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FLESH (director/writer: Paul Morrissey; cinematographer: Paul Morrissey; editor: Paul Morrissey; cast: Joe Dallesandro (Joe, the Hustler), Geraldine Smith (Geri, Joe’s Wife), Patti D’Arbanville (Patti, Geri’s Lover), Candy Darling (Candy, a Transvestite), Jackie Curtis (Jackie, a Transvestite), John Christian (Joe’s Customer), Louis Waldon (David, the gymnast), Maurice Braddell (The Artist), Geri Miller (Teri, the Rape Victim), Barry Brown (Barry, the New Hustler); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Andy Warhol; Image Entertainment; 1968)
“Flesh offers a funny look at the underbelly of the city.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Andy Warhol was wounded in an assassination attempt on his life in 1968, thereafter he turned over the filmmaking duties to his cameraman Paul Morrissey. Flesh is the first of his trilogy, followed by Trash (1970) and Heat (1971). Morrissey moves away from Warhol’s passive style of shooting and adds more movement and thereby more story and realism to the pic. It keeps up appearances of being raw, unscripted and unedited, and still telling about the nutty antics of disenfranchised underground characters that are part of the Warhol factory legacy.

Flesh opens with bisexual NYC street hustler Joe Dallesandro sleeping in the raw for around five minutes in close-up shots of him that will begin and end the film (perhaps a tribute to Warhol’s filmmaking style). The film covers one day in the life of the male hustler. It begins at the crack of noon when Joe is wakened by his wife Geraldine Smith and told he needs to score $200 today to pay for her girlfriend Patti’s abortion. We follow Joe picking out a street corner on Third Avenue to stand and landing his first customer (John Christian), and then while standing with a red bandanna around his head by a phone booth getting an offer to pose nude for an effete artist and photographer (Maurice Braddell) interested in Greek statue poses. The artist tells a disinterested Joe that body worship is the secret behind art and life. Joe takes time out from his busy schedule to generously mentor a nervous young newcomer (Barry Brown) to the scene on the art of street hustling. He then hangs out with drag queens Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling, who are pouring over a Hollywood gossip magazine that catches hold of their feminine side. Joe’s former girlfriend, Geri Miller, an exotic go-go dancer joins the group and is set on getting her breasts enlarged. After showing the group her tits the transvestites don’t think it’s necessary, but she says if they were bigger Joe would become interested in them again like he once was. She matter of factly tells of being raped and asks the group “Do you know what it’s like to dance topless in front of a guy who raped you?” Joe’s last customer is a regular, a wounded Korean war veteran (Louis Waldon), who wants Joe to move in with him and rips Joe’s marriage and concerns over money. After a long day at work, Joe returns home to find his wife and pregnant lover Patti and after horsing around with the two in bed while nude Joe goes to sleep.

Flesh offers a funny look at the underbelly of the city and at some wacky but innocent characters who make up the underground. It also serves up sex in a frank and explicit way, and at times it offers even a few unintended sociological insights. It’s poignant without trying to be anything but nonchalant, minimal and audacious. Joe makes no distinction between straight or gay sex, saying he doesn’t care what the straight world thinks. But by the end of the film, the innocent Joe wakes up to the fact that everyone he comes into contact with only considers him a piece of meat and that he’s stuck in an endless cycle of living off his flesh. The film could give two shits what an uptight viewer may think about all this. For me, there’s something to get off on a film that lives up to its title. If one can find something else there besides the flesh to go on about–then more power to them.

REVIEWED ON 11/24/2006 GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”