Remarks on Zoë by Richard Hell
at The Balthazar Film Festival, March 16, 2002
Published in Balthazar film magazine No. 5, Spring 2002


On Oct. 29, 1988 (?), Zoë and Richard Hell read a screenplay Richard had written, "Meet Theresa Stern," at his Manhattan apartment. A 20-minute videotape of this reading was shown as part of an homage to Zoë at the 2002 Balthazar Film Festival in Paris, at which Richard Hell spoke about Zoë and the videotape to be shown. The following notes are from Balthazar magazine, where they were published in French as well as the original English.

Some still images from this tape may be seen at R. Hell pics, including several which appear in the magazine.

Zoe Notes
by Richard Hell

Zoe was like a work of fiction. She was too skinny though! It was the drugs. ("Skinny" used to signify "young," but since the 70's it reads as "drugs" or even "AIDS.") I would write her with a little more flesh on her bones. But it wouldn't have been me who dreamed her up anyway; she was more like something from out of the mind of a modern boy comics artist, with her soft-lipped almond-eyed she-hawk head, its long white neck curving up out of an iridescent fish-scale pixel-suit maybe, sinewy arms dangling weapons doubling as sex-toys, all seen from below, legs spread, against an apocalyptic city-scape...

She was a gutter street person who was a movie star who was a junkie who was a committed fantasist of violent political revolution. Not "stranger," maybe, but more "fictional" than fiction.

I met her through Will Patton. She was one of his favorite people, and I liked her right away too. She had strong opinions and ideas but she was also unassuming. Her politics might have been radical but she didn't measure people according to some intellectual standards for their political bearings and sophistication. On the contrary she operated on heart - she felt solidarity with and sympathy for those who believed in sharing wealth, monetary and otherwise.

She also loved drug users, junkies foremost. I've known a lot of junkies, but I've never known one as committed, as dedicated, as faithful to heroin as Zoe. She didn't merely like it, she believed in it. It's common for addicts to claim voluntary attachment to junk in the first years of their habits, but usually they'll eventually acknowledge the squalid slavery it's become. Not Zoe, as far as I know. She may have suffered but her faith didn't waver. Heroin was God and she was its nun.

A couple of specific memories of her:

First there're the rats. When I used to visit Zoe she and her husband Robert were living in a classy apartment on a pretty block off Fifth Avenue on Tenth Street. By New York standards it was very large - six or seven big rooms - and it was handsome, with a fireplace, high ceilings, and nice old-fashioned wooden moldings and floors. Some time in the late eighties, or it might have been the early 90's, I started hearing from Will how Zoe's living situation was changing and I should go visit her and check it out. So I did, and what was new was the rats. Zoe'd started a kind of apartment-wide rat ranch, where these numberless herds of pinto rats roamed freely. The apartment was carpeted with them, they crawled over the furniture and Zoe cuddled and played with them as if they were kittens. A bureau drawer was the maternity ward where piles of translucent little rat babies swarmed over each other. It was breathtaking (in more ways than one). (The neighbors eventually forced them to jettison the livestock. Zoe and Robert loaded the whole population - over 100 rats - into their car and drove them south to sanctuary in the Maryland countryside.)

The other particular experience I remember was in the late 80's reading aloud and walking through the action of the first half of an early draft of my film script, "The Theresa Stern Story" with Zoe. That's where the video grabs here come from. Let me explain "Theresa Stern." The original edition of her book of poems, Wanna Go Out?, was published by Dot Books in New York in 1973. (It was reprinted in France in an edition translated by Michel Bulteau in 1999 by Anna Polerica Editions.) The poems, though it's not indicated anywhere in the book, were actually collaborations between Tom Verlaine and me. I didn't think of the book as a hoax though, but rather of Theresa as a character whom I was interested in and liked. So when I decided in the late 80's that I wanted to write a movie, I chose to write one about her. Zoe was an obvious person to try out in the role and we videotaped the reading in my apartment*. It's eerie for me to see her there, because it reminds me of all the convolutions of time and our lives.

I'm glad Balthazar is keeping Zoe in the news. Bad Lieutenant was quite an achievement and Zoe's unproduced screenplays (as described at sound like they could be equally good. The world is pretty interesting where Zoe is possible.

*The furthest I ended up getting in the film project was a twenty minute 16mm excerpt of the script entitled "Meet Theresa Stern" starring Kate Valk, Will Patton, and me in a work-print cut transferred to video.