Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Queers At The Drive-In: Flesh (1968)

Hi all,
Gay film week continues... with a film that probably shouldn't be called a gay movie. By doing so, I've given away a major aspect of the plot. Sorry about that. On the plus side, there'll be a new weekly post tomorrow as well as a review of a film that I've been wanting to see for a very long time featuring some familiar youtubers... See you then!

 Flesh
1968, US, Directed by Paul Morrisey
So…I think I just watched a porn movie. And I knew what I was getting into; it’s one of those films I’ve wanted to see for several years. And I think I loved it. I first heard of this film when I borrowed a book on gay cinema. Towards the back was a feature on sex symbols and first amongst these was Joe Dallesandro. I was fascinated by his story (and Andy Warhol’s reaction upon first seeing him, ‘he’s the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen’) and naturally found him incredibly gorgeous. He was best known for starring in an avant-garde trilogy of films from the late 60s and early 70s, so I went to my local library and looked up the film. I was saddened to discover that they didn’t have a copy of it. I was forced to put the films to the side and for several years I forgot about them, only occasionally looking them up and being disappointed that they still hadn’t bought a copy. Then, a few weeks ago, I was browsing through the latest Empire magazine and saw an ad for Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula (the two violent horror movies that Dallesandro also featured in) and was surprised and overjoyed to see that Flesh, Trash and Heat had also been recently released. I grew increasingly fascinated by the films, after looking up Andy Warhol and the pop culture lexicon surrounding him. Several days later, I was in JB Hi-Fi and almost died when I saw that Flesh was only $10. It came home with me, but not before having to face the awkward moment of showing my ID to the woman who was checking the DVD out. Because it’s rated R18+. And unlike several R rated movies I’ve seen (Halloween, The Warriors) it’s worth its rating. Dallesandro is frequently naked, full-frontal, leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. After the first few moments, I found myself growing more comfortable to the sight of male nudity (which is never ever seen in films. It was something of a shock at the start). What makes the film really interesting is that often the nudity is not sexualised. He’s just sitting around naked, going about some of the things he has to do, just without anything on. In some moments, there becomes something almost transcendent, religious, about the nudity, particularly in the scene where he feeds his young daughter a muffin. There’s something so natural and undefinable that makes this an iconic and evocative image. It’s brilliant. When he does put his clothes on (to go out to work as a hustler to pay for his wife’s girlfriend’s abortion), he somehow becomes even more attractive (especially when he’s smoking. I don’t know what it is, but several gay films feature smoking and there’s just something so sexy about it. And then I go walking down the street and real people don’t look at all attractive when they’ve got a cigarette hanging out of their mouths. It’s one of the Universe’s greatest mysteries). As he works, we get to see his life. What makes this film really interesting is that all the conversation is basically about the same thing and the scenes are really, really long. During one such scene, an older artist (who’s soon to sketch the naked Dallesandro) is explaining about ancient Greek art and how much of society is obsessed with body worship. The entirety foundation of society is based on body worship. Sex, music, art, anything. Like Dallesandro, I was mildly bored by this conversation before I realised that that is what this film is about. All of the conversations focus heavily on the body and what people look like. One features the wife talking about Dallesandro’s... yeah, another features Dallesandro talking to a newbie street hustler about how to get more jobs, two drag queens read a magazine where celebrities constantly talk about their bodies while Joe is receiving a BJ, a woman discusses getting breast enlargements, a gay friend tells Joe why he needs to go back to the gym and his wife tells her girlfriend all about how good-looking Dallesandro is. They’re all talking about the surface and how beautiful Joe is, while failing to take into account deeper personalities. Somehow, this feels representative of the film itself. We’re so focussed on Dallesandro’s physical perfection that we’re unable to engage in a deeper way with the film itself. In some ways, it also applies to society at large. We are an image and body obsessed culture and one sometimes wonders if this is creating distance and detachment from one another. I really wasn’t expecting to be so philosophically engaged by this film, but I’m glad that I was. By really making me think about the film that I was watching, it transcended pornography. It became more than just a film which featured the frequently naked Joe Dallesandro, it became art.
Sex/Nudity: 5 (Joe Dallesandro spends most of the film completely naked, has a BJ and has a deeply erotic story read to him. This is the sexiest, most erotic film I’ve seen by some margin)
Glamorousness: 2 (Dallesandro doesn’t call himself gay and there’s a huge amount of realism in the conversation that he has with another ‘gay’ man later in the film)
Stereotypes: 1 (it’s a film about a street hustler. It features frequent male nudity, something which the censors are squeamish about. It discusses that nudity and society’s obsession with the image. There is nothing cliché or stereotypical about this movie)
Best Scene: Joe and his child eat a muffin
Overall Verdict: 10
 
 
My brain can’t be developed any more than it is and I think I’m cute. I don’t wanna change. If I learn too much, I won’t always be happy, because the more you learn I think the more you depressed you are.
- Terry, Flesh

Bye for now!
Thanks,
James

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