Welcome back to The Deuce Notebook, a collaboration between MUBI Notebook and The Deuce Film Series, our monthly event at Nitehawk Williamsburg that excavates the facts and fantasies of cinema's most infamous block in the world: 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. For each screening, my co-hosts and I pick a flick that we think embodies the era of all-night movie grinding and present the theater at which it premiered.
We’ve had the extreme pleasure of screening Paul Morrissey’s outrageously fun horror treats Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula, and we are THRILLED to learn of the new release of Dracula by Severin Films, and the upcoming restoration of Frankenstein by Vinegar Syndrome—so, we thought we’d share some thoughts on two of our favorite movies.
And… once again, our 'famous' raffle - this month, a little different: four winners will receive a CD/DVD of bonus materials from "Maestro" Jeff Cashvan, featuring original drawings seen above... Enter for your chance to win by shooting us an email and saying ‘Salve!”: firstname.lastname@example.org
—The Deuce Jockeys
At the opening of the Whitney Museum’s Warhol exhibition in 1971, trans-Superstar Candy Darling, platinum and gorgeous on the red carpet, stares deadpan into a camera and professes, with her sensual whisper: “Well, uh, he doesn’t direct the pictures at all. He wasn’t even there most of the time.” The interviewer had asked her, referring to their work on the feature Flesh, if she thought Andy Warhol was a good director. With a knowing glance, Candy turns towards Andy, and, smirking, he responds to the confused interviewer’s “But you do direct some, don’t you?,” “Oh yeah, I directed that one.”
Andy Warhol didn’t direct “that one.” He spent most of Flesh’s shoot recuperating from Valerie Solanas’ assassination attempt. But Warhol had, since 1963, made roughly 150 films at his "Silver Factory" on 47th Street: silent screen tests and long takes of skyscrapers and slumberers; moving portraits of Edie Sedgwick’s fluttering eyelashes and Taylor Mead’s flat ass. They weren’t meant to be theatrically screened, or really, seen at all—they were “provocations that would attract press attention,” 24 frames-per-second observations to be pontificated over in art-film rags and gossiped about by socialites who read of them in the Times. They were impish fodder, employed to further mythologize Andy’s creative output and help raise the prices on his silkscreens, the Factory’s primary export of the preceding years. Andy Warhol began his career in the early 1950s as a commercial illustrator, discovering the allure in the banal and everyday, from Coca-Cola bottles to dollar bills. His brand of mid-century iconoclasm caused a schism in the art world when, in 1962, his Campbell Soup Cans caught the eye of dealer Irving Blum, who bought all 32 of them for $1,000; 34 years later they found their permanent home at MoMA when Blum sold them as a “combination gift and sale” for $15 million. Thus, Pop-Art: aggrandizing of the commonplace à la high-brow conceptual re-appropriation. Now, the very nature of mass-production was worthy of comment by Artforum. Swiftly making cheap 16mm avant-advertisements to incite some buzz was Andy’s next inventive step.
Enter Paul Morrissey, circa 1965. A Manhattan-born and Bronx-raised ex-Catholic, Paul began making his own movies in 1961 (his first one-reeler: a priest, saying Mass on the brink of a cliff, tosses his altar boy off the edge) and opened a nickelodeon on East 4th Street and The Bowery, screening Jonas Mekas films and Brian de Palma’s debut, Icarus. Warhol visited one Monday evening and convinced Paul to come to the Factory in order to assert a degree of discipline and quality control hitherto unknown amongst Andy’s tribe of hangers-on and modestly talented scenesters. Said Paul of Andy to the NY Times in 1973, "he started making films by not directing them. And then I came in and helped him not direct them. And now, when I do direct them, I direct minimally. I think direction is most effective when it’s least visible.”
