That just about covers the whole story. Morrissey guides us through a day in the life of our handsome protagonist, recording his encounters with clients and friends which range from the strangely erotic to the downright bizarre. However what unites all these encounters is that they always manage to be somehow amusing, acting today as a fascinating keyhole into the world of sexual liberation during the so-called Swinging Sixties.
What makes Flesh most interesting today is its place in the canon of Andy Warhol productions. This is one of Warhol's most well-known and mainstream-accepted films despite its art house feel and prolonged nudity. In 1970 Rolling Stone magazine labeled it the "Best Film of the Year" and Dallesandro became an overnight star. He's the driving force of the film, and it comes as no surprise to me that cinemagoers swooned at his impressive physique and perfect proportions. Morrissey spends a lot time capturing his naked body from almost every angle imaginable, at times lapsing into repetitive shots of almost indistinguishable flesh, but for the most part creating an intoxicating study of bodily perfection that flows like a love letter to the male form. One New York Times film critic wrote of Dallesandro, "His physique is so magnificently shaped that men as well as women become disconnected at the sight of him." I'm inclined to agree.
Several other faces made famous by Warhol during the era also appear, most notably transgender actresses Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling as friends of Joe. His other meetings include a sweet encounter with a male gymnast, and an amusingly uncomfortable afternoon with an elderly artist who wishes to undertake some life drawing.
This is honestly one of the most unique films I've ever seen. It's raw and roughly edited, moves at a snail's pace and will not appeal to all, but something about Flesh feels important. If you're interested in exploring the more arty and dare I say seedier side of sixties' cinema then consider Flesh; a genuinely fascinating and unique experience.
written and directed by Paul Morrissey
starring Joe Dallesandro, Geraldine Smith, Maurice Braddell, Louis Waldon, Geri Miller, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis, Patti D? Arbanville, Barry Brown, Bob Dallesandro, John Christian
Paul Morrissey uses an abrupt editing technique that frequently cuts off dialog to create a work that offers up a decisive critique of the modern way in which flesh is interpreted and demystified. According to the logic of the film the flesh has lost its place in culture as a symbol of purity in form, beauty, grace, elegance and order. Instead the modern age is one in which the body is degraded and reduced to a status fit for dogs. When everyone can do everything, nothing is worth doing and the body utterly diminishes in value.
In this, the first of the Flesh Trilogy, little Joe (Dallesandro) is a bored hustler who lazily turns tricks out of fiscal necessity. He claims not to be gay although all his clients are male. He is married to Geri (Smith) and they have a little one year old son together. On the surface they are happily together like so many couples are. They do little things for one another and appear on the surface to be making a decent go of things for themselves. However, Joe doesn?t want to work at any job that is particularly difficult. He?s roughly eighteen and knows that his body is his only legitimate resource. He has no education, no work history, and no prospects.
The film celebrates Joe?s flesh by routinely putting in on display to be lazily gawked at by a society grown moribund over actual displays of flesh. Joe is presented as just another commodity on the market. In a world slackened by consumer excess, his flesh is yet another useless piece of merchandise that so very few want to buy. It is apparent in this film that Joe needs to be objectified in order to maintain his existence. He cannot eat, live or screw without hustling his body for an hour of marginal pleasure that simply has no lasting impact on his perspective.
As the film opens Joe is kicked out of bed to go to work hustling downtown. Geri tells him that her friend Patti (D? Arbanville) needs $200 for an abortion. As Geri cannot exactly leave the house and try to score the money herself, the burden falls squarely on Joe?s shoulders. So he sets out and attempts to find a male looking for a good time. Before he leaves he plays with his son in a long scene featuring Dallesandro?s actual child. There is no sound and it?s just a young man on the floor feeding a baby. There is tremendous innocence here as well as trust and beauty. It shows how little actual difference there is between Joe and the toddler. When Joe does hit the streets there is also no sound. We see Joe standing around, walking, talking to various men until finally a business transaction is struck and Joe follows a man to his apartment. After finishing up he gets paid and starts the whole arduous ordeal over again. An older man apprehends him and Joe goes off with him. This man is an artist (Braddell) who appreciates fine art and proceeds to unleash a monologue where he talks about the way beauty has been tainted in the modern world. Flesh made symbol with the Greeks was imbued with tremendous meaning but now flesh is meaningless. By extension, Joe is meaningless because he is little, if anything other than flesh.
