Forbidden Zone is not just a surreal musical-fantasy, it is an expression of wild, balls-out absurdity. Unabashedly politically incorrect, with something to offend everyone, its outrageousness is certainly not for everyone’s taste. Fine. But my 1980 cult film has nonetheless picked up a loyal and still growing audience.
Occasionally detractors accuse Forbidden Zone of being racist, homophobic and both anti-Semitic and anti-Christian. We seemed to hit all the bases! In my opinion, it is none of those. Only if an element is taken utterly out of context can Forbidden Zone be misconstrued as to having any bias against anyone.
An example might be “insult comic” Lisa Lampanelli. She insults whites, blacks, gays, straights, Asians, Latins, Jews… everyone, including herself. Her audience is totally diverse and includes all of the above named groups who laugh their asses off. However if one element of her show were taken out of context it would certainly appear bigoted. But taken within its context it is not. Just a diverse group people having good-natured fun, laughing at themselves and each other.
The same could be said of Forbidden Zone. It is a human cartoon where everyone is parodied. Yours truly actually was the original “Human Pet.” The topless Princess led me around by a leash tied to my dick and only a potential ratings problem made us reshoot the scene later using another actor, dick tucked safely in his pants.
Perspective is obviously influenced by one’s life’s events. I was born adjacent Watts on 103rd Street deep in South-Central L.A. We moved up to Crenshaw when I was four and I attended predominately African-American schools—both a matter of the Elfman family’s liberal idealism…and economic necessity.
As a red headed Jew growing up in a virulently bigoted and anti-Semitic time period (1950s and early 1960s), I was actually accepted more by black kids than white kids. I excelled at track, Afro-Latin percussion…and boxing. I was one of the few white athletes to compete in the champion, seven-school, almost entirely African-American “Southern League.”
The African-American community I grew up with had its own divisions. Baldwin Hills was black middle class. The top of the hills were fairly rich, a place of black doctors, lawyers, major sports figures, etc…. And literally, across the tracks at Jefferson Blvd., and south on Crenshaw, sprawled the “hood.” Diversity!
Around my friends and teammates I must have heard the “n-word” ten million times. We actually laughed and joked about our differences. After I smoked one track meet, someone remarked that a white boy shouldn’t run that fast. Someone responded, “He ain’t white–he a red n****’!” I took that as a compliment.
From today’s perspective, if I could go back forty years, I certainly wouldn’t have included the brief blackface bits in Forbidden Zone. It was just one of hundreds of visual absurdities not at all important to the film and not worth it’s particular hot-button reaction. Although I have grown up in and around the African-American community (and have a racially diverse family), I don’t claim to know exactly what it is like to stand in a black person’s shoes and feel the effects of their particular oppression over the centuries.
So what was I thinking? I wasn’t. There is stream of consciousness. In my case it was stream of diarrhea. Whatever popped into my fervid absurdist art-mind as I pasted a “plot” around musical numbers from my Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo stage show. I certainly didn’t mean to offend my black friends. Or anyone else for that matter. I simply wanted to share crazy absurdist art and expose new audiences to great, timeless music–Cab Calloway, Josephine Baker, etc… (And little brother Danny’s very first film score.)
Yes, we’d all do a lot if things different if we only had that proverbial time machine. You’d probably still see a red headed “Human Pet” in Mickey Mouse ears led around by his dick. And no blackface in Forbidden Zone.