Sunday, July 26, 2009

FLESH (1968)

(aka ANDY WARHOL’S FLESH) One of the few Andy Warhol films which actually had a wide commercial release and met with some financial success, though like several others with his name attached, it was primarily the work of writer and director Paul Morrissey. The movie partakes of the Warhol aesthetic of long, seemingly improvised takes of slice-of-life events in the lives of hustlers, addicts, and other denizens of New York City's underclass of the 60's. Joe Dallesandro plays a variation on his usual role in a Warhol film, the hunky, bisexual (mostly straight but occasionally gay-for-pay), perpetually broke hustler who seems to barely be able to get through a day but is good looking enough (and charming in a drug-hazy kind of way) to have many admirers. The narrative, such as it is, follows a day in the life of Joe: he wakes up naked and engages in some half-hearted groping and grinding with his fully-dressed bisexual wife (Geraldine Smith) for a while. She asks him for $200 to give to her girlfriend (Patti D'Arbanville)for an abortion, so he spends the rest of the day hustling for the money. First he tricks with a young man in a grungy hotel room. Next, an old man, claiming an academic interest in classical beauty, pays him to strip naked and strike a number of Greek statue poses. Then he visits a female friend (Geri Miller) and two drag queen friends (Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis); Miller gives him a blowjob while telling about being raped, and the two guys watch while they laughingly read articles out loud from an old movie magazine--I loved that Ann Sheridan gets a shout-out. Later on the streets, he gives a young pimply hustler hopeful some advice; that evening, he lolls around in bed with an older gym buddy, a Korean War vet with visible scars who draws Joe out with some serious discussion about sexual identity before getting around to paying him for sex. Finally, Joe drags his tired ass home and just wants to go to sleep, but keeps getting pushed to the edge of the bed by his wife and her lover.

Each episode has obviously improvised dialogue (with Joe the least able improviser) and goes on too long, but Dallesandro is a beautiful, if passive and inarticulate, object of desire, seen naked or shirtless for a good chunk of the film's running time--Morrissey clearly found him irresistible, as does the camera. All the characters want something from Joe, mostly his flesh, and he wanders around rather naively trying to use his body as leverage to get cash. The biggest joke of this mostly humorless film is that Joe, despite his face and body, doesn't seem very good at hustling, though I admit I have no personal standards by which I can judge. (And speaking of humor, you can see the roots of John Waters' films here, though he would take things in a deliberately campy direction, away from Morrissey’s urban realism.) The most interesting episode is the one with the vet (Louis Waldon), as both of them try, with varying degrees of energy, to claim that they're really straight even though Waldon clearly is besotted with Joe, and Joe seems to have more affection for Waldon then for his own wife. Though the movie stops just short of being hard-core porn, some of the scenes are quite sexy, especially the morning frottage with Dallesandro and Smith. A period piece, to be sure, and not to everyone's taste, but if you want to see just one Warhol film, this is the one to catch. [DVD]

1 comment:

dfordoom said...

I quite like all the Warhol/Morrissey movies. I love Morrissey's later stuff even more - such as Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein with the wonderful (and amazingly if strangely sexy) Udo Kier.