Morrissey, Paul: Flesh, Trash, Heat

Paul Morrissey (born in 1938) is best known for his long-term association with Andy Warhol and The Factory.


“Flesh,” Morrissey’s first production for Warhol, in 1968, centers on a bisexual played by Joe Dallesandro. Emotionally affectless, but exuding natural charm, Dallesandro had previously starred in other Warhol films, such as “The Loves of Ondine” and “Lonesome Cowboys,” but it’s “Flesh” that made him a bona fide star and cult figure, in and out of the gay world. “Flesh” also features other Warhol superstars, representing the debut of Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling.

As the tale starts, Gerry (Geraldine Smith) kicks her boyfriend Joe out of bed, insisting that he goes out on the streets to make money needed for the abortion of her girlfriend (Patti DÁrbanville). During a long day of all kinds of entrepreneurial activities, Joe encounters clients, including an artist (Maurice Bradell) who wishes to draw Joe, a gymnast named Louis Waldon, John Christian, simply billed as Young Man, and Harry Brown billed as a Boy on Street.

Shot on location in Manhattan (33rd Street to be exact), “Flesh” shows Joe’s socializing with other hustlers (one played by his real-life brother), and instructing tricks of the trade to a new hustler (Barry Brown), and so on. The film also contains a scene of Joe and with his one-year-old son. “Flesh” concludes with Joe in bed with Geraldine Smith and Patti D’Arbanville. After stripping Joe to his notorious genitalia, the women get more intimate and excited by each other, and the bored Joe falls asleep. Dallesandro, Candy Darling, and Jackie Curtis were later immortalized in Lou Reed’s song, “Walk of the Wild Side” (which is also the title of a 1960s film, in which Barbara Stanwyck plays a lesbian brothel madam, who’s in love with one of her girls, played by Capucine). Unusually explicit in its graphic sexuality, “Flesh” became notorious (a cause celebre), when it was confiscated by the police during an early showing in 1970.

The other films, “Trash” and “Heat,” in what became known as a trilogy, also gained immediate cult following due to their sexual audacity and taboo-breaking. Though linked together, Morrissey’s films differ from those of Warhol’s in their aesthetics. Warhol’s films are known for their non-narrative nature, lengthy and endless takes, drugs-fueled improvisations, and casually amateurish production values in lighting and sound. In contrast, Morrissey deployed a more traditional strategy, with increasingly polished technical values and better acting, which may explain their relatively greater accessible and commercial appeal.


Made for the low budget of $25, 000, “Trash” (aka “Andy Warhol’s Trash”) was directed and written by Morrissey in 1970. Starring Dallesandro, transsexual Holly Woodlawn, and Jane Forth, the film features detailed scenes of intravenous drug use, graphic sex, and female and male frontal nudity. Holly Woodlawn made her debut in this film, as did Jane Forth, a 17-year-old model, who shortly after made the cover of Look magazine. The film also features other Warhol superstars, Andrea Feldman and Geri Miller. The thin episodic plot, set over the course of one day, follows Joe (played by Dallesandro), a heroin addict in his “holy quest” to score more drugs. At the center is Joe’s relationship with his sexually frustrated girlfriend (Woodlawn). In the course of the day, Joe overdoses, attempts to fool a gay welfare agent into approving his methadone treatment by having Holly fake pregnancy, and frustrates the women in his life with his recurrent impotence– despite being well endowed in the right department (The main reason Dallesandro became an attraction).


The third (and most accessible) panel in the trilogy, “Heat” in 1972, starring Dallesandro, Sylvia Miles, and Andrea Feldman, was directed by Morrissey as a parody of Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic, “Sunset Boulevard,” starring Gloria Swanson. An unemployed former child star supporting himself as a hustler, this time in Los Angeles, Joey Davis (Dallesandro) uses sex to get his landlady to reduce his rent. Sally Todd (Sylvia Miles, then best known for playing a prostitute in the 1969, initially X-rated, Oscar-winner “Midnight Cowboy”), a former Hollywood starlet, tries to help Joey revive his career, but her dubious status as a celeb proves useless. Meanwhile, Sally’s psychotic daughter, Jessica (Feldman), complicates the relationship between Sally and the cynical, emotionally-numb Joey.