Joe visits his friends Candy (Darling) and Jackie (Curtis) who casually read excerpts from a glamour magazine while he receives head from Terry (Miller). Terry is anxious because she believes her breasts are the wrong size and she is considering getting implants. So she bares her breasts and the camera stays with them for a considerable length of time. After a few short moments it becomes clear that breasts on film, divorced from any sexual input, are perhaps the most boring thing one could ever be bothered to put in a film. In this case that is true although these particular breasts are the subject of a great deal of inquiry. Is there something wrong with them? Should they be bigger? What do artificially enhanced breasts actually mean? It?s another example of the illegitimacy of flesh and how it is routinely commodified.
Joe returns back home to discover that Patti is his wife?s new girlfriend. They convince him to yet again prostitute himself by taking off his clothes. They don?t seem particularly interested in him and eventually he falls asleep while the others snuggle.
Joe skates through like doing nothing much of note with no time spent investing in the future. Now is the only time that Joe recognizes and he lives almost entirely in accordance to the demands of his appetites. He represents a type of person that most likely seemed like they were taking over the world in 1968 when this film was made: the artless, sexually depraved, dissolute, lazy type with no recognizable ambition, no industry and no sense of responsibility. Joe lives off of other people because he is willing to make a trade between the different types of costs regarding working a legitimate job and hustling. A regular shift somewhere would cost Joe valuable time that he could not get back. It would cost him effort, force him to pay attention to a strict order of operation, force him to get along with his co-workers, managers, etc. Hustling costs Joe very little comparatively of similar matters. He does no work, he can forget about the John until next time or maybe forever. His time is his own and he can devote it to any number of leisure pursuits. But time proves to be the enemy as there suddenly seems to be too much of it in a day. As he ages time seems to stop dead at times or crawls along at an impossibly slow pace. With nothing much to do this can become pure agony for the person stuck in this situation.
The idea of parenthood is an important one in this film. At one point Joe asks Geri where their son is and she says she doesn?t know. Neither of them are particularly active parents which naturally will influence the speed at which the child develops. Their lifestyle will start to wear on him as soon as he can fully engage with the world and his home life will be dull, lazy, and utterly devoid of Culture. A child like this, who watches as Mommy brings a string of girlfriends over for a bit of fun and whose father is always gone out tricking might develop some serious neurotic symptoms as a young boy. Perhaps mommy will invite him up into the bed to learn about the anatomy of a woman first hand and close up.
The performances in this film are adequate for the material. Joe Dallesandro?s persona in this picture isn?t as dynamic as it would be later in the series. He?s not as completely present as he is in the others. Still, he?s a legitimate force that does tend to quietly and effortlessly take over every scene he?s in. Patti D'Arbanville has a fascinating image in this film. At 16 and in her first film she demonstrates a keen understanding of the nature of posture and gesture plus the camera absolutely adores her. Geraldine Smith captures her character?s struggle with being a parent when all she wants to do is fool around with whomever she wants to. It?s a difficulty that Smith captures clearly on her face as Geri makes her way through her day. Candy Darling has a face that the movies die for. She is truly made for all those glamourous roles with Lana Turner or Grace Kelly. Her skin is almost translucent and perfect for the cinematic treatment. It?s no less obvious in this, her first film, that she knows how to make a camera work for her. All she does in this film is read out of a magazine and offer forth some clever comments but rarely has such a mundane act been performed with such grace and style.
Overall, this film has energy despite nearly every scene being cut short by the editing knife. It?s something I?ve not encountered before and it has a jarring influence at first until you eventually get used to it and actually look forward to it. It?s a technique that allows the viewer to jump ahead in time and know that they are doing so. It?s clearly a use of editing that is rarely if ever employed these days and it serves the purpose of propelling the narrative forward in a most scintillating fashion.