Interview with Nick Zedd — Chicago Underground Film Festival

    Nick Zedd is one of our special guests at this year’s Film Festival, and I wanted to interview him for the program but found myself faced with a dilemma. First, I wanted to cover things that other interviews hadn’t touched on. That was gonna be tough, considering the extremely thorough nook-and-cranny job on Nick and his work that Jack Sargent did for his book Deathtripping. Second, I’d only met Nick once before and although we hit it off all right, I remembered him as quiet and introspective. Having just read an extremely uncomfortable interview with Robert De Niro in an old Playboy, during which De Niro (also a quiet and introspective type) says absolutely nothing and keeps switching off the reporter’s tape recorder, I had to wonder if Nick was gonna talk. It was a chance I had to take. Anyway, I figured if all else failed, I’d ask him some questions from the De Niro interview. As it turned out, Nick talked!

    Jay Bliznick: So I understand you’re a film collector?

    Nick Zedd: Yeah, sci-fi, mostly. Things I can show in a nightclub. Anything visual…pornos and things with special effects. Old Superman cartoons.

    JB: Were these the types of things that influenced your work?

    NZ: Well, cheesy, low-budget, Z-grade sci-fi I find amusing. I use it as visual wallpaper in a nightclub. What I’m influenced by are things that surprise me. I liked the movies that the Viennese Aktionists did, filmmakers like Otto Muehl. They did things like people having sex with swans and then chopping their heads off.

    JB: When were they made?

    NZ: Late 1960s, early 1970s. They did movies with people pissing on each other, and eating shit and vomiting. People getting cut with razors. I think those movies still have some impact and get overlooked by the film historians.

    JB: Where did you see them?

    NZ: I saw them at this place called The Film Collective, in New York. It doesn’t exist anymore. It was a place for avant garde movies. They’re not on video. Otto Muehl had his own commune and sort of withdrew from the outside world. These were films that sent other filmmakers in that direction, but then they just stopped making them.

    JB: Don’t you think there’s a resurgence of that sort of thing?

    NZ: Since the the time that I did Whoregasm I have seen more people go in that direction with hardcore pornography. Then there’s the people with the piercings and Jim Rose Sideshow type of stuff.

    JB: Now you must be seeing a lot of films influenced by your work, since it’s been in the public eye for a while now.

    NZ: Yeah, it was definitely in Natural Born Killers. Stone had some shots that I had used in War Is Menstrual Envy. He also used some of the time-lapse and cutting techniques.

    Also, Bad Lieutenant used the exact same music I used in War in the same way. In Pulp Fiction, Tarantino named a character after me. In fact, Peter Green, who played Zedd the cop, came up to me in the bank one time and told me he was a big fan of my film Police State.

    JB: Pulp Fiction has that line Zedd is dead, which anyone who reads Film Threat magazine knows is from the fake obit they printed about your supposed death. There is a perceived tension between you and Film Threat’s editor Chris Gore. Does it really exist?

    NZ: I guess there will always be a tension. I mean, how can you trust someone who prints a fake obituary about you, out of sheer malice or jealousy.

    JB: Why did he do it?

    NZ: I don’t know. I still don’t know. He’s too chickenshit to talk to me. Really, I think Chris Gore ought to put his diapers back on. Film Threat tried to co-opt the underground, but they’re so not underground. That magazine has become so dismally mainstream I find it unreadable. They’re not covering stuff that’s really subterranean.

    JB: What is your definition of underground?

    NZ: I don’t think it can be defined. I don’t want to define it. All I know is that I know what it isn’t. If it’s not transgressive, it’s not underground. It has to be threatening the status quo by doing something surprising, not just imitating what’s been done before. There are a lot of filmmakers just imitating what comes out of Hollywood, or what Tarantino, or whoever it is that’s trendy, is doing.

    JB: Do you ever see Hollywood movies, or have you completely removed them from your diet?

    NZ: I actually don’t see movies and I don’t listen to music. I can’t afford the admission price and I feel it’s a waste of money. It’s such a rip-off. I’m sort of curious about seeing some of those movies but I’ll have to wait until I have more money. Most of the new stuff is no good anyway. I hate all the music and all the movies coming out. It’s all bad.