Paul quickly began managing most of the Factory’s affairs; he was given a salary to, as he put it, “think of things to create that Andy could put his name on that might generate an income,” and, “mainly, arrange for photo-ops.” The Factory had essentially become a soundstage to which famous photographers were invited in order to capture Andy and the goings-on. “His life and career were, in effect, one never-ending photo opportunity—it was his job, it was his work, and from this, he never took a vacation, he never varied.” All of this vérité documentation elevated the Factory’s cool mystique and helped promote Andy as a post-art Henry Ford, manufacturing and distributing his Xerox’d copies of flowers, cows, Elizabeth Taylor, and Elvis.
One of Paul’s earliest and most significant contributions to Andy’s legacy was managing The Velvet Underground (whom he later called “The Velvet Underwear”). In April of 1966, Paul developed and presented The Underground’s cataclysmic "Exploding Plastic Inevitable," a sound, image, and light spectacular at The Dom on St. Mark’s Place, which utilized multiple stroboscopes and disco balls, and five 16mm projectors. The show was, for Morrissey, a chance to exploit the Goddess-like beauty of band member Nico, who “set the tone for the group with her elegance and presence… she stood on stage and no one could take their eyes off of her.” Swirling ultraviolets flickered across Nico and The Undergound’s statuesque visages—inspired, no doubt, by Andy’s near-sedentary screen tests, and in turn inspiring the 3.25 hour The Chelsea Girls, Paul and Andy’s bonafide filmic masterwork, released on September 15, 1966.
But Paul was getting ambitious. A lover of the Golden Hollywood system—Louis B. Mayer dramas and Cecil B. DeMille epics—he recognized the star power around him and yearned to create vehicles that would allow the players’ spry wit and audacious humor to steer stories and transcend the screen. “We care only about the reality of the people audibly; how they say what they say… Because the way a person says something reveals almost a whole culture.” This desire for a more formal narrative resulted in Lonesome Cowboys, a 108-minute feature with a proper-ish (albeit heavily improvised) script and slightly higher production value, with a cast of the Factory’s most undeniably magnetic frequenters: Viva, Mead, Tom Hompertz, and the newly discovered 18-year-old Adonis, Joe Dallesandro.
Lonesome Cowboys was a hit. It opened at the 55th Street Playhouse on May 7, 1969, playing as a single feature through July, then ran on a double bill with Flesh from September through October. Downtown, Cowboys played the New Andy Warhol Garrick Cinema, a 199-seat single-screen at Bleecker and Thompson that almost exclusively projected Warhol’s celluloid experiments, alongside those of a few other avant-garde rapscallion auteurs, attracting curious cine-snobs and Park Avenue sophisto-crats. With the success of Lonesome Cowboys, Warhol’s movie studio entered a new stratum of legitimacy; its zany sex romps starring Lower East Side harlequins achieved broader, national acclaim and—most importantly for Morrissey and his future in the film industry—made money. (An additional consequence of these soft-core salutes to Dallesandro’s au naturel physique at the 55th Street Playhouse: the cinema became an all-male porn venue by 1971; that year, it premiered Wakefield Poole’s seminal Boys in the Sand.)
Morrissey could now feasibly expand his vision and, with Andy stepping to the side (he gave a few casting opinions, occasionally operated the camera—and absolutely attended the premieres and after-parties), Paul made a quartet of irrefutable classics: the Dallesandro-driven triptych of Flesh, Trash, and Heat, and Women in Revolt, a love letter to the Factory’s trio of "glittering facades," Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis, and Holly Woodlawn. It’s impossible to overstate how definitively these films reflect their particular sub-cultural moment. They are absurdist comedies of over-indulgence: feasts of perky breasts and bums; head trips on uppers, downers, Horse, and beer-bottled onanism; sagas of dysfunctional families whose breadwinners grift johns, Hollywood has-beens, landladies, and the welfare office; melodramas of stardom dreams and casting couch nightmares; idolatries of tanned, poreless skin (mainly, Joe’s). Sexagenarian thespian Maurice Braddell, cast in Flesh as a beefcake photographer who’s hired Dallesandro for some creative stimulation, exclaims, “Body worship is in the makeup of the human-animal… Body worship is the whole thing behind all art and all music and all sex and all love!” Whatever the over-intellectualized critical responses might have been to these era-defining motion pictures (and there were, and continue to be, many), Morrissey sees them only as hilarious, flip, and self-effacing. “Our framework is a comedic one, so we tend to use types that are very strong. Sex is the funniest thing in the world and the best subject matter for comedy. We’d rather make films that critics would be forced not to review.” Paul goes on: “Intellectual films are phony. Who really commutes home to the suburbs contemplating pure vs. impure love??” (A reference to one of the films Morrissey hates the most, Eric Rohmer’s Chloe in the Afternoon.) On Trash, Morrissey declared, “it’s decadent fluff.”
