Paul Morrissey

Paul Morrissey

One day in 1967, while Morrissey and Warhol were shooting "The Loves of Ondine" (1967), Joe Dallesandro walked in through the open door of the Greenwich Village apartment and ended up in the movie. It was the beginning of a long collaboration between Morrissey and Dallesandro, who as the enigmatic, often naked star of a trilogy of films at the center of the Morrissey oeuvre "forever changed male sexuality in the cinema," according to director John Waters. Morrissey had already found a formula for working improvisationally with young, untrained actors, and now he had his Brando, the quiet, eye of the storm around whom he could spin dramatic lunacy. In "Flesh" (1968), which would go on to make $2 million on its meager $1500 budget, Dallesandro was a male hustler turning tricks to pay for his wife's girlfriend's abortion. In "Trash" (1970), Morrissey's enduring commercial hit re-released in 2000, the actor was a drug addict unable to perform sexually despite numerous opportunities, whereas "Heat" (1972), which marked the director's transition to traditional linear storylines, cast him as a washed-up child star preying on Sylvia Miles a la "Sunset Boulevard." In all, Dallesandro radiated a sort of passive virility (to go with the beefcake) attractive to both women and gay men.Though Morrissey worked with producers Carlo Ponti, Andy Braunsberg and Jean-Pierre Rassam on two Gothic horror spoofs "Flesh for Frankenstein" (1973) and "Blood for Dracula" (1974) in Europe. Warhol got the credit when distributors called them "Andy Warhol's Frankenstein" and "Andy Warhol's Dracula." Both starred German actor Udo Kier opposite Dallesandro and both made money, but "Frankenstein" with its severed heads and hands galore (plus an X rating) made more money than any of Morrissey's previous films, while "Dracula" was the better, more poetic picture. Kier's Old World Baron was at the other end of the spectrum from Dallesandro, whose howlingly funny Jersey accent cut an incongruous swath through the European accents around him, but the premise of "Dracula" presented an even better gag. Kier's sickly Count, who must feast on the blood of virgins ("where-gins") to survive, keeps getting beaten to the bed by the hunky Dallesandro. Morrissey abandoned improvisation when he realized his actors were having trouble acting spontaneously in front of the biggest crew he had ever used and would never return to it. Instead, he brought a secretary to the set to record his "off-the-cuff" dialogue for the cast to quickly memorize before going before the cameras.Morrissey's association with Warhol was over, and he struggled in the absence of the Warhol "branding." Despite the comic input of Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1978) fell flat, and of his next five films, only two, "Mixed Blood" (1985) and "Spike of Bensonhurst" (1988, his last film to date and arguably his most mainstream confection), received timely releases. "Retired" from filmmaking because he refuses to give up the control he has always had over his product, by the late 90s, Morrissey was finally emerging from Warhol's shadow as more and more people recognized him as a true "independent." One of the oddest ducks to work at the Warhol "Factory," he was the conservative businessman of the group, putting in his nine hours a day to generate revenue throughout his time there. Ironically, this man who saw his work labeled as "obscene, vulgar and profane" was a Ronald Reagan Republican, but he was just faithfully recording the times. Having anticipated the tenets of Dogma 95 by about 30 years, it is little wonder that Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier's company has a project in development with Morrissey about a man who tries to make it look like he's having sex with children in order to make a name for himself in the fashion business.