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Zoë Lund

on Zoë Lund

By Robert Lund

Robert Lund has worked extensively in the design, building and programming of computers, and is now a consultant in areas including website design and music. He is also a musician, a DJ, and a regular contributor to New York Waste.

Zoë. The mystifying, electrifying woman to whom I was married for over ten years abruptly terminated our life together one cold dope-sick February morning in 1997 and moved to Paris with a new boyfriend. When she died there in April 1999, her spirit returned to me, and has grown in my consciousness ever since. It is with no small sense of gratification that I have observed her popularity increase steadily throughout the years since her body left this earth, as is so often the case with talented artists living outside the mainstream of society and its conventions. Now that her physical life is over, her colourful imagination and unique talent for dramatizing her dreams can be appreciated free of the difficult aspects of her troublesome lifestyle. And, as fate would have it, awareness of her beauty and talent are spreading with the help of the Internet, disseminating ideas throughout the world at an alarmingly increasing rate during the few years since her death.

Many people know of Zoë's writing talents primarily from her screenplay for Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant (1992). But Zoë was a fairly prolific writer during the years I lived with her. Many original and commissioned works were proposed and carried out with great fervour. All too often, producers and others with whom she had dealings would back off, completing projects without her involvement once she had supplied them with initial drafts and her creative ideas. I suspect that people functioning in the 'real world' are put off by the often blatant need for cash up front expressed by a heroin addict. Yet, in Zoë's case, her disciplined use of heroin was often a key element in fuelling her creative output. She would often go into a nod and come out of her dream with a scene in her mind, ready to be added to her work. Zoë's choice of this substance was less of a 'vice' or desire to 'get high' than with many addicts, and she believed in this drug and its powerful effects almost religiously. This meshed with her long-standing anti-establishment political views; living the addict's life was something of a political statement to her, a manifestation of her 'us vs. them' philosophy.

Another difficulty Zoë encountered with the film business was due to the amount of detail she included in her works, resulting in some unusually lengthy screenplays. Many producers follow a simplistic formula for translating pages to screen minutes, and they would often judge her scripts to be 'too long'. But rather than just scripting dialog, Zoë would usually have a clear picture in her mind of the cinematic flow of a film, and included vivid character descriptions and detailed shooting directions (which also leaves less room for directors to express their ideas). Fortunately, this makes it easier to remain faithful to her intentions when any of her works which I now possess are realized on the screen.

While Zoë was quite proficient at telling a story in a linear fashion (as shown in Bad Lieutenant, for instance), I consider one of her special talents to be the area of tales involving multiple time frames. In Last Night of Summer, the present action in 1969 is explained through recurrent flashbacks to 1959. In her treatment Ace In The Hole, an ex-cop moves into the old NYC police headquarters (converted into luxury apartments), and solves an old mystery through contact with ghosts contacted through a hole in the wall. In Kingdom For A Horse, a present-day addict living in an old Lower East Side brownstone travels back to the 19th century in his dreams, where he becomes the former occupant of the brownstone, a laudanum addict. The entire course of history is changed by his interaction with other 19th-century characters, and he must return to the past to "correct" the outcome and save society.

But the most extensive use of flashback technique appears in Zoë's masterpiece Free Will And Testament, the project which was always the most dear to her (an excerpt of which appears in this issue). Begun with her partner Edouard (aka Yves) de Laurot in the early '80s as Curfew: USA (described in the 1996 interview appearing in this dossier), this intense political drama intertwines the lives of a plethora of characters – a Central American dictator, an American actress/social worker, third world revolutionaries, Hollywood, the CIA, and the American underground, among others. 'Real time' centres on the progress of a motorcade travelling down Fifth Avenue in NYC, and the background information is filled in through many regular flashbacks to earlier months and decades. Various personal crises of conscience, romance, world politics, and life-and-death struggles are developed with the best of Zoë's talent in a gripping drama. Zoë was dedicated to getting this work produced, at least partly in memory of Edouard, and it is most important to me for her sake, as well as for political reasons.