In 1972, while Roman Polanski was shooting the comedy What?, his producer Carlo Ponti asked who could make a good period horror film in 3-D. Polanski suggested Paul Morrissey. Ponti and producer Andrew Braunsberg agreed and contracted Morrissey to make two films over six weeks, for $600,000. Paul flew to Cinecittà Studios and, because of the success of the Dallesandro films in France and Germany, first cast Joe, then surrounded him with an eclectic ensemble of European actors and models. The shooting for Blood for Dracula commenced the same day that Flesh for Frankenstein wrapped, starting with a fresh haircut for lead Udo Kier, who was also asked to shed 25 pounds to better incarnate the decaying vampire. Dracula was shot entirely on location; Frankenstein, rather, was filmed on a set, a playground for Carlo Rambaldi’s devilish freak-out effects and cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller’s 3-D lens. Kuveillier and Morrissey photographed the actors in bright, direct light, sculpting their faces and casting long shadows behind them. Paul loved this expressionistic look, stating, “the artificiality of an actor’s appearance that’s rendered better by lighting is an integral part of film… it’s an artificiality that audiences readily accept.”
The schlocktastic Flesh for Frankenstein exalts Udo Kier’s performance as Baron Frankenstein—cinema’s superlative interpretation of the character—a masterfully hilarious balance between gravitas of the Grand Guignol text and mockery of an oft-adapted genre. Neurotic and infatuated, the Baron abandons his family--his nymphomaniac sister/wife (femme-extra-fatale Monique van Vooren), and two mute children (spoken about at the dinner table in the third person, as if imaginary). He is consumed by his unhinged aspirations of God-design: he and his sub-boy Otto (Arno Juerging) will breed a super-race from two zombie lovers, constructed from the torsos, limbs, craniums—and perfect nasums—of the supple and fertile townsmen. “Perfection will become a reality… This is a threshold, Otto, of a creation that will replace the worn-out trash that now populates and re-populates our planet!” His plan to decapitate a horny young peasant for his monster-playboy gets derailed, however, when he beheads the wrong farmhand—the virginal and monastic Sascha (Srdjan Zelenovic). Meanwhile, with her impotent husband busy at work, the Baroness slurps up Dallesandro’s aromatic armpit—she’s hungry for some Grade A beef. Shot in "Space-vision," a one-camera system which uses a split prism to expose two images, one above the other, Flesh for Frankenstein dishes up the ultimate objectification of Dallesandro’s luscious body: lying in bed, nibbled by two insatiable prostitutes, Joe quivers in carnal catatonia, his perfectly pink toes curling with pleasure and reaching out into the audience in shamefully titillating 3-D. If gastrointestinal erotica is more your scene, we’re later skewered with an oozing liver dangling from the end of a spear. Pick your pleasure! For the nefarious Frankenstein family, a perfect specimen is a delicacy to be worshipped and devoured. But obsession with perfection leads to abject degradation, then demise: the Baroness is smothered to death by the Male Monster; Otto orgasmically eviscerates the Female Monster then gets strangled by his master; and Baron Frankenstein is impaled by his beloved creation. The Male Monster commits metacarpal-Harakiri and Dallesandro is left hanging from a meathook, a new play thing for the children. The film ends in a sanguis-soaked orgy of intestinal insanity. Said Kier of the final shot of Frankenstein: “Paul likes that: bodies on bodies, piling up.”
