February 23, 1938– The most interesting thing about filmmaker Paul Morrissey, is that the subversive creator of Trash (1968), Flesh (1970), and Heat (1972) is actually a rabid right-winger Christian Conservative Republican.
“Without institutionalized religion as the basis, a society can’t exist. All the sensible values of a solid education and a moral foundation have been flushed down the liberal toilet in order to sell sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”
I am not certain he would be able to make his kind of films in a Ted Cruz USA.
For me, Morrissey will always be associated with Andy Warhol’s Factory and its decadent damaged denizens. He was handsome enough to have been one of the actors, but it seems that Morrissey was the straight businessman seeking the commercial possibilities in the underground film movement at The Factory. Morrissey’s work ethic and ambition led him to reconsider the Warhol’s sleep inducing cinematic experiments Sleep (1963) and Empire (1964), by making more watchable works like Mixed Blood (1984), Blood For Dracula (1974), and Women In Revolt (1974). Although most people think of these as Warhol Films, for the most part Morrissey wrote, produced, and directed all of them while Warhol contributed his name to the title.
Morrissey made extremely low budget films before “collaborating” with Warhol on innovative art films like My Hustler (1965) and The Chelsea Girls (1966), but The Factory provided money for small budgets.
Warhol’s own filmmaking technique influenced Morrissey in his use of performers with strong personalities who did their thing while the camera rolled, with far less direction than a filmmaker would normally use. His films are mostly improvised, with just the hint of a screenplay, but Morrissey had faith in his actors. His work has a kind of a freedom that makes it easy to ignore the scenes running way too long and all the technical errors.
Morrissey’s films feature powerful, problematic personalities starving for self-expression: disillusioned drag queens, hostile fag hags, menacing has-been movie stars. Plus, there was always a beautiful, butch, hustler stud, usually played to perfection by the great Gay Icon Joe Dallesandro, one of the most beautiful men to appear in 1970s era films.
In Heat, Dallesandro plays a former child actor from the fictional television series The Big Ranch, and he is appealing as always, playing someone too trashy to make it big even in trash loving Hollywood. In Trash (1970), the late great Holly Woodlawn portrays a character as tenacious, yet burdened as she was in real life. Many characters in Morrissey’s films are played by actors using their real names, making a dizzying mix of realism into a fictional frame.
Morrissey’s campy sensibility is often tempered with a surprising sadness, like in Trash, with Woodlawn’s beer bottle masturbation scene, or in Flesh (1968), when Dellesandro is left naked and alone as his wife enjoys her new lesbian relationship. Just as often, Morrissey is pure camp, like Blood For Dracula (1973), with Dallesandro as a hapless handyman who is a Communist with a Brooklyn accent. Heat is a burlesque of Billy Wilder’s black comedy Sunset Boulevard (1950) featuring a frustrated wealthy B-movie star, played by the forceful Sylvia Miles, who is cursed with a deranged daughter, a caterwauling career, and a guiltless gigolo.
His best film is Women In Revolt (1971) which savagely satirizes women’s films like Valley Of The Dolls (1967), but with the dames played by Woodlawn, Candy Darling, and Jackie Curtis. The three superstars are members of P.I.G.S. (Politically Involved Girls). Curtis plays a lonely socialite who ends up hiring male prostitutes, Darling screws her way to the bottom of Hollywood, while Woodlawn becomes a skid row alcoholic. Morrissey’s camera is stationary as he stands back while the three strong women go at it.
His films show a fascination with drag queens, transsexuals and drug addicts. Again, mixing real life with fiction, many of the actors show the intimate details of drug addiction: waiting for a fix and queasy views of actual needle injection. This is Morrissey’s specialty, the details of alien subcultures.
After his Warhol period, Morrissey made more mainstream projects: Forty Deuce (1982), Beethoven’s Nephew (1985), and Spike Of Bensonhurst (1985). They are solid efforts, but box-office failures.
In his memoir, Factory Days (2006), Morrissey claims that he discovered and signed The Velvet Underground. He says of Andy and The Factory:
“Andy Warhol never met one of those people before I cast them. They were not his coterie, and they were not hanging out at his gallery. These were selections of mine! I’ve had this all my life! The horror of it! His celebrityhood, which is an invention of the media, dominating my films!”