It’s probably safe to say that without filmmakers like Paul Morrissey, there would be no independent cinema today. With his documentary style of filmmaking, cast of unprofessional performers, and birds’-eye view of the lower rungs of society, Morrissey made films that Hollywood hadn’t yet warmed up to making. Only in the 1970’s would films start to tackle meatier issues such as drugs, sex, and violence with unflinching realism, and it’s thanks to the success of underground and independent films like TRASH. The influence of Morrissey is especially evident in the recent Dogma filmmaking technique used by Lars von Trier, which can be annoying and ugly when shot on video as opposed to Morrissey’s 16mm camera. After the very primitive FLESH, Morrissey struck back two years later with arguably his finest film. A tad overlong at almost two hours but populated with a vivacious potpourri of characters and simultaneously funny and tragic, TRASH is the film which established Paul Morrissey as a filmmaker.
Long-haired heroin addict Joe lives in a cheap basement “apartment” with his viper-tongued girlfriend Holly. By day he scours the streets of New York for his next fix, by night he absorbs his smack and crashes in his dwelling with his faithful pet dog. The monkey on his back has resulted in impotency, so Holly can only pleasure herself with a beer bottle while Joe watches. After attempting to get a blowjob from stripper Gerri, he soon finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of wild bourgeois characters, including a rich heiress with a fetish for LSD and a newlywed Michigander who begs Joe to rape her and demands to watch him shoot up. Another tailspin ensues when Holly’s pregnant sister alerts Holly that the couple can easily get welfare by taking her soon-to-be-born son as their own. And so begins Holly’s undying quest to fulfill a family tradition: get on welfare!
TRASH succeeds as the story of a drug addict meandering through life day to day, but is even better when examining the love story between Joe and Holly. Both are presented in scenarios questioning their love for one another (Joe with the pregnant sister, Holly with the teenager), but also are seen in moving scenes showing their true affection for one another (Joe cleaning up the basement for Holly, Holly with great heartache after discovering Joe and her sister). Unlike Joe and Geri in FLESH, Joe and Holly make an intriguing couple that carries the film easily. In fact, their relationship is so fascinating that Joe’s scenes with the rich leeches he encounters seem unnecessary. Does Joe know Holly is a transvestite? It’s never made clear whether Joe is gay or bisexual and the two “men” are in love, or Holly is actually a woman and the two are a heterosexual couple, or if Joe is a straight boy fooled into thinking Holly is a woman. Whatever the explanation, they form the solid core of TRASH and raise it above the simple exterior of being an X-rated underground shock feature.
It’s interesting to know that the man directing this anti-drug fable was one of the cleanest, squarest talents to come out of Warhol’s Factory. Morrissey has gone on record about his dislike for the massive intake of drugs by his contemporaries, and his unflinching photography of Dallesandro’s shoot-up scenes are still the most effective ever committed to celluloid. According to Dallesandro, he used ordinary tap water and received a swarm of letters to the Factory by filmgoers who thought he was a genuine junkie, begging him to quit. Dallesandro seems appropriately lost in a whirlwind of activity during most of the film, which unfortunately makes his performance the least interesting in comparison to the wild characters he meets, but he is still impressive in several dramatic scenes and of course had no issues with nudity. His real-life brother Bob plays his junkie friend.
While Dallesandro was the poster boy for TRASH and gives a convincing performance as a drug addict with a multi-layered relationship with his girlfriend, TRASH belongs almost completely to Holly Woodlawn. Born Harold Danhakl in Puerto Rico, Harold became Holly in New York City and was cast in the film after giving an outrageous interview to an underground newspaper where she claimed to be friends with Andy Warhol. The two had never met! Morrissey admired her ballsiness and cast her in one scene establishing her as Joe’s girlfriend, and thought she handled it so well that he made her role larger. So large in fact that Holly steals the film from out from under her muscular co-star! Holly’s performance is laugh out loud funny, yet poignant and heartbreaking. It takes a gifted actress to provoke laughter from her outrageous seduction of a teenager in one scene (her real-life boyfriend Johnny Putnam), then draw tears as she feels hurt and betrayed after walking in on Joe making it with her pregnant sister. Unlike fellow drag Superstars Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling, Holly comes across as a believable woman because she doesn’t overdo the glamour aspect of drag. Why didn’t Holly take off and break the barrier between Hollywood and underground, man and woman? She was on her way after TRASH, even coming close to getting a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her work in the film, but as with many rising stars, the bottle left her slumming in underground films by Morrissey imitators. She is the sole surviving Warhol drag queen Superstar and her book A Lowlife in High Heels is mandatory reading for those interested in Woodlawn and her days in the Factory.
