Last weekend I re-watched Flesh (dir. Paul Morrissey, prod. Andy Warhol, 1968) and was amused to find that I had already articulated nearly every one of my observations about the film in a piece I wrote back in February 2009 (almost exactly nine years ago), a truncated version of which I’m posting here. I really have nothing to add—other than to say that Flesh remains my favorite of the Warhol-Morrissey collaborations, and that Dallesandro remains a magnetic screen presence. Dixi.
|On the street: Joe Dallesandro in Flesh.|
“…Made up of lowlifes, prostitutes, and eccentrics, Flesh is, in some sense, a ‘gallery of grotesques,’ as claims the blurb from the L.A. Examiner on the back of the DVD. Warhol specialized in grotesques—drag queens, artists, fags, strippers, junkies—stocking his ‘factory’ with them. One might even go so far as to say that he collected them. Warhol redefined our notions of art by presenting people as art objects, conceptualizing a person’s body, clothes, and personality as aesthetic components. The people in Warhol’s movies are presented as aesthetic curiosities. Dumb, ugly, boring—it didn’t matter: Warhol could find something fascinating about even the most unappealing figure. Take, for instance, the ex-girlfriend who gives Joe a blowjob and then proceeds to ramble on in a squeaky New York accent about wanting to get silicone injections for her breasts. There’s nothing ostensibly interesting or intelligent about her; she even professes that she doesn’t want to get any smarter because the smarter one becomes the less one enjoys life. (Didn’t someone once say ‘he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow’?) And yet Morrissey’s camera humanizes her, finding the poetry in her vacuous speech and the music in her baby doll voice. Her performance appears unaffected, naturalistic. It’s unclear whether she’s acting in the role of a character or merely behaving on-camera (nearly all of the characters in the film bear the names of the actors who play them). Flesh presents these people to us and lets us make of them what we will. They’re just there. The same principle now governs much of what passes for ‘reality’ TV, a concept that has its roots in Warhol’s prophetic statement about everyone in the world someday being famous for fifteen minutes.
|With Geri Miller.|
"The film’s central person-as-art-object is Dallesandro, one of the most charismatic of Warhol’s sex icons, with his mop of blonde hair and gently muscular body. He has an innocent, pretty look, but his voice is deeper than we expect it to be, and more streetwise. It’s as though a Brooklyn accent had been put into the throat of a Greek god. Dallesandro is fascinating because of his paradoxical ability to be so masculine and yet tender, sullen—so hard and soft—at the same time. He doesn’t have the magnetic personality of a true movie star and yet it’s impossible to take your eyes off him when he’s on the screen. (It doesn’t hurt that he’s naked for roughly one third of the film.)
|Posing for Maurice Braddell as the artist.|
"Morrissey has claimed that he intended Flesh to be a film about the commodification of the body, in which we are apparently meant to despair when we see Joe selling himself for money. Its effect could not be more to the contrary. For one thing Joe’s exploits as a prostitute are more absurdly comic than degrading. Moreover, the film seems to exemplify what one of Joe’s johns, the old-man artist, tells Joe as he instructs him to pose naked—that all art is a form of ‘body worship’, stretching back to ancient Greece. Flesh does not succeed as a film condemning the body’s transformation into a commodity. It succeeds, rather, as a work of body worship—a worship of the flesh of its title. For ninety minutes, we’re asked to gaze at Joe Dallesandro’s beautiful flesh, and we do so, willingly.”