How did Zoë come to be this unique person? As a child, she was always extremely precocious, doing exceptionally well in school. She was a prodigious musical talent, playing piano and composing original pieces. She started reading Karl Marx and others fairly early, delivering speeches in high school on such subjects as Emma Goldman. According to interview footage shot in 1987 for Obie Benz's film Heavy Petting (which included only a few minutes of Zoë, among many other notable figures), she was always considered weird, called names by her classmates, and was the subject of admiration, fear, and ridicule. She never could stand her peers, and tended to develop close friendships with people who were quite a bit older than her, particularly males. She was always involved in different aspects of 'the struggle', bonding with people who were politically active. Zoë seems to have lost patience with the academic aspects of such activity, leaning more towards action than reading and thinking, which no doubt played a part in her union with de Laurot in 1980, around the time Ms .45 (1981) was made. It seems that she had first started using heroin during the previous year, but her use of this substance became rather irregular during their years together. Their politics blended well, and she no doubt learned a great deal about writing from Edouard, as they wrote many manifestos and letters together. Curfew: USA was their primary project, and they devoted a great deal of their energies to publicizing it and trying raise money for production. They lived in France and Los Angeles for some periods during their six years together, but their main residence was New York City. According to many people who knew them, they were widely known among the club scene as a mysterious, magical, mystical couple, always appearing in black with their matching large-brimmed black hats, the centre of attention - always promoting Curfew: USA, which was often mentioned in the press at the time.

A few months after the break with Edouard in 1985, Zoë and I met and started living together, marrying within the year. This represented something of a change from the mysterious and somewhat dangerous life she had been previously living. As I had a steady income, she was able to resume her regular use of heroin (and I was drawn into that life as well). And since I was supporting us, Zoë was free to focus more of her attention on writing. Her talent was by no means limited to that, however. She did many photographic modelling shoots and acted in several films, and her talent for extemporaneously getting into character in front of a camera has been widely acclaimed. But writing was her primary love, and she created a number of poems, essays, short stories, and a 400-page novel during that period as well as numerous scripts and treatments.

One of Zoë's favourite and most frequently uttered quotes was: "That which is not yet, but ought to be, is more real than that which merely is." This is the primary line spoken by her character in the short film Hot Ticket which she improvised at the Rotterdam Film Festival in 1993 (see the essay by Nicole Brenez in the "Zoë Lund Cinematheque"). It was always meant to convey the revolutionary's dream of a brighter world, a focus on a future better than the corrupt present. I fear Zoë believed in this statement to an excessive extreme at times, sometimes forgetting the distinction between the 'official story' at the centre of some of her hype and the reality of life. She may have been clinging to this principle, for instance, when she used to tell me, during the years after she had left for Paris with the boyfriend, that they were planning to move to the French countryside and have children. 'That which merely was' consisted of the fact that they were living a squalid existence in Paris, dealing and using cocaine, which turned out to have very real effects upon her life (and, sadly, ended it). It remains a profound statement to me, although it highlights the importance of moderation in all areas.

Overall, Zoë enhanced the lives of everyone who knew her, and her spirit can continue to do so as more of her works become known to the world. I'm grateful to such organizations as Cinémathèque de Paris, publications like Balthazar, Admiranda and Senses of Cinema, and the people involved who are helping make this possible.

In closing, I would like to remember that it wasn't always easy to be Zoë. Part of her internal struggle is expressed in this little poem I found among her things, written in 1986:


She wants there to be more of her.
More space taken by her body,
More decibels conquered by her voice,
More time by her wakefulness,
More equations by her addition.

She wants more, I want less.
Her blade is rusty, musty, sweaty and vain.
I like it clean and sharp and dark-bright.

She traffics in surplus,
I bare my essentials.
Her world is elastic but brittle.
Mine is bony but moonlit.
Hers flows, she ebbs.
Mine ebbs, I flow.
She dies in life, I live in death.


Special Dossiers Editor Adrian Martin and Editorial Assistant Grant McDonald thank Robert Lund, the editors of Balthazar (Stéphane Delorme and Sophie Charlin), Nicole Brenez, Brad Stevens and Paul Kilborn for helping to make this tribute to Zoë Lund possible. Images for the dossier were selected by Grant McDonald and Robert Lund with special thanks to Robert for his technical assistance.

Robert Lund's indispensable website devoted to Zoë can be found at

© Robert Lund August 2002
© Senses of Cinema 1999-2004