Paul knew more about the critical and historical approaches to film—especially Hollywood films—than anybody who’d ever been around the Factory,” Andy Warhol wrote about Paul Morrissey, whose nine-year affiliation with the Pop artist (1965-74) was followed by gritty portraits of pre-gentrified New York in films such as Mixed Blood (1984). Already a director of several shorts by the time he entered the Factory, Morrissey ran Warhol’s film division and collaborated frequently with Andy before his first sole directorial credit, Flesh, from 1968—the year Warhol retired from filmmaking after Valerie Solanas’s assassination attempt. Morrissey’s particular genius, richly abundant in many of the titles in BAM’s eight-film retro, is transforming gilded-era Hollywood archetypes into showcases for his stable of laconic studs, irrepressible motormouths, blowsy beauties, and arch drag queens.
The western is drolly vitiated in Lonesome Cowboys (1968), a Warhol collaboration, in which Viva, playing an imperious frontierswoman à la Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar, battles—and beds—a posse of horny homo brothers. One of the brothers, the brutishly beautiful Joe Dallesandro, would become Morrissey’s biggest star, riffing on sullen, monosyllabic Brando-style masculinity, as a hustler in Flesh, a smack addict in Trash (1970), and a former child star in Heat (1972). All three films center around Dallesandro’s commodification of his body, which the camera can never get enough of. Wisely, Morrissey surrounds Dallesandro’s taciturn hunks with incorrigible scene-stealers. Drag queen superstars Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling hilariously read aloud from old Hollywood magazines in Flesh while Dallesandro is orally serviced; the third member of the drag troika, Holly Woodlawn (looking like a glamorously deranged Rhoda Morgernstern), plays Joe’s roommate/erstwhile lover in Trash with affecting lunacy. All three queens share center stage in Women in Revolt (1972) as members of PIG (Politically Involved Girls), but Candy, playing a Park Avenue debutante, gives the most inspired performance with her imitations of Joan Bennett and Kim Novak. The apotheosis of Morrissey’s Tinseltown subversion, however, is Heat, a twist on Sunset Boulevard that features the inimitable Sylvia Miles as an aging showbiz has-been. A zaftig Norma Desmond, Miles is always ready for her close-up, as her hammy bit part in Spike of Bensonhurst (1988) attests.