Bad Lieutenant - Background

R. Lund

When Abel approached Zoë with the idea for Bad Lt., it was to be an urban tale about a bad cop and his bad activities. Period. Zoë always had a thing about forgiveness. Her unpublished novel is entitled "490," a reference to the 70x7 times Christ said you should forgive an offender. She came up with the entire theological aspect of Bad Lt., his mystification by the nun's forgiveness of her rapists, the final lecture he gets from Zoë (the junkie) which sinks in during his ensuing heroin nod. And he finally gives the kids who raped the nun his coke money, and forfeits the reward money he could have gotten for turning them in, which would have enabled him to pay his gambling debt. So by setting the boys free, he winds up dying for their sins. Viewers with the attention span to get this meaning from the film are intensely affected by the profound nature of the transformation we witness in the Lieutenant's character, his "salvation."

Zoë fought for (and won) top writer's billing for the film credits. She always maintained that she wrote the script in spite of Abel, not with him. I lived with her during this period, when she would work at the terminal all day, and bring script updates over to Abel at night. She usually returned very late, frustrated with the process. One night she came home particularly stressed, reporting that while she tried in vain to get him to pay attention to the work, Abel kept offering her $100 to touch his cock, just once! Yeah, a losing battle, alright.

Zoë was paid something around $5000 for writing the script, and whenever she tried to get a higher rate, Abel threatened that the film simply would not get made if she demanded more money. So she completed it for whatever they would offer, out of love for the project and her work. I know from many people I've spoken to over the years that Bad Lt. is a very popular video, yet her annual royalties from video sales and rentals were a slap in the face, normally something in the $10-20 range.

(The above is excerpted from my comments on an Abel Ferrara interview in Independent Film Quarterly.)

Zoë described how the actual film evolved on the set from the basic script in a 1997 essay "How the Screenplay Evolved".

Some personal notes on the nature of the collaboration from Zoë's notebook.

Zoë elaborates further on the creation of Bad Lieutenant in a 1996 Interview.

The Bad Lieutenant script contained some memorable dialog:

In "The Nun's Confession", the Lieutenant overhears the nun whose rape had been shown confessing for her perceived sin of resisting instead of letting God's love flow through her to the needy boys who were raping her.

Later, when the Lieutenant visits the junkie (played by Zoë), she delivers a monologue known as "The Vampire Speech", in which she compares vampires and junkies, and urges the Lt. to follow through with the senseless gratuitous act of forgiving the boys himself instead of turning them in. (Link includes audio of Zoë's voice from the film.)

Zoë talks about drugs and sex in "Bad Lieutenant"