    JB: You don’t like any music?

    NZ: I saw a band I thought was OK, who was called Thelonius Punk. I saw them at CBGB’s, a place i usually avoid like the plague. This band called ICU wanted me to shoot a video for them and the sister of one of the guys in that band was in Thelonius Punk. I thought they were good, but it was punk, and I’m getting pretty bored with punk at this point.But you know, you can’t see any rap groups in New York unless you want to go up to Harlem and possibly get in a riot. It’s banned everywhere.

    JB: Really? You can’t see rap anywhere else in New York?

    NZ: This city is so segregated racially and musically. It’s fucked up. It’s absurd. They set up these shows in Harlem, at the Adam Clayton Powell Building which holds 5000 people and like 25,000 people come. Once a guy pulled a gun out and shot it, which caused a mini-riot and a bunch of people got hurt. It was really unnecessary and it wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t suppress the music. I remember one time Public Enemy were playing at The World, on New Year’s. After I was searched, like I was a criminal, we hung around for 4 or 5 hours waiting for the band to come on. I finally just said, This is stupid! and left before they came on. I don’t like being treated like cattle.

    JB: That seems pretty evident from your films, like Police State and Bogus Man. Do you think we’re headed toward that sort of public control, or are we there already?

    NZ: We’re there already. For example, I can’t believe that they’re talking about school uniforms. It’s being considered as a way to combat crime. Everyone in high school will have to wear uniforms. I didn’t think I would live to see that!, Then, on July 4th this year, the mayor decided to ban fireworks, and busted a bunch of warehouses with fireworks, so there were only about 20-minutes worth shot off. That sounds unpatriotic to me! Not that I am patriotic. Then there’s the anti-smoking laws. They keep passing laws that erode the Bill of Rights.

    After the Oklahoma City bombing, which was like this Reichstag fire intended to increase police power, they busted a bunch of militia groups. The government gets upset when they think people have guns because they fear being overthrown.

    JB: Do you believe that this was started in the 1980s under the Republican administration, or is it unique to a Democratic president like Clinton?

    NZ: I think that the powers-that-be want us to think there is a difference between Democrats and Republican, when in reality it is the ruling class that controls everything. When they have someone like Clinton in power, who is still a puppet of the ruling class, they can increase repression against gun owners and the religious right. Then, when they get a Republican, they increase pressure against pornographers, gay people and political activists.

    JB: Clinton really is greying the area between the parties. Especially by not recognizing gay marriages.

    NZ: To me, he’s conservative. The big constituency which he’s usurped is generally less sympathetic to Christian fanatic, which made it easy for him to incinerate 80 Christians in Waco, Texas. Republicans would have been more likely to blow up the MOVE people in Philadelphia, under Wilson Good, who is Philly’s fascist mayor. The whole dichotomy between Democrat and Republican is a false one, I think. There is no real choice. All the people who think that voting will change anything are really fools deluding themselves.

    JB: You know that this year’s Film Fest is happening only a week before the 1996 Democratic National Convention here?

    NZ: Really?

    JB: And you know what happened at the last one in 1968! What’s Nick Zedd’s political forecast for this year? Another riot?

    NZ: No. Well, there’s always a chance, but for the most part the public are well-trained. They’re sheep. Also, we’re not in the middle of a war, although there is a class war being waged against the working class, by the ruling class, and also the war on drugs, which can’t be won. The war on drugs is really a war on poor and black people. It’s also a pretense for increasing police power. They can seize your property if you’re even suspected of dealing drugs, and not return it! It’s such a major constitutional violation. It’s pretty sick, this system that we’re having pressed upon us.

    JB: What role is popular entertainment playing in this?

    NZ: It seems like since there’s no longer a cold war, we now have aliens from outer space as the unseen enemyÓ and the big threatÓ. We’re not supposed to mobilize against an unseen enemy. It’s a manifestation of paranoia. The government wants to distract the people into thinking there are extraterrestrial visitors, but in reality I think flying saucers were created by the government.

