HEAT (1972)
Director: Paul Morrissey
Image Entertainment

Produced after the worldwide success of TRASH and the establishment of Joe Dallesandro as the first major male underground sex symbol, HEAT is also Morrissey’s most mainstream feature of his Warhol Trilogy. It stars an Oscar-nominated actress, Sylvia Miles, was shot outside of New York City under the glaring sunlight of California, and is a spoofy semi-remake of SUNSET BOULEVARD. For these reasons, Warholites tend to dismiss this film as a sell-out, but they’re missing out on one of Morrissey’s funniest and most interesting films.

Joey Davis is a washed-up former child actor trying to make his big return to Hollywood after years of unemployment. He finds himself residing in a sleazy motel run by obese sexual predator Lydia. Also living at the motel is Jessica, a wild lesbian with a baby, whose mother is game show regular Sally Todd. Sally takes an interest in Joey, personally and professionally, and soon the two are making it together in Sally’s massive mansion. However, Joey becomes pushy about getting ahead in his career and it soon becomes clear that his love for Sally is a façade intended to improve his chances at stardom.

Morrissey seems to be making his bid for Hollywood respectability with HEAT. Unlike his previous films, FLESH and TRASH, his actors portray characters, with different names and personalities, instead of playing extended versions of themselves. Comparing the earlier FLESH and HEAT is viewing the maturation of an American storyteller; where in FLESH the improvised dialogue and amateurish camerawork seemed to be the work of someone of inexperience with no direction, HEAT is much meatier, with a clearer vision of what makes an underground/independent film so fascinating.

Muscular poster boy Joe Dallesandro returns as Joey, in what is Dallesandro’s must unlikable character of the Trilogy. Joey is out for Joey, and no one else, and if that means letting Lydia give him a sensual massage to knock down the price of rent and sleeping with Sylvia to get a better manager and movie roles, then so be it! More than his other films, Dallesandro is nothing more than a piece of meat for the taking if the price is right, so it’s far more interesting to watch everyone else around him. His nude scenes noticeably omit any full frontal shots, revealing that Morrissey was indeed aiming HEAT at a more mainstream audience than his previous films.

Like Sylvia Miles. How did Warhol get an Oscar-nominated actress to appear in his no-budget improvised comedy? After she appeared in MIDNIGHT COWBOY in a role less than five minutes long and landed a nomination, Miles fell in with the Warhol crowd, as many Hollywood actresses did during the Factory’s heyday. It was considered chic to hang with the underground crowd of Warhol’s world, but as Miles was based in New York City, she found herself socializing amongst the Factory people more often than most. Sensing another Oscar nomination for HEAT (she was told by several critics at the time that she deserved one), she jumped into the role and gives a dynamite performance. Most interesting is her dialogue explaining her view of being an actress as a middle-aged woman, originating in New York and being married multiple times (both true to life for Miles), and of course the infamous laugh out loud surprise ending. As in COWBOY, Miles has no issues with nudity and for a woman of 40, she has a pretty spectacular body. She didn’t receive an Oscar nod for HEAT, but soon was nominated again for FAREWELL MY LOVELY and appeared sporadically in films as varied as THE FUNHOUSE (the foul-mouthed fortune teller), THE SENTINEL (a lesbian cannibal), WALL STREET (a realtor), and Cannon’s musical version of SLEEPING BEAUTY (a fairy queen). At 73, she’s still going strong and recently won an award for her performance in the independent film HIGH TIMES POTLUCK.

HEAT is stolen out from under its two name stars by two hilarious supporting ladies, Pat Ast and Andrea Feldman. Ast is a larger than life character, with an unkempt pile of angular hair and a sharp tongue to whip anyone who crosses her path. As Lydia, she carries around a fan, an excellent prop used to seduce, terrify, and belittle the various motel guests she comes in contact with, and commands every scene she’s in. Ast also creates some of the most memorable lines in the film, including “Hey! Stop that splashing in the pool!”, “Those pennies on the floor are for good luck, so don’t touch them”, and “Ooh, this is a little piece of semi-heaven!” The few scenes she shares with Sylvia Miles are made all the more captivating when it is revealed that it was made sure each actress despised the other by both Warhol and Morrissey spinning stories between the two. Her roles in this film and REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS seem to be her largest, as someone of her girth and personality wasn’t exactly easy to write for. Her supporting role in CLUB LIFE is another noteworthy performance. Sadly, Ast passed away in 2001 just a few weeks shy of her 60th birthday.

