Flesh –Trash – Heat Warhol/Morrissey trilogy (USA 1968; 1970; 1972;) Joe Dallessandro, Geraldine Smith, Holly Woodlawn, Andrea Feldman, Sylvia Miles
Viewed: Nov 2019; Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle: ticket per screening: £7.
Letting it all hang out
I saw these films when they were released (and in that era in Newcastle were screened at the local porn palace) and re-viewing them again at the Star and Shadow they confirmed my original feeling that Warhol/Morrissey films represent a different type of film making. The people and ‘what they do’ is filmed not only in a manner way outside the ambit of conventional movies; but also these films seemed to have a different and distinct type of intention. They didn’t seem to be made for the purpose of making money or even of necessarily being widely seen. They seemed to be made with a subversive moral goal, with a singular ‘moral’ purpose of ‘detaching’ the behaviour filmed from out of any form of anchored emotional narrative or political/social context, into the form of a pure categorisation of effect. The action and characters in the movies are simply represented as ‘types’ engaging in certain sorts of activities. They are filmed without either judgement or comment, using the camera as an obtrusive rather than a discrete presence.
The integral claim made by the Morrissey / Warhol movies on authenticity derives from the clever studied clumsiness / amateurishness of the camera/sound work, which perfectly matches the unwitting and naïve nature of the performances.
Warhol’s first ‘films’ or ‘strips’ used an immobile camera, detached and interested only in recording categories of experience. The camera pointed like an unblinking eye at its objects : screen tests with celebrities and ordinaries, man asleep, the Empire State Building, kisses, a blow job and ‘passing time with people’. The subsequent ‘feature’ films in many ways took up the proposition of the detached judgemental ‘unblinking eye’ of the early movies, and incorporated many of the categorial tropes established by the early strips into the body of the feature length styled movies. In particular these Warhol/Morrissey features prominently reference: Sleep ‘Blow Job’ ‘Kiss’ and ‘Chelsea Girls’.
Seen from the perspective of regular movie censorship Flesh Trash and Heat are flagrantly transgressive, sailing effortlessly across multiple boundary lines of conventional morality as if they weren’t there. And in these films they are absent as judgement present only as categories. The acting was not about playing roles or adapting disguises but was simply about being yourself or perhaps projecting a facet of the self into the realm of film.
At the time they were made the Morrissey/Warhol output opened up Cinema to a world outside the narrative concerns of regular cinema, used the movies as a way of saying things that were not in film industry scripts. They opened up cinema to the vista of outsider worlds. Worlds outside the range of people’s normal experiences; and yet of course still worlds that were contained within the human ambit and with their own particularly human traits. These films expose us to things that are both raw and in another sense simply ordinary extensions of the every day. The raw sexuality of Dallesandro’s male hustler at work in sex, as opposed to the universal need for sexual contact. The raw demand of Dallesandro’s heroine habit and the everyday fact of everyone’s the need to get money. Money and horse – both drugs. The rawness of Hollywood’s crude trade in sex and favours, demands that simply become a normalised part of everyday life in Lala land; perhaps a normalised part of everyday life, everyday relationships.
The three films (and also Women in Revolt) are hard edged parodies. They all offer a critique of the straight world’s perception of the outsider and the behaviour of the outsider. The outsider is marked off as being different from normal people, but the impulse to place most behavioural transgressors outside social bounds is a function of the actual close ressemblance of their lives and the needs to our own. ‘Flesh’ parodies the need (money)/ desire (flesh) equation in relation to paid sex. Getting paid and paying for sex, satirized in Morrissey’s script and camera, are simply extensions of ‘ordinary’ ‘straight’ sexual relations. Likewise ‘Trash’ and ‘Heat’ parody respectively drug addiction and the voracious nature in which money need desire and sex are traded off in all social relations.
In one respect the Warhol/Morrissey films anticipate a critical social development that was to take place in the 21st century. That is the changing nature of the definition of private versus the public sphere of information in relation to gender and sexuality. Issues of sexuality, gender, LGBT rights, sexual identity and sexual tastes (SM – rough sex – group sex) have moved out of the private domain into the public sphere. Gender migration , sexuality, STD’s are now the subject of show business type outings. People in all spheres of life now come out in public with both confessional and proclamational avowals of their identities and conditions. The outspokenness about sex, sexual tastes and sex needs that is an endemic feature of the Warhol/Morrissey output has now become part of everyday discourse. Joe and his co-stars literally and figuratively let it all hang out. Warhol /Morrissey seem to have understood something about the forces at work in late capitalist consumer society that would lead to break down of the rigidities of the strictures of sexual identity stemming from family and social relations. They understood something of the coming of the new forces of overwhelming individualist desire.
The core visual keying of Trash Heat and Flesh is the the body. The transfiguration of the body (at one point in Trash, Dallasandro takes on an almost Christ like apparition) is at the centre of these Warhol/Morrissey films. It is mostly Joe Dallasandro’s body. But this is not body as a receptor of impressions sensations or emanations. It is body as the centre of gravity, the narcissistic body that is the object of the gaze. The body of the future, a projection.