Brackman, with Tim Curry, Trini Alvarado, Robin Johnson.

2. Special Effects , 1984, by Larry Cohen, with Zoe (Lund) Tamerlis, Eric Bogosian, Brad Rijn, Kevin O'Connor.