Blood for Dracula is the consummate B-picture to Flesh for Frankenstein, its antidotal aperitif: the Count’s impure-blood affliction is penance for the boundless Epicureanism of Baron Frankenstein’s undead-fuck God-plot. Dracula opens on a long take of Kier, his moist green eyes staring forlornly into an abyss, as he applies kohl eyebrows, then rogue, then lipstick (delicately exposing his small fangs), and, finally, black tar upon his white hair. His drag transforms him into a healthy, virile man. The camera tracks around him and reflects back an empty mirror—he has no image, his life force has been drained by malnourishment, he is pitiful and pathetic. Dallesandro again portrays a hero everyman—another gardener working for the despicable elitist Di Fiores, bankrupted by gambling and left with only four daughters as collateral. Dracula and assistant Anton (also Juerging) travel to the family’s Italian villa ("We know that Italian people are very religious, and keep their daughters virgins...") to suck on the sweet nectar of maiden blood. But Little Joe cockblocks the Count—he’s already had (again and again) the two most delectable and licentious of the litter. Duped by the corruptible concubines, the Count feasts on both, and, draped over a white porcelain toilet, retching up vile poisonous blood, gurgles out his desperate plea: “The blood of these whores is killing me!!” (Udo on the scene: “Vomiting looks great when you have a tuxedo on.”) Promiscuity was never so sickening. Joe saves the fourth and youngest daughter by deflowering her before Dracula can; Esmerelda, the eldest, most homely, and only chaste Di Fiore girl ends up the Count’s desecrated libation.
Morrissey’s love for performers is on full display here. “Films have no business being art... They’re popular entertainment, and one way you please the public is to get some great people in front of a camera.” The multicultural casting is extreme, borderline ludicrous: one shot in Blood for Dracula frames actors representing five different nations; Joe’s Bronx accent grating against the bizarre pronunciations of his supporting cast’s second (or third?) language. In a Dada-esque moment, Vittorio de Sica continually re-pronounces the Count’s notorious surname, rolling his rrrrr’s and smacking his lips, savoring each syllable like a rustic Sangiovese. Stilted and surreal, these dissonant dialects and inflections are contrapuntal to Claudio Gizzi’s lush and tonal pseudo-Romantic soundtracks: Flesh for Frankenstein’s score is an homage to Resphigi; Blood for Dracula’s theme is a near carbon copy of Erik Satie’s Trois Gymnopédies. The films recall The Velvet Underground’s optical/aural fantasies: these motion pictures are as much polyphonic soundscapes as they are visual fever dreams of déshabillé and carnage.
Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein had its stereoscopic U.S. Premiere at the Los Angeles Film Exhibition on April 2, 1974, and opened in New York City at both the Trans Lux East and Trans Lux West on Wednesday, May 15. It was a smash, and “after 23 gory and sexy weeks on Broadway,” expanded to 35 Tri-state area theaters on October 25. This wider release included the New Amsterdam on the Deuce, the southeastern and most luxurious of the movie palace-cum-grinders. American audiences were already ravenously digesting Herschel Gordon Lewis gross-outs, pervert-plays by John Waters, and the hyper-violent slashers of Craven and Bava; as Nora Sayre astutely declared in her NY Times review, “Nowadays, ‘flashing your hash’ can be a tribute to the filmmaker. While one suspects that the tales about upchuck at The Exorcist were eagerly exaggerated, Andy Warhol's Frankenstein almost begs the gorge to rise. Hence those with iron guts may rank as Philistines—unable to respond to the call of art.”
Andy Warhol’s Dracula opened in Los Angeles on November 6, 1974, and after three months touring the country, made its way to New York City on February 7, 1975, screening at the West and Fine Arts cinemas. Vittorio de Sica’s final film, A Brief Vacation, opened two days later around the corner at the Little Carnegie; meanwhile, Just Jaeckin’s sensational Emmanuelle was scorching the Paris Theater’s screen across from the Plaza Hotel. Dracula slithered its way into 42nd Street’s Selwyn Theater on March 12; beginning April 16, the Liberty across the street ran both films as one gloriously twisted double bill. Christine Brown proclaimed that “Morrissey’s Frankenstein was such a cinematic abortion that he surely must have concocted it after reading ‘How to Make a Movie and Dismember Bodies in 10 Easy Lessons.’ By comparison, his version of Dracula makes him the Ingmar Bergman of the underground.”