Feldman, who viewers will remember from her nails-on-a-chalkboard appearance in TRASH, seems to have been restrained by Morrissey in her performance as Jessica. She throws zingers at Sylvia Miles left and right as the perpetual problem child who only stays close to her mother because it means she won’t have to worry about the rent. Some of her improvised dialogue rings true to life, especially sequences where she describes being placed in a sanitarium. In fact, Feldman is so good in HEAT that she probably could have moved on with Ast to character bits and supporting roles in more mainstream works. Unfortunately, Feldman was a deeply troubled young woman (which is reflected in some shots of her in HEAT) who never sought the psychological help she needed. She jumped to her death from her apartment window, clutching a can of Coke and a rosary as she plummeted to the sidewalk below, where she had gathered her ex-boyfriends to surprise them. HEAT came out the same year. Critics attacked Morrissey and Warhol for using a mentally unstable woman in their films and taking advantage of her fragile state by having her play equally unstable characters. This isn’t entirely true, but isn’t completely false, either. The implications of exploitation may have stemmed from the fact that Feldman herself felt used by Morrissey and Warhol, as evidenced in an unpublished interview she gave before her death (see related links at end of review). However Feldman felt about her involvement with HEAT, she proved to be an actress of considerable talent whose flame fizzled out due to personal problems.

Also included in the cast is an interesting supporting actor, Eric Emerson, another Warhol Superstar who took his own life. A professional ballet dancer, he appeared in most of Warhol and Morrissey’s early films, including CHELSEA GIRLS, LONESOME COWBOYS, SAN DIEGO SURF and 24-HOUR MOVIE, and also co-starred in the NYC sexploitation flick THE MINDBLOWER. Emerson has remained legendary because of the infamous amount of drugs he used to take and the fact that he was supposed to marry Warhol drag queen Jackie Curtis, but stood her up at the altar! He also had a child with Jane Forth, star of TRASH. Emerson’s character here is a weird one, a moronic man-child who plays with himself in public (his hard-ons are real!), prances around the motel’s pool in a housedress, and who performs a live sex show with his brother! Three years after HEAT was released, 31-year-old Emerson’s body was found by the road, presumably a hit and run. However, unsubstantiated rumor has it that he overdosed on drugs and the people with him at the time dumped his body by the side of the road instead of calling 911.

Remastered in hi-def for optimum audio and video quality, this edition of HEAT is an incredible improvement over all previous DVD releases! The transfer is from the original negative, and grain is kept to a bare minimum. Reds are a bit strong, but the image is always clean and bright, considering its cheap origins, rife with detail, and the skintones are just beautiful. The mono audio delivers the dialogue loud and clear, with John Cale’s brilliant, yet brief musical score sounding excellent.

Image’s original HEAT disc had an interesting option to listen to selected quotes from the film as the platter’s sole extra, but this time around Paul Morrissey has collected together several deleted scenes and compiled a stills gallery, contributing commentary to both supplements. The deleted scenes presented here are the most interesting curios of the Morrissey Trilogy; the alternate take of Sylvia Miles and Andrea Feldman arguing about Feldman’s money and lesbian situation is almost as hysterical as what remained in the finished film. Also included are alternate scenes of Joe on the phone talking to his manager and being massaged by Pat Ast. Pat Ast and a blubbering Andrea Feldman bickering near the end of the massage scene is better than what was left in the film! Morrissey discusses why they were cut out of the film on his commentary. Unfortunately, as with FLESH and TRASH before it, the stills gallery is far too brief at three and a half minutes, resulting in an equally short commentary revealing no worthwhile behind-the-scenes anecdotes. The most intriguing published work on all three films in the Trilogy is “Little Joe Superstar”, a book dedicated to Joe Dallesandro’s life and career but which spends much time discussing the behind-the-scenes stories of all three Morrissey classics. Additional extras appear in the form of three Paul Morrissey shorts: “About Face”, “All Aboard the Dreamland Choo Choo” and “Like Sleep.” Morrissey contributes a commentary here for all three silent 8mm films. They’re not coherent stories but were made by Morrissey as exercises in capturing images on film. It’s too bad Joe Dallesandro and Sylvia Miles weren’t interviewed for this edition, but check out the aforementioned Little Joe Superstar to learn more about their experiences shooting this underrated comedy.

Related links:
For readers as fascinated with Andrea Feldman as this reviewer, please visit this link to learn more about her Factory days and the facts behind her suicide: http://www.warholstars.org/indfoto/iandrea.html

Joe Dallesandro’s official website can be found here: http://www.joedallesandro.com

For all the dirt on the making of Morrissey’s films and the people in them, visit http://www.warholstars.org (Casey Scott)