    I think we got the technology from the Germans after World War II. I suspect that the during the war the Germans invented some sort of anti-gravity which our government has been experimenting with. If that sort of technology were available to all of us, we’d stop paying for the internal combustion engine and alter the economy! The people in power don’t want us to be free to move around. The cover story is that there are aliens who are a threat to our national security. That way, they have an excuse to build up arms to protect us from the alien menace, which in reality is our government!

    JB: Has politics always been a strong interest of yours?

    NZ: Yeah, I think ever since I was in Junior High. I had this teacher who had this really hostile reaction to the fact that William Kunstler would be defending The Chicago Seven. She just hated him so much that it made me admire him more. Whenever I’d investigate, I’d find that the people hated most by my teachers were always the most courageous and had the most integrity.

    JB: Those are good roots for the start of an underground mentality. Anyone with any brains knows that the news only gives one side of the story.

    NZ: One time, I was at my grandparents’ house when I was a child. There was this program with Indians dancing, and I remember my grandfather just getting enraged! He couldn’t believe they were allowed to dance! I though he was so evil. But, he was my grandfather, so what can yo do? I also remember a news special on punk rock aired on NBC. It was on at my house and my mom became enraged. It was very rare to see her get that angry about something, but she was calling The Sex Pistols bastards and those pieces of shit!Ó. I knew that they were doing something important for my mother to hate them so much. That’s my family. I always thought their values were upside-down. I guess they’re victims of the system.

    JB: What do you think about what The Sex Pistols are doing now?

    NZ: Oh, it’s a sell-out! That’s a bad thing, right?

    JB: Well, they are being honest about their intentions.

    NZ: It’s like a big act of hypocrisy, after Johnny Rotten spent 15 years saying he couldn’t look himself in the mirror if he did what he actually is doing now! I heard a bunch of people in Denmark started throwing bottles at them and they just walked off the stage.

    JB: Has your family ever seen any of your films?

    NZ: Yeah. My mother saw War Is Menstrual Envy. She surprised me! She actually appreciated it and had her own interpretation of what some of it meant. At least she was thinking and trying to understand what it was about. I never showed them Police State. I don’t show them the stuff I do because I know it would disturb them. Why get them more angry with me? My dad was a censor for the government and would have a heart attack if he saw my stuff.

    JB: Bullshit!! Really? Your dad was a government censor? What did he censor?

    NZ: The mail. He worked for the postal service in a division that would decide what was too obscene to be sent through the mail. He was part of the government’s case against Henry Miller. He tired to suppress Henry Miller’s work from being sent through the mail.

    JB: How ironic!

    NZ: Uh huh.

    JB: So dad hasn’t seen anything by Nick Zedd.

    NZ: He saw Geek Maggot Bingo and hated it.

    JB: So what are you working on now?

    NZ: My first book, Bleed, will be released by Henry Rollins’ publishing company (2.13.61) with the title Totem of the Depraved. It should be out in two months. I finished my second book, which is called From Entropy to Ecstasy. I’m trying to find a publisher for it. It’s a novel.

    JB: What’s it about?

    NZ: I can’t say. It’s a secret!

    JB: Are you heading more towards writing, these days?

    NZ: Yeah. The only problem is that the publishing industry seems to be filled with a lot of assholes, same as the film industry. There are so many phony people pretending that they’re agents, or publishers, when they’re really just irresponsible, lazy morons.

    JB: Any names you want to name?

    NZ: Not yet. I’m still in the negotiation stage. You know, it doesn’t cost any money to write a book. Movies cost so much. In books you can do anything you want with your imagination. But then, how do you get someone to see what you’ve created? No one wants to read books. Well…that’s not true! Some people must be reading because there are so many bookstores, right?

    JB: One last thing…was it hard for you to lose the 60 pounds you gained to play Jake LaMotta in Scorcese’s Raging Bull?

    NZ: Nah! It was easy!

    Information on the book
    TOTEM OF THE DEPRAVED by Nick Zedd

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