The pair of films was released by Bryanston Films, the infamous distribution company founded by mafioso-braggadocio Louis Peraino, best known for releasing two little movies called Deep Throat and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Andrew Braunsberg arranged the acquisition; it was reported in the LA Times that Bryanston paid $750,000 for the combined U.S. distribution rights. In an April 1975 article in Advertising Age, Peraino dubiously claimed that Frankenstein had grossed $25 million dollars in its first year of release, but mobsters rarely keep paperwork, so the films’ true take remains a mystery. Seven years later, Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein in 3-D was re-released by Landmark Films for a splashy, heavily advertised 18 months; a renaissance of interest in 3-D flicks throughout 1982 and 1983 instigated another round of amusement park chills for fans of Morrissey’s grindhouse behemoth.
Of all the films since their first collaboration, Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula had perhaps the least involvement from Warhol himself, but Paul still released the films under the imprimatur of the art giant, having, undoubtedly, a tremendous impact on their box office gross. With indisputable leaps in craftsmanship, the Frankenstein/Dracula diptych was the perfect point of departure for Paul from his decade-long association with the Warhol brand and its incestuously cloistered Factory. Morrissey could now make a well-deserved, very fashionable exit.
Morrissey’s follow-up to his horror duo was another period picture based on another literary titan, Sherlock Holmes. The Hound of the Baskervilles, however, was a commercial and critical failure. With Madame Wang’s, Morrissey revisited the whimsies of a carefree band of outsiders, this time, living in Los Angeles. Returning to his hometown, Paul made a trio of moving, difficult films: Forty-Deuce, based on Alan Browne’s play about a group of 42nd Street hustlers grappling over their shared accountability for the death of a child prostitute; Mixed Blood, a drug-war black comedy set in Alphabet City; and Spike of Bensonhurst, a mafia love story in South Brooklyn. With another period film thrown in for good measure, Beethoven’s Nephew, Morrissey’s 80s-era efforts produced a fine collection of comedy/dramas about the social fissures within community and family, whether biological or surrogate. His oeuvre could be compared to the work of other eminent visionaries of domestic angst, like Ozu, Fassbinder, and Cassevetes. Morrissey’s eventual severance from the Warhol ball-and-chain has finally granted him credit as a rightful member of the American independent pantheon.
“Films begin and end with actors. Films are feelings, not ideas. They should be full of emotion. Films should be made for actors to appear in. Motion pictures were developed to give Mary Pickford work.” Morrissey’s films made Joe Dallesandro (whom he once said was “better than Brando”) an international sex symbol, the embodiment of proletariat potency and grace: his severe profile, devastating smile, and perfect nasum characterized masculinity for an entire era, and has been photographed by the likes of Gainsbourg, Malle, Rivette, and Coppola. Udo Kier has had one of the most uniquely enthralling careers of his generation, featured in films by von Trier, Herzog, Borowcyzk, and Maddin (plus, a cameo in Madonna’s Cindy Sherman-meets-Mapplethorpe tome Sex, from 1992). Baroness Frankenstein goads her daughter as she aggressively brushes her hair, “I’m going to make you beautiful. You will always have to surround yourself with beautiful things. I’ve always looked for beauty. I INSIST on it.” Andy and Paul’s knack for finding then spotlighting unforgettable people is their most lasting gift to modern American culture. Morrissey said, in 1996, “A couple of hundred years from now, if you look back on the 20th Century, you will remember the movie stars… I don’t think they’ll talk much about the directors or the writers. But I think Holly Woodlawn will be remembered.” Woodlawn’s persistence notwithstanding, nearly four decades after Andy closed his Factory, 12-year-old suburbanites throng the Whitney’s gift shop, bringing home t-shirts screenprinted with Mickey Mouse or kaleidoscopic Marilyn Monroe posters, likely unaware of who colorfully reimagined her iconic face, and having never sat through The Misfits.