Geri Miller from FLESH returns as a stripper friend of Joe’s who tries to help him with his impotency. Harkening back to her discussion of breast implants using either silicone or plant juice, Miller sports two enlargened mammaries which are displayed during her strip routine on her personal stage with flashing lights and curtains. Playing over this scene is a song that sounds very much like she recorded it herself called “Mama Look at Me Now.” It could have been a hit! According to Warhol’s “Diaries”, the last he (or anyone) heard from her was a bizarre 1985 phone call from a womens’ shelter; she had succumbed to schizophrenia and was screaming racial slurs at the minorities surrounding her. A sad fate for a funny, bubbling, and tragic character.
Morrissey introduces two grating new personalities in TRASH: Andrea Feldman and Jane Forth. Feldman, aka Andrea Whips, was a certified nutjob, according to Factory residents, who would frequently boff her clothing to dance topless on restaurant tables and scream strange phrases like “You’re nothing! You’re going nowhere!” or “I think it’s time for Showtime!”. Was she a true life mental patient? It’s quite possible, and not hard to believe after watching her performance in TRASH. Feldman plays the rich girl picked up by Joe on the street, who begs him for some LSD before insisting on watching him shoot up. She rambles endlessly about her rich bitch mother, says she sees crabs crawling through Joe’s pubic hair, and provokes him into raping her. This irritating introduction to Feldman is a far cry from her very funny co-starring role in HEAT two years later. Forth, a porcelain doll beauty, must have seen her role as a spoiled newlywed from Gross Pointe, Michigan, as her major bid for stardom and bites into this role with relish. To put it bluntly, she never shuts up! Dallesandro seems visibly taken aback by the non-stop verbal assault she throws his way, and his surprise at her asking if he gives good rim jobs is priceless. She actually delivers some of the best lines in TRASH, bitching and moaning to her husband about their crumbling marriage. Co-star Bruce Pecheur (CRY UNCLE!) gives as good as he gets, resulting in some of the funniest screen sparring outside of HIS GIRL FRIDAY. Forth would return for Morrissey’s ill-fated L’AMOUR, had a bit part as a woman splashed by baby blood in ANDY WARHOL’S BAD (see it to understand what that means), and is currently living near Woodstock, NY. Rounding out the cast is Michael Sklar, who really gets into the role of the high and mighty welfare worker who gives the couple an ultimatum: Holly’s beautiful shoes for his collection or no welfare. A shouting match and multiple insults later, guess which the couple chooses. On first glance, it’s a devastating finale, but it soon becomes apparent that as long as Holly and Joe have each other, that’s all they need.
In another wonderful improvement over their previous out of print snap case disc, Image has remastered TRASH from its original negative in a hi-def transfer that presents the film looking better than ever. As with the FLESH transfer, some of the reds are a bit strong and bleed a little, but the image is clear and bright and skintones accurate. Blacks are deep, and other colors vivid. Grain is mild during most scenes (some indoor scenes suffer because of bad lighting) but for the most part the film is very clear. The photography was shot, as with Morrissey’s other films, in a documentary style, with out of focus shots, frequent zooms, odd framing, and constant movement, but the film that will never look like a million dollars comes pretty close. The mono audio was recorded as best as possible, but still isn’t excellent because of the shooting conditions. All the dialogue comes across clearly enough, especially the strong shouting. The opening and closing credits feature two golden oldies a la FLESH: two musical themes from Josef von Stenberg’s THE BLUE ANGEL, and both sound great. Those who own the previous Image disc of TRASH may want to hold onto it. While that disc includes the full-length BLUE ANGEL theme, both the French Carlotta Films boxed set version and this new Image edition cut off the music to allow the opening shots of Joe’s derriere during fellatio to play out silent. It’s unclear whether that was Morrissey’s intention, but the film plays better with music over this sequence. Otherwise all around this is the best edition of TRASH released to date.
One-upping the barebones edition of TRASH, Image has included a decent selection of extras, all with the help of Paul Morrissey himself. A selection of deleted scenes includes an extension of the dialogue scene between Joe and Holly’s teenage pick-up and an alternate take of Holly and Joe talking to the welfare worker. Morrissey provides commentary over the scenes, explaining why they were cut. A stills gallery is included with Morrissey commentary, but as with the FLESH disc, it’s simply too short and doesn’t offer enough anecdotes about making the film and casting each unique performer. A selected scenes commentary with Morrissey may have been a wiser choice. Considering that Morrissey’s similar gallery commentaries on BLOOD FOR DRACULA and FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN were almost half an hour long, it’s disappointing that these far more interesting films only receive three and a half minutes of time. Interviews with Joe Dallesandro, Holly Woodlawn, and Jane Forth would have been wonderful, but thankfully fans can check out Little Joe Superstar and A Lowlife in High Heels to read the memories of Dallesandro and Woodlawn.
Please visit the divine Miss Holly Woodlawn at www.hollywoodlawn.com and let her know what you thought of her performance!
Lovers of Geri Miller will enjoy reading a vintage interview with her at this link: http://www.warholstars.org/warhol/warhol1/warhol1c/warhol1cl/gerimiller.html
For all the dirt on the making of Morrissey’s films and the people in them, visit http://www.warholstars.org (Casey Scott)
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