Just recently, on June 21, the NY Times published an obituary for Allen Midgette, the actor who, disguised as Warhol, accompanied Paul Morrissey on a college tour of the Factory films, and participated in Q&As following each screening. This prank is the apex of Andy and Paul’s performative deceptions: a fake Andy Warhol answering questions about a movie the real Andy Warhol didn’t make. Screwing with our sense of authenticity, we’re given a more preferable version of the actual thing: a larger, more saturated Brillo box or an "Andy" that says exactly what the audience really wants to hear. “He was better than I am,” Warhol said when confronted about the imposter. “He was what the people expected. They liked him better than they would have me.” Cue standing ovation.
In an interview following a screening of Trash at Film Forum on January 26, 2013, Morrissey said of his former boss, “He couldn’t influence anybody. He was incapable of doing anything. He was so severely autistic with dyslexia and Aspergers, he couldn’t read, he couldn’t write, and he couldn’t speak. He had no ideas about anything. Nothing. He’s given credit for having done things he never, ever did.” The years, it seems, had not been kind to Paul’s feelings about his erstwhile-collaborator. “Nature abhors a vacuum and you obviously hate a vacuum around a celebrity name. I’m sure you’d ask the same questions if I once met Lady Gaga, how she influenced me.” But Warhol’s contribution to our culture was not necessarily that of a great idea man, or producer, or administrator, or interlocutor. He hired other people to do all of that. Andy was America’s great voyeur. He had a savvy for seeing, then obsessing over, objects and human beings of profound intrigue and style and consequence. Interview contributor and raconteur Fran Lebowitz has said that creativity amongst homosexuals is so prevalent because gay people grow up being “forced to observe.” She and Warhol are two exceptional observers of contemporary life, and we are compelled by both of them: we look to them for something, anything—grand pronouncements conjured up by their relentless, pettifogging scrutiny. Fran gives us everything; Andy, wide-eyed and mute, gives us nothing.
But the keenest observer of all was Paul Morrissey. His reformed-Catholic asceticism gazed upon the downtown hedonism of the 1960s and 70s with a ceaseless fascination and affection, never judgmental nor punishing, gleefully delighted by the ebullience of the coterie of lunatics whirling around him. With his camera’s lens, Morrissey became the Factory’s Hieronymus Bosch, depicting its bacchanal with tableaux of Andy’s disaffected guttersnipes, his stable of drug-addled street urchins, some with trust funds, all with "histrionic personality disorder" (DSM-5 301.50) and a big mouth. Paul Morrissey’s work invites our scopophilia, so naughty and delicious and satisfying.
As he lies on the gurney, fisting his female monster’s abdomen through a clean new incision, Baron Frankenstein barks at his assistant, “Why are you looking at me, you filthy thing, turn around!!” He pulls out and steps off, wagging his goo-dripping finger: “To know death Otto, you have to fuck life - in the gallbladder!!” Sex! Drugs!! Gore!!!… Never felt so good!.. Never looked this FUN!!
—text by Joseph A. Berger
Sources cited in this essay:
- Cinema (UK), August 1970
- Newsday, November 2, 1970
- Filmmakers Newsletter, June 1972
- Newsday, October 29, 1972
- The New York Times, July 15, 1973
- The New York Times, May 16, 1974
- Detroit Free Press, November 10, 1974
- Advertising Age, April 1975
- The Los Angeles Times, June 20, 1982
- Stargazer: The Life, World, and Films of Andy Warhol, Stephen Koch, 1985
- The Films of Paul Morrissey, Maurice Yacowar, 1993
- Criterion Collection commentaries, 1996
- Factory Days: Paul Morrissey Remembers the Sixties, 2006
The Deuce Film Series is a monthly, 35mm presentation created by "Joe Zieg" Berger and co-hosted with "Tour Guide Andy" McCarthy and 'Maestro Jeff’ Cashvan. Produced by Max Cavanaugh for Nitehawk Cinema Williamsburg, The Deuce was founded in November 2012.